The One Simple Diet Change That’s Best for the Planet

Want to eat a more eco-friendly diet? There’s one simple thing you can do that will have the biggest impact: eat less meat.

“There are few other changes you can make in your life that will allow you to be both selfish and altruistic at the same time,” writes Mark Bittman in the book The Reducetarian Solution, which coins the term “reducetarian” to refer to anyone looking to cut back on their meat intake. “And yet becoming a reducetarian does just that, by helping you reduce both your changes of chronic disease and also your carbon footprint and the other damaging environmental consequences of industrial animal production.”

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All food production requires resources that tax the planet in some way, but meat is particularly intensive in that it uses a lot of water, fuel, and land. It also contributes to nitrogen pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, since cows release methane.

Of course, you don’t have to go vegan if it’s not your style. When you do eat meat, you can choose beef from grass-fed cows that have been raised using more sustainable methods.

But even grass-fed beef advocates will tell you, you don’t need to eat meat twice a day (and meat that’s good for you and the planet can’t be produced at a rate that allows for that, anyway). Here are a few simple approaches you can try to eat less meat, now.

How to Eat Less Meat for an Eco-Friendly Diet

1. Go “One Part Plant”

In her book, One Part Plant, wellness advocate Jessica Murnane suggests committing to one plant-based meal every day. You can choose breakfast, lunch, or dinner or switch it up each day, as long as once a day you’re skipping all meat and dairy.

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2. Go Vegan Before 6

Mark Bittman’s own approach is to eat totally plant-based early in the day every day but allow meat and dairy after 6:00 p.m., a plan he lays out in his book VB6. That doesn’t mean you’ll have to give up protein-rich eggs—just save your favorite frittata recipe for later in the day. Who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner?

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3. Celebrate Meatless Mondays

This may be the earliest example of vegan-ish eating. The Meatless Mondays campaign has been encouraging eaters to eat vegetarian one day a week (on Monday, obviously) for more than a decade. Of course, you could choose whichever day of the week works best for you and commit to swapping your steak salad for a veggie-packed grain bowl just once every seven days.

That really doesn’t sound like much of a sacrifice, right?