This weekend, the Reducetarian organization hopes to persuade you to change your life and eat less meat. To achieve that unlikely aim, it is hosting a conference in New York, putting together minds in business, science, marketing and more.
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Meat is good. We eat other things, but the smell of grilling burger attracts more neighbors more than steaming eggplant does. Yet even leaving animal rights out of it, animal husbandry is unarguably damaging our planet, which is already reeling from climate change and overpopulation.
Can people be persuaded to replace lamb chops with lentils, burgers with burghul, seafood with seaweed?
Brian Kateman, president of the Reducetarian organization, thinks they can. He's a pragmatist, though. "We're not asking people to stop eating meat entirely," Kateman told Haaretz. If they cut back, that's good too, he says.
Just as well. Most people aren't about to forgo something they love as much as a bacon burger. Also, "just" education evidently isn't the ticket. People already know that eating a lot of meat is bad for you and is wrecking the planet. They know about animal rights and 70 billion animals still get killed for food every year, according to Kateman. They know that animal fat-rich diets lead to obesity and heightened probability of cancer and heart disease.
If self-interest fails to strike a chord, how can you persuade the average guy at the supermarket to pick the salad, not the steak? This is what the Reductarian Summit is all about: not the why – we know that – but the how.
The answer may lie partly in cost, partly in new technologies, and partly in education and legislation.
"People choose food based on price, convenience and taste, not necessarily ethics or environment, not even their own health. We have to make plant-based food as the default choice easier," says Kateman. The plant-based foods, not least the meat substitutes – have to be affordable, convenient – and delicious.
Brawn without the brain
For them as can't forgo that burger and can stomach the idea, scientists are developing lab-grown flesh. Cultured meat isn't commercially available yet, let alone affordable, but then the first computers weren't cheap either. The Reductarian conference will feature a panel devoted to cultured meat made in the lab. "It’s a game changer," says Kateman: "It is meat, just grown without the animal."
Legislation could help, if lawmakers garner the nerve to buck the farming lobby, and consumers.
"With a $1 burger, we're not paying what meat is worth. We pay in terms of healthcare costs and environment, but not at the cashier. Just imagine a tax on meat," Kateman dreams.
If meat was priced properly to reflect the cost of its cultivation, America would discover en masse what Israel already knows: meat costs a fortune and subsisting largely on plant-based food is cheaper. (We recommend a lot of hummus.)
The perception in the States is that a vegetarian diet is very expensive, says Kateman, though actually, the average American vegetarian saves $750 a year compared with meat eaters on groceries.
Yet barring the collapse of the planet and civilization at large, the most likely solution seems to be improving meat substitutes, making them delicious rather than, well, barely tolerable when heavily salted. And in parallel, slowly but gradually, minds can be changed, for which it helps to have institutions and big business on board.
"Society has have created a situation where it is very easy for people to make choices that are not in the interest of the self or the planet. They eat meat because they eat meat, it's a social norm," says Kateman. "Reductarianism is about educating people, and can make a meaningful difference to health and planet by cutting back. It doesn't have to be all or nothing. One doesn’t have to be either vegan or omnivore."