By Shannon Connor Winward
(PCM) World Vegetarian Day (October 1st) was started in the late 1970s by the North American Vegetarian Society. A generation of broadened horizons and opened minds later, October is now designated world-wide as a time to celebrate the benefits of living meat-free.
Vegetarian Awareness Month is for everyone! There are different kinds of vegetarian diets, of course. Some include animal products such as dairy and (or) eggs. Others are more intense – veganism, which allows food only from plant sources, has its own Awareness Month (Heads up! It’s in November.) All vegetarians eat fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds (or they should!), but these foods are uber-important to the omnivore, too. Even if you are not ready to give up meat completely, reducing your intake of it can be cheaper, better for you, better for the environment, and downright delicious.
Switching to meatless meals just a few times a week could shave serious dollars off your grocery spending. Many low-cost, non-perishable foods like rice, beans, pasta and canned goods are meat-free, or can be (check your labels). Anyone who has ever had to feed a household on a budget can tell you that bulking up on such staples is the best way to stretch your food dollar. You can beef out on fresh produce, too, for less than you’d spend on meat: buy fresh when it’s season, especially if you can freeze it for later. You might even consider canning your own – it’s easier than you might think, and nothing beats the taste of summer in a jar on a cool October evening.
Thanks to the health benefits of a diet high in fruit and vegetables, it can also be argued that going vegetarian even part of the time can save you money by limiting health care costs. When properly planned and balanced, vegetarian diets are lower in saturated fats and cholesterol and higher in fiber and nutrients – all the good things that lower your risk for health issues such as obesity, heart disease or diabetes. A vegetarian diet can even reduce your risk for some forms of cancer!
Reducing meat consumption could also have global benefits. It’s not a straightforward equation (you can’t easily compare apples to oranges, or oranges to cattle), but meat production is in general more expensive than growing plant-based foods. By emphasizing meat less in the world economy, it’s possible we could feed more people with less land, energy, resources, and environmental impact.
And though many people won’t give up meat because it tastes good (bacon), you can still go meat-free now and then without sacrificing satisfaction! Vegetarianism isn’t just alfalfa sprouts (which are actually awesome on salad) and tofu (also tasty, if done right. Supposedly). You can find amazing vegetarian options on bookstore shelves, internet sites and restaurant menus – meals so good you won’t even miss the meat.
Indeed, some of the world’s best cuisines go well with a vegetarian diet. Craving curry? Many Indians are vegetarian for religious reasons; their dishes are renowned for savory and spicy flavors blended with vegetables, fruits, rice and other grains. Or how about falafel? The food of the Mediterranean, considered among the healthiest in the world, revels in fresh produce, grains, and healthy oils along with seafood and sparring portions of meat (when it’s eaten at all). To create vegetarian versions of your favorite cuisines at home, focus on the herbs, spices, and produce that are unique to that region.
You don’t have to be a vegetarian to appreciate the benefits of enjoying meat-free alternatives now and then. If you aren’t already observing “Meatless Mondays” or some version in your household, maybe now is the time. When in Rome, do as the Romans do – when in October, give meat-free a try!