Go Meatless on Mondays

Concern for animal welfare is just one of the many reason to go vegetarian. It turns out it can be better for your health, better for the economy, and might even save the planet. According to experts at Johns Hopkins University, if even a small portion of the population, say 14 percent, started eating exclusively plant-based diets, we’d see enormous improvements worldwide.

But giving up meat isn’t easy, especially here on the Outer Banks where amazing restaurants are serving up delicious fresh local seafood every day.

Enter the Meatless Monday campaign, which asks people to refrain from eating meat, including seafood, for just one day a week. Launched in 2003 by Sid Lerner in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, it has since spawned into a global movement and has been championed by a variety of experts, bloggers, and celebrities in each nation, including the great Sir Paul McCartney.

Some of the 44 participating countries pick a different day of the week (mostly because the alliteration doesn’t work in every language, and “Jeudi Veggie” is so much fun to say), but the goals are the same, and if everyone participated it is estimated that meat consumption would drop 14 percent worldwide.

“It’s an easy ask, just one day a week,” says Cherry Dumaul, Public Relations and Partnerships Director for Meatless Mondays, “It’s something you can do for your health and the health of our planet.”

So how does going part-time vegetarian save the planet?

Mostly it’s due to the alarmingly large carbon footprint the meat industry is responsible for. Raising livestock consumes a lot of resources, including fresh water and food that could be better allocated to humans who need it. It also takes up 33 percent of the planet’s land.

As meat consumption soars, rainforests are being clear-cut to meet the demand for more grazing land. Meanwhile, livestock production accounts for 14.5 percent of greenhouse gasses. Growing fruits and vegetables on the other hand generally produces much more food for the amount of resources put into it. For example, it takes 3,500 liters of water to grow one kilogram of rice, while one kilogram of beef would take 15,000 liters.

While not all vegetarian meals could be described as healthy (note: macaroni and cheese is not a health food), in a general sense a plant-based diet can lower your risk of heart disease, obesity, type II diabetes, and some cancers. This, experts believe, is largely because plant-based diets are typically lower in saturated fats and higher in fiber. This is especially true if red meats and processed meats such as bacon or deli meat are limited.

Healthier citizens ultimately can mean wealthier citizens and stronger economies worldwide, as less money is spent on preventable conditions like heart disease.

The best part is, it doesn’t have to feel like a sacrifice. While the Outer Banks is known for its great seafood, it’s also surrounded by farmland that produces a large variety of delicious produce. This produce is the first choice of most Outer Banks restaurants, whose chefs know that what’s fresh, in season, and local will make the very best dishes. Nearly every area restaurant offers at least one vegetarian dish on their menu, perfectly crafted so that you forget all about that meat craving.

“Meatless Mondays give restaurant chefs an opportunity to challenge themselves, and use our whole bounty of fruits, vegetables, and legumes,” says Dumaual.

And if you’d prefer to stay in, start by hitting up one of the many produce stands on the Outer Banks. Egg dishes like frittata, quiche, or huevos rancheros with plenty of fresh tomatoes and peppers make an excellent, protein-packed evening meal. Many locally grown vegetables such as yellow and zucchini squash are particularly well suited for grilling. Just drizzle in olive oil, season generously, and throw them on the barbeque alongside some homemade or frozen black bean burgers. You might be surprised how much the flavor profile of vegetables can change with different cooking methods like roasting, or sautéing with a little butter and white wine.

It’s a small change that can make a surprisingly big impact on your health, the environment, and your wallet. And with so many fabulous vegetarian dining options and fresh produce available, you don’t have to feel like you’re missing anything.♦

Katrina Mae Leuzinger

Katrina lives with her husband and their fearsome toddler. When she’s not writing, she prepares elaborate meals, cheats at video games, and plays the guitar (badly).

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