Even with Thanksgiving in the shadows, as the holiday season—or simply colder winter months—near, many people are eager to dig into some comforting and hearty cooking. Food can, of course, have a lot of cultural meaning and family memories that go beyond the specifics of any recipe. Food can also have a lot of religious significance for those who celebrate.
No matter what, as the novel coronavirus continues to roar in the United States, many of us are doing our best to stock up on food, cook, and eat in our kitchens, and generally spend more time at home. One thing we can try that’s good for the environment as well as pandemic-friendly shopping? Embrace the beauty of meatless meals—even if just once a week.
If you’re already a vegetarian, vegan, or someone who simply makes a point of reducing how much meat or dairy they consume, you likely already know that your choices have a positive impact on the planet. If all Americans skipped meat just one day a week, we could save roughly 70 million gallons of gas, three million acres of land, and about 100 billion gallons of water each year. Going meat-free just one day a week can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Mind you, we do know that when it comes to reducing pollution and saving the planet, large companies need to be held accountable and structural changes need to take place; as an individual consumer, it’s hard to believe that swapping out meat for vegetables makes enough of a difference to balance out what mega-corporations are doing. And in a sense, it’s not truly enough if there isn’t accountability higher up. But every step is still something.
Reducing meat intake can also be great for food shopping during a literal global pandemic. Why? There are a few reasons. First of all, vegetables—especially if you’re buying frozen, canned, or in bulk—are often less expensive than meat. Beans, chickpeas, and lentils are relatively inexpensive sources of protein, especially if you’re able to buy them dried and in bulk. If you’re going meatless (and not fully vegan), eggs are also a relatively inexpensive source of protein. You can stock up on dried beans and frozen vegetables and make less frequent trips to the store if you aren’t incorporating meat into every single meal. If you want to stick with seafood, tinned fish can be relatively affordable and packed with protein as well.
Another reason the meatless meal (or even entire meatless day, or week) is great to try now? Cooking at home can be, well, exhausting. From the jump, it’s a privilege to have space, equipment, time, and resources to actually cook, especially if you’re cooking from scratch. That said, even if you know you’re lucky to have such an opportunity, cooking and cleaning are still forms of labor, and it can still be draining. Frankly, it can get boring when we’re nearly a year into a pandemic. Experimenting with how to turn some of your favorite dishes meat-free (or trying entirely new recipes) can be a fun task to tackle while you’re sitting at home. Doing something new with your hands and your mind can be invigorating and bring a sense of accomplishment—especially if you spend almost all of your free time wandering between your couch and your fridge, anyway.
On a more personal level, cooking meat-free will likely be much appreciated by the vegetarians and vegans in your life, as well as people with certain food allergies. Given that less than 10% of Americans are vegetarians (and even fewer are vegans), this point may initially feel like not enough of a draw, but in a time when people are itching for new things to do, challenging yourself to prepare a few meat-free meals can be great for your mind and make the meat-free people in your life feel extra special and cared for. And during any holiday season (but especially during a pandemic), making people in your life feel a little extra loved is never a bad thing.
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