Reducing meat consumption healthier for people and planet

Food-service professionals meet to learn new approaches

More Americans are eating less meat, and that’s a good thing.

In a recent survey, 57 percent of Americans said they are focusing more on plant-based foods.

“This is an exciting trend and represents an important shift considering that on average, Americans eat about 33 percent more meat than is recommended by the USDA nutrition standards,” according to Nicki Milgom, organizer with the Ecology Center’s Healthy Food in Health Care program.

Healthy Food in Health Care recently partnered with the Humane Society of the United States to host Food Forward, a program to encourage food-service professionals to incorporate more plant-based options in their menus. The program was held last week at the Great Lakes Culinary Center in Southfield.

Alex BuryAlex Bury (left), chef and co-founder of an acclaimed vegan and organic restaurant in California, was a featured presenter and offered valuable tips and recipes. (Look below for some of her key tips and a favorite recipe for veggie chili).

“Adding more meat-free meals into your diet has benefits for your health and pocketbook, and also for the environment,” Milgrom says. “Our meat-rich diets are more costly than we realize.”

Most people know that eating too much meat and associated fats contributes to increased risks of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer.

“But many people are still not aware of the hidden costs of meat,” Milgrom says.
Much of industrialized meat and poultry production relies on antibiotics, arsenic and growth hormones, dangerous additives that end up in our food. The overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture contributes to the alarming antibiotic resistance crisis that threatens the ability to treat human illnesses.

In addition, large-scale meat production facilities pollute the air in local communities and contaminate the water supply.

“Industrial beef production produces the highest amount of greenhouse gas emissions of any food, global livestock production produces even more than what is generated by transportation. If every American went meat free just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of switching from a sedan to a hybrid vehicle,” Milgrom says.

The Healthy Food in Health Care program is particularly interested in helping health-care facilities reduce meat consumption.

“Reducing the overall amount of meat served in health-care facilities would provide health, social and environmental benefits more consistent with prevention-based medical practices,” Milgrom says. “OurHealthy Food in Health Care program challenges hospitals to buy less meat and invest the savings in buying better meat, sustainably raised without the routine use of antibiotics and growth hormones.

Some of Chef Bury’s tips?

  • “Go with the fun & familiar.” If you try to go from pepperoni pizza to a meek salad without dressing, you’ll end up unsatisfied and hungry. This mistake is why so many people decide plant-based diets are not for them. Avoid drastic moves and focus instead on adding things like lentils, beans and vegetables to dishes you already like, taking a healthier vegetarian twist to fun and familiar dishes, like rice, bean and vegetable burrito or pesto and vegetable lasagna.
  • “Make your switch gradually.” You don’t have to go cold turkey, begin by cutting back. Take out half the meat in a favorite recipe and substitute with lentils, bulgur or quinoa.
  • “Stick with flavors you already know and like.” Many favorites are already vegetarian: guacamole, salsa, three-bean chili, pasta primavera, mashed potatoes. As familiar favorites they are a great place to start.

Veggie Chili Bowl

Ingredients (for 10 servings):

  • 2.5 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup fresh onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh bell pepper, chopped
  • 2.5 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 2.5 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1.5 tablespoon brown sugar, packed
  • 2.5 cups (19oz) canned crushed tomatoes, with juice
  • 7 tablespoons (or just under a half cup) canned diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 2.5 cups (21oz) canned kidney beans, drained
  • ½ cup plus 1½ tablespoons bulgur
  • 1½ tablespoons water


  1. Heat oil in pan
  2. Add onions and sauté for 3 minutes, until translucent
  3. Add green peppers and sauté for 2 minutes, until tender
  4. Add chili powder, cumin, garlic, onion powder, brown sugar and tomatoes.  Simmer 15 minutes, uncovered.

Nutrition per serving (3/4 cup): 133 calories, 2g fat, 6g protein, 6g fiber, 25g carbs, 233mg sodium.

EcoLink — July 2014 Ecolink
An online publication of the Ecology Center

Comments and questions are welcome.
Please send to EcoLink Editor.