For 29 years, March 20th has marked the date of the Meat Out. Formerly known as the Great American Meat Out (before the day went global!), the idea is for folks to try meatless meals for one day. Sort of like a test drive to see what it’s like. But why? Why try a meatless diet?
Though there are many health benefits to plant-based diets, including lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes and more (see PCRM for health facts), there are environmental concerns. Climate change is at the top of the list. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the effects of climate change that can already be seen consist of species extinctions, ocean warming and extreme weather. However, some organizations now state that a plant-based diet is one way to resolve environmental problems. In fact, the United Nations has endorsed the veggie diet as “vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty, and the worst impacts of climate change” in their report Livestock’s Long Shadow.
Depletion of natural resources, especially water, is one of the most concerning impacts of an animal-based diet. Raising animals requires great amounts of water, much of it used for hay and grains to feed livestock. The Vegetarian Resource Group shows in a graph form the water needs of grains, such as corn, wheat, etc. vs. meats like beef and pork. Corn that requires 500 quarts of water to grow can feed as many people as the equal amount of beef, which needs 13,000 quarts of water for production. According to the US Geological Survey, 40% of the fresh water used in the United States in 2000 was for irrigating crops for livestock. By comparison, only 13% was used domestically – which includes toilets, showers, dishwashers and even watering lawns.
Livestock produces large quantities of manure and urine. In contemporary farming, animals are raised in feedlots or on tightly packed factory farms. These dense living arrangements multiply the effect of animal waste and American livestock alone produces 2.7 trillion pounds of manure annually. Animal farming waste also creates off-gassing of ammonia and methane. According to the EPA, factory farms are responsible for 73% of ammonia released into the air in the USA. Methane may be the most serious gas created by livestock farming – yep, it’s from cows burping and farting, as funny as that sounds. The meat industry is the number one source of methane throughout the world, releasing over 100 million tons annually, according to the EPA. Methane traps heat in the atmosphere and causes the Earth’s temperature to rise and it is 30 to 34 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. If fewer animals were raised for human consumption, there would be less methane being released into the air.
Simply put, if you reduce your consumption of animal products, including meats, dairy, eggs and apparel, you will positively affect the climate crisis. Many resources exist to help you try a plant-based diet for one day, such as Meat Out, as well as information regarding Meatless Mondays and more, such as physcian-designed full veggie diet plans.
Going meatless for one day, like Meat Out on March 20th, is a change, but may be easier than you expect. Familiar foods can be made vegetarian with little effort. Like pasta salad. This recipe is designed to be simple enough for novice cooks or even teen-agers to prepare. The toughest part is boiling water for pasta and draining it! Go gluten-free by simply using gluten-free noodles, such as Tinkyada Rice Pasta, Barilla corn pasta or Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta. All are available near us at regular grocers and other ingredients in this recipe were designed to be easy-to-find, forgiving and flexible!
This is great for lunch, combined with an apple or banana; for dinner, pair it as a side with your favorite veggie burgers or some grilled portobellos, topped with all the usual fixins.
Salsa Pasta Salad
1 lb. bag/box of your favorite pasta shape
15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
15 oz. can corn kernels, drained and rinsed
15 oz. jar of your favorite salsa
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 jalapeño pepper, diced (remove seeds unless you like it HOT; try fresh or canned peppers)
15 oz. can green beans, drained and rinsed
2-3 Tbl. fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped
Prepare pasta according to package directions. Rinse and drain. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine black beans, salsa, corn, oregano, cumin, garlic powder and diced jalapeño pepper. Mix thoroughly. Add green beans and pasta, stirring carefully. Top with fresh cilantro and eat room temperature or chilled.
This will be fine in the fridge for a day or two and works great for packed lunches/picnics/potlucks!
Cooks’ Notes: This recipe is designed to be easy enough for anyone. However, if you want a more gourmet version, swap in fresh veggies and herbs. For example, boil corn on the cob and cut off 1 1/2 cups for the recipe. You can also use fresh green beans and fresh oregano/garlic.
Frozen/thawed veggies will work here, too! To use frozen, just toss the frozen veggies in the pasta strainer before you drain the noodles. The boiling hot water coming off the pasta will thaw the veggies in the draining process. Super easy!
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