Put that burger down! Wait… Is that a veggie burger?
If you’re curious about all the very good reasons to go vegetarian, read on. Is it possible to survive (and prosper) in a world of amazing barbecue?
Some fun facts (Special thanks to FoodRevolution.org):
- There’s been a 600% increase in people identifying as vegans in the U.S in the last three years. According to a report by research firm GlobalData, only 1% of U.S. consumers claimed to be vegan in 2014. And in 2017, that number rose to 6%.
- And similarly, according to data released by GrubHub, the top takeaway marketplace in the U.S., orders for plant-based food have reached a new high. In particular, users chose vegan food 19% more in the first half of 2017 than in the first half of 2016.
- Tom Brady, arguably the greatest football quarterback of all time, eats mostly plants. The 40-year-old, 5-time (and counting) Super Bowl champion eats organic food — 80% vegetables and whole grains and 20% lean meats, such as wild salmon.
Fascinating! I bet you’ve not only put down that burger, but you’re also probably gearing up to picket McDonald’s like those silly cows from the Chick-fil-A commercials: “Eat Mor (Fake) Chikin!” Either that or you’re willing to at least read the rest of this post to learn how to save thousands of dollars while improving your and the planet’s longevity.
Why We Converted to Vegetarianism
About ten years ago, we were given a book, Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat by Howard Lyman. I read many passages out loud to Mrs. Cubert on a drive back to Michigan over Easter weekend. By the time we arrived, I sh*t you not, we’d made up our minds to never touch meat again.
Nothing like showing up at a family gathering and passing on the Easter ham. At least eggs were in abundance that day. Still, Easter dinner was a prelude for the awkward vegetarian vs. meat-eater dialogues to follow…
A relative or friend would ask, “So, why did you decide to go vegetarian?”
“It’s really for a variety of reasons. It’s healthier, better for the environment, and better for the animals,” we’d typically reply.
“Huh. But don’t you miss bacon??”
And of course, we’d hear the usual refrain, “I could NEVER give up meat. Do you get enough protein??”
Back to Lyman. Mad Cowboy was a serious eye-opener to the practices of industrial cattle ranching in the U.S.
Everything surrounding that business is sickness: pesticides, synthetic hormones, herbicides, and antibiotics to protect against filth, disease, and death. A far cry from the pre-industrial ag days, when cows were allowed to roam freely and ate nothing but tall grasses.
Aside from the fact Lyman suffered from cancer, he also suffered through a frivolous lawsuit. After sharing his epiphany with Oprah in front of a nationally televised audience, a group of Texas cattle outfits sued.
Oprah won. So I guess you actually can mess with Texas??
Knowing that your steak or burger comes from such a horrific source is enough to make you want to eat more chicken. (But then you can read up on the horrors of industrial poultry operations and then decide it’s okay to move on to falafel.)
Those first few years of vegetarianism went by without too much temptation from meat. Admittedly, it was tough to go out on a neighborhood run after work and smell someone’s barbecue around the bend. Usually, it was our next-door neighbor.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma
At around year three, I picked up yet another book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Fascinating stuff for a fairly new vegetarian to take in. There are LOTS of juicy nuggets (eh hem), and a few of Pollan’s conclusions warrant fair skepticism.
But the punchline is this: Prioritize local, traditional, organic sources of food (i.e., “locavorism”). Don’t rule out meat as a source of calories, so long as it’s from a sustainable source.
Good enough for me! Let’s fire up that Weber grill. It’s steak night. Organic, local, grass-fed steak, that is!
Nowadays, while the rest of the family is 99% vegetarian (eggs and dairy are still on the menu), this author is still eating meat. The catch is, that rarely do I bring meat home since I’m the only one eating it.
But once or twice a week, typically on a date night, for example, I’ll enjoy a steak or seafood option. Remember what Confucius said about moderation in all things?
A vegetarian diet is healthier than the current standard American meat-frenzy diet. Don’t believe me? Check in with our Seventh Day Adventist friends in southern California. A number of them might be over 100, and able to dance circles around YOUR sedentary butt.
Nevertheless, you need to be smart about a vegetarian diet. You can’t just swap your tasty quarter pounder with cheese for a Boca burger and fries.
A common mistake is for new vegetarians to cling to their old meat-centric habits and replace their protein with fake stuff. Or worse, those burgers and steaks get replaced with refined, processed carbs and dairy.
“No Big Mac for me, Fred. I’m trying to get healthy. I’ll take a couple of those apple pies and a strawberry shake though!”
Our early days of vegetarianism weren’t all that different. Never fast food, save for Chipotle’s fine vegetarian burritos. We rejoiced in Boca and fake breakfast sausage patties. Hallelujah! This new habit might not suck!
Ultimately, you’ve got to buckle down and focus on organic whole foods. Even better if you can harvest some small percent of your food from a backyard garden.
One Of the Biggest Reasons to Go Vegetarian? Money
Here’s where things get fun for money geeks, like yours truly. Think about the most expensive items in your grocery cart each week: Steaks, pull-up diapers, pork tenderloin, fancy single-origin coffee beans, and chicken breasts.
Eventually, Junior will outgrow the pull-ups, but you know you’ll never outgrow coffee. That leaves MEAT as the variable that can save us loads of cash.
So how much does the average U.S. family spend on meat as a portion of their annual grocery bill? Let’s find out! I found some helpful data that shows
Gallup data shows we Americans spend $150-$200 per week per family on food. That’s not including dining out. Our family of four spends roughly $900 per month on food, and that’s sans meat.
I blame our super nice co-op and their organic goodness for this $900 extravagance. The USDA estimates a range of anywhere from $650 to $1,278 per month is spent on groceries for a family of four.
Even though we fall in the middle of that range, I shudder to think what our bill would be in a household full of meat-eaters. Some interesting data from NPR reveals that we spend about 22% of our grocery budget on meats. From that, we could extrapolate that if our household ate meat, we’d spend an additional $198 (0.22 x $900) per month on groceries.
Since our $900 already includes protein substitutes for meat, like eggs and beans, we should shave off some dollars. Though eggs and beans are pretty cheap.
Let’s take away four cartons of eggs (dozen each) at $3, so $12 total per month, and we’ll knock off about eight cans of organic beans as well (roughly $2 each for garbanzo beans, black beans, etc.): $16. Maybe we grill veggie burgers a few times a month, so take away $15 there.
The costliest protein substitute is NUTS. We go cray-cray at Costco with those giant bags of almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, pecans, you name it. Even macadamia nuts find their way into our monster cart. The nutty thing is, that we spend about $25 a month on nuts. All told, our protein substitutes amount to roughly $68 per month.
Bottom-line: We save roughly $1,560 ($198 – $68, x 12) per year as a vegetarian family. You know where I’m going to take this next, right? Over 20 years, you’d be able to squirrel away about $74,446 and change (via compounding gains in the average index fund growth period). Enough perhaps to fund a few years of college for Sally?
Do Vegetarians Live Longer?
Surprisingly, there is some credence to the notion that vegetarians don’t live longer simply because of their meatless diet. The Adventists might scoff at this, having found a 22% lower instance of cancer among vegetarians. We also have other Blue Zones populations (Okinawans, Sardinians, Ikarians) pointing us in a similar direction.
Most eat meat strictly on special occasions and rarely is it from a cow. Heart disease and red meat consumption have a long and controversial history together.
Here’s a kicker: You’ll find gobs of studies out on Google, some citing crazy big population studies over a longer period of observation. The numbers can be compelling. One Australian study found that after following a quarter-million people over the age of 45 for six years, there was no discernible difference in death rate based on a vegetarian vs. omnivorous diet.
The authors of the Aussie study suggest that it’s not simply the diet alone that gives vegetarians a ten-year lifespan bonus over meat-eaters. It turns out that vegetarians are simply more mindful of all other health factors:
- They exercise more
- They smoke less
- They drink less
- They eat more whole foods and avoid unhealthy, processed meats
And the punchline: “…vegetarians had a 29% lower risk of early death from heart disease and an 18% lower risk for cancer.”
Confusing, to say the least. But what the study’s authors are trying to convey is that simply abstaining from meat isn’t enough. This is what got our friend Howard Lyman, the rancher from Mad Cowboy into trouble when he started down the vegetarian path (Boca burgers and ice cream, all day long).
After changing his lifestyle to include daily exercise, veganism, and whole foods, his health improved markedly. Important for a cancer survivor, to say the least.
Another way to think of it: If Homer Simpson stopped eating meat but kept on being Homer, do you think he’d add much to his longevity? Duff beer and no exercise, while being exposed to radiation at Mr. Burns’s nuclear power plant likely wouldn’t do much for him.
My bottom line is this: All of the studies I’ve read up on, including the Blue Zones and elsewhere, have shown a strong correlation between limited or zero meat consumption and healthy, long life.
Going Veg Is a Winning Lifestyle
I love that Mrs. Cubert stuck with it. Our vegetarian journey started together back in early 2008. And even though I’ve backslid to 80% vegetarian / 80% primal, we’ve made it work for us. The kids are vegetarians too. But on occasion, if there’s bacon to be had, they become little Homers.
Oh. That “primal” thing… Yeah, I’ve read up on the Paleo and Primal diets, and for a year or so I practically doubled up on my meat intake. I’ve since ratcheted back to eating meat only once or twice a week on average. During that “full-on primal” stage, it was interesting to see how low my cholesterol and blood pressure clocked in, despite all that extra meat and coconut oil…
The extra protein was a key benefit of my primal diet phase. When you hit your 40s, it’s time to ramp up your intake of protein big-time, since we old people struggle to process it as well. That said, there are plenty of non-meat protein sources available.
Mrs. Cubert keeps us well stocked with eggs, cottage cheese, beans, nuts, and vegetables high in protein. And if I were being totally honest, I’d have added in the cost of the large containers of veg protein powders that form the base of our smoothies. But then, if we weren’t a vegetarian household, I’m quite certain we’d still have some other sort of performance powder to add to our smoothies.
But the main point is this: Eliminating meat isn’t just about saving a few nickels. Go meatless (or better, Vegan!) once a week and increase gradually throughout your first year.
You can look forward to a healthier and longer life free of letting food dictate your and the planet’s fate. Tabulating the cost avoidance of bad health and lost time would stretch way beyond the bounds of this post. Now go eat a salad.
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freddy smidlap says
i’m sticking with meat because i like it. that being said i’ll leave all the vegetarians and vegans alone so long as they do the same in the live and let live spirit. if i quit meat i might live an extra week but it would rain every day.
Hey man – me too! I simply choose not to fight the primary chef and food procurement officer, Mrs. Cubert!
You know in that extra week of rainy weather you could finish the epilogue to your novel… 🙂
Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early says
“Prioritize local, traditional, organic sources of food (i.e., “locavorism”). Don’t rule out meat as a source of calories, so long as it’s from a sustainable source.”
Pretty much exactly where I stand 🙂 But still working on more vegetarian/vegan meals in my diet as well.
Right on! It’s easier than one would think to at least reduce the amount of meat. Heck, breakfast is typically meat free. As a bachelor, I had many meals before I learned to cook where it was spaghetti and marinara. We’re really digging the new “pastas” made from garbanzo and brown rices. They’re getting super close to the flavor and texture of the real deal. (Coming from “Mr. Whole Foods” of all people…)
We’re in transition. You might know that my mom is struggling with dementia and I’ve been reading up on it. Apparently, lifestyle plays a big role. I didn’t know that. Eating a plant-based diet is much healthier for the brain. So we’re slowly switching to eating more vegetarian meals. We probably will still eat meat, but we’ll cut way back.
Meat, sugar, carb, tobacco, alcohol, all bad for the brain.
Very true, Joe. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s and we suspect her smoking habit was the biggest factor. I’d argue that avoiding cigs and red meat probably helps a lot. And possible avoiding too much sugar as well.
Alcohol findings seem to change by the minute. You hear that it’s good to have a glass of wine for heart health, then some study says that ANY alcohol is bad. I guess the latter and most recent finding had pretty crummy statistical context, and it’s okay to drink in moderation after all.
Mr. Tako says
Great post. While we’re not vegetarian, we’ve cut WAY back on the meat in the last decade. Now, I try to live a ‘low meat’ lifestyle with very little red meat and more fish.
For example — Now, when I’m making a dish that requires meat, I might use a half portion and up the level of other protein sources (eggs, beans, etc). The flavor ends up being very similar and very satisfying.
Fish tacos FTW!
Mr. Tako! Great to have you here on my little spot of web. 🙂
I like your strategy of finding ways to keep the meat, but reduce it / replace with healthier calories. Fish tacos RULE. What variety of fish do you recommend for them?
Mrs. r2e says
Shhh. Don’t tell anyone that these Texans have cut back on the steaks! We are still carnivores. Sorry, can’t stop with the best BBQ all around us.
We have cut down on portion sizes now that the two boys are out of the house. Eating more lean meats. Using more flavorful spices to get the taste up so we don’t miss the meats.
From the budget side – buy when items are on sale. Portion it out, freeze it right to avoid freezer burn and it will last.
I won’t say a peep! Cutting back is never a bad thing. And BBQ is hard to quit. Good BBQ anyhow…
When you say “freeze it right”, do you have any recommendations for the readers on what that entails?
Done by Forty says
Seriously, now I feel bad for the pizza that we split. Maybe it had locally sourced meat toppings?
We very recently switched to organic produce & meat (with some exceptions that we can’t seem to find easily, like organic Italian sausage because, I mean, what is pasta without Italian sausage?)
Local is something we’re not totally tackling yet but are kicking around the idea of a CSA. They’re not organic, per se, but some hippy alternative where farmers kind of police each other to avoid the costs of becoming certified organic. I dunno. I’m new to all this.
Organic meat is surely the hardest thing to find affordably and right now, the Trader Joes free range organic chicken drumsticks are our main staple. God help us if we get sick of chicken, because I’m not buying $18/lb steaks.
I know, right?!? It was good pizza – and Luce uses only the best ingredients. Whether local or not, I can’t say. I’ll have to check their webby.
CSAs are wonderful, but they’ll get your fridge awfully dirty. We tried one year, even a half share, and it was all we could do to keep up with using the veggies until the next box arrived. Veggie fatigue???
The nice thing about our vegetarian-only home is we avoid the cost of organic meats. Or at least limit them. I’ve been known to occasionally bring home a rump roast or chicken for BBQ when we host guests. Once in a while, it’s worth the small dent in the pocket book.
Team CF says
Proud whole foods plant based eater. Albeit the occasional non-whole food joins in on the party. Have not had meat in 4 years, little to no eggs/dairy/fish either. The evidence is very much overwhelming that a plant based lifestyle is so much better than eating animal products, add in workouts and you are practically unstoppable. Much better for the environment too. Wins all around, not going back any time soon.
Team CF says
On that note, the current best F1 races (Hamilton) also switched to a WFPB diet because he realized that his performance improved (lots of science to back this up, recovery rates are much higher when eating plant based). He keeps on winning! Many top leven triathletes and ultra runners are vegans too. Isn’t science fun (when it is impartial, and not funded by the meat, dairy, fish, big farma, commercial supplement pil industry). Every lifestyle/diet that is promoted by a book that benefits the author, I’m not trying. Same goes for anything that requires supplements. I want the real stuff! Stuff that is promoted by people that are impartial and ethical in their studies.
Smart!!! Did you notice any issues with retaining muscle mass? I think the trick is to seriously ramp up the protein from other sources (beans, nuts, and so on).
As for your second follow on comment, we’re seeing much of this in the US big time sports as well. Many NBA athletes and NFL guys are going vegan! Tom Brady is the poster boy for his healthy diet. Can’t argue with a 40 year old who performs at THAT level.
Team CF says
You need far less protein than you think! It’s been hyped up for years by the dairy and meat industry (with help from the government for sales and growth). I’m not noticing any issues, but I eat a very balanced diet with whole grains, beans and nuts (in addition to the fruits and vegetables) and should get plenty.
I once believed that my friend, but now I’m twisted in knots over what to believe. After all, the Failing New York Times (my favorite newspaper) recently shared this nugget:
I was like, whoah, that’s me. The good news is ANY protein source works – we have a protein powder that’s green-pea based. I’ll definitely give your link a read!
Team CF says
“We think that, for the purposes of maximizing muscular strength and mass with resistance training, most people need more protein”. I’m more of a cardio kind of guy, don’t need the muscle mass. 🙂
That being said, would strongly suggest to stick to the plant based proteins, they have less sulphur components and more fibre. These sulphur component get broking down to H2S in the large intestine (yes, excess protein does not all get absorbed in the smaller intestine apparently) and increases the risk of colon cancer studies suggest. Extra fibre (and starch) seems to do the opposite
Not a vegetarian even slightly. After all I just compared smoking meat to personal finance a few weeks ago.
But…. I also like vegetables and see value to some in vegetarianism. My wife was a vegetarian when I met her. In her case she did so for three reasons: force her out of her cooking comfort zone, cheaper, and not all meat was her thing.
Oh man. I’ll have to check that out! Smoked meat is still something I crave from time to time. BBQ, fish, you name it.
In your case, it could be worth experimenting with a meatless Monday. Take notes on how you feel those days vs. others. Never know – you might find a moderation “sweet spot”.
Dr. McFrugal says
Also like Team CF, I follow a minimally processed, whole food, plant based, Blue Zone inspired vegan diet. There are multiple studies indicating that when it is well planned and supplemented with B12, it is the optimal diet for health, vitality, and longevity.
I had never heard of the Mad Cowboy. I think i’m going to check that one out! It’s funny because it seems like some of the most hardcore advocates of the plant based diets are former workers in the meat and dairy industry. For example, T. Colin Campbell who authored the famous China Study (if you haven’t read the book yet, go check it out) grew up in a dairy farm. So did Caldwell Esselystyn who was featured prominently on the documentary Forks Over Knives. And then there’s John Robbins, who is the son of co-founder of Baskin-Robbin’s ice cream. All three of these guys are gentlemen in their 70s and 80s and they look freaking fantastic. They are living examples of the power of plant based diets. You should look these guys up if you don’t know of them already. They provide a stark contrast to Dr. Atkins (of high protein high fat Atkins diet fame) who died of heart failure and a heart attack.
In addition to optimizing my diet, I do follow some of the Blue Zone philosophies and other wellness principles like exercising regularly, getting enough sleep (7-8 hours average), managing stress, occasional meditation, and maintaining loving relationships.
Thanks for a great read. Cheers to a long, healthy, and fulfilling life!!! 🙂
Hi Dr. McFrugal! Welcome to my neighborhood. 🙂
Blue Zones in my view are a revelation that in my humble opinion, could solve half of the healthcare crisis in this country. Prevention prevention prevention!
Mad Cowboy is a great read. Eye opening, entertaining, and life changing stuff. Highly recommend it! And to your point, what better source than someone who actually worked in the space and did a “hard conversion”.
I wonder what’ll become of Mark Sisson, a proponent of meat and animal proteins. He’s smart enough not to go crazy on Atkins, but I do wonder if we’ll learn soon enough whether his version of Paleo has him ticking healthily into his 100s.
Good to have a fellow Blue Zoner stop by – let’s keep tabs and keep each other accountable!
Dr. McFrugal says
Yeah, you’re right. Mark looks pretty fantastic himself. We’ll see if he can sustain it 🙂
Carnivore diet for over a year and have never felt better. Meat is not your enemy, it’s what spikes your insulin! And this is mainly carbs. A lot of protein will too but its hard to go overboard on meat since you feel satiated. Unlike pizza and pasta which I can devour to no end. Humans are primarily carnivores, our stomachs are designed for just that. We don’t have several chambers like a cow who eats a plant and grain based diet. The majority of people are suffering from metabolic syndrome, not because they are eating meat, but because they are consuming highly processed foods, high in carbs. Low fat simply means high in sugar. Eating meat along with healthy fats like avocados and similar foods high in fiber which don’t spike insulin is the healthiest way too eat. This is a medical fact not my opinion. And if you think the food pyramid is correct, look at all the health problems because of it. Many diseases which exist now are mainly due to inflammation. Control the inflammation via insulin and watch all your health markers improve. Slamming meat is just adding to a lot of bad information which already exists out there.
Hi Lori! Just be careful as very few species can tolerate a carnivore diet. Cats are among the few, and even they occasionally eat grass to expunge hairballs…
Our stomachs are designed for an omnivore’s diets. We tend to keep the heavy meats in our system longer, which can lead to potential cancer-inducing problems. That said I agree, we don’t have cows’ stomachs either, so we weren’t intended to eat grass (gluten free!)
I don’t think the food pyramid is correct. But what I do think would be neato is a Blue Zones food pyramid. I’m not slamming meat, just suggesting we eat less of it. I’d never give up steaks, but I don’t need to cram down a rib eye every other day either. Very few 100 year olds lived a life of daily red meat, as far I know.