Eating for the Environment Without Giving Up Meat 

person buying meat from local butcher


More people are becoming aware of how food choices affect the health of the environment. But you do not have to give up meat to do your part. Making slight changes can have a big impact! 

About one-quarter of all greenhouse gases come from food production.1 Producing animal foods, especially cows (beef and dairy), creates more greenhouse gases than producing plant foods.1 In addition, the production of these food items uses a lot of the available freshwater.1 Thus, you may have heard that switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet is the best way to help the environment. The good news is you do not have to switch to a fully vegetarian diet! In fact, there are small changes that you can make to help the environment while still incorporating animal foods into your diet. 


Switch Only One Meal 

You do not have to go “all in” right away. If you are not ready to give up all meat, there are still ways to reduce environmental impact! Swapping just one animal-based meal can help, and can save up to 133 gallons of water.2 That’s almost 7,000 gallons of water each year! Doing this also saves the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as driving a car for 348 miles.2 That’s like driving your car the entire length of Washington state from east to west!  

If you’re ready to make the switch, try plant-based items like tofu, lentils, chickpeas, or soybeans in place of meat or seafood. Check out some of my favorite blogs for some great recipes: and Remember to start small and swap out just one animal-based item for a plant-based one. 


From One Meat to Another 

Maybe you are not ready to switch an animal-based meal to a plant-based one. As stated earlier, beef produces the most greenhouse gases.1 Try using items such as ground chicken or ground turkey in place of ground beef. Producing poultry foods such as ground turkey creates 1/10 of the greenhouse gases that beef products do.1 In addition, ground turkey uses less than half of the water that it takes to produce ground beef.1 Other options include choosing pork or fish over beef. If you are ready to do your part but not ready to give up meat, try this option! 


Reduce Portion Size 

Another option to reduce your impact is to reduce how much animal protein you eat. Many people eat more protein than they need. On average, people eat 36% more protein than needed.3 Furthermore, people in the United States eat about 80% more protein than they need.3 A single serving of protein at a meal should be 3 to 4 ounces. Many times, we consume at least double that amount. Next time you are out to eat or cook a meal at home, have only a single portion versus the standard double portion. Then, include whole grains and vegetables as side dishes to fill you up. Another option is to share a meal with a friend. And even another option would be to use a smaller portion of meat as a “flavoring” in a dish where beans or lentils are the main protein. Do this, and you can still get as much protein as you need! 


Let Us Help 

You can help support a better tomorrow and a healthy planet by making big or small changes. Whether you want to entirely change your diet or just eat smaller portions, the providers at Bastyr’s clinics can offer support. They will help you create a meal plan to support your style of eating. And the best part is that you will be helping the planet and meeting your nutritional needs at the same time! If you would like some help planning your next plant-based meal, give us a call at (206) 834-4100 at Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle, or (858)246-9730 at Bastyr University Clinic in San Diego.  


About the Author

Rick Harrison is a dietetic intern as Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. He is enthusiastic about cooking and eating but not so much about doing the dishes. When not at work or in the kitchen, he enjoys staying active by running, practicing CrossFit, or hiking the PNW. 



1. Ritchie H, Roser M. Environmental Impacts of Food Production. Published 2022. Accessed January 25, 2023. 

2. Conzachi K. Meatless Mondays: “Less Meat, Less Heat!” | Environmental Center | University of Colorado Boulder. Published March 18, 2021. Accessed January 25, 2023. 

3. Ranganathan J, Vennard D, Waite R, Lipinski B, Searchinger T, Dumas P. Shifting Diets for a Sustainable Food Future. 2016;(11). Accessed January 29, 2023.