After giving up meat, Brian Kateman returned home to Staten Island, N.Y., for Thanksgiving dinner and under pressure from his family, he grabbed a piece of turkey.
“In that moment, my sister, as siblings will do, took the opportunity to call me out on it and said, ‘I thought you were a vegetarian, Brian,’ ” Kateman recalled. “I had a similar experience when I went out to breakfast with some friends, and I took a piece of bacon.”
He talked with his friend Tyler Alterman about the impact that these gotcha moments could have on people’s efforts to eat less meat. How could they provide affirmation and encouragement rather than holding people up to ridicule for their failures?
They decided that, like vegetarians and vegans, people in this group needed guiding principles and a name around which they could coalesce. The term “flexitarian,” they said, didn’t get across the idea of eliminating or cutting back on meat. They played around with all sorts of other words before deciding on “reducetarian.” Google searches showed no one else was using it, so they created the Reducetarian Foundation.
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“We know that it can be challenging sometimes to make drastic changes to diet,” Kateman said. “So there was a real need to allow people to feel good about the fact that they were making a change in their diet, even if they weren’t perfect or pure. … The average American eats well over 200 pounds of meat a year, and so if a person was eating 10 pounds of meat in a year, why should we criticize them?”
The Ziegler household over in Davis has reducetarians of virtually every stripe. Jay Ziegler, who handles government relations for the Nature Conservancy, said he has cut back on red meat out of concerns about cholesterol. His wife, Carri, he said, doesn’t eat much red meat or pork because she doesn’t like either. Their teen son, William, is concerned about the environmental impact of factory farms and has reduced his consumption of red meat. Their daughter, Amelia, 20, is a vegan, so she doesn’t eat any animal products.
“I tend to be an omnivore, and I love to cook,” Ziegler said. “I’m conflicted on this. … In my day job, one of the things that we’ve found is that cattle grazing is one of the more effective conservation techniques on agricultural land in the Sacramento area to help conserve and sustain biodiversity of vernal pools. I’m just conflicted on this topic on many levels, because of personal taste and big-picture environmental concerns.”
When it comes to meat consumption, Kateman said, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing choice.
“It’s a great thing if you become a vegan or a vegetarian because those are obvious ways to reduce personal consumption of animal products, but there may be some people who are not interested in veganism or vegetarianism at first,” Kateman said. “I wanted them to feel proud of the fact that they were taking steps, even if they hadn’t taken the last step. Just simply taking the first step was something we should celebrate.”
At the Reducetarian Foundation, Kateman and Alterman encourage people to eat less meat and remind people that vegans, vegetarians and reducetarians all share many of the same concerns about climate change, biodiversity loss, animal welfare and human health. It’s far easier, however, to imagine a meatless world once people have been successful at going without meat, Kateman said.
“No matter what inspires someone to make a change to their diet that improves their bodies and the planet, we want to celebrate that,” Kateman said, “and so when a person says, ‘I just want to save money,’ we say a great way to do that is to eat more plant-based food. When a person says they just want to try new or interesting foods, we say, ‘Well, have you tried quinoa? Or, have you had the Impossible Burger? You should try them.’ ”
Sacramento resident Simeon Gant, executive director of Green Tech Education & Employment, gave up pork and meat for health reasons. He rarely cooks chicken at home out of concerns about salmonella.
“I felt like the food wasn’t fully digesting or going through my system,” Gant said. “It felt like it was clogged up in my chest area. I started eating more vegetables, and I felt like my flow became better. … What I’m still concerned about is when I think about red meat not digesting fully, I feel like if I’m eating less of that, I’m at least reducing my chances of getting cancer.”
Gant, however, is also concerned about animal welfare: “If we are mistreating or hurting or brutalizing the animals that we are eating, I do believe that some of that pain is transferred to our bodies as we are eating them.”
People can learn more about the reducetarian philosophy at reducetarian.org. Kateman, Alterman and their team also produced a book called “The Reducetarian Solution.” Released in April, it has been endorsed by a diverse constellation of thought leaders, including Deepak Chopra and Sam Harris. The book is a compilation of essays by a wide spectrum of people such as Bill McKibben, Peter Singer and Melanie Joy, but it also contains recipes to assist people trying to change their diet.
“I thought there was a lot of power in having all of these different voices with a varying spectrum of opinion coming together around a shared view,” Kateman said. “Sometimes, people get caught up in their small differences, and even though they have so much in common.”
Help for Reducetarians
People can try a number of strategies to reduce their meat consumption. Here are some resources:
Vegan Before 6: Food writer Mark Bittman, author of the bestselling “How to Cook Everything,” introduced what he described as a better way of eating in “VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00.” He writes the foreward for “The Reducetarian Solution.”
“The Reducetarian Solution”: Released in April, “The Reducetarian Solution” educates readers about why we eat so many animal products – the cultural, economic and sociological factors. It also explains factory farming and discusses the health implications of meat consumption. The Reducetarian Foundation is making plans to publish a cookbook next year.