The Daily Habit That Might Have The Biggest Positive Impact On The World

You’re not going to like it - Here’s how to pick it up anyways

It’s good for the environment, good for your health and good for farm animals. Reducing the amount of meat, milk and eggs you eat is one of the best ways you can make the world a better place on a day-to-day basis.

It is hard though. We have evolved to like meat, milk and eggs, because they are a good source of nutrients. Eating animal products is deeply ingrained in our culture and traditions. Changing habits is hard in general and this one especially so. We get the immediate benefits of eating meat and see none of the negative consequences, which are temporally and geographically far away. Nevertheless, reducing your intake of animal products is absolutely worth it. Here’s why and how.

1. Start With The Why

Fully understanding the negative consequences of our current consumption of animal products is key to getting the motivation for this move. There are three good reasons for reducing our consumption:

  • Environment: Animal agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of climate change. It is responsible for about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions and about 80% of Amazon deforestation. It also is highly resource intensive in terms of input/output, land use and water. (Source 1, Source 2)
Source
  • Your Health: Many people worry that adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet would have a negative effect on their health. To the contrary! A study at Cambridge found that: “(…) the health of vegetarians appears to be good compared with national averages and similar to that of non-vegetarians with comparable background and lifestyle”. The data also shows that vegetarians have lower mean BMI and a lower risk of suffering from ischemic heart disease than comparable non-vegetarians. (Source
    Another study adds: “(…) vegetarians typically have (…) decreased incidence of hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers than do non-vegetarians.” (Source). Of course, correlation does not imply causation. Vegetarians might just generally be more health-conscious than non-vegetarians. Certain traits of vegetarian diets, like lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol as well as higher intake of dietary fiber, can be directly linked to improved health.
  • Animal Welfare: For many this might seem far fetched at the first glance. There are, however, convincing arguments that how we treat and use animals is deeply morally wrong. In a few sentences the argument goes like this:
     1. The process of producing meat/dairy/eggs inflicts intense pain in various ways on the animals used.
     2. We know that animals can feel pain in similar ways as we do.
    3. It is this capacity for suffering that makes it morally relevant how our actions affect these animals.
    4. The small amount of pleasure we get from eating the animals is strongly outweighed by the big amount of pain inflicted on them in the process.
     If you’re not yet fully convinced, I recommend watching Food Inc. or Earthlings and reading this summary of Peter Singers work. (Or, of course, my essay on the topic)
Source

2. How to Change The Habit

Now, charged with motivation, let’s look at some strategies to make it happen. To make it as easy as possible we’ll approach this using the science of changing habits and systems thinking. First though, a general tip:

  • Take it easy: Don’t go from having meat in every meal, every day to completely vegan from one day to the next. Set a big goal, say going fully vegetarian, and move there gradually. Like this, you’ll experience more small wins along the way and you’re more likely to stick with it.

Next, we can take a cue from Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit. He breaks every habit consists of three components: Cue, Routine and Reward.

The three components of every habit

Based on this, we can apply two strategies to change the habit:

  • Remove the cues: Put yourself in situations, where it’s easy to eat fewer animal products. In a steak house, not eating meat is going to be harder than in any other restaurant. Buying less meat when shopping, will automatically make you eat less meat when you’re at home and hungry.
  • Replace the routine while still getting a similar reward: Make sure you find good, satisfying alternative meals. Being open-minded is key here. Directly replacing meat in meals with meat substitutes might disappoint you. Instead, find meals which wouldn’t normally be structured around meat and try those. Google is your friend
    Also, it is not hard, but do make sure that you get the necessary nutrients from new sources. Use this guide.

Lastly, let’s think about this from a systems perspective:

  • Right now, you get all of the benefits and none of the negative effects of eating animal products. Put yourself back into the loop, by building a system to fix this: Set yourself a goal (e.g. eating no meat on one day per week), select a friend as a referee or be your own ref. Put up the stakes (an amount of money that would hurt a bit, if you lost it). Report to your ref on how you’re doing. If you hit your target, you get to keep your money. Otherwise, you donate it to an animal welfare charity. 
    Stickk.com provides a framework for this. Hundreds of people have successfully used it to lose weight or stop smoking, and it should work for our purposes too.

Congrats for making it this far! Studies suggest that it takes an average of two months to build a new habit. This may seem like a long time, but this also means that you have enough time to adapt and slowly get used to it. Once you’ve established the new habit, you’ll be able to reap the benefits.


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