Meat Reductionism

Just recently, my sweetie and I were discussing how times of economic difficulty breed religious fundamentalism and political fanaticism. He pointed to the emergence of communism and fascism in the period following the Great Depression.

I wonder if the same holds true for meat-eating habits. Meat is already a divisive subject.

We’ve all rolled our eyes at the vegetarian who ruined everyone else’s meal with her violent political ranting. Likewise, I’ve said a prayer for the arteries of a stubborn, multi-meal, everyday meat-eater.

When people ask about my eating preferences, I truthfully respond, “I am a meat reductionist.” This answer usually produces a snicker or snide remark in turn.

I thought I was part of a greater movement. I thought my term referred to a living, breathing phenomenon, but perusing the internet rendered very little information. Consequently, I’d like to offer my suggestion for a coherent definition here and now:

meat reductionism (noun)
[meet + ri-duhk-shuh-niz-uh m]
the practice of minimizing or obscuring the consumption of animal flesh as used for food
I prefer continuums to absolutes.

I've dabbled in lacto-ovo vegetarianism, but I did so while I was young and immature, resulting in bouts of anemia. While my nutritional habits and maturity level might be better suited to vegetarianism now, I’ve become too much of an epicure to abandon the beloved filet mignon.

Those close to me can also attest to my extreme love of burgers.

Sure I enjoy meat as a treat, a reward even. Need I eat it every day? Certainly not. Every meal? Not a chance.

Our ancestors were primarily gatherers over hunters. When foraging for food in the wild, they ate meat only when they made a kill: perhaps only once weekly, if that. As a result, our bodies have evolved to be all-eaters. But this category is equivocal, leading to the belief that humans digest lettuce and steak with the same grace and ease.

A human omnivore is distinctly different from the primates, bears and rodents with whom we share the omnivorous category.

Deciphering whether a species is a carnivore or herbivore is indicated by the teeth of the animal and the length of its digestive tract. While humans do fall under the omnivore category based on a rigid tri-categorical definition, we should instead consider meat /vegetable preferences as a more broad spectrum.

When we compare the length of our digestive tract to that of a raccoon or a rodent, it is considerably shorter. Longer tracts indicate species that are designed to eat lots of meat because it takes more time and effort for the body to break meat down than veggies. Shorter tracts are thus indicative of a diet that should be primarily comprised of vegetables.

While we do have canine teeth, they bear little resemblance to those of a wolf or lion. Our teeth are actually more similar to a gorilla’s or a horse’s (both herbivores.)

While our bodies are capable of processing and digesting meat, our basic physiology suggests it should not be ultra-prevalent in our diet and the bulk of our nutrition should be comprised of fruits, vegetables, and grains. When considering meat, let us look to the wisdom of Aristotelian moderation as guide.

If a physiological argument will not affect your meat consumption, then perhaps an environmental or humanistic argument might. If we all stopped eating meat, there would be enough food in vegetable crops to comfortably feed everyone in the world. Raising a cow for a year demands 7 times the amount of grain that it would take to feed a human. For more information consider, The River Cottage Meat Book: For Carnivores with a Conscience, to get more information on sustainable meat farming.

No one is asking you to give up meat completely, but to eat it in excess seems both decadent and cruel. My beloved Mark Bittman recently gave up meat before dinner in an effort to reduce his cholesterol. His project was completely successful.

Slashfood also posted a recent article on the subject of daytime meat reductionism. It would seem the meat-eater/vegetarian dichotomy is becoming less pronounced than it once was.

Alas, the next time we are at a cocktail party and someone questions us about our eating habits, let us proudly proclaim:

“We are meat reductionists!”

Simple & Savoury Tofu Recipe

½ block of extra-firm tofu, cut into small cubes
½ cup of cremini mushrooms, brushed clean & cut in half
2-3 table spoons of olive oil
1 small jar of capers + the juices
3 scallions, sliced finely & divided by white and green
2 tablespoons of soy sauce

Heat oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms and tofu. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften and the tofu turns golden brown. Add the white part of the scallions. Saute gently for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the capers and juices, the green scallion bits, and the soy sauce.

Serve over a bed of whole wheat couscous.

My good friend, Edward Harrison, showed me this simple recipe when we were in University at McGill. I added the mushrooms because I like the texture. Thanks Edward!


  1. I feel ignorant in failing to mention that global livestock production accounts for one-fifth of all greenhouse-gas emissions which is more than transportation. Wow. Meat, huh?

  2. YES! This is exactly what I am! I have been struggling for years to find an accurate term of what I am. I probably eat meat a couple times a month at most. People regularly ask if I am a vegetarian, but since I occasionally eat meat, I would not define myself that way. So today I decided I was a "meat reductionist" and googled the term to see if there was anyone else out there with me. It's nice to know there are.

    I now formally consider myself an economic/enviromentalist meat reductionist.
    (See wikipedia for descriptions of economic and environmental vegetarians.)

  3. Hi Claire,

    Thanks so much for commenting. I'm glad you stumbled across this post.

    It's heartwarming to hear from a kindred spirit. I sympathize with that environmental vegetarian logic- it just makes a lot of sense to me, but I've prefer to have meat on some occasions. I feel that we could still make a large difference if we achieve a balance and simply erduce meat rather than cutting it out completely.

  4. Love your article. So glad to see there are other meat reductionists out there.


  5. Hi Shelby,

    Thanks so much for your comment. I'm glad you feel the same way. I'm sure there are more meat reductionists out there that don't even know how to describe themselves. Meat reductionists unite!

  6. This is also how I define my eating habits. Often people assume I am a vegetarian, perhaps because I am thin, or they know I am environmentally and socially conscious. And indeed I do believe in vegetarianism, but with my fast metabolism, irregular work and eating schedule and complete lack of cooking skills, I generally eat what is available to me or easy. I attempted vegetarianism while working in a place where regular meals were provided, and still found myself craving meat, and feeling weak. And so I returned to meat reductionism. Actually the fact that I do eat meat opens up the dialog with other meat eaters more easily than with a vegetarian, whom people may feel is judging them.


  7. Anne, apologies for my delayed response! Thanks for your comment. I am so pleased to hear you practice meat reductionism too.

    It's very interesting that you did not have a great experience with cutting out meat completely. I mirror your sentiments. I think I just wound up anemic.

    I think you make a really great point about dialogues too - there is stigma associated with the word 'vegetarian' much like there is with the word 'feminist.' Eating meat, but eating less of it can be a more accessible path to take for many.