The rising specter of climate change and the potential collapse of modern civilization are daunting and troubling thoughts. The destruction of the Earth’s biosphere because of human activities during the age of industrial capitalism will have lasting consequences for future generations. The task list of corrective actions for humanity in a new, undefined age still unfolding is overwhelming. It requires the complete revolution of our transportation and energy sectors to the re-thinking of the design of our food chains. This process is a large societal shift to a sustainable age of circular economy1, zero growth, and de-growth2. Many people feel powerless to implement change when forced to engage within an economic system dominated by corporate carbon emitters3 far more influential than themselves. Ultimately, we will change what we consume and how much we consume by forces beyond our control. This may include unpopular mandates. In contrast, others will become reducetarians by choice.

A reducetarian is someone who elects to reduce the consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs without fully adopting a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Brian Kateman4, co-founder of the Reducetarian Foundation5 , invented theword in 2015. The foundation’s mission is to “improve human health, protect the environment, and spare farm animals from cruelty by reducing societal consumption of animal products." The idea runs in parallel to the proposal by the medical journal Lancet for consumers of the West and global North to change their diets to meet the global needs of 10 billion people in the year 2050 and of the UN Environment6, which declared meat, not nuclear weapons, as the world’s most urgent threat to humanity in 2017.

Today, we live in the liberal age of market freedom and rational choice. A collection of many small individual choices7 at the micro level shapes market forces and drives change at the macro level. We simply need to take our first steps to shift demand in a constructive direction. First, we must educate ourselves on sustainable living strategies. Second, we must take our first actions as personal choices. Finally, we must inform and influence our family and friends, which then drives generational change as the young begin their lives with a different set of social norms and standards than their parents.

The modern era in the so-called developed world has an abundance of food and resources. Overconsumption8 has led to waste and a gluttony of consequences, from poor health, abusive animal agriculture, the depletion of fresh water, forests stripped to create pasture, species extinctions9, and environmental destruction. Since the industrial age, humans have doubled the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. Meat production10 is releasing large amounts of methane, another planet-warming greenhouse gas.

image host Source: The Economist

We should know by now that all ages and empires end. The long arc of history informs us of how social systems come and go from politics and economics. This can happen in a quick, revolutionary flash or a slow transition. New ways replace old ways, and the beat goes on. Today’s economies, political systems, and empires will also end. Considering the systems of the past with feudalism, mercantilism, communism, and liberalism, we do not yet know what the next era will be or what it will be called. There may be another dark age of conflict before a new renaissance can emerge. The era of climate change will be a major social disruptor to drive future transformation from extreme weather events to rising seas, mass human migration, and geopolitical competition. For those who believe in science11, we have a general idea of what challenges await in the decades and centuries ahead. We do not know what the result will mean for civilization. However, we can influence those outcomes today.

Many of us are trying to do our part by reducing our carbon footprints. We understand fossil fuels and transportation are the most obvious sources of greenhouse gas emissions. We try to use more public transportation. We are shifting to electric cars powered on centralized grids by renewable sources of energy like wind and solar. Yet, we know this is not enough, fast enough. There is more we can do. We can change our diets to reduce water and land consumption while decreasing the release of carbon dioxide and methane in supply chains and food production.

Plant-based diets have been around since the rise of primate humans. Until the dawn of the industrial age, cultures that mastered complete plant protein combinations thrived with only small amounts of meat in their diets. Asian cultures grew on rice and soy. Mediterranean cultures thrived on lentils and wheat. In the Americas, beans and corn12, or quinoa and amaranth, were staples. Separately, societies around the world evolved successful protein combination strategies based on the local ingredients that surrounded them. Eating local existed long before it was a fad. It is a choice we can make again, today.

Vegetarianism and veganism have been around for a long time. Vegans eat no animal products, while vegetarians consume some dairy and eggs. Pescatarians permit the consumption of seafood, like fish. Historical motivations for adopting a diet heavy on plants included respect for life in religious belief systems like Jainism13 or Buddhism. Modern motivations include the horrific treatment of animals in modern industrial factory farming. Others adopt vegan and vegetarian diets to clean up their health from heart disease and diabetes, among others. However, much of the common public finds the idea of switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet expensive, extreme, and difficult. It is a lifestyle that upends deeply ingrained modern activity norms and runs contrary to commercial marketing campaigns. We live in a society infused with cheap meat and dairy products, despite their unaccounted-for social costs. This presents a challenge to implementing change.

Aside from health, religion, and animal welfare concerns, a fourth motivator for diet change is gaining dominance. Sustainability14 is becoming a driving motivator in a way that is both voluntary and involuntary. Without a sustainable Earth, our societies can’t exist. Ultimately, we will have no choice but to change. The older, the conservatives, and the right-wing resist centralized and government-mandated change. Moving in such a direction rapidly risks the rise of political instability and social conflict. Instead, we have the personal freedom to make our own better choices. Everyone is on their own developmental path to more sustainable living. Some will move faster than others. How can this unfold for individuals driving wider collective change?

Reducetarianism is simple. It just means eating less meat and dairy at your own pace when you decide. It does not require the commitment or discipline to go fully vegan or vegetarian. In contrast, a flexitarian15 mixes a meat- and plant-based diet without an elimination goal in mind. Reducetarianism has a target but lacks the puritanical and judgmental16 social aspects of dramatic change, which can lead to disappointing failure. It is always a work in progress.

With no hard rules to reducetarianism, there are frameworks to help us along the way. For an easy introduction, Meatless Monday17 is a simple concept that means one just skips eating meat on Mondays. Social networking groups exist to share recipe ideas and promote the idea of not having meat one day per week. It is the first baby step on a journey to a more sustainable destination.

Veganuary18 is a larger idea that advocates for skipping meat and dairy products for the entire month of January each year. This secular idea echoes the post-New Year “go back to the gym” craze and fits into the Christian calendar of Lent after the gluttony of the December holiday season. The medical journal Lancet suggests a year-long, everyday effort through the adoption of the “Planetary Health Diet.19" This 2019 plan seeks to keep the world’s food systems within safe planetary limits20 to meet the needs of 10 billion people21 equitably. This science-based wake-up call requires an 80% reduction in beef consumption by consumers in the developed economies of the West and global north.

As a reducetarian, you can set your own rules and create your own diet framework. Perhaps you will skip meat and dairy only at lunch or only on weekdays. Perhaps you will cut out fast food and frozen convenience foods, which will increase your consumption of fresh and local choices by default. Perhaps you will have designated cheat days. The rise of plant-based beef22 , chicken, and egg substitutes offers tools to facilitate a transition to plant-based proteins while preserving the memories of traditional family recipes. Going back to our cultural roots with combinations of grains and legumes a few times a week is the most affordable option of all without the barrier of using expensive “fake meats." Today, we still mostly have the luxury of making these choices freely without supply chain disruptions or market pricing chaos to limit our selections. We can do better for ourselves, the planet, and our children because we know better.

Critics will say this incremental change is not enough or fast enough for the environment. This may be true. Harsher environmental conditions will drive additional behavior change. With time, it will become less of a choice. Inequality will become an obvious social divider as the wealthy will continue to consume irresponsibly and emit carbon beyond their fair share. With continued meat consumption, animal suffering23 and meat-induced cancers24 will still exist. However, we still have the time and luxury to start somewhere and take our first steps together to a more sustainable society. Let’s take the wins, when and where we can get them. You, too, can take part in this change.

When more and more people make more and more of these changes in choice more often, market forces will react. Demand for beef, chicken, pork, dairy, and eggs will plummet. The scale of animal suffering will decline. Land and water use will be more efficient to feed more people per acreage. Greenhouse gas emissions within food chain production will drop. Children will grow up eating less meat, dairy, and eggs. For these new generations, the new paradigm will not be a process of change at all. Reducetarinism will be the new normal as part of a new age of zero-growth and circular economics. Go ahead and take your first voluntary steps. Being a reducetarian can be as simple25 and easy as you design it.


1 The Seven Pillars of the Circular Economy.
2 Degrowth can work — here’s how science can help.
3 100 companies are responsible for 71% of GHG emissions.
4 What Is Reducetarianism?.
5 Reducetarian Foundation.
6 Tackling the world’s most urgent problem: meat.
7 Cutting Back on Meat? What to Know About the Reducetarian Movement.
8 We would need 1.7 Earths to make our consumption sustainable / Washington Post.
9 What is a mass extinction, and why do scientists think we’re in the middle of one?.
10 Climate change food calculator: What's your diet's carbon footprint?.
11 Global warming in the pipeline.
12 The Interworking of the Three Sisters.
13 What Makes a Jain Food Different from a Vegan Food?.
14 What Do Sustainable Lifestyles Mean?.
15 Reducetarianism: Everything You Need To Know About Eating Less Meat, Dairy & Eggs.
16 "Reducetarians" eat less meat without going cold — or no — turkey.
17 Go Meatless Monday — It’s Good for You, and Good for the Planet.
18 Try vegan this january.
19 The Planetary Health Diet.
20 New plant-focused diet would ‘transform’ planet’s future, say scientists.
21 The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health.
22 Beyond Meat's Beyond Burger Life Cycle Assessment: A detailed comparison between a plant-based and an animal-based protein source.
23 Foods You Might Not Know Are Vegan.
24 Cancer: Carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat.
25 Reducetarianism Is a Totally Doable Approach to Plant-Based Eating.