You don't have to go 100 per cent vegan to alleviate the impacts of factory farming.
Although eating less meat is beneficial to our health and climate, the thought of going meatless is something unimaginable for most Singaporeans.
Even with plant-based meat alternatives from brands like Quorn, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat that taste exactly like the real deal, many still find it difficult to give up on meat.
Instead of going cold turkey, some youths are choosing to exclude meat from some meals as a first step toward reducing their meat consumption.
Youth.SG spoke to these youths to find out what inspires them to eat less meat.
19-year-old Syakira Etchemendy was first inspired to cut down on meat back in 2015 by a friend.
“She had just gone vegan and told me about the various documentaries that displayed the realities of factory farming. Having seen the harsh truths for myself made me want to reduce my meat consumption,” said the nutrition and wellness student.
Similarly, Sonya Idnani, 19, felt encouraged to eat less meat after hanging around peers who went vegetarian or decreased their meat intake as a result of being more environmentally-conscious.
The Nanyang Technological University student said: “I always had at least one friend in my social circle who was vegetarian or vegan. Going to restaurants with vegetarian options together made me realise that eating less meat is more accessible and palatable than I used to think.”
Sonya was also no stranger to the concept of eating less meat since her aunt and cousins practise vegetarianism a few times a week for religious reasons, further normalising the idea.
Dillon Chua, 16, began having more plant-based meals about two years ago when his family decided to change their diet to reduce their carbon footprint.
“We first started incorporating more plant-based meals into our diet by having one fully meatless dinner a week. Then, we gradually increased the frequency of these meals,” said the secondary school student.
Dillon and Sonya initially struggled with the inaccessibility of meat-free options.
Sonya could barely go a week without eating meat due to having limited choices. She said: “The biggest challenge was definitely the environment in my junior college where vegetarian or meat-free options were limited and more expensive.”
The hectic schedule of life in junior college also prevented Sonya from spending too much time thinking about what to eat, so she would eat snacks like ham and cheese croissants, which were more widely available.
Sonya eventually managed to overcome this hurdle. She said: “I learned to overcome such perceived obstacles easily by changing my thinking. I did this by reminding myself the point of eating less meat.
“By doing so, the environment and animals became my priority as opposed to my rather first-world problems.”
She also learnt that she could request to remove meat when ordering food.
For Dillon, who loves steak and burgers, being open to trying new food was key in his journey toward eating less meat.
“Initially, it was extremely difficult because I personally like meat. I would eat meat for every meal except breakfast. But I was willing to try things that didn’t sound yummy and slowly wean myself off of meat.
“Now, one of my favourite plant-based meals is tortilla soup!” shared Dillon, who eats plant-based meals four times a week.
Unlike Dillon and Sonya, Syakira had no qualms diving straight into this meatless lifestyle.
She said: “My motivation was at an all-time high having seen those documentaries. Eating less meat simply takes replacing what would normally be meat in meals with a plant-based protein like tempeh. “It’s also less expensive to eat meatless, especially as a polytechnic student patronising stalls at my school’s cafeteria.”
Previously, Syakira would pay $4 for a plate of food with one meat and two vegetable dishes at the Nasi Padang store. After switching all three sides to meatless dishes, her plate would only cost $2.50 at most, which helped her save some money.
As with any change in diet, all three youths noticed that reducing their meat consumption has had an effect physically and mentally.
“I get a lot less meat sweats when eating and generally have regular bowel movements. Eating more fruits and vegetables instead of meat also helped with my cystic acne,” shared Syakira, who believes cutting out meat in certain meals or participating in Meatless Mondays can help lessen the environmental impacts of factory farming.
They also feel less lethargic and more energised as compared to when they would routinely eat meat in every meal.
Sonya noticed that eating less meat prevented her from feeling too bloated and experiencing meat sweats, the type of perspiration that comes after eating too much meat.
Cutting down on meat has also helped the undergraduate have a healthier attitude toward food.
She shared: “Having struggled with eating disorders, eating less meat helps my relationship with food as it changes my mindset from thinking of food as something I need to monitor strictly to thinking of food as fuel and nutrition.”
Despite eating less meat for a while, Dillon feels he won’t be able to go full vegetarian simply because he loves meat too much.
He said: “Having meatless meals means that you are lacking in certain nutrients and proteins. Sometimes, you just need to eat meat to get that satisfaction!”
Syakira believes that not eating meat at all would take away from the social aspect of food, especially when invited to eat with family friends, since she would have to refuse certain dishes.
Sonya, on the other hand, became vegetarian in February 2019 after a few years of eating less meat as a way of taking her environmentally-conscious lifestyle a step further.
Either way, all three youths think it isn’t necessary to cut out meat entirely to make a difference.
Sonya said: “I think eating less meat does make a difference, albeit small, because I’m just one person. But any small effort can culminate into a larger effort in the long run, especially for the environment.
“Hopefully global warming would significantly reduce.”
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