39 percent of Americans are trying to cut down on how much meat they eat. But judging from the pork, beef and poultry consumption in the US, which has been steadily rising in recent years, not that many are succeeding. Even among self-proclaimed vegetarians about 60 percent have dined on meat within the last 24 hours.
For most people, reducing meat consumption is simply not that easy. There are plenty of reasons why humanity is hooked on meat, ranging from our innate protein cravings to symbolism of meat (meat stands for power, wealth and masculinity), and the $2.7 billion in corn subsidies which help fuel the meat industry. Luckily, though, if you'd like to reduce your meat consumption -- and go, as some say, "reducetarian" -- science offers tips to help you.
TIP #1: Follow your eating scripts
Approximately 45 percent of what we do each day is a habit -- an action repeated in more or less the same way in the same place. We like habits because they are simply easier on our brains. Habits also apply to food -- scientists call this "eating scripts." If we grill, we think burgers. If we go to a ball game, we think hot dogs. And on a Sunday morning, we think bacon. Fighting eating scripts is difficult, so to make going meatless easier on yourself, don't try to substitute burgers with a salad. Instead, make yourself a lentil burger. While watching sports, don't go for a stir-fry. Try a veggie hot dog in place of a meat one.
TIP #2: Satisfy your protein cravings
Just like cockroaches, rats and cats, humans have innate protein cravings. If the amount of calories from protein in the diet falls below 15 percent, we start looking for this nutrient. But you don't need meat or dairy to appease such cravings. All you need is protein-dense plant foods -- and there are plenty of them. So next time you feel like having a ham sandwich, try a peanut butter one instead (PB on whole-wheat bread has complete protein). Rice and beans make a great combination, too.
TIP #3: Go for ketchup
Take advantage of your psychological wiring and create positive associations of plant-based meals by pairing them with foods you already love. It's called flavor-flavor learning in science-speak. Studies show, for example, that offering preschoolers salad dressing as a dip to go with broccoli increases consumption of the vegetable by as much as 80 percent. When preparing your veggie dishes, use your most beloved sauces and seasonings, anything from ketchup, mayo, to salsa -- whatever makes you happy.
TIP #4: Sign up for cooking classes
In surveys of born-again carnivores (those who gave up vegetarianism) among most common reasons people give for going back to meat is lack of knowledge how to cook vegetarian dishes. So before you start feeling frustrated with your new way of eating, sign up for a cooking class or start following a plant-based cooking blog. And don't give up. The more we eat something, the more we like it!
TIP #5: Surround yourself with happy vegetarians
Studies show that if someone makes a disgusted face when a child is eating, the young one is likely to lose his appetite, even for most delicious of foods. Meanwhile, a happy smile can open tightly sealed toddler lips to things that were previously considered inedible. That applies to adults, too. So if you want to start enjoying meatless eating, surround yourself with happy vegetarians -- and dine together. Eating with others is how we learn to enjoy particular foods, even those we may find at first rather unappealing.
TIP #6: Turn off the TV
Over the human history meat-eating came to symbolize power, wealth and masculinity. That's what the meat industry uses in its advertising and why in ads men reject "chick food" (veggies) and go for beef to "eat like a man." But to feel more powerful or manly you don't need to gobble down burgers or steaks. There is nothing in them to make you more masculine that can't be found in plant foods (just look at all the vegan strongmen). So don't fall for the ads -- turn off the TV.