Reducing meat consumption would have a positive impact on the environment. Making small adjustments can influence one’s actions.

Preston Cabral consumes meat on a daily basis at his residence, however, he enjoys the vegetarian options on “Meatless Mondays” and “Vegan Fridays” at school.

“I had chips, tangerines, and a bean dish that resembled chili but without any meat. This was shared by a 12-year-old student at I.S. 318 Eugenio Maria De Hostos on a Friday afternoon.”

Preston’s family has been motivated by their Monday and Friday lunches to incorporate more vegetarian dishes into their meals at home. This has been seen as a beneficial change for both their health and the environment, according to experts.

These types of programs have been shown to be effective in addressing one of the most challenging issues of the modern era: Encouraging individuals to consume less meat.


This article is a part of a series called The Protein Problem by AP, which explores the topic of whether we can sustainably feed a growing population without causing harm to the planet.


A recent survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research revealed that a majority of American adults consume meat multiple times per week. Approximately 64% reported eating chicken or turkey with the same frequency, while 43% consume beef at least several times a week.

However, professionals concur that the pressing issue of climate change and the increasing needs of a growing world population require a reevaluation of how individuals obtain their protein.

A group of climate scientists from the United Kingdom stated in a 2020 study that it is crucial to revamp our food system for the benefit of both humans and nature, possibly making it the most significant time in human history to do so.

Experts stated that altering consumer actions regarding meat consumption, especially in affluent countries, will be necessary. In terms of well-being, individuals in regions such as the United States, Canada, and Europe consume significantly more meat, particularly red and processed meat, than the recommended amount. This puts them in danger of developing obesity, heart disease, stroke, and other issues that are prevalent in prosperous nations.

According to experts, the typical American adult consumes approximately 100 grams of protein daily, mainly from meat sources. This is double the recommended intake. In total, this equates to over 328 pounds of meat per person annually, including 58 pounds of poultry, 37 pounds of beef, 30 pounds of pork, and 22 pounds of fish and seafood. These findings come from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

Meat production is a significant contributor to climate change, according to the Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations. The livestock industry is responsible for at least 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is the top source of methane, which poses a major threat to the Earth’s climate.

Reducing meat consumption can definitely have significant and enduring impacts.

A recent study from the University of Oxford revealed that individuals who follow a vegan diet have a significantly lower dietary environmental impact compared to those who consume high levels of meat. The study showed that vegans contribute to 25% of greenhouse gas emissions and land use impact, 46% of water use, 27% of water pollution, and 34% of the impact on biodiversity compared to the top meat-eaters.

According to Keren Papier, a co-author of the study, diets with less meat still had a substantial environmental impact, accounting for approximately 70% of the impact of high-meat diets.

Papier stated that making a significant impact does not require complete adherence to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.

Younger people could be key. They may be open to new ways of eating because they’re more aware of climate change and the environmental costs of our current eating patterns, said Dr. Martin Bloem, an environmental health professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

However, he is concerned about the rate at which change is occurring, stating that “I believe it is progressing too slowly.”

Modifying human actions, particularly when it comes to something as significant and personal as our dietary choices, can be difficult, regardless of one’s age.

According to Julia Wolfson, a nutrition researcher at Johns Hopkins University, consuming meat is deeply ingrained in daily routines for many people around the world. The United States has significantly higher levels of meat consumption compared to low-income countries, and meat often takes center stage in meals. Wolfson referenced a popular 1990s advertisement that emphasized the role of beef as the main dish: “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.”

There are strong beliefs that meat is essential, particularly for the well-being of young boys, as it has a significant presence in American and other societies. This was stated by the speaker.

According to research, many individuals are hesitant to educate themselves on the harmful effects of consuming meat and are hindered by what is known as the “meat paradox.” This phrase is used by scientists to describe the internal struggle experienced by those who enjoy eating meat but are uncomfortable with the idea of the animals sacrificed for it.

The AP-NORC survey demonstrates the dilemma.

Approximately 80% of American adults consider taste to be a crucial aspect when purchasing food, with cost and nutritional value being important factors as well. However, concerns about the food’s impact on the environment (34%) or animal welfare (30%) are less commonly prioritized.

Despite these obstacles, studies have shown that specific actions can reduce meat consumption.

Highlighting the link between meat consumption and animals appears to be effective. Studies conducted by researchers at Stanford University have consistently shown that displaying images of both meat dishes and the animals they are derived from on restaurant menus can decrease meat consumption.

An alternative approach is to prioritize the well-being of animals. Studies indicate that individuals who are presented with information about this are more inclined to consume less meat or express their intentions to do so, compared to control groups.

Interventions described as “nudges,” or small choices aimed at influencing behavior, appear to be among the most effective at cutting meat consumption. Many are designed to help make healthy choices more convenient.

One way to promote vegetarian options is by reducing the amount of meat and increasing the amount of vegetables in meals, both at home and in restaurants. Another approach is to make vegetarian choices more visible and accessible in grocery stores and buffet lines. A recent study found that when non-meat meals were automatically selected as the default option on conference menus, the percentage of people choosing vegetarian options increased from 2% to almost 90%.

Certain countries are considering implementing more extreme actions. The Dutch agriculture minister has suggested implementing a tax on meat, although this idea is still being discussed. The city of Haarlem, located near Amsterdam, plans to prohibit advertising of “mass-produced meat” in public places beginning in 2025.

According to the AP-NORC poll, these choices would not be well-received in the United States. Approximately 70% of American adults stated that they would either somewhat or strongly object to increasing taxes on meat sales, while 43% would be against prohibiting the promotion of meat on government-owned land.

In recent times, there has been an increase in the frequency of days with menus that do not contain meat. This trend can be seen through the implementation of Meatless Monday programs across the globe.

According to Wolfson, the Meatless Monday movement has been highly successful in promoting mindfulness and initiating discussions about feasible changes that individuals can implement without feeling overwhelmed.

At Preston Cabral’s school, it appears that things are running smoothly. According to cook ambassador Ricardo Morales, Fridays see a higher number of students receiving school lunch compared to other days of the week.

According to him, “Vegan day” is currently our largest event, surpassing even “hamburger day” and “pizza day.”


A survey of 1,247 individuals over the age of 18 was carried out from Feb. 16-20 using a sample from NORC’s AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to reflect the demographics of the entire U.S. population. The margin of error for all participants is +/- 3.7%.


The Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group provides support to the Associated Press Health and Science Department. The AP is solely responsible for all of its content.