Brian Kateman is President of the Reducetarian Foundation and Editor of The Reducetarian Solution: How the Surprisingly Simple Act of Reducing the Amount of Meat in Your Diet Can Transform Your Health and the Planet. (TarcherPerigee: April 18, 2017).
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody! Hello everybody, hello everybody! Test one, two, hello everybody! Okay, I’m ready for the next part. Oh, I’m all fired up after seeing John Joseph. He is one amazing guy, and I really recommend reading The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon. If you want to feel something, you will feel a lot reading this book, and the wonderful thing is it has a happy ending. And I think you might be able to find a little bit more compassion when you see people who are homeless or people who are struggling in one way or another. When you know they’re story, you know that it really may not be their fault and that they’ve been through hell.
Okay, but we’re here to tune in love and that’s what I like about this show. It’s about unconditional love for everybody, that’s what we’re doing. And it happens to be all about food. Okay, so before I move to my next guest because I know I’m going to run out of time like I always do, I just wanted to tell you two things. So, Compassion Over Killing, a wonderful organization, during the Earth Day period which is my birthday, April 22nd Earth Day, they have what they call an annual VegWeek and they have a 7-Day VegPledge and I always like to tell people about it so if you’re thinking about moving to a vegan diet for pre-vegans or for reducetarians (which is what we’re going to be talking about in a moment), you might want to sign up for the free 7-Day VegPledge. You get recipes and tips and more. Go to www.usvegweek.com. www.usvegweek.com. Of course, all year long you can go to www.responsibleeatingandliving.com. That’s my non-profit, and you’ll get recipes, tips, and more. Please my visit my website, too. And then the other thing that’s coming up at the end of April is the Food Revolution Network Annual Summit, Summit 2017, and that’s with John Robbins and his son, Ocean Robbins. I work with them, and I will be behind the scenes at the summit answering your questions online as you listen to all the interviews, and I’m also introducing a recipe every day of the summit. So, that’s another fun, free event and if you want to register for that, you can go to my website, www.responsibleeatingandliving.com and register for the Food Revolution Network’s Annual Summit. Okay that’s done, check!
Now, let’s talk about the Reducetarian Solution, and I’ve got the editor of that book, Brian Kateman. He’s the president of the Reducetarian Foundation and editor of The Reducetarian Solution: How the Surprisingly Simple Act of Reducing the Amount of Meat in Your Diet Can Transform Your Health and the Planet. Welcome to It’s All About Food, you’re right here in the studio with me, Brian.
Brian Kateman: Well thanks for having me on the show.
Caryn Hartglass: You’re very welcome. Okay, so I want to talk about this book and there are things I like about it and there are some things that make me a little uncomfortable and we’ll talk about all of those things.
Brian Kateman: Ah, this is going to be interesting, okay.
Caryn Hartglass: But, we tune in love here so it’s a gentle, safe place to be. So, first tell me about the Reducetarian Foundation and your mission.
Brian Kateman: Sure, well what we’re trying to do is reduce societal consumption of animal products. When I was in college, I learned all about the impacts of factory farming not only on our health and the planet but on the lives and experience of farm animals, seventy billion of them worldwide every year that are slaughtered, and I decided then I wanted to go vegetarian. I mean this was an exciting opportunity, I was recycling, I was taking shorter showers, I was that guy on campus who was the environmentalist. But, I really hadn’t made the connection to food issues and when I did, it was mind-blowing so I decided then I’m going to be vegetarian, this is going to be really good and it was good. I felt healthier, I felt as though my actions were in line with my values. The problem was there were times when I wasn’t perfect, and I remember one Thanksgiving, for example, my sister calling me out across the table as siblings will do as I grabbed a piece of turkey and “I thought you were a vegetarian, Brian”. And I explained to my sister and my family that plant-based eating is not about being perfect, it’s not an all or nothing premise. The more plant-based meals we have, the better our health will be, the better the planet will be, and the fewer animals will suffer. And so I said I’m tired of using the word “vegetarian”. This is not getting at what I want which is I want to try and reduce the amount of animals products that I can as best I can but not feel like I have to be perfect about it. So, words like “semi-vegetarian” and “flexitarian” do a pretty good job at getting at that. They describe people who primarily eat plant-based foods, but it still felt like there was a large amount of people in my life who may not be interested in veganism or vegetarianism and may not even get to the place of flexitarian or semi-vegetarian but would be open to reducing the amount of animals products that they consume and so I collaborated with a friend and came up with this word that would describe someone who reduces the amount of meat they eat and low and behold, Reducetarian came into existence. And ever since then, I’ve really been on a mission to educate people on the value of eating fewer animals products, understanding the horrors of factory farming in terms of all the issues we care deeply about but not worrying so much about being perfect or pure in a sense. And at the Reducetarian Foundation, we have lots of education and outreach programs designed to engage people with the message and one of those outreach platforms is the book which is meant to spread this message to as many people as possible.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, very good. Well, I applaud you for your work and I agree with the premise, it’s horrible what goes on today with factory farming, and your book with all the different voices here because you have chapters by many different experts and authors that are related to food. They talk about the morality, the ethics behind it, the health issues behind eating plants and animals, and also the environmental impact and the economic impact. We talk about all of those things on this program. I’ve had many of the authors on this show. I love a lot of them, Carol Adams and Jean Stone and Melanie Joy, let’s see there’s a lot of wonderful people here, Nick Cooney of course, Mark Devries. Yeah, Ginny Messina, we love them all. Okay, and that’s good. I remember in 1987 when Diet for New America came out by John Robbins as I mentioned before, I work with John and his son Ocean with the Food Revolution Network and it was I would say groundbreaking at the time. He connected how our food choices affect health, environment, treatment of animals. We weren’t hearing a lot about that. There were some undercurrents with the Vegetarian Resource Group and some other groups but that book really got the message out to many, many people. And John had a message. He wasn’t labeling, he wasn’t telling people they had to be perfect but he did talk about how if you reduced your meat consumption by ten percent, what a tremendous impact that was and that was a great message at that time and John still has that message. He talks about how it’s not important to be perfect and all of that is really good. That was thirty years ago, and I would like to think that we’ve come further since then and in some ways we have. The word “vegan” is now somewhat mainstream in many circles. We have more vegan and vegetarian foods in supermarkets and on menus. It’s a lot easier today than it ever was, we’ve got soymilks and vegan cheeses and all that, it’s wonderful. And now there are investors that want to invest in plant food processed foods and fast food restaurants and things like that. All that’s wonderful. But, I guess the way some of the people in your book justify doing what they do is what made me a little uncomfortable. So, for example, we’ve seen this with other movements recently where we compare something we want to change today with something that had happened before. So, I could take some of the justifications that people use in the book and compare it to women’s rights or civil rights like compare slaves with animals and we’ve come along way now most of us don’t believe in slavery and our laws support that to some degree even though there unfortunately still are slaves in this country and all over the world, we just may not know about them. And it wasn’t too long ago that women didn’t have the right to vote. I just learned recently from this show that in the seventies, women weren’t allowed to bartend and California was the last state to finally allow women to be bartenders in the early seventies.
Brian Kateman: Wow.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just mind-boggling, and people have used the Bible to justify slavery, that sort of thing. And so I see people justify eating animals in the same way as they’ve justified the exploitation of women and people of color. And so there’s this morality issue, and I’m at a point because the climate, our environment is in such turmoil that I think we need to be shouting this information really loud and not soft-selling it as much. And one more thing I wanted to say, I agree that we can’t be running and shouting in their faces, “What’s wrong with you? You have to be vegan!” That never works, I know. We have to come to a place and be loving and nonjudgmental and compassionate absolutely. But, there’s like this fine line because I’m a vegan and like Victoria Moran said in this book, she would love everyone to be a vegan. Me too! And I know that that’s not going to happen or at least not right way, but I think it’s wrong to kill animals and to use non-human animals for food. Period. That’s all.
Brian Kateman: Well, I think your points are really valid, and I’m very sympathetic to this argument because I’m extremely concerned about factory farming. I’m not happy that there are seventy billion land animals that are slaughtered each year and that the estimates for fish are so great, we can’t even figure them out, perhaps in the trillions. I’m not happy that we’re seeing climate change accelerating in unprecedented rates, that we’re seeing loss of biodiversity, that people are suffering from heart disease, cancer, diabetes. We could go on and on with the problems in the world and that can feel quite gloomy. So, the truth is though that and I think this is to your point, that progress happens incrementally. I’m not an expert in these civil rights issues, some of which you mentioned, but my understanding is that if we had been perhaps saying that we want I don’t know, perfect equality for women or for every race, etc., we’re still not there. There are still issues in those spaces and so to be pragmatic, sometimes we have to focus on wins that are achievable. It’s great to see that plant-based eating is on the rise and it’s becoming more popular and I am so excited about that particularly in the future food space because most people choose food based on price, on convenience, and on taste. They don’t choose foods based on what we’re discussing here even though perhaps we’ve come to that decision ourselves through ethics or environmental issues or simply perhaps trying to improve our health. Most people are not vegan, most people are not vegetarian. The percentage of vegans and vegetarians has remained about the same. About two percent roughly for vegans, maybe five percent for vegetarians. A number of studies show that people who are vegan or identify as vegan or a vegetarian actually aren’t, they occasionally eat animal products themselves. Reducetarianism is inclusive of anyone who’s trying to reduce the amount of animal products that they consume regardless of their motivation or the degree of reduction they’d like to see. So, I think “Meatless Monday” and “Vegan Before Six” and “Weekday Vegetarian”, many of these strategies that are discussed in the book, are wonderful but I’m also very supportive of vegetarianism and veganism because those individuals are also reducetarians. It’s just that they’ve done such a good job of reducing their consumption of animal products that they’ve reduced it to zero. And so I’m worried that there is a certain segment of the population that may not be receptive to veganism or vegetarianism. There certainly are, they are special. I think that a lot of my friends who are young perhaps are really angry at they’re not getting what they want in the political system and they want to go vegan to protect the environment or they’re unhappy with animals. But, I think of my parents who live in Staten Island, New York. It’s not known to be the most progressive..
Caryn Hartglass: Red state.
Brian Kateman: That’s right, that’s right. I grew up eating Buffalo wings at Applebee’s or Buffalo wings at Chili’s and a hamburger at Applebee’s. My parents to this day say they don’t like the taste of fruits and vegetables. I love my parents but they often say, “Are you still doing that vegetarian thing?” And so I think of them as sort of I don’t know, the average demographic and I suppose I’m optimistic that people will reduce the amount of animal products that they consume but may not go vegan. But, I want to push this point a little bit further. Imagine that we could get someone who’s eating two hundred pounds of meat a year to cut back ten percent. That would be pretty amazing, right? That would be twenty pounds.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, that’s what John Robbins was saying in 1987, yeah.
Brian Kateman: Yeah, it’s wonderful. Agreed. Let’s say that we could get a person whose eating five pounds of meat a year to go vegetarian. That would be a five-pound reduction. I just feel like we’re going to in this current climate, be able to save more animals, help people and the planet by understanding that there’s different motivations and different messaging that will relate to different people. Most people who eat less meat, sorry, people who eat less meat are more likely to become vegetarian and people who are vegetarian are more likely to become vegan. And so I feel as though getting people just started on the path will actually advance all of our shared goals and that’s really what the book is about is bringing together all these different voices and all these motivations under a shared paradigm. And I’m very excited about that.
Caryn Hartglass: I was trying to remember, I made a lot of notes and there was something I remembered and I’m not quite sure who said it, maybe it was in the forward… Anyway, it was talking about the different diets and oh yeah, here it is, right here the forward, Mark Bittman who writes, “It’s true that the word itself, Reducetarian, is a relatively new one whether it replaces or complements flexitarian (which is less specific), less meatatarian (which is roughly equivalent), vegetarian (somewhat stricter), or vegan (much stricter) remains to be seen”. And when I read that, “vegan (much stricter)”, I went I don’t agree with that. Vegan diet is not a strict diet. When you don’t see animals as food, you don’t see not eating them as something you’re missing. It’s not strict to me and I’ve found and I’ve said this before many times, every time I eliminate an ingredient or something from my diet, my food world expands so I don’t see it as deprivation. I don’t see it as strict. I see it as opening my world and when I see things written like that, I don’t think it helps because people take it in and go, “Oh, this is going to be hard because eating less and if I’m ultimately moving in this direction, it’s going to be strict and I’m going to be lacking”, and that’s not fair.
Brian Kateman: Well, I think certainly I don’t want to misrepresent that plant-based eating can be delicious and it can be achievable but I also don’t want to mislead people who are feeling uncertain and unfamiliar.
Caryn Hartglass: But, when they say a vegan diet is strict, that is misleading them because it isn’t.
Brian Kateman: Well, it’s stricter in the sense that it reduces the amount of options.
Caryn Hartglass: But it doesn’t! So, people are used to grabbing a burger and fries and when
They go vegan all of sudden, this whole plant kingdom, there are forty-five thousand different kinds of legumes, there’s so many different kinds of every plant, it just opens your world and you start to discover them. You start eating a far more varied diet than you ever did before, and I want to see that promoted.
Brian Kateman: I think that message is in there. I think the word “strict” just means that you can understand that a person can eat lots of the beautiful plant-based foods on the menu, but when they go to a barbeque and perhaps in a certain social situation, the only food that’s being served is a hamburger or wings, in that particular moment, they might feel as though their options are limited. Now, I eat primarily vegan food. I love vegan food. I’m making smoothies everyday. I’ve upped my Reducetarian game, but when I first started out, it felt intimidating. I don’t want to lie. It did feel intimidating. I think that the book has a number of tips and strategies that override that message and make it clear that while being perfect and pure can be difficult and that’s not what we’re advocating, it can be easy to eat plant-based foods. I suppose I feel that people are intimidated and fearful and some people when they hear they have to go vegan, what they think is they have to give up all the foods that they love and they haven’t quite caught onto the fact of your point that there are lots of delicious, plant-based foods that are nutritious, good for the planet, good for our health, and expenses, etc. I think putting people on the path and just acknowledging their own emotional experiences is important because otherwise I think it’s kind of I don’t know, it just seems agenda-y or misleading to tell a person that it’s insanely easy to go vegan today, you should do it right away. There are some people that will resonate with, but there are others. I know my parents, I’ve been trying to get them to go vegan for a long time and I’m just excited right now when they do Meatless Monday if for them that’s a start. My parents can’t pronounce the word “quinoa”. Sometimes, I feel as though there’s this sort of optimism and a lack of understanding around how challenging it could be for the average, everyday person who may not have these swanky, plant-based restaurants here in New York City or access. So look, if I vote, I want a vegan world. I’m very clear about my agenda, what I’m trying to do. I hope one day we can close Reducetarian Foundation, we can stop using the word Reducetarian, we can tell everyone to go vegan because so many people are there. But, there are right now a lot of people who are resistant to even eating a plant-based food once a day and that’s what we’re trying to do is get them on the path.
Caryn Hartglass: Let me ask you, I don’t know if you’ve experienced this but as a vegan, when I meet people either in a business situation or a social situation and I unashamedly (or whatever the word might be) say I’m a vegan or maybe we’re having a meal together, many people have the need to say, “Oh, I don’t eat a lot of meat” or “I don’t eat a lot of dairy”. Why do people say that?
Brian Kateman: Well, this is part of it. They’re threatened.
Caryn Hartglass: They’re threatened because deep down, they know there’s something to all of this, right?
Brian Kateman: For sure! I think there are a lot of people that know factory-farming sucks and that it’s bad for many of the issues that we care about and they unconsciously or consciously know that their meat eating in some way contributes to those issues. But, this is part of the challenge is I think when back in the day I would tell people eat as many plant-based meals as you possibly can have, people seemed to think that it was either you were a vegan or you eat two hundred and seventy-five pounds of meat a year. There’s a lot of physiological literature showing that people who eat meat are sort of unwilling to adopt this identity as though they care about animals because that’s inconsistent. Our brains don’t like cognitive distance. We actively resist it. And so I do think there’s this threatening there and that’s why when someone says to me they’re eating less meat, I instantly say, “That’s amazing! You should keep doing that. That’s really wonderful”. Reducetarian is meant to be a positive identity and we’re not advocating that people have to label themselves or adopt an identity at all. But, some literature shows that when people do adopt identities, they’re more likely to be consistent with their behavior. So, I hear sometimes, “I love Meatless Monday, but sometimes it’s accused of moral licensing, the idea that people only do Meatless Monday and they don’t go further”. I think Reducetarian helps sort of convey that this is a gradient. The more plant-based meals you have, the better rather than sort of locking people into one particular strategy that can be a little more rigid.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, there were a couple of places and I found one of them and I’m trying to find the other that had some really great tips. I liked Tanya Luna’s element of surprise where she talks about “surprisifying” ———————-
Responsible Eating And Living Worldwide, Inc.
your kitchen with some fun tips about how to reduce the amount of animal products. For example, use small skillets and plates for meat and large ones for everything else. Keep meat in a closed off section of the fridge and fruits and veggies easily accessible and so on. There are many tips like that and turning eating at restaurants into a game. That sounded fun. Ask the server to surprise you with a meat free choice on menu. Now, that may work for some, I would never let any server surprise me. I have to grill them about everything that’s on the dish, but I imagine that could be fun for some people. Oh, and then it was Ginny Messina yeah who had some excellent tips about offering healthy food for children. I think that would be a great pullout section just to spread around because there really isn’t enough in terms of how to feed children healthfully. A lot of parents struggle with that.
Brian Kateman: Yeah, I think this is a big challenge. Just a lot of people are not familiar with plant-based ingredients so a lot of these tips and strategies, many of them that you mentioned, help people sort of gradually learn and get accustomed to them. And I really liked also Lindsay Nixon’s essay who advocated that people kind of stick to one particular strategy and rule perhaps. So, for example, perhaps you only eat meat when you go out to eat, but when you cook food at home, you don’t use animal products or perhaps whenever you do eat meat, you make sure it’s a really small portion so four ounces versus sixteen ounces. I do think that making the tips somewhat more contextualized and concrete helps people because “eat less meat” is sort of vague. You have to kind of be accountable to yourself, and I agree all of those tips and strategies mentioned in the book are super valuable.
Caryn Hartglass: We have a few minutes left and I could talk about this all day because I love talking about food. I did want to mention one more thing that bugged me.
Brian Kateman: I love this! Bring it on.
Caryn Hartglass: So, it was in Michael Shermer’s The Moral Arc of Human Rights and he wrote at one point, where is it, I wrote it down in my notes, about the history and he said something about how our human ancestors made a tacit bargain with animals. So, there was this like silent agreement that we made where we gave them something and they gave us their meat, and I don’t think there was an agreement. I don’t think the non-human animals agreed with this bargain and the same argument is used today with “humane farming” where we’re allowing the animals to freely roam within a certain confines and animals are somewhat better treated than in those horrific factory farms. But, if you ask the animal if they wanted to be slaughtered, I don’t think any of them would raise their hoof or their claw and say, “Take me next”. So, that’s just kind of like an understanding that we have and we only have two minutes so I just wanted to bring that up because it bugs me.
Brian Kateman: Well, it’s hard with that and James McWilliams did write a really great essay about the Humane Meat Myth and the thing is that ninety-five or so percent of animal products come from factory farms and when they don’t, they’re usually very expensive and hard to find so I’m actually not that interested or really that concerned with the “humane meat” argument simply because it doesn’t impact most people particularly in the United States. Perhaps, that was flower language that should have been excised. I think in general though and I really do want to stress this, the book rejects factory farming. It acknowledges that animals experience pain and they experience suffering just like us in all the ways that matter. It explains that factory farming contributes to all of these terrible environmental causes, that it’s a simple way to improve your health and live a long time and live a healthier life. And so to the vegans and vegetarians who are listening who are I supposed concerned with some of the points that you’re raising, I think it’s just helpful to know that the core messaging I feel is preserved that simply eating less meat, starting that journey, is a really good idea. At least half of the contributors are vegan; most of the recipes are vegan. I want a vegan world so I really believe that we’re all on the same team, and I’d argue that if you know an omnivore whose resistant to the idea of eating vegan or vegetarian, this is a great book to start their thinking, to start them on the path.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay.
Brian Kateman: Yeah, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about it.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I think this is a great conversation and everybody should be having this conversation so thanks Brian Kateman for joining me on It’s All About Food with The Reducetarian Solution and do I have any seconds left? No! I’m Caryn Hartglass and thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food. You can find me at www.responsibleeatingandliving.com and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and here’s to a vegan world and have a delicious week! Oh, and one more thing, it’s my birthday on Saturday, Earth Day, so everybody let’s celebrate Earth Day on my birthday. Bye!
Transcribed by Lauren Inbody 4/30/2017