I never make New Year's resolutions. Not my thing. But this year I made one: In 2010, I am resolved to eat less meat.
This will not be easy. I'm an unapologetic carnivore. Whether one believes in evolution or God (or both; they are not mutually exclusive possibilities) the incisors in my mouth would seem to be there for the sole purpose of chewing meat.
I enjoy meat of almost every variety - chicken, pork, beef - and in all forms, whether it comes off the grill, on a potato roll with lettuce and a slice of red onion, or rolled up in a tortilla. We're not talking about forgoing goose liver pate or lamb with mint sauce, folks. My palate isn't that fancy. For me, the struggle will be eating fewer bacon cheeseburgers, sausage and peppers sandwiches, or chicken fingers with barbeque sauce.
During my 20s, I didn't eat that much meat and very little beef. Often, one or two servings of beef per month sufficed. Of course, given its cost, during those starving-graduate-student days, beef not acquired via drive-through window was a luxury, not a staple.
But then, in my mid-30s my cravings for meat, and beef in particular, increased greatly. I'm not a nutritionist, so I'm unsure whether the human body demands more protein as it ages. I just know it felt like a switch had flipped. The urges were real.
I haven't gone cold turkey, pardon the pun. I went the entire first week of the year without a single serving of meat. Since then, I've tried to reduce my weekly servings from the old pattern - anywhere between nine and 14 servings per week - to just four or five. And when I do eat meat, I try to have it as an add-on portion to the meal, like pepperoni on pizza or chicken in soup, rather than as a full serving.
It's tricky to cook meatless at home. Breakfast is no big deal: cereal, yogurt, toast. But lunch and dinner are tough. I'm making a lot of salads, eating more peanut butter, and opting for fish or shrimp.
Unfortunately, to compensate for the missing meat, I'm inhaling carbs: pasta, pizza, pastries and breads. You stand between me and a buttered poppyseed bagel at your own risk.
As difficult as it is to avoid meat at home, eating out is even trickier. Restaurants provide vegetarian options, and there are all-vegetarian restaurants (or so I'm told). But the menu shrinks significantly, and seeing all the tasty meat options I could be enjoying doesn't help.
But the toughest part is eating on the fly or in social settings. For example, I'm a rabid Washington Capitals hockey fan. But finding tasty meatless concession stand options at the Verizon Center essentially reduces one's choices to popcorn, nachos, fries and cheese pizza. And I don't even want to talk about what I ate on Super Bowl Sunday.
Why the decision to reduce my meat consumption? It's a complex, three-part answer.
Partly, I just want to see if I can do it. So far, avoiding meat has required not only quite a bit of discipline, but planning. I presume it gets easier with time.
Partly, I want to see if it makes me feel better, healthier. I've read about how too much meat clogs up one's intestines and arteries. And I struggle with high cholesterol, which runs in my family.
Finally, there are the ethical issues surrounding modern mass farming. The evolution-or-God standard applies here as well: There's something unnatural and just plain wrong about hormone-addled roaster chickens being artificially plumped up to the point where their legs can no longer support their body weight.
According to the American Meat Institute, in 2007 the average American consumed 86 pounds of chicken, 65 pounds of beef, 51 pounds of pork, and 18 pounds of turkey. Throw in the occasional serving of lamb, veal and mutton, and that computes to an average of around two-thirds a pound of meat daily. That's a lot of meat.
My resolution won't even dent these consumption statistics. (Given the cost of meat, however, the recession might.) But this new dietary regimen could improve my health, and - given the environmental costs of raising animals for meat - it might make me, in a small way, a more responsible citizen as well.
Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is email@example.com.