It's hard to ignore the evidence mounting against factory-farmed meat: Raising livestock for food is one of the largest contributors to global warming, accounting for 20 percent of man-made greenhouse gases emitted each year. If all Americans skipped their daily eight ounces of meat one day per week, we could save more emissions over the course of a year than if we gave up traveling by cars, trains, planes, and ships combined.
There are the health benefits to eating less meat, as well. People who consume a plant-based diet weigh less, have lower incidence of heart disease, diabetes, and many cancers, and on average live longer than meat eaters.
So why aren't we all vegetarians? Are we really that attached to meat?
Tara Austen Weaver, author of "The Butcher and the Vegetarian", claims there's no other food to which Americans are so emotionally connected. For many of us, meat = fun and vegetarian = boring.
But for a growing number of chefs, cookbook authors, lifelong vegetarians, "flexitarians," and hard-core vegans, refusing meat is not a limiting proposition. If you approach it the right way, it's the opposite; it can be a world-expanding adventure.
Food journalist and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman is a "less-meatatarian": Before 6 p.m., he eats only fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes (like tofu, pictured here stir-fried Thai-style); after 6, he has whatever he pleases.
"I noticed that the quality of the food most people were eating was getting worse, animals were being treated worse, the environment was suffering, and people -- myself included -- were getting fatter and less healthy," he says.