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A traditionally lavish meal, Christmas dinner is also fraught with a big eco impact. But by choosing a vegetarian or vegan Christmas menu, you'll soon have the Earth singing Hallelujah.

How to plan a vegetarian Christmas meal

Americans consume more than 13 pounds of turkey every year, with 22 million birds killed for Christmas meals every year.[1][2] But of the 270 pounds of meat eaten yearly by the average American (the largest national average in the world, by the way), turkey makes up only a small portion. Chicken and beef only slightly edge out pork in popularity, with all options fair game during holiday meals.[3]

A growing body of evidence implicates meat in a variety of serious environmental problems—not least of which is climate change—so cutting back on your meat consumption, both during the holidays and all year round, is a great way to exercise your eco-friendly consumer muscles. When considering a vegetarian menu this Christmas, you can either go traditional or break out of old eating habits by sampling new and adventurous cuisine. Either way, you’ll enjoy a great meal that’s both mouth-watering and sustainable.

Cooking a traditional, vegetarian Christmas dinner

If you’re a traditionalist at heart and want your family to experience a classic Christmas meal without the meat, have no fear! There are many ways to achieve a vegetarian or vegan Christmas. If you’re a gourmet in the kitchen, than these recipes and meal planning ideas will be a great fit:

Now that you’ve got some great ideas for making a meatless meal for the holidays, you may also need some assistance convincing family and friends to make the switch. If so, check out GoVeg.com’s guide to asking your family for a vegan Christmas, which includes facts about meat consumption, sample letters you can send to loved ones about your desire for a cruelty-free dinner, recipes, and more.

Alternatives to the traditional Christmas dinner

Whether you’re a little dubious about fake meat options or looking for some culinary adventure, you may just be ready to bust out of the traditional Christmas box by choosing a new and interesting menu for your holiday meal.

And if, after all of these ideas, you’re still stumped, make your holiday meal planning easy by eating out at a local green-certified restaurant serving local and organic fair, much of which may already be meat-free. Or, for a home-based, stress-free meal, hire an organic caterer to cook up a vegetarian delight instead.

Find it! Ingredients for a vegetarian Christmas

Replace traditional animal-based menu items with substitutes that are healthy and tasty, many of which can be purchased at your local natural foods store. But if you lack such a venue, many items can now be ordered online.

Preparing a vegetarian Christmas meal helps you go green because...

  • It reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emitted to produce your meals.
  • It protects tropical forests from being cleared for animal pasture.
  • It keeps pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and other chemicals, as well as animal excrement, from polluting waterways.
  • It opens up more land to be used for vegetable-based diets, which require less land, water, and fewer resources, thus enabling the production of more food for the world’s hungry.
  • It means fewer animals are required to live in cruel, inhumane conditions.

Though the ills of meat production are becoming more well-known, global meat consumption has increased rapidly over the last several decades. Sixty percent of the recent growth in meat consumption has occurred in the developing world, which collectively eats half of all meat.[4] Production of meat is set to double from 229 million tons in 1999/2001 to 465 million tons in 2050.[5] As the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) recently noted: “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”[6]

Local vs. meatless

A study by Carnegie Mellon University scientists has concluded that eating less meat will reduce carbon emissions even more than purchasing food locally.[7] The study found that transporting food is responsible for only 4 percent of food-associated greenhouse gas emissions, while production contributes 83 percent.[8] Researchers say that means that buying all local food is like driving 1,000 fewer miles in your car annually, which is what you get cutting dairy and meat one day a week. Go totally veggie and you'll slash a whopping 8,000 miles in vehicle emissions.[9]

Related health issues

Vegetarian diets are not only good for the environment, they’re good for your health. According to a position statement made by the American Dietetic Association, vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and can aid in the prevention and treatment of some diseases. In general, choosing a meatless diet means lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, higher levels of folate, fiber, and phytochemicals, as well as an increase in vitamins (especially C and E) and antioxidants.

By the numbers, vegetarians are nine times less likely to be obese, 40 percent less likely to develop cancer, and have 50 percent fewer instances of heart disease than meat-eaters.[10] One study estimated that the incidence of colo-rectal cancer decreases by about 30 percent for every 100 grams of red meat cut out of a person's diet per day (which is a near 50 percent reduction).[11]

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