Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Reducetarian: 2017's Diet Trend for Planetary Wellness

By Beth Bell

If a group of forward-thinking sustainable food leaders have their way,  the term “Reducetarian” will make its way into the everyday lexicon of those who care about the environment, the food supply and public health.

The Reducetarian Movement is a new effort to reduce consumers’ reliance on the large, resources consuming, animal agriculture business.  The term was first coined in a book by author and founder Brian Kateman in “The Reducetarian Solution.”

The premise is inclusive of all people who seek to cut down on the amount of animal products in their diet, regardless of motivation: health, the climate and/or animal welfare. Vegans and vegetarians lead the charge, but flexitarians and sometime vegans, Meatless Monday and Veganuary (Vegan January) proponents all have a place at the Reducetarian table. The idea is to include all people, regardless of motivation or degree, who  decrease animal products and increase the amount of plant matter in their diets. To really shift the food system to a more sustainable model, all groups must join together to bring about positive change.

Brian Kateman’s compelling TEDx talk explains the idea. As I watched, it struck me that what he was describing was exactly how I and many friends and colleagues frame our diets.

For two days at the NYU campus in the West Village, last month, The Reducetarian Summit examined this topic through a series of curated panels. The summit first covered the many unsustainable components of the typical American diet: too much meat, saturated fat, salt and processed food. Given our climate crisis and the ever-growing human population, we simply eat too much of the proverbial pie.

Nil Zacharias of One Green Planet says, “We’re 7.3 billion people today, and we’ll be 9.7 billion people by 2050. Animals, as a staple of our diet, are in high demand, China consumes a quarter of the world’s meat, which is double the U.S. consumption. India, too, is on course to grow their own demand for meat protein. To keep up with this rising demand, we’re going to have to double our meat production in the next 30 years.” The problem is it's unsustainable. Animal agriculture is at the heart of our environmental crisis.

He continues, “This one industry uses up more than half of our planet’s arable land, a majority of our fresh water, and drives more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector.”Ashley Schaffer Yildiz of the Rainforest Action Network put it frankly: “Animal agriculture is the single most water consuming industry in the world.”

Raising animals as a main source of food is inefficient, Dawn Moncrief of A Well Fed World explains, “Animals eat much more food than they produce.” More than a third of crops are being used for food and around 2/3 of available arable land is being used for animal farming. She says “Researchers have found that 4 billion people could be fed if we stopped diverting crops to be used large scale as animal feed.” Animal agriculture also contributes to the climate crisis through methane emissions and deforestation.

Becky Ramsing, of The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future sums it up, “Without changing what we eat, we can’t meet the 2050 Climate Goals.

After we examine the problems with a mainly meat-based food system, we then look at ways to address, and solve the problems associated with it.

The consensus was centered around the basic inclusive idea of being a Reducetarian, in its many forms and iterations. Paul Shapiro of The Humane Society, says, “We need a social movement, not a social club.”

Food service providers like restaurateurs, small-scale community farmers, large-scale commercial food service companies and innovative plant-based food manufacturers all agreed that whatever is on offer, it has to taste good. Creating a connection between where food comes from and how is ends up on your plate is also paramount to generating change. Seventy-five percent of millennials say they’re willing to pay a little more for sustainably produced foods. We’re also a society that eats out-- a lot --on average at least 16 times a month.

Fast casual chain fresh&co is now incorporating more plant-based options into their offerings. George Tenedios, CEO and Founder of the chain, said that it’s a matter of “training consumers” that plant-based versions of their favorite foods can taste just as good. He said that the vegetarian version of their turkey chili, using plant-based meat substitute Beyond Meat, has done really well. The same goes for their vegan poke bowl.

Food and community always go together. When a community puts more emphasis on the varied spectrum of plant-based options, people grow to love and appreciate the offerings. Things like “The Edible Schoolyard” project and community small scale farms help the public understand where their food comes from.

Home Economics is not a common school subject anymore, but Karen Washington, of Rise and Root Farm, thinks it should be. Our society is currently extremely reliant on prepared foods and microwave meals and there are no longer working kitchens in schools anymore. This has created a great disconnect between what we eat and understanding the true cost of our food.

Dana Worth, of Impossible Foods says that to facilitate a shift we need to “make climate more personal." He explains that food culture starts with the chefs. Think the “cronut,” the flaky cross between a donut and a croissant that was available at one bakery in NYC. People waited in long lines just to buy one and get a taste. Now Dunkin' Donuts has their own version.

Companies like his, and like Hampton Creek, Memphis Meats, Finless Foods and other “cultured meat” and plant-based substitutes for the animal-based foods that we’re used to as a society, are both providing solutions and driving a cultural shift towards a more plant based food future. In addition,  cultural drivers like social media, particularly visual outlets like Instagram and Facebook, fuel interest and growth in a Reducetarian approach to what consumers may be eating in the next few decades.


Photo credits: Lisa Dietrich and Beth Bell, Green Product Placement

Beth Bell is the founder and president of Green Product Placement, the first Entertainment Resources Media Association product placement agency that specializes in placing and promoting green, sustainable, socially enterprising and entrepreneurial brands in mainstream entertainment media. Since their launch in early 2012, they have placed over 80 good brands in over 225 productions in the US, Canada and the UK. Ms. Bell has a degree from University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and has worked professionally in television and film production since the late 80’s, and has worked and consulted in entertainment, media and event management and marketing for over 15 years. She has spoken internationally on the subjects of: product placement, green marketing and entrepreneurship.

Read more stories by Beth Bell