October 1 marks the 41st annual World Vegetarian Day and the start of Vegetarian Awareness month.
The annual occasion was founded in 1977 by the North American Vegetarian Society and was endorsed by the International Vegetarian Union in 1978 to entice omnivores "to give meatless fare a try (even for a day)" and to commend those with "healthy, compassionate food choices."
People avoid—or eat less—meat and animal products for many reasons, including health, ethical and/or environmental reasons. As the organizers of World Vegetarian Day tout on their website: "You will be helping to create a better world because vegetarian diet[s] have proven health benefits, save animals' lives and help to preserve the Earth."
Jasmijn de Boo, the director of ProVeg International, the world's largest vegetarian organization, recently spoke with BBC World Service about the conscious eating movement and how the livestock industry contributes to numerous forms of environmental degradation.
"We see two trends happening globally," de Boo said. "One is that people are more interested in healthy eating and have more of a conscious awareness of animal suffering and the environmental impact of livestock farming, so people are making different choices for what they eat."
"At the same time," she continued, "we do see that there is population growth and that some of the developing countries are consuming more animal products, but it is unsustainable and an increasing number of studies show that it's very, very damaging for the environment and that global climate change is massively impacted by livestock farming."
The climate impact of eating meat includes deforestation from soybean production to feed pork, poultry and dairy cows, as well as the methane emissions from manure and livestock rumination, de Boo explained.
The percentage of Americans who have 100 percent meat-free diets has not changed much in the last 20 years, according to a Gallup poll last month, in which 5 percent of respondents said they are vegetarian, and 3 percent said they are vegan.
However, "flexitarian," "climatarian" and "reducetarian" diets—in which people occasionally or rarely eat meat or animal products—have become movements where people are working towards goals of improving the health of their bodies and the planet, as wrote Brian Kateman for The Atlantic.
For instance, the global Meatless Monday movement, which was founded back in 2003, is now practiced by millions in more than 40 countries. Additionally, the U.S. plant-based "fake meat" sector has boomed into a $5 billion industry due to the public's increasing appetite for healthier, more humane and environmentally sustainable food products.
The organizers of World Vegetarian Day are challenging non-vegetarians to abstain from meat for the day, and even throughout the month. Those who make the pledge to go meat-free during the month of October, even if it's just for a day, can enter to win a drawing for $1,000.
For more information, check out these articles about the environmental impact of the livestock industry and why a plant-based diet can be good for people, animals and the planet:
Comprehensive Animal Protein Study Compares Environmental Impacts: "A study said that avoiding meat and dairy is probably the single best consumer choice you can make for the environment."
New Drone Footage Exposes the Horrors of Factory Farming: "Nearly all animals raised and slaughtered for food in the U.S. live in factory farms—facilities that treat animals as mere production units and show little regard for the natural environment or public health."
15 Best Protein Alternatives to Meat Besides Tofu: "Do you hate tofu? Or are you just plain sick of it? Check out these 15 tasty alternatives to both meat and tofu that will make you smack your lips in delight."
Which Is Worse for the Planet: Beef or Cars? "Livestock emissions make up anywhere between 14.5 and 18 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Comparably, the transportation sector is responsible for around 14 percent of emissions. By those numbers alone, our current system of meat production is extremely damaging."
Mounting Evidence Shows Eating Less Meat = Healthy People, Healthy Planet: "A new systematic review of dietary patterns and sustainability published in the latest edition of Advances in Nutrition provides additional evidence that diets lower in animal-based foods and higher in plant-based foods are better for the health of people and the planet."
9 Health Benefits of Going Vegan: "There are science-backed benefits of opting for a vegan lifestyle. Researchers have found that a healthy vegan diet is something worth considering."