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Yes, we know: Hamburgers taste sooooo good. Unfortunately, according to recent reports—including one prominently published in the journal Science—it seems that going meatless might be not only the best thing for our individual health but also, and perhaps more importantly in the long run, the best thing for our environmental health, too.

According to the University of Oxford’s Joseph Poore, who headed up the research team on the recent study, “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”

It’s easier to reduce your meat consumption than it is to buy a Tesla anyway, and it’s a lot more delicious, to boot. If you’re considering easing yourself toward a more plant-based diet, now is the perfect time to start experimenting on a small scale.

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Now, as food lovers we at Chowhound realize it’s not reasonable to cut all meat out cold turkey, and what’s the fun in that anyway? If veganism is on the horizon for you, that’s great (and we have plenty of content to help you along the way), but a little bit less goes a long way, and if we all cut back a couple of days a week we can collectively have a pretty big impact. Oh, and we’ll also save money, maybe wind up with improved health, and will probably cook more adventurously, too—happy by-products of a regular day or two of eating plants every week.  

Here are five ways to start exploring the produce aisle that won’t have you missing meat for a moment.

Buy Meaty Vegetables

Sassy Southern Yankee

Believe it or not, the plant kingdom has a lot of savory, even meaty-tasting options for folks who crave the salty, chewy, juicy experience of eating red meat. One of the easiest and most convincing swaps is grilling portobellos instead of porterhouse: These big funghi change into a remarkably meaty texture when cooked, and when seasoned with a bit of balsamic or Worcestershire sauce, even the most blood-hungry steak lover can find some satisfaction in a thick slab (especially with a classic steakhouse side of baked potato). Get the Easy Balsamic Garlic Grilled Portobello Mushrooms recipe.

…Or Fishy Ones

Shutterbean

Marshy-tasting red beets become tender and tuna-like when roasted, and chopped into small cubes they’re a perfect substitution for raw fish in a colorful, versatile poke bowl. Pieces of nori seaweed and sesame seeds add to the effect, and topped with a vinegary, soy-based dressing, these healthy veg are not just an okay replacement, but a really delicious alternative to (expensive and unsustainable) seafood. The best thing about poke bowls is how mix-and-matchable they are, too: Try different types of beets, add grated ginger and wasabi, and experiment with different raw veg. (But don’t forget the avocado, because avocado is the best part of anything, let’s get real.) Get the Beet Avocado Poke Bowl recipe.

Take a Culinary World Tour

Janessa’s Dinners

Lots of international cuisines eschew meat and dairy for reasons of culture, religion, location, and even economics: Taking a cue from how our global neighbors enjoy fresh and delicious food without relying on animals can teach us new ways to explore spice, and we discover new and exciting flavor combinations we would never have dreamed of if we were just eating chicken tenders all the time. Ethiopian food, in particular, has a wide variety of traditionally animal-free dishes, and it’s convenient to make big batches of ahead of time to cut down on weeknight prep. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, try to master the art of injera, too: The spongey sourdough bread is rolled out like a crepe and used instead of utensils to eat dishes like warmly spiced mesir wat. Get the Vegan Ethiopian Trio of recipes.

Beans Are Burgers Too

Lukas Volger

Concerned about cutting out iron when you cut back on red meat? Don’t worry: There’s a bean for that. Black beans are one of the top plant-based sources for iron, clocking in with 8.7 milligrams per 100-gram serving. They’re also easy to cook, inexpensive to buy canned, and they blend well with all kinds of spices and flavors—like sofrito, which is a fantastic topping to have on-hand anyway. (See? We’re looking out for you.)  Get the Sofrito Black Bean Veggie Burger recipe.

Remember That It’s All About the Sauce

Dashing Dish

Rather than mourn the loss of Buffalo Wing Wednesdays with your buddies, remember that the most exciting thing about those wings are the buffalo sauce itself, not to mention the blue cheese dip that makes the perfect hot-cold combination. The chicken was always an afterthought anyway, and who wants to gnaw around all those bones? Cauliflower is a weirdly perfect swap for chicken and makes a perfect vessel for all the sauces and dips you love. Plus, you can’t beat these little flavorful florets for their pop-ability—no choking hazard involved. Get the Crispy Buffalo Cauliflower recipe.

Related Video: How to Make Vegan Spaghetti Bolognese 

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Header image courtesy of Shutterbean.

Erin Meister (you can just call her "Meister") is both a longtime journalist and a coffee professional with nearly two decades' experience. She has written about food, coffee, film, travel, music, culture, and celebrity for The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Rachael Ray Every Day, Saveur.com, Time Out NY, Chickpea Magazine, Food & Wine's FWx.com, BUST magazine, Barista Magazine, and more. She is the author of the brand-new book "New York City Coffee: A Caffeinated History (The History Press, 2017)".
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