Saturday, August 15, 2015

Toastmasters: Meatless Monday

The second-to-last speech in the first Toastmasters manual is called "persuade with power". The goal is to use both logic and emotion to appeal to the audience to support a given position. 

Vegetarianism a topic I'm passionate about, but I thought promoting that might be taking it too far - not everyone wants to give up meat. Instead, I thought I'd go that direction but scale it back, promoting just meatless Monday, or the concept of not having meat with every meal. It actually went really well and I got a much more receptive response than I expected. Since it's a topic I frequently read about and discuss, it was much easier than usual for me to reduce reliance on my notes, which was a big help in using more hand gestures and speaking more slowly and clearly. 

It turns out lots of people in the group already having one or a few meals without meat each week! Largely due to health concerns, than the other issues, but that's still a great start! I picked the order of the reasons to support meatless Monday - environment, personal health, money - thinking that each one hits successively closer to home, so the last one (often remembered the best) would be the one that felt the most important. I think there's some truth in that, but clearly the health issue was really the biggest concern within this group.

Speech title: One Meal, Many Benefits

Imagine: what if you could take one small action each week, one small change to your routine that would help the environment, improve your health, and save you money? All you’d have to do is follow the “Meatless Monday” trend, making one meal a week meat-free.

While a general idea that’s been around for millenia (for exaple, within the Catholic church), the specific movement of going meat-free for one meal a week, was started most notably in 2003; it’s since grown and is promoted in 36 countries, including many schools. Even Portland recently took on the task of promoting meatless Monday in a Climate Action Plan earlier this summer. 

What does Meatless Monday have to do with climate change? Livestock is actually one of the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases, with each cow producing 250 to 500 liters of methane each day, which as a greenhouse gas is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Raising animals also requires much more in resources than plant-based food sources. For example, a pound of beef requires about 1,850 gallons of water, compared to 39 gallons needed to produce a pound of vegetables. It’s just becomes an extremely inefficient use of all inputs - it takes 25 calories of fossil fuel to produce each calorie of meat, compared to 2 calories to produce each calorie of plants.  

Eating less animal products is not just better for the earth’s health, but also for your own health. Vegetables and fruits are crucial in preventing many problematic health conditions, including heart disease and strokes, cancer risk, and diabetes. Also, as obesity rises and few Americans are struggling to fit in sufficient calories in their diet, eating the same volume of plant foods rather than meat will be fewer calories, helping aid fat loss. There’s more fiber and many other nutrients to be found in plants, making them a healthier use of your calories. It’s also, oftentimes, cheaper to buy vegetarian food choices.

Now, there are exceptions, primarily with industries that are being subsidized by the government which shows an artificially reduced market price, and I’m not talking about heavily processed foods, which are going to be cheap no matter what - hot dogs, hamburgers. Buying lots of fresh produce can appear expensive, but so it good quality meat! If you move away from processed foods altogether, you can’t get much cheaper than buying dried beans from the bulk bins! An excellent source of protein and complex carbs, beans are an awesome foundation to any vegetarian meal. Nuts and other grains like quinoa can also be found for reasonable prices, especially in bulk, to make healthy, plant-based dishes. 

All of these benefits - the environment, your health, and money - should be a great reason to reduce your meat consumption. I know food is a personal choice, guided by cultural norms - but our culture is moving more and more towards celebrating the benefits of going meatless. I’m not asking you to give up anything. Just think about changing on meal, Monday’s dinner, to go meatless. Do it for your wallet, do it for the cows, do it for mother earth. Just take the one small step.

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