What the Heck Is a Reducetarian? (And Should You Be One?)

Updated: May 16, 2017

If you flirt with vegetarianism but like burgers and bacon a little too much to give them up entirely, this might be the ideal solution for you.

gorillaimages/shutterstock, Quanthem/shutterstockBrian Kateman, author of The Reducetarian Solution, is credited with coining the phrase “reducetarian.” Reducetarianism backs away from the all-or-nothingness of veganism and vegetarianism, instead providing a flexible framework for mindfully reducing one’s consumption of meat for a host of reasons. Kateman has been said to have “little patience” for those who would punish themselves for taking the occasional bite of burger. Such thinking, Kateman believes, distracts from the fact that “eating less meat overall is still a net positive.”

Only 2 percent of adults in the United States are current vegetarians, 10 percent are former vegetarians, and 88 percent are neither, according to one study. Yet it’s well known that there are significant health benefits associated with following a vegetarian diet, as well as environmental and ethical reasons for not eating meat. According to Kateman, the problem may be in the sort of messaging that goes along with vegetarianism, which implies that the “only way to mitigate the environmental, animal welfare, and health problems associated with meat is to completely eliminate it from one’s diet.” Reducetarianism is founded on the notion that every plant-based meal is worth celebrating and that reducing one’s consumption of meat is a realistic and valuable commitment.

Kateman co-founded the Reducetarian Foundation to encourage people around the world to make “healthy, sustainable, and compassionate food choices” via paid online advertising campaigns and other outreach activities. In addition, the Foundation is piloting research on the most effective ways to encourage reduction of meat consumption. Their first in-house study gauged the success of a news article encouraging the reduction of meat consumption. It found that just by reading a news article, people are motivated to modify how much meat they eat and change their opinions with respect to the treatment of animals and the factory farming/food production system—at least for a period of up to five weeks.

Reducetarianism isn’t new, even if the phrase has been coined only recently. Although the number of vegetarians is relatively low, people in this country have been eating less and less meat every year, with more and more people opting for meat-free meals more often. Take Meatless Mondays for example, which came into modern popular culture in 2003 as a public health awareness program and which the Humane Society has said is “a great way to look and feel better.” More popular than ever, it can be as simple as “swapping chicken nuggets for a bean and rice burrito, putting pork chops aside in favor of a spicy three-bean chili, or trying a veggie burger instead of a hamburger.”

According to Kateman, becoming a reducetarian is as easy as holding oneself accountable to eating less meat during the next 30 days by making an online pledge or just vowing to do it. The important thing, it seems, is knowing that this option is out there. It’s flexible. It’s rooted in good sense. And it doesn’t require that all-or-nothing mentality that too often can lead to failure, notwithstanding the best of intentions.