Meat and dairy require far more energy to produce than vegetarian or plant-based products. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 30 percent of the earth’s landmass is now used to raise animals for food. That includes land for grazing, as well as the significant percentage of farm acreage used to grow crops for the support of slaughter animals.

Selling vegetarian isn’t easy, but it’s about small changes to eating habits that adds up to substantial benefits for personal and environmental health. In a city with a half dozen prime steak houses and access to some of the world’s best beef — not to mention pork, chicken, lamb and bacon (yes, it should be its own category) — there are few meals left in which to substitute a vegetarian entrée.

Meatless mania

Sodexo, the largest food and facility management service in the world, followed the advice of former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, and embraced the “Meatless Monday” initiative in January 2011. Satcher had recommended that Americans reduce their saturated fat intake by 15 percent, a goal that could be achieved by cutting meat from the menu one day a week — or just three meals. The initiative was implemented on a volunteer basis for Sodexo’s clients, including public schools, hospitals, government facilities and senior centers.

In a study released early this month, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future reported that Sodexo’s program created an increase in vegetable purchases for 49 percent of surveyed facilities and a 30 percent decrease in meat purchases for the same facilities. That’s a significant statistical shift for a once-a-week program.

From a hearty salad to interesting vegetarian entrées, finding meatless options is far easier in the metro than ever before.

Green means business

The Metro Wine Bar & Bistro, 6418 N. Western, always offers a vegetarian entrée as part of its seasonal menu. Matthew Kenney, 5820 N. Classen Blvd., includes a full vegan menu; for the skeptics among you, once you try the lasagna, you won’t have any more concerns about how going vegan tastes. Even burger joints like Irma’s, 1035 N.W. 63rd, offer vegetarian choices alongside their saturated fat feasts, as do pizza places like The Wedge, 4709 N. Western. It’s just not that hard to find quality vegetarian options.

Local restaurant, Rococo Northpark, 12252 N. May, has gone a step farther. Bruce Rinehart, owner of both Rococo locations, said the idea came when friends decided to go vegan as a New Year’s resolution.

“These were good customers of ours,” Rinehart said. “I sat down with chef Jason Bustamante and came up with some vegan options so they could still visit the restaurant. We had no idea how well-received the idea would be.”

Crafty cooking

From one or two options, Rococo’s vegan menu has grown to about a dozen items. One of the items, the zucchini cookies, has carved a niche for itself in the catering side of the business, as well.

Rococo is well-known for hearty food, so its vegan menu reflects that. Valerie’s Marinated Grilled Portobello was named for the friends who made the resolution, and Rinehart also uses the portobellos to make portobello Marsala with wild mushroom stock. The entrées are as filling as any steak or seafood option on the menu.

More than anything, flexitarianism is about personal health, and medical professionals have long known that Americans, who eat more meat than any other country, take in too much saturated fat. Those suffering from high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes can trace some of that to poor dietary choices. It’s reported that Oklahoma ranks 48th nationally in rate of heart disease, and 30 percent of our state is obese.

Flexitarianism will not fix everything, but all the indicators are that it’s a good first step to a healthier life.

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