Want to Eat Less Meat Without Going Cold Turkey? There’s an App for That

The local nonprofit Habits of Waste is helping people adopt a more environmentally friendly diet, one meal at a time

Sheila Morovati, founder of the L.A.-based nonprofit Habits of Waste, understood that protecting the environment would mean a change in diet. “I know I should be vegan,” she says on a recent phone call. “I tried and tried and tried, many times.”

But, cutting out all animal products wasn’t quite working for the environmental activist. “This pressure that I felt that I was under felt really overwhelming,” she says. ” I knew that if I feel like that, knowing all that I know, that other people must feel the same way.”

Then Morovati came across a University of Michigan study showing that reducing, but not necessarily eliminating, consumption of animal products can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “It made me think, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” she says. Morovati began eating eight plant-based meals a week, roughly 40 percent for a person who eats 3 meals a day, as a challenge. Through Habits of Waste, she launched the #8meals campaign in January, followed by the release of an app of the same name on Earth Day.

Morovati began her work in environmental and sustainability issues back in 2012, after taking her kids to restaurants and noticing how barely-used crayons would be tossed in the trash. “I’m an immigrant in this country. I definitely understand what it means to wish for things as a child,” says Morovati, who was born in Iran. “I remember, really curiously watching the behavior of so many kids at the table drawing at the table and then dropping their crayons aside, eating and then leaving, leaving the crayons there and watching the busboy come and pick them up and throw them into the garbage.”

That prompted Morovati to launch Crayon Collection, whose projects include pairing restaurants that offer crayons to kids with schools that can use their leftovers. Later, Morovati led the effort to ban plastic straws in Malibu and, in the process of that, founded Habits of Waste. The nonprofit has multiple campaigns under its belt, notably #CutOutCutlery, which successfully lobbied food delivery apps like Uber Eats, Postmates, GrubHub, and DoorDash, to make cutlery a by-request option. Habits of Waste is also part of Reuse LA, which recently championed the #SkiptheStuff campaign in the City of Los Angeles that makes cutlery a by-request-only feature for take-out and delivery food orders.

Habits of Waste campaigns often focus on making sustainability options accessible to people regardless of their economic status. One current campaign is #barsoverbottles, which urges corporations to develop package free versions of commonly used shampoos, soaps, and other personal grooming products. “Right now, every time I’ve ever bought a package free shampoo, it’s been really expensive, but it doesn’t need to be,” says Morovati. “I believe that these companies are forward-thinking enough and big enough to be able to come up with a package-free alternative to the shampoos and conditioners that people are buying at a reasonable cost.”

Accessibility is part of the #8meals campaign as well. The intention, says Morovati, is “to give everybody who is trying to enter this world of plant-based eating the material, the tools to be successful, rather than what I went through, which was jumping in cold turkey and then I failed.”

With the app, users can comb through a curated selection of plant-based recipes and add them to their calendars. As you mark off your meals, you’ll see how these changes impact your own carbon footprint. “One meal at a time it calculates your carbon offset and so, as you continue the program, you start to see it grow and grow and grow,” Morovati explains. “That really does give you a chance to see how much it matters.” There’s also a social element. You can post photos of your food, get your friends involved, and try out a trivia challenge that addresses the misconceptions of plant-based diets.

The recipes featured on the app lean toward whole-food, plant-based meals. In other words, you might see a veggie burger made with black beans, but not Impossible Burgers. That’s to keep the meals budget-friendly. Says Morovati, “The goal is to show people that it’s less expensive, healthier for you and healthier for the planet.”

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