The Fourth River

Change the Meatball, Save the Planet?

By on January 20, 2016

By Ann Marie Falcone, assistant editor


Meatballs are the way of the Italians. I grew up with an Italian father and grandfather who cooked meals, occasionally, or brought home food from diners for supper. Every dinner included some form of meat: spaghetti and meatballs, steak and potatoes, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, pork chops and potatoes, liver and onions, or chicken and macaroni and cheese. Nobody knew back then that eating meat could contribute to female reproductive problems. In 2009, I had major surgery for masses all around my ovaries. The pain had been with me since eighth grade, gradually becoming severe cramps in my twenties to acute back pain in my thirties. Four doctors had told me they were suspicious about endometriosis, but they wouldn’t do surgery. It was only when I couldn’t lie down flat and sleep for six days when an internist told me to go to the emergency room.

There are now studies that say eating meat is directly linked to developing endometriosis. According to a 2003 study of Italian women published in the journal Human Reproduction, a meat-heavy diet increases a woman’s risk of endometriosis.

Goodbye meatballs.

One of my friends is a Buddhist nun. She eats a Vegan diet and helped me to cut back on my meat-eating ways by posting vegetarian recipes and stories about animals on her Facebook page. When I lived near her center, I would go to gatherings where we were only allowed to bring vegan food. Those that came would discuss from where they bought their vegan baked goods or vegan popcorn shrimp. Some shared their bean and salad recipes, which included many spices. After my surgery, I cut back on eating meat from every day to three or less times per week.

Beyond improving our personal physical health, eating a vegetarian or vegan diet can also help the health of the planet. A study by Eshel, Shepon, Makov, and Milo published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014 concludes “that minimizing beef consumption mitigates the environmental costs of diet most effectively.” A carbon footprint is defined as the amount of greenhouse gases and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something, such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport, during a given period. There are now studies that prove becoming vegetarian can cut each human’s carbon footprint by thirty-five percent, and vegan diets by sixty percent. According to PETA, “Climate change is largely caused by carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions, in addition to water vapor, and raising animals for food is one of the most significant sources of these emissions.”

I’ve cut back on eating meat for my health issues and I’m happy to know I could be helping the planet as well.

Did you know that lentils and mushrooms make a great “meat”ball?

Vegetarian and Vegan Meatball recipes



photo credit: “Julia’s Spicy Meatballs and Spaghetti” by Alpha (CC)