Cutting back on red meat and dairy can be one of the biggest steps to reduce your carbon footprint. While Greenpeace campaigns for renewable energy and a transition from fossil fuels, we’re also looking at other ways we can protect ourselves and the environment.

Ecological Produce at Farmers Market in Paris

Ecological produce at Raspail Market in Paris, France.

Just like a fossil fuel transport system, the meat industry has an impact on the environment. When we eat red meat every day, it has an effect on our water use and carbon footprints.

According to the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s scientific report:

“Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact (GHG emissions and energy, land, and water use) than is the current average US diet.”

So why start a low-carbon diet, and where do you begin making changes? Check out these great tips on how to cut back on meat.

Food art work © IdaFrosk

Food illustration of a farm created by Instagram food artist and enthusiast, Ida Skivenes.

1. Your diet, your rules

Your diet is a very personal part of your life. That means you don’t need to follow the rules and trends of other herbivores – just the advice of your doctor (and maybe your mother). Some vegetarians choose to eat sustainably caught seafood, and some vegans eat eggs from their own chickens. Others – called ‘freegans’ – eat meat and dairy that would otherwise be thrown out to avoid food waste. As long as you’re safe, healthy, and making the decisions you want for yourself and the world, you’re all good.

Shared Harvest Organic Farm © Peter Caton

Farm workers pack organic produce with their child at Shared Harvest Farm in Tongzhou, China.

2. It’s okay to start slow

If dropping meat from your diet right now sounds daunting, you can try phasing it out over time. Initiatives like Meatless Mondays, where people stop eating meat one day of the week, are a great place to start (not to mention you’ll be alongside people like Sir Paul McCartney and Chris Martin). You could also make an effort to choose the vegetarian option when eating out, or start by cutting the most resource-intensive meats like beef from your diet.

Ecological farmer in Kenya © Cheryl-Samantha Owen

Francesca Kitheka holds pigeon peas in Machokos County, Kenya.

3. Talk to friends and loved ones

Sometimes our diets affect the people we live with or see a lot. If you’re sharing food preparation duties with someone, make sure you talk to them about your decision and make an effort to work out a plan. Maybe some nights you’ll cook separately, or you’ll make dishes with the meat on the side – or they might even make a change with you!

If you’re visiting friends or family for a meal, let them know about your new diet. You might want to bring a vegetarian dish or two to share, or offer to come early to help cook and prepare. Your diet doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying your life.

Ecological farm in Slovakia © Tomas Halasz

A Farmers’ market in Slovakia sells natural produce grown without chemicals.

4. The internet is your best friend

From nutritional information, to vegetarian recipes, to helping you find the perfect ingredient substitutes – the internet has everything a vegetarian needs.

If you’re a novice in the kitchen try Vegetarian Cooking Hacks Every Herbivore Should Know.

If you have a sweet tooth you’ll probably salivate over these Veganuary dessert recipes.

And if you’re not quite sure where to source that ‘egg’ that’s called for in an egg-free chocolate cake, try 17 Cooking Hacks Every Vegan Should Know.

GE food documentation © John Novis

You can have your (vegan) cake and eat it too.

5. What if I can’t cut back on meat right now?

If you can’t stop eating meat, but still want to bite away at your food footprint, there’s still lots you can do. You might choose to buy local or organic produce, stop eating processed or packaged foods, or grow your own fruit and vegetables at home. There are even ways to make changes to how you consume meat and dairy to reduce your carbon food footprint, like choosing from more ecological farming methods such as buying grass-fed rather than grain-fed beef.

Traditional farmer in Bagepalli © Vivek M.

A farmer uses cattle to plow his field in Kammavaripalli Village, Bagepalli, India.

Making the decision to commit to a new diet is difficult – but once you start it’s easy! But if you slip up or forget, be kind to yourself and keep at it.

Ready to change your diet and impact on the Earth? Make a pledge today.

Rashini Suriyaarachchi is the Digital Communications Officer at Greenpeace Australia Pacific. This article originally appeared on the Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s website here.