Sunday, January 01, 2012

Meatless Mondays

As a general rule, I do not give much credence to mainstream nutritional guidance.  The comical USDA Food Pyramid, and the ludicrous influence of corporate lobbyists on what makes it into the USDA recommendations are an absurd introduction to nutrition, yet when I was a child, it was precisely their misinformation that we were taught in school.

And that was essentially all we were taught about food.  Granted, I made the feminist mistake of avoiding home economics classes, and I suppose it is possible that something worthwhile is taught there in regards to sound nutritional practices, but somehow I doubt it.  Schools are government institutions, the USDA is a government entity, and politics are always at play in those arenas.  Have you read Marion Nestle's Food Politics?  Oh, it's just disheartening.  Why on earth do we listen to politicians about anything?  Most especially about matters related to our own health?

The tide does appear to be turning in that more information is readily available these days.  Besides Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, who write some of the most thought-provoking and in-depth books and articles on food matters today, but who may never be able to reach the general processed food buying public, we now have Jamie Oliver hitting prime-time television with sensible advice and graphic reality checks about the typical American diet.  There does appear to be hope on the horizon, though it remains to be seen whether anyone is actually putting this advice into practice.  

Mark Bittman, from his platform at The New York Times, is widely respected and his gospel of eating less meat is, I'm sure, far more palatable to the average Joe than listening to vegetarians like myself spout on about permanently giving up red meat and chicken and pork.  And here's the thing, I'm not out to convert anyone.  Just as the vegan diet seems too strict to me (cheese and eggs are essential parts of my own diet), I am fully aware that many of my own choices strike others as equally austere.

All that is well and good, of course, because we are all different people and dogmatic nutritional advice shuts down the conversation before we can even all get a place at the table.  So I hang out in here, in my own tiny corner of these here interwebz, and I post recipes that exclude ham hocks and sausage and that sort of thing.  And you are free to add those ingredients back to my recipes as you see fit.

See, I feed a mixed-diet family.  The Carnivore eats meat, though not much of it, and not often.  He would probably eat more meat if I actually cooked it, but after eleven years of marriage, the whole omnivore-marries-vegetarian thing is mostly a non-issue for us.  He eats meat at lunchtime, and maybe once a week he will cook a little bit of meat to go with the dinner that I have prepared.  And because of this dynamic, our children just rarely eat meat at all.

The truth of the matter is that I don't really care if you eat meat or not.  I do think that the average American eats too much meat, and not enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and I would very much like to see that balance shift a little, which is why I think Mark Bittman's advice is so good: eat less meat.  There are so many ways to adapt that advice to take it in whatever direction suits you best.  Do like Bittman, and don't eat meat for breakfast and lunch.  Or make meat your side dish, and let the vegetables and grains take over the entree position on your plate.  Just make one small change.

Enter Meatless Monday, a non-profit movement that attempts to make the reduction of meat a community affair.  Sometimes it's just more fun to do things as part of a group, isn't it?  I have followed the Meatless Monday conversation on Twitter for the past year or so, and I kind of think it's great.  Recipes are shared, a sense of community is built, and, maybe best of all, you get the constant reminder of the pledge: to just go one day a week without meat, or even just one meal.  

For so many years, since I was a child actually, the most common question I have received about vegetarianism is "What on earth do you eat?"  From my perspective, it was an odd question, because really, I eat the same things as everyone else.  I just skip the meat.  I can go to a potluck dinner and have a plate bulging with wonderful foods, and I leave just as satisfied as everyone else.  I can even eat dinner at your house, and you can cook the same meal you would make any night of the week.  If you serve pot roast, corn on the cob, rice and a salad, I will fill my plate with corn, rice, and salad.  Same foods, just bigger helpings of vegetables on my plate than on yours.  And no pot roast for me, please.

But of course there is more to it than that.  I am careful about getting adequate protein, and when I know I will be in a situation where there will likely only be meat-based sources of protein, then you can bet I have a Tiger's Milk bar hidden in my purse, or a sandwich bag full of mixed nuts.  And since I am responsible for meals in a house where I am the lone vegetarian, I am conscious of crafting meals that will appeal to a more carnivorous type than myself, because where I would be perfectly content with a dinner of brown rice and roasted broccoli, The Carnivore would not consider that to be a complete meal. So I would serve a frittata as the entree, and put wild rice into the frittata, and serve the roasted broccoli as a side dish alongside.  

Ditto with lentils.  Instead of just making a lentil soup, which would be a full-on hearty meal for myself, I will serve it over rice, with cornbread as a go-with.  

It is that sort of thing, that sense of having a complete meal without meat, that initiatives like Meatless Monday can help with, especially for someone who is just beginning to open the door on the whole idea of reducing their meat consumption.  And I know you guys are out there, wanting to eat more of your meals without meat, but a little lost on how to do so.

Have you seen Eating Well's 28-day Vegetarian Meal Plan?  Genius.  Go through their menu ideas, and pick one that sounds like it's right up your family's alley.  The complete meal is already listed there, along with the accompanying recipes.

Give it a try, if it sounds interesting to you.  And ask questions, if you have them.  Everyone knows at least one vegetarian, right?  Or join the Meatless Monday conversation on Facebook, and get ideas and support from fellow members.  

Following are just a few of the more popular meals in my own repertoire for feeding carnivorous types.
I would love to hear if you are joining Meatless Monday.  Does your family even notice if there is one meal a week without meat?


Anonymous said...

I am doing Meatless Mondays this year (well, that's the plan), and I've even drafted the husband to join in. Tonight, for our initial dinner, I am trying to recreate a fabulous lunch bowl we had in Santa Cruz, CA, once, with brown rice, sauteed mushrooms and HOMEGROWN spinach, maybe some roasted butternut squash (my addition), a sprinkling of goat cheese and walnuts. I CAN'T WAIT!

Heather near Douglasville

Sarah Beam said...

Heather, that sounds completely delicious. I *love* a good, one-bowl meal.