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Go meatless once a week for your health, wealth and the world.
Grilled steak. Too much off a good thing.
In Belgium they call it Donderdag Veggiedag (Thursday Veggie-day). San Fransisco recently instigated Meatless Monday. Amid today’s overabundance of meat, this global movement aims to improve both our environment and our diets.
Admittedly, we could go further and abolish meat altogether, but like Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan, I am fond of my meat and am realistic that many of you may be too. That’s why I’m advocating this first step, a baby step, one that has already been promoted and taken around the world.
Modern farming techniques have led to a dramatic impact on air and water pollution, land degradation, climate change and loss of biodiversity. The devastation of the Amazon rainforests for cattle pasture is possibly the most called upon symbol of this destructive power of eating meat. The felling of the forests was driven by Western demand for beef.
Vegan and vegetarian-friendly Vancouver restaurants
Feed-lot farming, similarly driven by demand, may appear to use less space (the cattle are packed in tight) but the feed (acres and acres of corn) still needs to be grown somewhere (“Timber!”). It is then shipped, or trucked, to the cattle; adding carbon emissions to the already significant output from the animals. To say nothing of the impacts and implications of monocultures.
Feed-lot farming makes cheaper production possible, making this meat affordable in excessive quantity. (For more on why feed-lot farming is devastating to our environment, as well as to workers’ rights, read or watch Fast Food Nation for some enlightening.)
In his December 2007 TED talk, Mark Bittman of the New York Times advocated that Americans reduce the meat intake in their diets by 50 percent. Bittman cited “experts who are serious about disease reduction” who recommend we eat half a pound (250g) of meat per week. Americans consume as much as half a pound per day (statistics weren’t available for Canadian consumption).
Any way you slice it or dice it, we overeat. And in our over-reaching quest for protein, or taste, we are bogging our bodies down with a food that traditionally has been less readily available.
Despite all the corner-cutting of industrial agriculture, it’s still expensive to rear an animal for several years (ask any parent), and that cost is passed on to you. For most families, meat makes up 20–25 percent of the food bill. Twice as much as is spent on fruit and vegetables. And meat doesn’t even give you great bang-for-your-buck in the protein department compared to beans and pulses. Savouring the good stuff less often will work out cheaper for you.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask, as a beginning, to refrain from eating meat one day a week to help our planet and our own health. I also believe that that day should be Monday, and I’ll tell you why.
If you buy yourself a fresh, juicy steak from the supermarket on Monday, that “fresh” steak is probably already four days old (regardless of when it says it was packed). The absolute best-case scenario is that the animal in question was slaughtered on Friday (abattoirs are closed on weekends as a general rule). More likely, it was killed on Thursday and was transported, from however far away, on Friday (if it was from somewhere nearby like Calgary) to the supermarket, where it has hung in the cooler over the weekend, waiting for you. Mmmm fresh!
Don’t think of this as an Elizabethan Royal Proclamation. Think of it more as an opportunity to explore some new cuisine. If you want to eat tofu on Friday too, that’s cool. But let’s start to think about what we’re eating, when we’re eating it and how much.
¼ protein (meat, tofu, beans, etc.)
¼ carbs (potatoes, rice, pasta)
½ veg (the green ones, not the starchy ones, which are carbs)
Without meat dominating the dish, there’s room for subtler flavours. The sweetness of pepper (and other “meaty” vegetables like eggplants and zucchini) are more than a side dish. Try them Au gratin with feta and some basil.
Relying on a rich composition of spices and herbs, Middle-Eastern, African and Asian cuisines are rife with delicious meat-free dishes like this chickpea curry.
Named after the celebrated New York restaurant, the Moosewood Cookbook (a.k.a. The Moosewood Bible) is the go-to for many vegetarian gourmets. Many of the recipes are now online.
For a more personal introduction, try the Vancouver Meatless Meetup at Chivana on June 17, 2010. RSVP to let them know you’re coming.