A Case for Reducing Your Meat Consumption

First of all, I am not a vegetarian or a vegan. But I am interested in my health, the environment, the treatment of animals, and saving money. If you aren’t into any of those things, you might find the following information boring.

It’s funny how people panic when they see the word vegan. They’re perfectly interested in a menu item and its list of tempting ingredients until they spot some indication that it’s suitable for vegan consumption. Suddenly their brow contorts, they look horrified, and they immediately move on to something more appetizing.

I wrote a post a couple days ago concerning the stigma surrounding vegetarian options, but I thought I might expound a little bit on the benefits of eating a little less meat each week – for Earth, animals, you, and your budget. (If you want to skip my pontificating and get to the point, you’re welcome to skip to the fabulous TED talk at the end of the post.)

Here are some statistics to get you disgusted— I-I mean get you started:

A waste lagoon

A waste lagoon

Factory Farming creates more pollution than all transportation in the USA combined. Not only does the mass amounts of untreated animal waste generate an estimated 37 percent of methane emissions, but the runoff from waste lagoon spills can contaminate water sources and damage local ecosystems. And be sure to add to that the water and fuel used to produce and transport the inordinate amount of animal feed required to raise 10 billion animals per year.

There is a direct correlation between over-consumption of animal products and disease. As outlined in The China Study and made popular by the documentary Forks Over Knives, animal products consumed in moderation are fine, but the excess in which most people in the world indulge is causing heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. On the other hand, fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods are full of nutrients that combat disease and keep the human body functioning at a healthy weight. And let’s not even get into the antibiotics issue.

Animals are confined in unacceptable, inhumane conditions for the duration of their lives before they’re slaughtered. Animal warehouses are overcrowded, covered in waste, and windowless. The animals are confined in battery cages, gestation crates, and other devices that limit mobility — sometimes animals spend their entire lives – years – unable to even turn around. And most never see sunlight until they’re sent out to be slaughtered.

But what can be done? Surely one individual can’t make a difference, right? The solution is actually satisfyingly simple. Buy less meat, and if you do choose to buy meat, buy organic! But buying organic meat is really expensive, right? Well that’s the funny thing about buying less meat…

How long does a package of chicken weighing one pound last in your house? I would guesstimate that the answer is one night. One package of chicken makes one meal, right? That’s the thinking anyway. But let’s say it didn’t work out that way. How long could you stretch out that meat for? Can you use one-third of the package of meat in your meal, supplementing good starches, vegetables, beans, and other proteins to make it bigger?

Not only is eating less meat per meal healthier, it makes your purchase last a lot longer. A pound of chicken at Trader Joe’s runs me 5 or 6 dollars. And that package will last me three dinners. The other four dinners at my house are usually vegan, vegetarian, or seafood dishes. Even if you choose to have meat with every meal, how much meat must you use? How much do you spend on meat per week at your house? Think about it; the answer may surprise you.

I propose that less meat at a slightly higher price will actually save you money in the long run. I do the grocery shopping for my family of two and my grocery bill is usually about 25-35 dollars per week. That means if I really splurge I still only spend about 150 dollars a month on groceries. Not bad for shopping organic, huh?

Finally, here is the fantastic TED Talk by Mark Bittman on eating better: filling our plates with more plants and a little less meat.

Less meat, less junk, more plants. It’s a simple formula: eat food.”

Hospitality is Amazing

Before I even get started, I promise not to mention table settings or flower arrangements. I’m not Martha Stewart, for cryin’ out loud.

Hospitality isn’t about impressing people, or elaborate garden parties – unless that’s your cup of tea, and if so more power to you. Hospitality is about generosity. It’s about being prepared at a moment’s notice to extend your home and your family to a friend. And like I’m discovering about so many other things, it’s all about attitude.

I’ve heard people say that entertaining “isn’t worth the effort.” And to that I say, Who are these people hanging out with? Who could be miserable enough company that inviting them over so you can spend time with them isn’t worth the effort? But I suspect the issue has little to do with unsatisfactory friends and more to do with a distorted view of hospitality. And it’s sad, because opening your home can be so rewarding.

Raya's Mask bw 01

Yesterday is a perfect example. I had a ladies night for some friends and wanted to keep it fresh, simple, and fun. I made an upbeat playlist on my MP3 player, served finger food and had everyone contribute, brought out the Wii and the board games, and ordered masks, decorations, and glue to give it some flair. We had a blast, there was minimal cleanup, and no stress.

If you’re struggling with party details, here are some entertaining ideas guaranteed to make hosting easier:

  • Try skipping the plated dinner. I personally love inviting a couple over for a nice dinner, but especially if there are planned activities you want to give precedence to or a large number of people, it can just get in the way. Try setting up an all-night finger food buffet and ask all your guests to contribute something. I like anything from the frozen section of Trader Joe’s or homemade meat, cheese, and cracker platters. Using paper plates and cups also cuts cleanup. Providing the dough and toppings for do-it-yourself pizzas is a crowd-pleaser too.
  • Focus on the atmosphere. Usually the fun happens on its own as along as a conducive atmosphere is provided. Making an appropriate playlist, having food and beverage easily accessible, and providing activities should be enough. Don’t worry too much about ambiance, food, name cards, and seating arrangements. It’s really not that important.
  • Add some flair. Do something to make the party memorable, for you and your guests! Having everyone design their own masks was a great icebreaker and created fun photo opportunities. Don’t worry if your ideas feel silly or immature; what matters is that everyone can do it, it’s fun, and it’s unique! A walk through your local party/costume shop might provide some inspiration.

Whatever is holding us back from entertaining or reaching out for better relationships, we shouldn’t let it! Be powerful! Be amazing! Throw a party! 😀

Real Vegans Don’t Eat Tofurky!

Disclaimer: I’m not a real vegan, nor am I even a strict weekday vegetarian. But there is this stigma surrounding lessening your meat intake that really irks me. I feel like I’m surrounded by ignorant people who refuse to look into what they eat, and it’s always for selfish reasons. When is the last time you heard, “Oh, no, I’m not interested in being Vegetarian; it’s bad for the environment”? So let’s stop thinking with our guts for just two seconds and consider the following myths surrounding Veganism and Vegetarianism:

  • Vegetarians spend all their time searching for a decent meat substitute.

This one kills me. In what backwards society do people stop eating meat by eating fake meat? That’s like ex-smokers going around with fake, nicotine-infused cigarettes for the rest of their lives.  I am not a full-time vegan or vegetarian, but I love a well-prepared, delicious vegan meal, and I make several. Favorites of mine include Ginger-Peanut Soup and Summertime Curry.

  • Vegan diets lack necessary proteins/You never feel full after a vegan meal.

This one is almost as bad! Vegan diets do not consist entirely of salads and rice and beans! Are you still starving after a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Brace yourself; that’s a vegetarian sandwich! Great plant proteins, including peanuts, soy products, beans, chickpeas, grains, nuts, and seeds are extremely filling and can be prepared in a wide variety of ways.

  • Tofu is a flavorless meat substitute that is almost unpalatable.

There are a couple billion in people in China who would disagree with you. In fact, tofu is eaten throughout east Asia, not as a meat substitute, but as an important staple beside meat and vegetables. Because tofu has an absorbent, sponge-like quality, it adopts the stronger flavors around it and is, I think, one of the most versatile ingredients I’ve ever had the pleasure of preparing. It can be marinated or dressed for a salad, deep fried, pan fried, tossed in coconut milk curries, stir-fried with rice or rice noodles, or put in dark or clear broth soups.

Check the Vegan and Vegetarian sections of this blog for recipe ideas, and watch this four-minute TED Talk by Graham Hill on being a Weekday Vegetarian to get you started.

“About a year ago, I asked myself a question: ‘Knowing what I know, why am I not a vegetarian?'”

How to Fry an Egg

Eggs 003

My mom always used to tell me that when she got married at 19 she “couldn’t fry an egg.” She meant that she was ill-prepared for the rigors of cooking that usually fall to the woman, but in my experience most people don’t fry an egg the way I would like. And I’m a pretty picky egg-eater, so that’s too bad for me. So in an effort to make the world a better place for myself, I’m going to educate everyone about the correct way to fry an egg! (Incidentally, I learned it from my dad, who also insists on eating only over-easy eggs. Go figure. 😛 )

So first, get yourself an iron skillet. If you don’t have one, you can check tag sales or your local second hand store for one that’s worn in. If you’ve gotten to this line and you still don’t have one, I guess you can use a nonstick skillet or whatever else you like. But I can’t be held responsible for the results! 😛 So without further ado:

Eggs 001Perfect Egg /ˈpərfikt/ /eg/
noun

1. An egg fried without rupturing or overcooking the yolk, but which fries the whites on top and bottom so as to remove any uncomfortable sliminess; an egg fried over-easy.

Directions:

  1. Eggs fried in butter taste delicious, but using olive oil is less fattening. Either works well. Add a little to your skillet and let it warm up over medium-high heat.
  2. When the skillet is just warm enough to turn the egg whites opaque as they hit the pan, add your eggs and let them sit. Don’t add too many at once. If the whites bleed together, use a flat spatula to separate them and hold the eggs at bay until they solidify a bit. The entire egg should fit onto your spatula, so if the edges are too wide, push them back in with the spatula and shape it as you like.
  3. Gently test the readiness of the eggs by sliding the spatula under the edges. If the egg is ready to be turned, the entire egg should slide easily around the pan without sticking, breaking, or spilling. If it isn’t ready, the bottom will rip and stick when you try to move it.
  4. When you turn the egg, put the entire egg on your spatula. Angle the spatula and let the egg slide off the front and naturally turn as it returns to the pan. After about 10 seconds the other side should seal and is ready to be served!

How’s that for (over-) easy?

The Power of Presentation

Plates 010

I find that there’s something very dissatisfying about spending hours on an elaborate meal but having no way to translate that effort visually. For a long time most of my dinners were an inelegant pile of slop by the time they reached the table. It wasn’t until I went to Japan that I discovered that the way a meal looks can actually change the way it tastes.

In Japan, the presentation of a meal is an art form that is still alive and well. They like to use plates and bowls in a variety of shapes and sizes – a concept that was completely foreign to me. We always had one large unsegregated plate with starch in one corner, meat in another, and a salad at my house. There was usually an unsightly pool of salad dressing, gravy, and cranberry sauce in the middle somewhere. And I still believe that there are certain things that should only be eaten that way, like a turkey dinner. What’s the point of a turkey dinner if you can mix the mashed potatoes, gravy, and turkey in one mouthful?

But the Japanese-style presentation lent a certain delicacy, a sense of anticipation, to the dining experience. Each tiny bowl was beautifully crafted and each morsel was separated so that flavors didn’t bleed together. Each bite, each new taste, had to be enjoyed separately, and after a necessary pause while you switched plates. It made me appreciate every mouthful more. And it was stunning! So I cleared out some space in my cupboards and went shopping.

Plates 007

I gathered my collection of dishes from Asian stores (the Japanese dollar store, Daiso, is one of my favorites), generous friends, and Target. Immediately I felt like my meals were more amazing. It was such a tiny bit of effort – how long did it take me to present the food in multiple dishes instead of one? Maybe an extra 30 seconds? – but it made such a huge difference. Dinner suddenly felt culinary. What naturally followed was garnishes. An extra ten seconds of chopping chives or fresh basil to sprinkle over the center of the bowl communicated the care I had taken to make the meal tasty, well-balanced, and appetizing.

Plates 009

Instead of feeling like a young woman struggling to make a decent meal, I felt competent. I felt capable. I felt amazing.

All the effort that I had put into cooking was suddenly, beautifully, satisfyingly visible.

All that having been said, the Japanese style isn’t for everyone. Maybe an extra large soup bowl with gold filigree and matching plates is more appealing to you. The point is when you make a meal – whether its for your husband, for entertaining your friends, or you’re just cooking for yourself – take the time to make your effort visible. Starting with dishware and table settings that appeal to you is an effortless first step that makes a world of difference. Place and combine foods with care (if something spatters, wipe it off with a napkin!). Use a garnish. Enjoy spoiling yourself and others with food that looks like art! Because who doesn’t like being able to step back from their work and think, ‘Wow, that looks fantastic’?