May 23, 2012

How to Be a Flexible Vegetarian: Meat-Free Weekdays.

Picture: Daniel Schwen

That’s it, we’re taking the leap.

We have fooled around with it enough, but now we’ve succumbed to the trend and decided to commit: we have become weekday vegetarians.

It seems cheating to go part-time vegetarian just as summer shows up, but what better season to change your food habits?

Like many yogis, I’ve been vegetarian at various stages of my life but my vegetarianism never “took.”

I still like meat from time to time. However, we know now that there’s no need to eat meat everyday and eating too much of it is harmful to our well-being. Also, on the environmental side, there is the cow-gas-emissions situation, a cause close to Paul McCartney’s heart who has been advocating meat-free Mondays.

The Meat Industry Horror Show.

For me, a hellish drive through the heat of Bakersfield a couple of years ago was quite the eye-opener.

We’ve all seen the horror videos and documentaries about animal breeding and its sometimes shocking cruelty. It can still feel all so abstract and distant, until one is directly faced with the crude reality of it. Bakersfield, in my mind, is the sad epitome of what’s wrong with the food industry.

I was brought up in a village in France, and from my kitchen window, I could see the six cows who were grazing peacefully in the big neighbouring field. Some of my friends’ parents were farmers and I was used to see the animals they were breeding, but I never felt concerned by the way animals were treated; there was a lot of respect involved.

On the road through Bakersfield, we were overtaken by the most terrible stench. All our attempts failed to make it disappear. It stubbornly invaded our breathing space and there was no escaping from it. It hardly prepared us, however, for what followed: thousands of distressed cows, standing knee-deep in their own filth. We drove for a good few minutes and this sad sight extended in every corner of the horizon for hundreds of yards.

You would think the experience was enough to end my relationship with meat, but not quite. I haven’t completely lost faith that meat can be produced more humanely. I go to my local farmers’ market in Oxford and I talk to the sellers. We even went to visit one of the farms in Whitney, 20 miles away from here. The chickens were so tame and friendly that they followed us around.

Even if I don’t want to give up on meat, like many, I’m still feeling torn: there are many good reasons to be a vegetarian, but also, good reasons not to be.

When I did my yoga teacher training in Vancouver, only half of the yogis were vegetarian.

Committing to meat-free weekdays seems to be the most suitable answer to my dilemma.

Picture: Ali Karimian on Flickr

Eating Less Meat Is Not A Lifestyle.

Before opting for meat-free weeks, we had just been trying to eat less meat. I was dissatisfied by the vagueness of the decision and “eating less meat” is not really a lifestyle—it’s a shy effort towards a better choice of life.

Vegetarian weekdays gives us a true structure to work with, and a very simple one: no meat for 15 meals a week. And it doesn’t mean that we stuff our faces with bleeding T-bones every weekend. No, we choose our meat carefully and buy good quality, local, organic meat, and we make a feast of it.

Our European ancestors worked really hard but didn’t eat meat every day. Only a very privileged portion of the population could afford it. Meat was a treat, it was the centrepiece of a feast. In Brittany, where my family is from, the dish for weddings and Christmas was beef tongue.

Leave The Steak ,Take The Broccoli.

A lot of us, the health-conscious and eco-friendlies can sometimes take a radical turn in lifestyle. One of the most striking examples of conversion to an almost-vegetarian diet is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, a British celebrity chef, renowned for his life on the farm and his culinary curiosity and appetite for all sorts of meat. He revealed his striking shift of lifestyle when he came out as a part-time vegetarian and published his latest book Veg Everyday. He explains his new-found love affair for all things growing in his column in The Guardian.

The truth is that vegetarian food is now more exciting than it’s ever been, as there are a lot of wonderful, exotic flavours to spice up a plant-based diet: Lebanese and Turkish mezze, Spanish tapas, Italian pastas and pizzas, Vietnamese phos and salads, Japanese rolls, Thai noodles. I personally find it great fun to adapt meaty classics into meat-free dishes.

Veggie Weekdays: Getting Organized.

For many, vegetarian cooking means more preparation. We’ve found several ways to integrate this new diet into our everyday life.

At home, we cook for dinners and have leftovers for the following lunch, so we only cook one meal a day. During the week, instead of  working from a main meat course, we choose either a carb or a pulse to build on.

For example, we pick brown rice and cook either a risotto or a Spanish rice, or with quinoa, we make either a big salad with eggs and lentils or a pilaf with a veggie burger and salad on the side. With pulses, we either make stews, dips , burgers, soups or salads; chick peas Spanish or Moroccan stews, lentil quinoa burgers, humus, chilli sin carne, etc.

Then we have our favourite quickies for lazy, tired or busy days: omelet and jacket potatoes with salads, stir-fries, or even a veggie pizza from the shops if we are that lazy, busy and tired.

Picture: Rodrigo Herra

Another way to get organized is by systematizing with a rota and get a few dishes rolling on a bi-monthly basis: chilli, Thai curry, Indian curry, pulses, risotto, lasagna, quinoa salad, quiche, couscous, etc.

Meat as feast.

Finally, when weekends come we eat a bit of meat, but we choose something nice. We’d rather pay a fair price for a quality meat once or twice a week, rather than eating battery chicken everyday.
We also try to eat offal, because they are loaded with iron and we believe that once an animal is killed every bit should be eaten. There is a long-standing tradition of eating offal in France: “gesiers,” liver, heart, intestines. They are not for the squeamish I agree, but paraphrasing Marquis de Sade, I would argue that repugnance stems from a lack of habit.

Seek Inspiration.

Now, there are tons of exciting vegetarian cooking featured in blogs and on Pinterest boards. There are also numerous inspiring chefs who share their veggie delights on the web. One of the most notable here in the U.K. is New Vegetarian Yotam Ottolenghi. You can find his scrumptious recipes in the Life and Style section of The Guardian.

Last but not least, if giving up meat for five days seems too much, you could start with just Mondays. Maybe it will grow on you!


Editor: Brianna Bemel


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