On Meat

Cow and Bull on Pasture

You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s a simple concept, really. Eat it if you know, first-hand, how it was raised and killed.

Simple enough, in theory. But, most of us are pretty far out of touch with the raising and killing of our meat. For most of us, meat comes to us skinned, boned, cut in small portions and wrapped in plastic, looking nothing like the animal that gave its life to become our dinner.

Most of us are comfortable with that distance. Continue reading

Being A Vegetarian at a Pig Roast

Photo of Pig Eating

I don’t call myself a vegetarian. Most often, I describe myself as a “99 percent vegetarian,” leaving the door to animal food adventures cracked just a tiny bit open. Why that door has to be open just a crack, I can’t easily explain. It could be that, over time, I’ve grown reluctant to accept labels or to play by the rules. After a lifetime of creating self-imposed rules, only to later break them, I accept more easily now that flexibility is usually a good thing.

So, I’m a person who eats a mostly plant-based diet, but keeps my options open. I can live with the lack of a clear label. Structure without hard edges. Continue reading

Hanging Out with Inspiration on National Hanging Out Day

There’s always more to learn, and there always seem to be inspiring people ready to share their stories. And, just when I think I’m doing fine, I realize there’s more I can do to make a positive difference.

Tonight I attended Project Laundry List’s annual meeting and celebration of National Hanging Out Day. Project Laundry List works to make air-drying and cold-water washing laundry acceptable and desirable as ways to conserve energy. Tonight’s discussion was to focus broadly on the small changes we each can make to save energy in our daily lives. A couple of names on the panel of presenters drew my attention and I was curious to find out about energy and conservation initiatives underway right here in my hometown.

The panel included an owner of a vegan restaurant in Concord, a car dealer (speaking about vehicle maintenance and changing driving habits), a very active community volunteer and green businessperson, and the mayor. The audience of forty or so people was a lively group of environmentalists, eager to share information and inspire action in others.

Here’s a very short list of things I realized I could easily do now to conserve energy and water:

  • Drive 55 miles per hour. If we all did this, the United States would cut 20 percent of its fuel usage.
  • Wash my clothes in cold water.
  • “Imagine an egg under my gas pedal” to help avoid excessive acceleration and braking.
  • Walk to work, even once a week.
  • Buy a low-flow shower head.
  • Check my tire pressure more often and keep my tires inflated properly.
  • Give up plastic bags completely.
  • Get more involved in making my community a better place by volunteering.

The list of suggestions was lengthy, and I did feel good about the things I already do to lighten my footprint on this earth. Being a (99 percent) vegetarian, growing some of my own food, driving a hybrid vehicle, using CFL and LED lightbulbs and drying my clothes on a drying rack are all great things to do. But there’s so much more to be done. The need is huge, and it will take small and big changes made by all of us to truly make a difference.

I was inspired by the challenge to think of my own lifestyle in contrast to that of people in a third world country and evaluate my energy consumption accordingly. Making that comparison should help me to rationalize any change I might be reluctant to undertake. How would I view my one mile commute? My need to do several loads of laundry each week, some in hot water? My habit of leaving my computer on all the time?

I came away realizing again that perhaps the biggest way that each of us as individuals can contribute to creating positive change is to inspire someone else to make even a tiny change.

Consuming one pound of meat is the equivalent of driving an SUV 40 miles. If I can inspire a couple of friends to give up one meat meal a week and try a vegetarian alternative, that would be the equivalent of not driving that SUV 4000 miles in one year. Meatless Monday really is a powerful concept, isn’t it?

One woman spoke of the pledges she made twenty years ago on the twentieth anniversary of Earth Day, one of which was to give up the use of paper products. “The more I’ve done it, the less I’ve missed it,” she said. A panelist described walking to a public place in the evening to read, to take advantage of lighting that would be on for the evening anyway, rather than turning on lights at home.

It takes 16 to 21 times of repeating a new activity to create a habit. After that, it’s a routine that requires little or no conscious thought to continue, which means we should be ready for a new challenge.

As we approach Earth Day in just three days, let’s consider the small and not so small things that we each might do to create a cleaner, more sustainable environment. Then, go one step further and inspire someone else to make a small change, too.

A woman in the audience commented to the panel: “Thank you for all that you all do to make this place a community instead of just the place we all live.” Judging by her energy, she’s been a major contributor herself to creating this community.

And then, I got recruited by the mayor to join the City’s Energy and Environment Committee.

Like I said, there’s always more to be done!

You Are What You Eat? Considering Raw Food

I watched Food Matters last night, a thought-provoking documentary about healing our bodies and promoting health through good nutrition.

Among other things, this film makes the point that our doctors know very little about nutrition. Dr. Andrew Saul, therapeutic nutrition specialist, one of the films’ several experts, claims that we’re not only harming ourselves with poor nutrition and nutritionally depleted food, but that we could actually heal ourselves through good nutrition and vitamin therapy.

According to David Wolfe, the film’s raw food proponent, we’d all be better off with a mostly raw food diet, including the so-called superfoods like sprirulina and wheat grass. Spirulina contains 70 percent complete protein and is rich in several B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E; potassium and several other minerals that our bodies need. Wheat grass (sprouted wheat seed) normalizes the thyroid gland, stimulating metabolism and promoting weight loss.

Making the lifestyle changes that can make us healthy requires personal action, and we often would prefer to look to someone else to provide us with a cure. After all, we’ve been trained to believe that we don’t have the knowledge or skills to heal ourselves, and to turn to the medical system and pharmaceuticals to heal us when we’re sick. Really, good health is probably within reach for most of us if we’re willing to make a few changes.

“The biggest reason that people aren’t doing this is that it requires taking responsibility,” says Dr. Andrew Saul.

That’s for sure. The path of least resistance is a very real temptation for most of us, and it’s hard for most people to believe that eating a mostly organic, whole food diet could be a simple thing. In reality, I think it’s simpler than navigating the choices of the industrial food maze. Faced with in season fruits and vegetables, it’s just not that difficult to put together a good meal. It does, however, require thought and some advance preparation.

What about raw food? Strict raw vegans adhere to a diet consisting of food that is not heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Food Matters advises us to eat a mostly raw diet. I do tend to like much of my food cooked, but I’m open to change if change means better health. I find myself wondering if this is a change I could work toward.

As sometimes happens in life, something else was taking place on a parallel track, and it’s all coming together now around this question of raw food. I’ve been hearing stories for several weeks from a work friend of the amazingly delicious bright green smoothies he and his family have been enjoying since their recent acquisition of a Vitamix 5200 blender. I’ve been interested, but haven’t really seen a place in my life for a big, monster food machine.

Food Matters has me considering more thoughtfully the benefits of shifting the balance of my diet toward more raw vegetables. And, perhaps to begin investigating foods like spirulina and wheat grass (which I now know can be eaten even by those who are gluten intolerant, because the wheat seed loses its gluten upon sprouting).

As always, there’s so much to learn. And, as always, it’s so fascinating exploring all the ideas on yet another topic, bit by bit, and figuring out which pieces to embrace as my own.

I’m not sure if I’ll be giving up my routine of Sunday soups and stews in favor of juicing up brilliant green smoothies–at least, not quite yet. But I’ll definitely incorporate more raw food into my diet after seeing this film; there’s just no reason not to do it, and plenty of good reasons to do it.

In the mean time, bring on the veggies, and I’m sure to figure out something delicious to do with them.


Winter Food Explorations Continue: Local New Hampshire Shrimp?

Yesterday brought the second installment of my winter CSA from the Vegetable Ranch in Warner, New Hampshire.

This winter CSA routine is a quiet affair, as compared to the bustling, multi-farm, summer Local Harvest CSA. Beautiful vegetables, one chatty farmer, eager to opine about this week’s squash varieties, but just a trickle of people coming through for their pickups. Very civilized, indeed.

The vegetables are beautiful. This week’s bounty included:

  • crisp, mixed greens,
  • cabbage,
  • beets,
  • carrots,
  • potatoes,
  • squash (acorn or buttercup) and
  • bok choi.

Tomorrow, I’ll head to the Newmarket, New Hampshire farmers market to check out the scene there. After last weekend’s visit to a winter farmers market in Lyndonville, Vermont, I’m eager to see what Newmarket has to offer. I’m expecting to find (being careful to manage my expectations and keep an open mind) soap, meats (although I’m not a meat purchaser), goat cheese, garlic, vegetables and fish. I suspect there will even be live music at this market.

I’m eager to check out the Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative (YFC), which offers sustainably caught local fish, as well as shrimp caught within three miles off the coast of New Hampshire. Their shrimp are harvested using a technology that sorts and releases smaller shrimp, leaving them in the water to reproduce. The YFC even offers shrimp Community Supported Fisheries shares (CSF) during January and February, with pickup locations in a few spots in New Hampshire’s seacoast region. I’d love to find out more about their harvesting methods and check out what I learn against other information I’ve read about environmentally damaging shrimp harvesting practices in other places.

As I’ve said before, researching and understanding the topic of sustainable seafood, in general, in an effort to become an informed shopper, is no easy chore. The task can feel so complex and hopeless, that I’m inclined to avoid the issue completely by returning to my 98 percent vegetarian philosophy. It’s simpler!

I suspect I’ll find more overall variety in Newmarket than I did in Lyndonville, and it will be interesting to ponder the various factors that make the markets different. Exploring my region’s winter food offerings is an entertaining and thought-provoking January pastime. It’s keeping me out of both the grocery store and the food coop, and I’m learning a lot about my own backyard.

It’s all new, and it’s all good.

Heirloom Beans and a Vegetarian’s Search for Complete Protein

I’m contemplating a pot of delicious heirloom Anasazi beans from Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Food, my favorite bean supplier. Definitely not local, Rancho Gordo, from Napa, California, offers heirloom beans that bring new meaning to the word bean. As beautiful as they are delicious, each variety is special.

Rancho Gordo

Some have beautiful and mysterious names like Good Mother Stallard and Yellow Indian Woman. Each has a story of its own, and each is deliciously different from any similar bean, canned or dry, from the supermarket shelf. Some have buttery flavors; others have subtle notes of coffee or chocolate. All have dreamy, velvety textures of their own. Some look deceptively like their grocery store counterparts. Others are colorful and pebbly in their appearance, almost too pretty to cook.

Anasazi Beans

I have not found a comparable source in New England for local heirloom varieties. Maybe that’s too much to wish for, with our shorter growing season?

Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo is getting increasing attention for his work in saving southwestern and Mexican heirloom bean varieties from disappearing completely and bringing beans into the mainstream consciousness of American cooks. (A recent appearance on Oprah certainly didn’t hurt.) He’s doing good work with the Seed Savers Exchange, the largest non-governmental seed bank in the United States, sharing heirloom bean varieties with gardeners throughout the country.

I believe this is a good company to support. Rancho Gordo is bringing heirloom beans back for all of us, and generations to come, to enjoy. Although I have not taken the step of declaring myself a locavore, I try to be conscious of where my food is coming from. This is a fully conscious choice, and, I believe, a good one.

So, I love these very special beans. But, as I continue my evolution to a mostly plant-based diet, I sometimes have questions about whether I’m getting enough protein and protein of the right kind.

Vegetarians need to eat a variety of protein-containing foods every day, in order to put together a daily combination of the nine essential amino acids the body needs (that it cannot make itself). How difficult is that to do?

According to the Savvy Vegetarian website, protein from plants can easily supply all of our protein needs. By eating a wide variety of plant foods over the course of a day, our bodies will do the work of protein combining for us.

Beans are low in lysine; rice is rich in lysine. Together, they are a natural pair, forming a complete protein. One cup of black beans has approximately 280 calories and 14 grams of protein. One cup of short-grain brown rice has 212 calories and 5 grams of protein. Working on the assumption that an average sized woman needs about 47 grams a day (a matter of considerable debate in itself), the combined servings of black beans and rice have 19 grams of protein or 40 percent of a day’s required protein.

Amaranth, buckwheat, soy and quinoa are all complete proteins unto themselves. One quarter cup of quinoa (uncooked) has 158 calories 5.5 grams of protein.

Dr. Dean Ornish advises us to “eat any grains or legumes sometime during the same day.” If we’re getting most of our calories from non-sugar plant sources, he says, we’re getting enough protein.

I like that approach. Most importantly, I can remember it.

Leaving me free to move on to the fun of deciding how to cook those beans!

Meatless Mondays in 2010: Spread the Word

Let’s spread the word about the Meatless Monday movement in 2010.

It’s not a new thing. Meatless Mondays were promoted first by the U.S. Government during World War I to conserve supplies of key food staples for soldiers abroad. Herbert Hoover began the campaign, as head of the Food Administration and the American Relief Association, during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, as a way of promoting volunteerism and personal sacrifice while the country was at war.

They even made menus available to support the effort.

Most recently Meatless Mondays have been promoted by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Center for a Livable Future. The U.S. Department of Agriculture supports the initiative with nutritional guidelines for those who are skeptical about going meatless for even one day.

With the threat of global climate change upon us, this simple action represents an important and powerful step we all can take. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly 20 percent of greenhouse gases are caused by the meat industry. (Many estimates are even higher.) University of Chicago geophysicists estimate that, if we all cut our meat consumption by 20 percent (the approximate decrease achieved if everyone in the United States participated in Meatless Mondays), the reduction in greenhouse gas production would be the equivalent of every American switching to a hybrid vehicle. That’s huge!

Twelve billion gallons of gasoline would be saved if every American went meatless for one day a week during the coming year.

Producing meat takes a lot of water and pollutes our rivers and streams. According to the United Nations, meat production is responsible for nearly half of the stream and river pollution in this country. The production of one pound of beef takes about 2500 gallons of water to produce, compared to soy, which takes about 220 gallons. By participating in Meatless Mondays, an individual could save more than 800 gallons of water a week.

As if protecting our environment weren’t enough reason to take personal action, consider the positive health impact of cutting just one day’s meat consumption. Going meatless for one day a week reduces a person’s saturated fat intake by 15 percent, decreasing the chance of stroke, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

Let’s join Al Gore, Paul McCartney, the Baltimore public schools and millions of others in 2010 by joining the Meatless Monday movement. Check out the Huffington Post’s weekly Meatless Monday recipe column and get inspired.

There’s plenty of help available on the Meatless Monday website. Most importantly, let’s all spread the word about this simple idea!

Winter Soup to Nurture the Soul

Today, Anna Thomas offered me a Love Soup choice: make a hearty brown lentil soup or a red lentil and squash soup. Both sounded amazing and appealed to me in that warm, nurturing, fill the house with good smells kind of way that only a good winter soup can.

Having just about every ingredient for the hearty brown lentil soup on hand, that’s what I settled on to wind up my Christmas weekend and to pass a gloomy, rainy Sunday. Coincidentally (or not?), I came across an article today on Eating Down the Fridge, One Week at a Time after the holidays, a great way to offset the overindulgence to which we all seem to succumb at this time of year. (It was written following Thanksgiving, but the concept applies to the Christmas season as well, I think.) The idea is to challenge yourself to go without shopping for a week in order to eat modestly and creatively, wasting less food.

I had the potatoes, onions, carrots and garlic and on hand from my winter CSA, some grocery store celery and organic lentils (green, not brown) on hand as well.

The recipe calls for fresh cilantro, parsley and thyme, which I was able to purchase at the grocery store. All were beautifully fresh, wherever they came from.

The success of this recipe depends on four things, in my opinion:

  • good stock (thank you, CSA vegetables of the past),
  • freshly ground cumin seed (and lots of it),
  • large quantities of fresh herbs added at the end of cooking
  • and the fresh lemon juice squeezed in just before serving.

Anna Thomas has not disappointed me since I discovered her cookbook The Vegetarian Epicure in the late 1970s, wearing out the spine for the chocolate cheesecake recipe. (It’s still the best chocolate cheesecake ever.) Her record continues with Love Soup, her latest vegetarian cookbook, and I love that it’s almost entirely soup recipes. Not to be missed is the book’s introduction, which will move any cook to think about and remember why we love to cook in the first place.

A Warm Welcome Home by Local Veggies

I’m back in New Hampshire and, as predicted, found the first share of my winter CSA waiting for me.

Winter CSA Week One

Potatoes, lettuce, bok choi, acorn squash, butternut squash, turnips, onions, one leek and a bag of beautiful carrots.

Yes, I celebrated my return to good food by roasting some veggies up right away! (My version of fast food, I guess.)

I’m settling in with my new copy of Anna Thomas’ vegetarian soup cookbook, Love Soup, thinking about cooking Ten-Vegetable Soup with Cranberry Beans tomorrow night. Or, perhaps Stewed Root Vegetables with Moroccan Spices.

It’s great to be home.

A Blizzard Refugee in Chicago

I’m stranded in Chicago because of the big snow storm on the east coast.

Through the mysteries of air travel, my connection yesterday from Chicago (where it did not snow) to Manchester, New Hampshire (where it did not snow), was canceled. The end result of waiting in United Airlines’ three-hour customer service waiting line was to be rebooked on a flight for tomorrow morning. After being warned numerous times that no seats would be available until after the first of the year, that seemed like great news.

That was lucky break number one, I guess.

I was able to get a room at the local Marriott Courtyard, sparing me the adventure of passing two nights on the floor of O’Hare International Airport. By about 10 p.m., I was warm and comfy in my new digs, with my laptop, a couple of books, a bag of nuts and a toothbrush. Suitcase, in a heap somewhere.

That was lucky break number two.

Passing a day and a half in an airport hotel probably isn’t many people’s dream. Food offerings are painfully limited and there’s no place to walk to to find anything different, let alone healthy. Breakfast was the highlight of my day: green tea, oatmeal, fruit and nuts. For lunch, nuts and more tea. I reached a low point at dinner, munching on stale corn chips and spinach artichoke dip.

What I discovered was that, in this depressing blizzard refugee world, being a 98 percent vegetarian who cares about whole food is close to futile. Of course, I have to eat, but the choices were pretty dreary here. And, that last choice left me feeling like I might have been better off hitting the nuts again.

When I get back to New Hampshire tomorrow, I will find the first installment of my winter CSA and I’ll get back to my normal routines.

That’ll be lucky break number three. I’m ready.