Wednesday, May 19, 2010

10 Ways to Eat Less Meat

Today, we continue our May Top 10 series by addressing a popular topic in both the food and personal finance blogospheres: eating less meat.

“Why in the good name of Bea Arthur would I want to eat LESS meat?” some might ask. “I don’t get enough bacon as it is. Plus, humans were meant to be carnivores, right? Otherwise, how do I explain the dead alpaca in the fridge to my kids?”

Well, sweet reader. We come not to demonize meat, but to praise consuming it in moderation. Because when raised right and chomped sensibly, beef, chicken, pork, lamb - maybe even that alpaca - can be pretty good for you. What’s more, it’s good for your wallet, your children, the Earth, the moon, the universe, other universes, the multiverse, the Rebel Alliance, Hoth, Dagoba- … Sorry. Got carried away there.

Following that line of reasoning, here are 10-plus strategies for reducing your meat intake. Some are well known. Others, less so. But all told, it’s a pretty decent list, if I do say so myself. (Note: And I do.)

Of course, if you’d like to change anything or add your own suggestion, the comment section awaits. That’s what it’s there for, after all. (Also: quoting Glee.)

1) Have one or more meatless nights per week.
It’s hard to say whether the movement began with bloggers or Johns Hopkins’ Meatless Mondays. Either way, this 15% reduction in your weekly meat can have a massive positive impact on … well, everything we just mentioned (the environment, your heart, Tatooine, etc.). The options aren’t as limited as you think, either. Vegetarian burritos, pizza, chili, and pasta are so tasty, you won’t miss the extra eight ounces of pork.

2) Buy less meat. And when you do, only purchase pricey, delicious, humanely raised meat.
You have three grand and a choice: You can go to McDonald’s every night for a year, or Babbo every night for a month. You’d choose 30 days catered by Mario Batali over 3,000 stupid chicken nuggets, right?

Buying farmer’s market meat is kind of like that. You purchase less overall (because it’s pricey, yo), but what you do buy is so delicious, it’s worth the wait.

Not to mention … imagine a world where the chicken tastes like chicken. I’m not talking about the wan, watered-down, quasi-poultry we know and tolerate. I’m referring to genuine, robust fowl that screams, “I am bird! Hear me cluck! Or roar! Or roarcluck! Whatever.” That flavorful planet is attainable, if you’re willing to go for it.

3) Don’t eat meat before dinner.
You may have heard of Mark Bittman’s “vegan before 6” diet. Essentially, the New York Times writer doesn’t eat any animal products before dinner. (Um … that may have been somewhat self-explanatory from the name of the diet, in which case, I apologize.)

While restricting cheese and eggs might be a little too much to take, dude’s definitely on to something. How simple would it be to cut the bacon out of your morning feast? Or to swap grilled eggplant in for grilled chicken on your panini? Or to buy the deli’s awesome, overlooked Italian Bean Soup instead of their admittedly lame Chicken Noodle? Try it for a few days, and see what happens. Could be easier than you think.

4) Don’t make meat the focus of your meals.
There’s nothing like a good cheeseburger, but eating one every night takes its toll. Relegating meat to side dishes or secondary ingredients ensures you still get a decent helping of beefy goodness, without the egregious bad things. Chilis and soups are particularly wonderful for this, as is everything in Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond’s Meat Lite column on Serious Eats.

5) Go ethnic.
Mediterranean, Indian, Chinese, Thai, and even Italian and Mexican food rely much less on meat than traditional American cuisine. Throw your family a culinary curveball by having a World Kitchen Night, and preparing a few simple recipes from around the globe. Beyond the obvious benefits, you’ll also open minds and create adventurous palates. Sweet.

6) Filet or pound your cuts.
The recommended serving for meat is four ounces, which is about the size of a deck of cards. If you put that in front of my brother, he’d laugh maniacally and then shove a fork into his thigh, a la Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein.

There’s a way around that, though: Take a large piece of meat – chicken breast, let’s say – and A) slice it in half through the middle, or B) pound it super-thin. This creates the illusion of a big cut, even though the piece is essentially missing its bottom half. Bonus: it’ll cook more evenly, as well.

7) Learn to make more vegetable, grain, and pasta-based meals.
Baked Ziti. Falafel. Pizza. Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili. Lasagna. Quinoa Soup with Avocado and Corn. Ratatouille. Macaroni and Cheese. Pasta Puttanesca. Black Bean Burrito Bake. Veggie Lo Mein. Stuffed Peppers. Tomato and Bread Soup. Pumpkin Orzo with Sage. Roasted Veggie Sandwich. OH MY SWEET HEAVENS, BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO. All substantial. All delicious. None will make you crave a hot dog.

8) Find substitutes you dig.
Not everybody likes tofu. I get that. Bean curd is an acquired taste. Still, have you ever tried seitan? Done correctly, it’s scrumptious. I’m not kidding. Leigh makes these barbecue seitan bites that are practically crack.

Meat substitutes scare people off sometimes, but flavor- and texture-wise, they’ve come a long way since Tofurky. If you’re open to the idea, the trick is finding one (or two or eight) that works for you. Whether that’s Portobello mushrooms or tempeh or Morningstar Farms Chix Patties (Which? Mmm.), odds are it’s a better option than many commercially available meats.

9) Make your vegetarian friend(s) cook for you.
Two of my friends have been vegetarians for nearly 20 years each. (One is aforementioned Veggie Might genius Leigh.) Both are among the best cooks I know, presumably because they’ve been forced to experiment with a wider variety of foods to compensate for the lack of meat. If you have similar pals, watch them cook. Ask how they get by. Eat with them. Vegetarians are experts at non-meat lifestyles, and you can learn a lot just by hanging out in their circles.

10) Do the math.
Save your next four grocery bills. Add up the totals. Subtract half the money you spend on meat. (That other half will be spent on more grains, vegetables, and beans, presumably.) Imagine saving that every month, for the rest of your life. Not too shabby, eh?

BONUS: Avoid the meat areas of your supermarket.
Out of sight, out of mind, right? It works for me.


These four tips are pretty sweet, and I didn’t see them anywhere but the cited sources.

Forget about protein.
Mark Bittman: “Plants have protein, too; in fact, per calorie, many plants have more protein than meat. … By eating a variety, you can get all essential amino acids.”

Use it all.
Planet Green: “Try not to throw anything away, and look around for cheaper, more interesting cuts of meat at your butcher.”

Adapt old meaty recipes.
Diet Girl: “Back when I first shacked up with Dr G, I started by taking my old standard meat recipes and finding veggie substitutes. This meant lots of beans and lentils.”

Make extra helpings of your side dishes.
Owlhaven's Mary Ostyn makes only 1 to 1-1/2 small servings of meat per person, but cooks extra veggies, grains, and such. It keeps costs down, and ensures her kids don’t go overboard.

And that’s it. Sweet readers, the comment section awaits. Oh, and don’t forget: next week, our 10 Series is tackling storage and leftovers. If you have tips for maximizing either, I’d love to hear.


If you enjoy this post, you might also like:

(Photos provided by Wheatbridge [chicken], [cow], and [pig])

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Tracy said...

Regarding number 8, there are a lot of good- and bad-tasting fake meat options out there. I've been reviewing fake meat (from the perspective of a carnivore, so I can tell whether it actually tastes like meat) on my blog:

Donna Freedman said...

"Less meat" does not mean pellagra or starvation, folks! This is a great post because it encourages rather than chastises.
It can be as simple as using half a pound of meat in the chili instead of the full pound your mom always used.
Thanks, Kris.

Jessa Irene (Holiday-Haven) said...

Around here it is "less everything", more veggies, thanks for the great tips.

Hannah said...

I'd second the advice to look for cheaper, interesting cuts of meat, and to facilitate this exploration I offer just two words: slow cooker. Tougher cuts are usually cheaper, and a long, slow braise in the Crock-Pot will get them meltingly tender. (Also, that way you don't have to really do anything except plug it in, go to work, come home and eat).

We've been experimenting with a lot of interesting cuts since we joined a meat CSA, which is a great option if it's available in your area. The meat is humanely-raised and grass-fed, but it's much cheaper to buy it as part of a club than to buy individual pieces at the farmer's market or at a specialty butcher. Also, you really do get exposed to the whole animal, and you learn a lot about cooking meat in the process.

Debbie said...

These are good tips. I'm a big fan of "one pot meals" where I cook a lot of vegetables (and often grains) with my meat. Instead of making a roast, I'll slice my beef thinly and stir fry with lots of vegetables. If I'm making sloppy joes, the veggies often outnumber the beef.

A little meat goes a long way and no one has every complained! I once had 3 surprise dinner guests and managed to stretch 300 grams of ground beef (about half pound) into a scrumtious meal for 5 adults and a toddler. I just called it "meat sauce," added loads of vegetables, and served over pasta. It was delicious!

Diane said...

I don't get #3 at all - it seems like trendy nonsense. I don't eat much meat, and I buy frugal cuts. But I see absolutely no reason at all to leave chinese lap song out of my AM fried rice breakfast if I feel like having it. Or to not eat leftover meat curries for lunch if I have them at hand to use up.

If you don't want to eat meat, don't eat meat. Or cook with less of it, or use any of the other wonderful suggestions here. Me, I can go weeks without eating it quite happily. But there's nothing magical about eating meat in the AM vs. the PM. It's a silly restriction that makes eating food into a game.

I find adding a little of ingredients with "umami" reduces my desire for more meat - mushrooms, anchovies, tomato paste, fish sauce, a few dried shrimp, etc.

Elizabeth said...

My best advice is to simply buy more produce. I recently joined a CSA, and it's fun to create meals centered around the variety of vegetables I have on hand. Before the CSA, I would shop at the farmers market before the grocery store, so my meals and shopping list were planned around the fresh produce I had already bought. I use meat a lot less now than I did before I started buying so many vegetables, and I don't miss it.


I'm a vegetarian and my husband is a meat-eater.

I make quite a few slow-cooker or roasts to solve the problem. I wrap my vegetables in aluminum foil and put them in with the meat and veggies that my husband is going to eat.

I also make mushroom cap hamburgers; my husband adds one of the caps to his beef burger.

I enjoy being lacto-vegetarian because that allows me milk (which I love) eggs (which are versatile) and cheese (which I enjoy along with apples and grapes).

I save money by buying fresh; no processed foods, and doing all my own cooking (glad I love to cook).

When we eat out, I order a bean soup along with a big salad and drink water with lemon in it. It's not costly to eat out if you pick from the side dishes and/or appetizers and also choose to eat late afternoon so you can still get the prices from the lunch menu.

Diane said...

And I totally agree with Elizabeth: I buy tons of produce (I love vegies!), and it kind of forces out meat - as there's only so much I can eat at one time. So it means more veg and less meat.

ScienceandtheCity said...

I agree with the buying more produce idea - I feel obligated to eat it, and eating more veggies generally means eating more meat (since there's only so much room in the tummy, as they say). I generally try to avoid the meat replacement products as they tend to be really processed (also kindof expensive and not that good for you), but I can totally get behind Quorn. It's pretty healthy, and seriously it tastes just like chicken.

Jersey Mom said...

Interesting post but I don't like to restrict nor limit myself in the area of "food". I love fresh vegetables, fruits, dairy, and meat. Eating what I want in moderation has suit me well & kept me healthy.

Elizabeth said...

@Hannah, I'm intrigued by your meat CSA. How did you find that, and what area are in that has one?

Levon said...

I think that you can also try motivating yourself to totally stop eating meat if you try to watch videos that would show you how animals need to sacrifice their lives just so the people can eat "happily". You can check out some ads that were made by students that showcase how bad eating chicken is from this blog entry from PETA Asia Pacific's blog site:

Jersey Mom said...

Why would watching videos motivate me to stop eating meat? My grandparents had a farm; grew vegetables, fruits, and had chicken as well. Whenever I visited as a child, grandmother would ask me which one I wanted to eat. I'd point at it; she'd take it to the kitchen; kill it in front of me; and we'd happily eat it. Fond memories…

Mattheous @ Menu Musings said...

Here's a good tip: try eating at a local dining hall or cafeteria. I was a vegetarian for an entire semester (gasp!) when I lived on campus in college. Not because of the ethics, but because the food was utter crap at the cafeteria! The veggetarian choices were only slightly better, but the salad bar was where I got most of my meals.

dalembecker said...

Mark Bittman's remark about some plants having even more protein per calorie than meat might be true, but per calorie, black ants have more protein than plants.

Are you going to eat ants? Why not? They're free, easily accessible and natural.

Just because you can net benefits by substituting plants for meat, many people enjoy eating meat enough to counter any shortcomings.

Diane said...

Well, I've eaten ants - or at least ant larvae soup (a northern Thai specialty). And it was pretty tasty. They taste and feel like mushrooms.

Ants, meat, plants - there are many and varied diets in this world, and many great flavors. Not all diets are right for everyone.

Hannah said...

@Elizabeth (and anyone else who might be interested), my meat CSA is through Marin Sun Farms in the Bay Area--I saw them compete in a butchering contest at a slow food festival and checked out their website, which is how I discovered the meat CSA. It's an increasingly popular concept and there is one that delivers all up and down the Eastern seaboard, 8 o'clock meat CSA, for you local-to-NYC readers. Or check, which might be able to point you to other local options.