Wednesday, February 8, 2012

10 Ways to Eat Less Meat

This was originally published in May 2010.

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.


REALLY GOOD IDEAS FROM OTHER PEOPLE

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], Baby-Halloween-Costume.com [cow], and BuyCostumes.com [pig])

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8 comments:

Stan Starsky said...

Really like tip 5 - go ethnic...Sometimes I just get stuck eating the same things for dinner and forget that there is so much variety in the way foods are prepared...Great tips also like the last tip for a means of providing additional motivation.

Anonymous said...

Great article. My family has recently gone vegetarian and we do something a little different that Mark Bittman. I eat entirely vegan/vegetarian at home where I can more easily control what goes into my food, but sometimes get meat in meals when I am out to eat and there are no healthy vegetarian options. So I eat vegetarian 95% of the time.

What has been helpful for us is adapting our expectation that there be a centerpiece to every meal. Most meat based meals have an main entree and sides. That is harder to do in a vegetarian dish. We also don't always try to recreate our favorite meat dishes into vegetarian meals. That is good sometimes, but usually it never lives up to the favorite meat dish we remember. And vegetables are delicious in their own right and don't have to get dressed up and pretend to be meat.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy mushrooms for a meat substitute.

Mrs. Troy said...

Thanks for posting again. Great article, and it is always fun to see a new post up on CHG.

Kendra said...

Great post! So many tips here... I'll have to try them all!

Thanks for posting!

The Food Hunter said...

great info.

Dany said...

Thanks for this article! In an effort to lower our monthly grocery bill, I have been trying to cook more veggie-based dishes, and--gasp!--have bought my first-ever tofu! If anyone has a great tofu recipe to recommend, I would be super greatful! ;)

Jenny @ Food Hygiene courses said...

The family and myself have tried to move away from the whole meat eating thing. especially in nthe winter we had a load of soup and salads and now we have a nice steak from the butchers every so often on the weekend from the money we saved up by not eating meat during the week!!