Where to begin?
I love to read, I love food, and I love reading about food. In that spirit, I just finished reading Mark Bittman’s Food Matters. Now that I’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, Fast Food Nation, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle over the last couple of years, any book that starts down the “cows eating corn is bad” path sort of makes me yawn. High-fructose corn syrup is in hiding everywhere? Cows were meant to eat grass? Yes, yes, I KNOW. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, though, see the movie Food, Inc. or read any of the above books if you’re curious.)
So Food Matters was nothing new or revolutionary to me, and it wasn’t quite as interesting or in-depth as the above books, either. But what I did like about it was Bittman’s section about how he’s changed his personal eating habits to reflect what we’re coming to know about food, environment, and health. He calls his concept “Vegan Until 6:00″ or “lessmeatarianism” and advocates for less meat, more vegetables in everyone’s life, without calling for everyone to become a vegan or even a vegetarian. For himself, he explains, that means a virtually-vegan diet for the first two meals of his day, and then a “normal” dinner, because that’s what works best for him. Though he is by no means claiming that this strict of an approach would work for everyone, it works for him, and he encourages the reader to think of ways to trim a percentage of animal-product-based meals from their own diets, however that works for them.
I’ve also been hearing more buzz about Meatless Mondays, a non-profit movement started by researchers at The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health with a goal of reducing meat consumption by 15% to improve personal health and the health of the planet. Their website is fantastic, with a whole page devoted to bloggers who go meatless every Monday and links to hundreds of recipes.
Is it just me, or are meatless Mondays the perfect baby-step way to begin following Bittman’s advice? Because up until now, though I’ve had plenty of information, I haven’t really used it to change the way my family eats. I started yesterday.
I made Ina Garten’s Scalloped Tomatoes, which are really a cross between bruschetta and tomato bread pudding (but with no custard involved). I didn’t feel like spending five dollars on sad winter basil, so I left that out, and I also left the crusts on my whole-wheat sesame semolina bread, but other than that, I followed this very easy recipe to a T. Here’s what the mixture looked like before it went into the oven:
and here’s what it looked like, in all it’s crusty, cheesy, chewy, tomato-y glory when it came out:
It was divine. My children would not touch it, even my child who has always loved pizza and pasta with red sauce, but I DID NOT CARE because, hello, MORE FOR ME. I can’t wait to make this again in the summer when the tomatoes are actually good! (I used Romas, which tend to be the same year-round, and less mealy than off-season traditional varieties.)
I rounded out the meal with a big green salad with goat cheese, dried cherries, and toasted pecans, plus a little of the whole-wheat pasta I was serving to the kids. The whole meatless meal looked like this:
I was totally satisfied by that, and my husband was, too, although he later supplemented with a hard-boiled egg from the fridge. The girls ate what they usually do for dinner, which is to say, very little. (Oh well. They eat for about an hour straight at breakfast.)
Now that I’ve committed to putting this Meatless Monday concept into practice, I’ve spied lots of promising recipes for the weeks to come. I’m thinking about Barley Soup with Greens, Fennel, Lemon and Dill; Potatoes with Leeks and Gruyere; White Bean Chili; Cheesy Lasagna Rolls with Spinach and Ricotta; and Quinoa with Black Beans and Cilantro. But I’d love some help, especially from those of you who have been cooking vegetarian for longer than, say, A DAY. So I’ll try to post here more regularly, even if just to let you know what I made for Meatless Monday (and how it was), and if you want to join the lessmeatarianism movement (“It’s Cheap! It’s Healthy! It’s Good For The Planet!”), I’d love if you’d let us know what meatless wonder you’re cooking up on Monday nights for dinner, too.