Meatless Mondays and more
In my last column, I outlined a few ideas for “green” resolutions for 2013. One item that was screaming to be added was to enjoy one meatless meal each week. For some people, this isn’t a big deal, but for others, just the thought of it is such a big leap that it felt like the subject deserved its own column.
Meat and potatoes are the common centerpiece of the American diet. Like most people my age, I was raised on pot roast with carrots and potatoes, turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, and hamburgers with a side of fries. The only “non-weird” meatless meal I remember from my childhood is spaghetti. Our single encounter with tofu was an unmitigated disaster.
But meatless meals are no longer considered odd; even most steakhouses have at least one vegetarian entree on their menus. The fact is, more Americans are turning to vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. Those who do list animal welfare, environmental considerations, and health concerns as the impetus for their plant-centric diets. Indeed, the list of health benefits is long: reducing your risk for a variety of cancers, limiting and even reversing heart disease, reducing the incidence of diabetes, fighting obesity, and living longer.
While the health benefits probably make sense, you may wonder how eating less meat could possibly benefit the environment. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of man-made greenhouse gas emissions worldwide — more, even, than transportation. And that isn’t all. The Water Education Foundation estimates that it takes 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef!
Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to change your entire diet. But I am hoping to convince you to change one meal a week, because even that small act matters. According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads. That’s right: a single vegetarian meal each week can make a major impact!
There’s even a name for that one meatless meal a week that I’m hoping you’ll eat: Meatless Mondays. And they aren’t new. In fact, they were born during World War I in an effort to aid our war efforts. As part of their “Food Will Win the War” campaign, the US government introduced “Meatless Monday” and ‘Wheatless Wednesday.” Some 10 million families pledged to observe these national meatless days. A 1929 article from the Saturday Evening Post observed, “Americans began to look seriously into the question of what and how much they were eating. Lots of people discovered for the first time that they could eat less and feel no worse — frequently for the better.”
Personally, I’ve found that’s the case. The more I stick to nutrient-rich, plant-based, minimally processed foods, the better I feel. And cooking one meatless meal a week doesn’t need to be a big production; I’ve found that a few meal “types” are easy to serve to meat-and-potato types without getting a lot of push-back or disappointment. Casseroles, pastas, stir-fries, and a combo of soup or stew, hearty bread, and salad are all filling and familiar enough that even hardcore traditionalists don’t grumble too much.
Think of a beautiful vegetarian lasagna, a big bowl of southern-style rice and beans, homemade vegetable pot pie, hearty three bean chili, or oven-roasted ratatouille. Or what about baked macaroni and cheese, black bean enchiladas, grilled cheese sandwiches with rich tomato soup, or a rustic vegetarian shepherd’s pie? Yum! Add a big salad and some crusty bread to complete your scrumptious meatless meal, and then raise a glass of wine to your, and the planet’s, good health. Bon appetit!
Jayna McDaniel-Browning, a writer, artist, and mother of two, leads the “Go Green!” group for MOMS Club of Delaware. She enjoys sharing her passion for green living, good books, and vegan food.