Why going meatless is a great idea

by Sarah on November 4, 2012

cabbage and lentil soup

“Sustainable growth is an oxymoron” Albert Allen Bartlett

Eventually there won’t be enough food, water and natural resources to supply the burgeoning human population. Arable land will soon be more precious than oil. In some parts of the world it already is.

Malthus predicted this more than two hundred years ago. Technological advancements in food production and agriculture has delayed, but not halted this grim forecast.

cattle in Israel

Overpopulation and the resulting climate change have taken a devastating toll on the environment. This year, droughts in the United States, a major food exporter will have a profound effect both locally and on the rest of the world, sowing the seeds instability. Hurricane Sandy decimated large swaths of agricultural lands in Haiti and continued to New England in a path of destruction. Extreme weather conditions-cyclones, tornados, hurricanes-are occurring with alarming regularity in all parts of the globe.

British theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking once commented that humans should colonies the moon and Mars to save themselves from the inevitable Armageddon they have created. The statistics are horrifying. Eighty percent of Brazil’s coral reef and half of the Great Barrier reef have been destroyed by the combination of pollution, rise in ocean temperature and illegal harvesting. Although coral reefs cover only a small percentage of the ocean floor, it harbors 25% of the marine biodiversity. Deforestation is occurring at unprecedented rates, not only in Brazil but in Indonesia, Ghana and The Philippines.  The degradation of habitats has left many animals and plants on the brink of extinction. According to water.org 780 million people lack access to clean water, the elixir of life resulting in an epidemic of water borne illnesses. With the push to feed the masses the fragile ecosystem has and will continue suffer.

onion

In response, Mammoth corporations are purchasing cheap land in South East Asia, Africa and South America as an insurance tactic against famine. As many go hungry, citizens question the rationale of using crops for biofuel production, once heralded as a technological innovation. Thousands are heading to the streets in protest, demanding lower food prices. Meanwhile farmers want the direct opposite, pressuring the government to set prices that reflect the increase costs of natural resources.

When it comes to food, I am not a moralist and respect cultural, religious and ideological differences, even while I may not understand them. I am fascinated by culinary diversity but wary of proselytizing, especially when done without humor.  So while I have never restricted my food choices, I think Meatless Monday, a movement which advocates going meatless for a day, is a great idea.

In a study conducted in New York State, it was found that nearly five times more land is needed to support high meat consumption compared to a low fat vegetarian diet (0.44 acres verses 2.11 acres). Interestingly eating a small amount of meat was the most efficient in terms of land use. This can be understood from the fact that animals can be grown effectively in areas not suited for agriculture.

According to a paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2003  “The meat-based food system requires more energy, land, and water resources than the lactovovegetarian diet”.  Considering that half the world’s crops are used to feed animals and not people, hunger would be alleviated if a majority switched to a plant based diet.

cabbage and lentil soup

There are those who believe going meatless for one day is not enough. I believe it is the only way to start. Food preference is deeply ingrained within the psyche and is very difficult to change. For many, it is equivalent to religion, a core value, and not an arbitrary choice. Try asking your grandmother to serve tofu for Thanksgiving instead of turkey.

Meatless Monday helps to alter consumer habits in increments to more sustainable ones.

My father was born into a family where “meat and potatoes” was the norm as it was in many households throughout the United States. When I was growing up poultry or beef was served at almost every dinner. Living without roasted chicken may never come natural to me but I have come to realize that it is a privilege. In a small way, Meatless Monday, helps curb the world’s appetite for meat, keeping it a little greener.

lentil and cabbage soup

 

Cabbage and lentil soup

 

This is a “let’s finish what’s laying around the house” recipe. The cabbage is reminiscent of Eastern European cooking while the lentils are very Middle Eastern. What’s up with the pickle juice? The Poles often use sauerkraut to perk up earthy soup. Pickle brine has a similar effect.

Red lentils’ beautiful orange luster fades into a murky slop when cooked. I’ve added tomato paste here to offset this unappetizing color.

1 cup red lentils, washed

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 carrots, brunoise or cut into small cubes (or throw the carrots and celery into a food processer like I did)

4 celery sticks, brunoise or cut into small cubes

½ a small cabbage (about 500 grams or 1 pound), shredded

100 grams tomato paste

2 bay leaves, split in half

3-4 allspice seeds, bruised

1 bunch parsley, finely chopped

A pinch of thyme

Olive oil for sautéing

Juice of ½ lemon. Pickle or sauerkraut juice works well too, about ¼ cup

Salt and pepper

About 10 cups of water

In a deep pot, heat the olive oil and add the onions. Keep the flame low enough so the onions brown but do not burn. Mix with a wooden spoon periodically (the metal ones are fine but annoyingly clangy). When the onions are beginning to brown add the garlic. Continue to sautee for another minute making sure not to burn the garlic. Add the carrots and celery and let them “sweat”, so they release moisture but do not brown. After about 10 minutes add the rest of the ingredients except for parsley- the lentils, cabbage, bay leaves thyme, allspice, tomato paste, salt and water. The water should cover the vegetables completely. Continue to cook with the cover askew for 45- 1 hour or until the lentils are soft. If the soup is too thick and stew-like, add more water. If it’s too watery, uncover and continue cooking to reduce. Add the lemon or pickle juice and parsley. Serve with crusty bread.

Vegetarian food blogs I recommend

Café Liz- Israel’s very own vegetarian food blog.

Emily Segal, an expat living in Israel, writes a blog on vegan cooking.

Herbavoracious- Michael Natkin’s has a wide range of inspiring vegetarian recipes, from ethnic cuisine to imaginative dishes he has developed himself.

Kalyn’s Kitchen- Although not exclusively vegetarian Kalyn’s blog is full of flavorful and healthy recipes

I discovered Veggie Belly’s blog through Michael Natkin. Drawing from her Indian background, she is not afraid to liven up her food with plenty of spice. Her recipes do not focus only on Indian cuisine, however, but are also influenced by her travels around the world.

Heidi Swanson started 101 Cookbooks in 2003, long before most people knew what a blog was. Since then it  has developed in a cornucopia for vegetarians,  who strive to eat only natural, whole foods.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica November 4, 2012 at 5:22 am

Right now we have a choice to go vegetarian, but eventually the choice will be made for us. Not only is a high meat/dairy diet a contributor to the obesity epidemic in the US, but it is also not possible to feed the world on meat products. As you pointed out, animal production takes up a large amount of space and produces a lot of pollution. After writing a paper about the question of feeding the world (it was also about GMO technology), I came to the conclusion that it will be impossible to feed the world and maintain our same consumption habits. Eating vegetarian is our future (meatless mondays is awesome, try eating meat just once a day also, it can be difficult!). There is just not enough land for all those animals or enough atmosphere to soak up all the methane. As developing countries continue to grow, it will be our task to educate about the human healthfulness of a veggie diet, as well as it’s benefits for the planet. We have the responsibility to shift some cultural stereotypes that view meat and meat products as a status symbol. Just because you can afford meat, doesn’t mean you should buy it. Sarah, you have obviously struck a cord with me as this is a topic I spend a lot of time studying!

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Rosa November 4, 2012 at 5:53 am

A delightful soup! Really comforting and tasty. I rarely eat meat (max. once a week)… Going meatless for a few days is also better for your health.

Cheers,

Rosa

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Emily Segal November 4, 2012 at 6:07 am

Thanks for the link Sarah. You know, going vegan really forced me to seek out so much more variety, dishes, and cuisines I never would have otherwise. I think you will really enjoy your Meatless Mondays!

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Yael the Finn November 4, 2012 at 9:15 am

I have been meatless now for over 5 years and feel much better than before giving it up.Actually I gave up only chicken and turkey,as I never liked red meat anyway.

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Eha November 4, 2012 at 7:13 pm

The tragedy of your beautifully written story lies in the fact so many still believe in no way does it apply to THEM :( ! Even if so many in the world lack any daily sustenance whatsoever! Love the soup: was brought up many a moon ago on variations on the theme and, naturally, thrived on it! I make a week long menu well ahead, and, for health’s sake already, pencil in 2-3 meatless days! No hassles whatsoever, except better health and it still provides quite enough zinc, iron, vit B12 and CoQ10 without supplements :) ! Enjoyably!!!!

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jennifer Barnaby November 5, 2012 at 2:52 am

I couldn’t agree with you more that eventually, our planet won’t be able to support the world’s wasteful meat eating habit. I became vegetarian 35 years ago because I felt better, not for political or humanitarian reasons. As my first step, I bought Frances Moore Lappé’s book, Diet for a Small Planet. Back then, she was the only person tooting the vegetarian horn when vegetarianism was mostly a radical, hippie activity! The predictions she made in her book are coming true: meat production is consuming our natural resources at a rate that is unsustainable. All these years later, seems as though that choice I made 35 years ago turned me into a humanitarian even though that was not my intention. I hope it catches on before it’s too late.

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Sarah November 11, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Thanks Jennifer, I’ll look into Frances Moore Lappe’s book, sounds very intersting. I am always amazed at individuals like her who are able to understand the consequences of our actions before it is deemed a problem.

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