I live in the Boston area, so I read the Boston Globe newspaper, and last Sunday its magazine section featured an essay by local physician Dr. Sushrut Jangi asking, “Why Is the Meat-Heavy American Diet So Hard to Change?”
After pointing out the many reasons that a diet heavy in meat, and especially fatty pork and beef and processed meats, is unhealthy (it greatly increases the risks for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and colon cancer), he suggests some ways to encourage eating less of it.
Some of these involve public policy. Dr. Jangi discussed initiatives in some of Boston’s disadvantaged neighborhoods to start urban community gardens where people who have trouble accessing and affording fresh vegetables and fruits could grow some for themselves. He mentioned making SNAP/ “food stamps” assistance usable at farmers’ markets, and a local ad campaign to promote Boston’s 25 area farmers’ markets to more people. He noted that public school lunches need to adhere to the newest nutritional standards, which include more vegetables and fruits than older guidelines, even though these may cost more in the short term. These are certainly all examples of public policies that tend in the right direction, and should be ramped up and replicated elsewhere.
But Dr. Jangi also suggested things that individuals can do, without waiting for legislators or officials. As an omnivore himself, he does not advocate veganism. But he does advise readers to fill half their plates with vegetables, and eat fish and poultry more than steak or bacon or sausage, and plant a garden and then eat what they grow.
I would add a few more tips. Adopt Meatless Mondays (or Sundays if weeknights are too frantic for you), and each week or two try another new vegan or mostly vegan dish so that you gradually build up a repertoire of meatless meals that you like. Consider bean and vegetable soups with a hearty bread, chili with beans instead of meat, tofu-and-vegetable stir-fry (with a sauce) over rice, rice-and-lentil pilafs with a vegetable or salad, split pea soup, a summer salad of vegetables with garbanzo beans and corn chips, pasta salad (pasta and vegetables) with baked beans, pasta with tomato sauce and your choice of meat-analogs (see post 8). Breakfasts can include cereal, toast, rolls, fruit, coffee, tea, milk or soy milk, soy-based breakfast sausage, tofu scramble. Lunch can be leftovers (what I usually do), or a nut butter and jelly sandwich or a hummus or felafel sandwich or meatless pizza or a fake-meat-slices sandwich or veggie hot dogs or veggie burgers or a bean soup with salad. Even if you’re not quite ready to make a meal entirely meatless, you can play with the ratios of ingredients in soups, stews, and stir-fries, increasing the vegetables and grain while decreasing the meat to just a couple of ounces for added taste and richness.
When you want a snack, go for fruit or nuts rather than cheese or beef jerky of something baked or processed. When you saute or stir-fry, use olive or other vegetable oil instead of butter or lard. Soups can be based on vegetable broth instead of chicken or beef broth; substitute vegetable bouillon in a recipe calling for chicken or beef bouillon.
The internet offers countless vegetarian recipes, and libraries and bookstores offer many vegetarian cookbooks.
As a gardener myself, I also second Dr. Jangi’s suggestion to grow food. For my experience is that food you grow organically and harvest at its peak to eat promptly is so much more flavorful than anything you can buy that this factor alone could help people enjoy produce enough to eat more of it.
As discussed in previous posts (especially 6 and 7), there really is not enough arable land or fresh water on Earth to both support typical American meat-heavy diets very widely and still have enough food for all humanity to be adequately fed. So a key to ending hunger is to realize that we can all eat deliciously, healthily, and satisfyingly on low-meat and vegetarian regimes. I encourage everyone to explore them.
Louise “Gentle Bee” Quigley