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By Lisa Browdy
Have you heard of Meatless Monday? This old slogan from the era of World Wars I and II (when many food items were scarce and had to be rationed) is making a comeback. In 2003 a retired ad man turned health advocate named Sid Lerner realized that excessive meat consumption caused preventable illnesses and started a campaign with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to revive the concept. Less than 10 years later, the concept has spread to 15 countries.
"Going meatless once a week may reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. It can also help reduce your carbon footprint and save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel," according to the website. It goes on to recommend that on the days you eat meat, that you choose grass-fed, locally-raised and hormone-free options.
Many celebrities and chefs have lent their support to Meatless Monday through their tweets and recipes. Some restaurants feature meatless entrees on their Monday menus. Unfortunately, our local vegetarian restaurant Munch is closed on Monday, but meatless options can be found at any other restaurant in town.
If you are cooking at home on Monday, the website has hundreds of recipe options. I used to think that vegetarian cooking was all about the tofu, but there is a world of beans, nuts, seeds, legumes and other options that will give your recipes some protein and heft without meat. One of my favorites is quinoa – it looks like a grain but it isn't. It's a seed, and a complete protein, with a satisfying bite and the ability to soak up flavor.
This quinoa recipe by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks is a favorite at my house. Add some garbanzo beans and tahini, and you have a complete meal that packs well for your lunch the next day:
Lemon-scented Quinoa Salad Recipe
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 can garbanzo beans, or dried equivalent
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, smashed and chopped
1/4 cup tahini
Zest of one lemon
scant 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons hot water
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
Rinse the quinoa in a fine-meshed strainer. In a medium saucepan heat the quinoa and water until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until water is absorbed and quinoa fluffs up, about 15 minutes. Quinoa is done when you can see the curlique in each grain, and it is tender with a bit of pop to each bite. Drain any extra water and set aside.
While the quinoa is cooking make the dressing. Whisk together the garlic, tahini, lemon zest and juice, and olive oil. Add the hot water to thin a bit and then the salt.
Toss the cooked quinoa, beans, cilantro, red onion, and half of the dressing. Add more dressing if you like and season with more salt to taste. Serve garnished with a bit of cilantro.
Another good source for cutting down on meat is a cookbook called The Flexitarian Diet by a Chicago dietician named Dawn Jackson Blattner. I like her philosophy that encourages vegetarian eating most of the time, but being loose enough to have a serving of Thanksgiving turkey or enjoying a burger at a cookout. Many of her recipes have a "flex swap" option, where you can trade meat for beans and vice versa depending on the situation.
One caveat about vegetarian eating: the soy and seitan-based "meats" in the stores (like Boca Burgers and Quorn) tend to be highly processed and high in sodium. They are fine to try while you are transitioning from a meaty diet, but don't get hooked on them permanently.
And it goes without saying that vegetarians who subsist on cookies, chips and macaroni and cheese aren't going to be much healthier than the carnivores. It's all about the produce, whole grains and beans, folks.
Cutting down on meat can bring great benefits to your health, your weight, and your energy level. And as you may know, the The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates far more greenhouse gasses than what we use for transportation! I love a win/win.
Do you observe Meatless Monday? Do you think you might start?