Going Vegetarian(er) - Part 1

 First off, I am not a vegetarian. I probably never will be. I really, really love steak. A lot.

Ok, now that that is out of the way, I will say that in my house we really only eat meat once or twice a week, and that is usually chicken. We eat a lot of "vegetarian" meals, for a couple of reasons. First, meat is really expensive. This is true in the states, as well as here in Papua New Guinea. Vegetables, if you do not buy them in the exotic, out of season, and organic sections of the grocery store (we don't have those sections at the market across the road), are quite a bit cheaper than meat, and therefore eating semi-vegetarian is a wonderful boon to the grocery budget.

Pastry-Wrapped Asparagus

Second, I just really don't think we need that much meat in a healthy diet. There are quite a few studies indicating that a vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, or otherwise lowish-in-meat diet is quite good for you, especially if you don't go replacing the meat with all kinds of high-carb or highly processed foods like tones of pasta or "tofurkey." Tofurkey, to me, sounds more like something I might give my toddler to play with than something I might actually put in my stomach. Maybe I'm prejudiced.

Anyway, for whatever reason, my family does not eat copious amounts of meat, and we do, quite often, have meals which have never mooed, clucked, quacked, oinked, or bleated. I have recently had several conversations with friends of mine who, for some reason or another, would like to reduce the amount of meat that they consume, but aren't really sure how to do so. I totally understand! A couple of years ago, when I went to make dinner I always would start with a meat and then decide what to do with it. I didn't really know how to even start thinking of a "vegetarian" meal. What would that consist of? Salad? Yuck. Buttered noodles? With… spinach? But over the last couple of years I have gotten to where I am quite comfortable coming up with and eating a meal with no meat in it, and, wonder of wonders, my husband is too! So I thought I would try to share a few tips with those who would like to move in the direction of cooking and eating less meat. In this post, I will suggest some "motivation" tips, and in the next post I will suggest some "practical" tips. (And I'll share some photos of delicious vegetarian meals. For your enjoyment and inspiration.)

First, I would decide why you want to reduce the amount of meat in your diet. Budget? Health? Moral issues? Ease of cooking? Lack of freezer space? Once you nail down exactly why you are wanting to move this direction, then you can better decide how to proceed. For example, if budget or health is your reason, then you might be just as happy cooking meals with just a little meat in them rather than no meat. If ease of cooking is your reason, then putting in just a little meat is probably going to be just as hard as quite a bit of meat, and you may want to actually try completely vegetarian meals. And obviously, if moral issues with eating meat has you wanting to go vegetarian, then you would probably want to cut out meat altogether.

Broccoli-Peanut Pesto with Button Noodles

Second, I would try to determine and deal with any issues that are keeping you from trying to reduce meat in your diet. Is your significant other resistant to the idea?  Are you worried that you might wither away to nothing or get horribly malnourished without the proper "protein" in your diet? Do you just have no idea where to start?

When I started considering a "less meat" diet, I was a little worried that I was going to have problems being properly nourished (I was pregnant at the time with my first child) and that I was going to have SERIOUS problems keeping my extremely active, high-metabolism husband properly fed. I had the idea that, although it is possible to get all your nutrients from a vegetarian diet, it required an in-depth knowledge of the exact nutrient value of each veggie that you consume and careful planning to make sure that you constructed the proper proteins from several different veggies.

Veggie-Cheese Omelet with Avocado and Toddler
 While this may be true for someone going completely vegan, or even perhaps completely vegetarian (I don't know for sure, I've never tried that), it is most certainly not true for a simple reduction of the amount of meat that you are eating. Studies (which I have not the time or inclination to cite here, but you are welcome to go research) have actually shown that the Standard American Diet has way too much meat in it. More traditional societies, as we see here in PNG, eat far less meat. And while I'm certainly not denying the necessity of protein (even meat protein) in our diets, I would argue that we certainly don't need it every meal, or even every day. Again, you are welcome to research this on your own… I have, and although I do not remember all the references I used, I can tell you that this is the conclusion I came to after quite a bit of research, and not just internet blogs. =]

Watermelon-Strawberry Koldskaal

For my husband, I think the penny dropped that he might not require so much meat to be healthy when he met Kulong and Yandu, the two Papua New Guinean guys that he works with. They are quite healthy, rather large, muscular guys, who could probably outwork most American guys with one arm tied behind their backs. These guys eat a rather traditional New Guinean diet, which consist mostly of vegetables. The occasional meat in a traditional diet would be a treat, eaten at a feast or special day, because animals that are eaten are either hunted or grown, not bought at the grocery store and grown in a feed lot. Morgan reported wonderingly to me that Kulong had told him that he ate meat probably once every two or three weeks. From then on, Morgan has been much less worried about making sure he had "enough meat." (we probably eat two or three "meat meals" a week)

Creamy Tomato Penne with Asparagus

All this to say, if the idea that meat is necessary at every meal is what is keeping either you or your significant other from trying to go "less meat," even though you would like to for other reasons, then a little research should help the issue. And if it does not convince your significant other, there is always the "sneak in a vegetarian meal and don't mention the fact that it doesn't have meat and hope they don't notice" method! I used that method for a long time. If, however, you simply don't know where to start in preparing meals without meat, I have some tips to help you get started which I shall share in my next post (because this one is getting a little long).

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