Friday, July 13, 2012

Don't have a Cow!

With all the craziness of the past few months, I have neglected to get to the meat of this blog. So that's the first thing I'm going to talk about.... meat! This is quite a controversial issue with some people, so I thought I'd share my OPINION and the few facts that I know about the "environmental-friendliness" and economics of eating meat in an American diet. This is just a scratch at the surface, and I would love to hear your experiences or research about this topic. Just shoot me a comment!

First of all, let me say I sometimes crave a healthy portion of red meat and certain types of pork. Not such a big fan of chicken (I think my Momma tuckered me out on chicken since it was so cheap and available in the 80's and 90's). Fish, although not truly considered a "meat" by a lot of people's standards (although I'm not sure why??), is going to be placed in the meat category for the sake of argument.

I tolerate, and sometimes thoroughly enjoy, the stuff, but in high school I spent almost 2 years as a vegetarian. The only exceptions I made were for 3 family holidays, Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving. The reason for this? Let's be honest. Tofurkey is NASTY. There is no such thing as a good ham substitute, although veggie bacon can be quite delectable. Seriously... it is! It may look like cardboard, have the texture of cardboard, but it tastes far from cardboard! It makes me wonder what's REALLY in that junk...

Anyway, my husband is crazy about steak. Or any type of meat, really. Like if he had the choice between winning $1 million dollars in the lottery or a year's supply of red meat, it would be a pretty close race. If given the opportunity to order a big juicy ribeye, this man's eyes light up like Christmas on MacCorkle Avenue as if residents were competing for Charleston's tackiest Christmas decorations*.

I already considering my self a "part-time vegetarian". About 80% of the meals I eat contain zero (or pretty close to zero) meat. Most of the time, I load up on fresh, steamed, or sauteed veggies and get my protein from a variety of cheeses, nuts, beans, etc. So, for me to give up meat in my diet for health, cost, or green reasons? Done! Or at least most of the way there...My husband on the other hand, would fight tooth and nail for his meat. In fact, many a lengthy discussion in our household once revolved around why we're not buying or consuming as much meat. However, he has adjusted really well to what I would call a healthy lifestyle.

If I use meat in any meal, I either use very little or much less than what a recipe would typically call for.  However, for the most part, again, my diet is vegetarian.  I cannot say the same for my husband because I am sure he sneaks the occasional Arby's Roast Beef, and I am completely okay with that.  I know he's not gorging himself, and although I want him to live a healthy lifestyle so that we both can live to be 100, it is his body, his choice, and I don't like to argue with my husband about issues that would be a no win situation for either of us.

Here are MY reasons for going *mostly* meat-free. Firstly, it is EXPENSIVE. Have you looked at the cost of even chicken lately? At our local Morgantown Kroger, a 1 lb. package of chicken breasts will set you back by about $4.59. Don't even get me started on the cost of steaks. You're usually looking at a price of at least $7.49/lb if you're not shopping the sales. Granted, I have never bought ANY type of meat at that price. I usually buy any meat products at Sam's Club, where chicken is usually somewhere around $2/lb +/-**. I can also buy in bulk, which saves me time in food prep because I can freeze individual meals worth, plus, it cuts down on the plastic and styrofoam (ugh) packaging used in transportion and safety of my meat.

Secondly, I am concerned about the environmental impact of the meat industry. I'm sure if you have done any type of research on this topic, you have come across the horror stories about the quality of life of the animals used for human consumption in industry farms. Not only does this concern me, but the issue of the effect of the meat industry on the production of greenhouse gases is something we should all be paying attention to, due to its effect on global warming. Also, the waste produced by this industry can be extreme. While some "farmers" (I say "farmer" because most of the time, this is regulated by the corporation and not the farmer), make an effort to use every part of the animal, some may take only what they need, and allow the rest of the animal to be disposed of, and sometimes not so satisfactorily .

Lastly, but most importantly, the health issues surrounding the consumption of meat are tremendous. Read this article I found on the use of antibiotics in the poultry industry. That's just the tip of iceberg. If you don't believe the news media hype and want to look at actual data, read this peer-reviewed scientific journal article on the effects of red meat on human health and mortality. Scary! If you want more information on this aspect of the issue, do a quick Google search. The evidence for cutting back on meat, if not eliminating it from your diet entirely, is pretty overwhelming.

So what can you do to make a transition to a meatless or nearly meatless diet? Take it slowly. Do no not cut out meat cold-turkey if you are used to consuming it on a daily basis. Not only will this make you feel deprived of something you probably enjoy, but it could shock your system and you may find yourself dealing with larger problems than trying to stay away from the local burger joint. Digestive upset can happen with any food that you quickly add or remove from your diet, so it is important to balance loss or gain of an item from the diet with something that compensates for the change.

I always recommend trying to include less meat in a recipe you already eat on a regular basis. For example, in meaty marinara spaghetti, I would normally use a 1 lb of lean ground beef. To go meatless, I would maybe only use 0.75 or 0.5 lb but add extra veggies and cheese, such as mozzarella, Parmesan, or Romano. Not only does this boost good-for-me minerals from the veggies, but the cheese and some types of veggies help compensate for the loss of protein. However, this comes with a warning. Cheese has a lot of fat, as well, and eating too much can give you less than desirable bathroom side effects :) Also monitor your additions, you don't want to compensate for the loss of meat by adding an extreme amount of carbohydrates or fat from other sources. So don't double up on the pasta just because you're cutting down on your meat!

I have compiled a few recipes that will help with weaning off the meat. The first is a recipe from my mother that I tweaked. The second is one I found on This website is a great resource for finding tried-and-true menus, browsing for ideas, or when you're in a pinch for a quick meal that will leave everyone satisfied. Their rating system is extremely useful because you can often weed out recipes that you probably won't like based on member reviews.

One of the most important things to remember with any recipes is....if you are experienced with cooking, you can tweak almost any recipe according to your tastes. So feel free to make flavor/vegetable substitutions and even add or remove ingredients as you like. Green Appetit!

Not So Crabby Patties:

2 1/2 cups shredded zucchini (may use half yellow squash for a softer and different flavored cake)
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1 med-large onion, minced
1 cup italian bread crumbs
1/4 c flour
2 eggs
1 tbsp Light Miracle Whip (Mayo may substituted, but it will have less flavor)
1-2 tbsp Old Bay Seasoning (depending on taste)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Canola or vegetable oil

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until all components are easily distributed. Do not overbeat eggs. Shape into patties approximately the size of your palm and about 3/4" thick.
Heat on medium-high enough oil in a large skillet or deep saute pan to cover the bottom of the pan. Test the temperature of the oil by dropping a small pinch of zucchini batter into pan. When the batter sizzles and begins to brown, your oil is hot enough. Heat may need to be adjusted during cooking to prevent burning or undercooking.
Carefully place patties into oil and allow to brown on each side until middle of patty is thoroughly cooked. Patties may have to be flipped a few times over the course of 5-10 minutes to prevent overbrowning and allow for thorough heating.
After patties have reached golden brown status, place on a heat resistant plate covered in a few layers of paper towels.
After a few minutes, flip patties to drain the grease from the other side.
Patties are now ready to eat!

Try them with some mac n' cheese and broccoli. They taste almost like real crab cakes but provide loads of vitamins and minerals! You may also want to try them with some tartar sauce or make your own by adding sweet pickle relish and/or spices to a few tablespoons of Miracle whip.

Vegetarian Penne Recipe:

2 cups uncooked penne or medium tube pasta
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 small yellow summer squash, sliced
1 small zucchini, sliced
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 teaspoon minced onion
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, saute the onion, summer squash, zucchini, mushrooms and garlic in butter until tender.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, seasonings and cream until smooth; add to the skillet. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until thickened. Drain pasta and add to vegetable mixture. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until heated through.
Serve immediately.

You can try this with a variety of different vegetables and herbs. I like to include spinach and substitute basil and oregano for the thyme and parsley.

*Note: I was told by a South Charleston resident this is actually a REAL radio station contest and every year, three houses on MacCorkle Avenue try to out-compete each other for the prize. The results are quite horrifying, but entertaining, nonetheless.
**Certain stores will have prices on meat that can floor you.. for example, I found a 4 lb. pack of chicken tenderloins (great for stir-frys, etc) on sale for $0.88/lb! That's incredible!

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