thoughts on meat-eating

before i get into this post, i want to say a huge thank you to all of my new readers! i’m honored that my recent post on copenhagen and sweden was selected for wordpress’ freshly pressed page, and it’s been so wonderful to get new perspectives and kind words from photographers, travelers, and foodies alike. (and if you don’t know what i’m talking about, check out this hilarious blog post for more insight.)

the past few weeks have been absolutely beautiful here in budapest, and as steve and i have traveled through sweden, copenhagen, and dublin, i’ve continued to wrestle with the plant-based diet and its ramifications for my daily life. since my puppy is living with my parents in the states and my current projects have wrapped up, i have a lot of free time to wander the city, snap photos with my camera, and think about food.

it’s so fascinating to me that as americans, we are absolutely obsessed with our looks and weight, yet our food and lifestyle choices rarely reflect that – fast food chains and doughnut shops on every corner, grocery stores filled with instant foods and preservative-filled snacks, and public transportation that stops every 100 yards so that no one has to walk more than a few steps to get where they’re going. but the foodies in america and around the world are getting louder, whether they’re champions of vegetarian and vegan diets or are instead pushing the paleo/caveman diet, and they’re all saying the same thing: we need to pay more attention to what we’re putting into our bodies.

having just completed a masters of liberal arts in gastronomy, i can honestly say that i’ve spent some serious time thinking about what i eat, where it comes from, and how my eating patterns affect the planet. i even took an entire course devoted to meat with the wonderful warren belasco, and obsessed over the ethics of eating meat for an entire semester.

the arguments for and against meat-eating are complex and involved, and there are enough well-written and exhaustively researched works out there that i won’t bother recreating them here. i’m not going to try to explain how i feel about every issue – i find the subject incredibly draining, particularly after so many conversations in class about the issues. it’s a topic that everyone has an opinion about, and is one that brings out strong emotions in just about everybody. after all, everyone eats, and everyone likes to talk about food. it isn’t just the nerdy foodies or the gastronomy professors or the celebrity chefs or the smarmy nutritionists – we all love food, and we all want to believe that the way we’ve chosen to eat is the best.

well, i’ll admit it here and now: the way i eat is probably not the best, in spite of my expensive gastronomic education. i love to eat, and cook, and bake, and talk about food. i love to write about food, and i love to photograph food. i love to know where my food comes from, whether it’s a raw vegetable or a pre-assembled cookie dough. but i’m not rich, and i don’t always have unlimited time to prepare my food. i can’t always afford to buy all of my produce from the farmer’s market, especially when it’s only once a week – sometimes i’m cooking and realize i’m out of garlic, and i cheat and just run to the stop & shop because it’s half a mile from my house. and not every restaurant that i eat at serves exclusively local meats…but sometimes i still order the steak, because i’m in the mood for it.

does this make me a bad person? maybe not, but i’m not proud of it. i want to be more responsible in my eating. i want to support local farmers as much as i can afford to. and i desperately want to eat in a way that’s healthy, but still gives me all the foodie satisfaction of a delicious meal, prepared beautifully from fresh, amazing ingredients. this is not a change that i’m pretending will happen overnight – i’d rather take my time and find solutions that i can stick with.

my first goal? stop eating so much meat, especially at home. and keep an eye on how much dairy i’m really consuming.

avoiding meat and dairy in eastern europe is no easy feat. since i’m just starting my journey and am more concerned about my meat intake than my dairy intake (mostly because my “dairy intake” is really just a lifelong love affair with cheese), it’s been fun to find satisfying substitutes for the chicken and duck that are present at most hungarian meals. there certainly aren’t as many grocery shopping options here as i’ll have when i’m back in the states (boy, do i miss whole foods…), but i’ve been doing pretty well so far. and i don’t miss meat quite as much as i thought i would, which is a wonderful thing.

feeling inspired? try this refreshing, satisfying, power-food-packed lentil salad for an easy meat-free option that doesn’t feel like you’re giving anything up. lentils are fantastic for you, and this recipe (a variation on alice waters’ delicious original) showcases them beautifully. if you’re avoiding dairy, just leave out the cheese – and if you fall more on the caveman diet side of things, cold shredded chicken would be a delicious addition.

lentil salad

1 cup french green lentils (i had to use brown lentils, which are still very healthy but don’t hold their shape as well after cooking)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or red or white wine vinegar, if you prefer)
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 small tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 medium cucumber, diced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
4 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp lemon juice

sort and rinse lentils. place in a large saucepan and cover with water about 3 inches, then bring to a boil. lower heat until simmering and cook until tender, 25-30 minutes. drain, then transfer to a bowl and add vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. allow to sit for at least 5 minutes, tasting to adjust seasonings.

add tomatoes, cucumber, scallions, feta cheese, bell pepper, parsley, and lemon juice. if lentils are dry, add a bit more olive oil or a tablespoon of warm water. 

19 thoughts on “thoughts on meat-eating

  1. What are your energy levels like when you reduce the meat?

    The salad does sound interesting. Looks good, too. The sun is out so maybe it’s time for one…with some wine.

    “avoiding meat and dairy in eastern europe is no easy feat.” – Absolutely! I lived in Poland for a while and worked with a British vegetarian. Tough times for her. Mind you, that being said, it was easier to find vegie restaurants in western Poland than in Western Germany (where we are now)! They love their meat here!

    Cheers. Tom.

    • i’ve actually felt great, energy-wise – not sure if it’ll take awhile to kick in or not, but i feel pretty good. i do yoga a few times a week and walk a few miles every day, and i haven’t felt like NOT doing that which feels like a good sign! :) i think the fact that i know it’s a choice and that i won’t hate myself for ordering chicken if i’m still craving it at a restaurant makes it easier to feel like i’m not limiting myself…and i’m sure it’ll be easier going once i’m back in the states and can read food labels again!

      • Yep, being unable quickly to read food labels is a real pain. I must look very odd, standing in the supermarket with my phone (dictionary) in one hand, jar in the other, eyes darting between the two.

  2. My boyfriend is a vegetarian so naturally living in the same flat I eat less meat. I don’t have a problem with this as I tried myself to go vegetarian many years ago…it didn’t work. I think that as long as people educate themselves and try to be more responsible with their choices then it’s a start. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. That salad looks really tasty I might have to give the recipe a try.

  3. It’s going to be 80 degrees in Boston today, thoughts and recipes on lighter eating are welcome! Going to have to try this lentil salad. Really enjoying you photos and hearing about your travels.
    -Catherine

    • thanks catherine! i’m hoping the good weather lasts until we get back – it’s gorgeous here in budapest but i don’t quite trust it not to get cold again :)

  4. Even though I’VE given up meat, I would never tell anyone else to do so…but I DO think that the benefits to eating less meat are worth screaming from the rooftops. Not even so much because eating meat is “bad” but because if you’re eating less meat you’re hopefully eating more veggies to make up for it…and that’s always a good thing. Love the sound of this lentil salad and good luck with your less-meat eating endeavors!

  5. I have lived without meat, eggs and most milk products (except rennet free cheese) nearly all my life and have never been sick, not even had the flu once. I quit eating meat when I was a child. I gew up in the country with lots of animals and for me it was just impossible to eat something I had seen as a living creature.

  6. Thank you so much for the link to my Freshly Pressed post (well, not THE Freshly Pressed post but the one about my Freshly Pressed post). Where is the link to your Freshly Pressed post? Congrats to you!

    I love this topic and I love food, cooking and baking. I’m a poultry-and-fish-only meat-eating anomaly, not to mention a flexitarian (according to Michael Pollan). However, I replace protein with way, waaaay too much dairy. And too many eggs, too. I love beans but I haven’t found enough things to do with them. And I need to cook them more myself as now I’m obsessed with avoiding the BPA-lining of canned food. Sigh.

    This lentil salad looks divine!

  7. I don’t eat meat because I hate the thought of eating another living creature and love animals (alive) way too much. However, just being a vegetarian definitely doesn’t force me to be a healthier eater. I, like you, want to work on eating healthier meals with fresh ingredients. In the past, I haven’t always had the time to prepare meals and so would stick mainly with mixes and other easy to prepare options. Now that I have a totally open schedule and am living in a new country (so have to adjust my food intake anyway), I want to start cooking more and experimenting with new foods.
    That lentil salad looks yummy, I will have to try it! If you haven’t already, you should try some tabbouleh, it’s delicious.

  8. Hello my dear friend. I miss you and cannot wait until you are back in Somerville feeding me pizza and beer! I have never commented on anyones blog before but here I go!

    I am definitely not a foodie and I like to cook only because I like to entertain and am trying to be more domestic-ish but I am easily intimidated and frustrated by the process. Despite my lack of interest/ fear of kitchen related activites, I have also been thinking a lot more about what I eat and I have been causally considering trying to adhere to a more plant based diet. I feel like I hear more and more people claim that cutting out meat and dairy is basically a fountain of youth–turning them from congested, fatigued, fat, bloated, blemished covered poops of people into skinny, perky, glowing beauty queens, all while saving the planet and supporting local farmers! I too would like to be a perky beauty queen-earth savior with a bangin’ body and perfect skin, so naturally, I am intrigued. Do you think all of this can actually be true?? Maybe these individuals were just consuming exclusively McDonald’s, so of course eating more vegetables will have a profound impact on their bodies…. Or maybe it is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy since they are so fully invested in the movement? Give me your thoughts and wisdom!

    Also, I have literally never bought lentils and I have no idea how to prepare them. They scare me. So does quinoa. I can’t wait for you to be home so you can teach me about these foreign foods ;)

    Love you.

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