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.