Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Zeros and Ones

As a general rule, I make it a rule not to make rules for myself. Except for that one. And a few others.

Which is why I never became a vegetarian. Those of you who know me know that I'm a big fan of balance and finding a good middle ground. I appreciate nuances. The world is a pretty complex place and I don't think that making strict rules for oneself will really do a lot of good. If you're going to look at the world in terms of 0's and 1's, you're going to need a whole heck of a lot of them in order to approach some kind of adequate view on the way things work.

Another reason is that I really like meat.

A couple months ago, I read a book review in the New Yorker. One of my favorite authors, Jonathan Safran Foer, had published a book called "Eating Animals," his first delve into non-fiction. According to the review, Safran Foer has written about the phenomenon and hypocrisy of loving animals as pets, but not blinking an eye when eating them. It seems he's not necessarily trying to point fingers, but rather just show how there's an inconsistency out there, that people don't connect living, breathing animals with what ends up on their plate.

Here's a clip from the movie that was made out of his first book, Everything is Illuminated:

I have yet to read "Eating Animals," but the article in the New Yorker got me thinking. The reviewer gives numbers first on the amount of pets in American homes (millions and millions and millions), and then on the tremendous amounts of meat Americans eat (so very many billions of animals a year). To this last category, she says:

"Most of these creatures have been raised under conditions that are, as Americans know—or, at least, by this point have no excuse not to know—barbaric."

That's what got to me. It's true, I really don't have an excuse.

I know about the dirty factories and confined sheds and the inhumane butchering. I know how animals aren't treated as animals, but rather as things put into this world to solely act as meat-producers. I also know that eating things further down on the food chain takes less out of the world's natural resources (meaning in order to make a cow, you first have to grow all the grain to feed the cow, but if you just ate the grain in the first place, lots would be saved.) I also know that it's healthier to eat less meat.

Another thing I know is me. And that I don't believe in dogmas. And I don't believe that a person can or should try to solve the world's problems by living by strict rules, the problems are much too complex for that. This all or nothing attitude, this black and white way of thinking can be dangerous. You gotta live a little, after all, and be good to yourself, too.

The obvious moral qualms aside, food is such an intimate thing, we put it in our mouths and it goes through our system. Do I really want this kind of grossness (animals raised in dirty, inhumane conditions) becoming part of me? Shouldn't I at least be somewhat conscious of what I'm putting into me?

A person could go slightly loopy thinking about this. I see why not eating meat would be a postive thing. But I also see that the reality is that I don't want to be a vegetarian. I kind of really like meat.

So here's what I decided to do: just eat less meat. A happy medium. I don't have to have meat at every meal, or every day, even. What if I, instead of going straight for a chicken dish, or a beef dish, sometimes thought for a second longer and found something without meat to eat? My point is, if the purpose of becoming a vegetarian is to make an impact on the world by killing fewer animals in a gross way and putting less strain on the environment, then surely it'll help a little just to eat less meat. Because the only way this whole vegetarian thing will make a difference is if large numbers of people do it, and people cutting out some meat is so much more likely than cutting it out all together.

Is it hypocritical to not go cold turkey? I don't think so. I think it's realistic.

Anyway, it's a kind of a challenge, and I like a good challenge. There are so many amazing vegetarian recipes out there, and thinking about food without meat really puts a different persepective on it, and inspires thinking outside the box. Flipping through vegetarian cookbooks, I've discovered foods that I didn't even know existed, like polenta, and semolina for starters. And there are so many tastes in the vegetarian world, ones that were unknown to me before. It's a whole food world very much worth exploring.


Here's a veggie-dish I put together one day, trying to come up with something meatless and filling and yummy. I wanted to make a lasagna with veggies, but without tomato sauce. It's based on this recipe, but I switched it up a bit.

This dish is exactly what I'm talking about: something scrumptious I never would have made had I been thinking meat.

Veggie Lasagna with Spinach, Carrots, and Zucchini

2 carrots
1 zucchini
1 pack frozen spinach
1 cup cottage cheese
1 egg
Salt and Pepper
1 can or dried package cream of mushroom soup
1 package lasagna noodles
1/2 cup grated cheese

Put oven on to warm up at 350 degrees farhenheit or 175 celsius. Grease a pan. Prepare the soup as directed, but leave a little of the liquid out: you want it to be slightly thicker than soup. Grate the carrots, slice the zucchini (I used the slicer on my grater to make them extra thin). Defrost the spinach, then mix it up with the cottage cheese. Add sage, tarragon, basil, salt, and pepper to taste. Whisk an egg in a cup, them mix it in with the spinach mixture. Ladle a layer of soup at the bottom of the pan, then put a layer of the noodles over. Spread half the spinach on the noodles, half the carrots on the spinach, and half the zucchini on the carrots. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Then comes another layer of noodles, a layer of the soup, the rest of the spinach, carrots, and zucchini. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Finally, another layer of noodles, the rest of the soup and the grated cheese. Cover with aluminium foil (butter the bottom to keep it from sticking to the cheese) and bake for 50 or so minutes. Remove the aluminium and bake for another 15 minutes until cheese has browned slightly. Consume!


Simply Life said...

Great rule to live by! I'm also all about balance - i think that's the only way to really make lasting and sustainable changes!

melissajane said...

If balance is what you seek, no need to quit meat altogether: Read "In Defense of Food," or "The Omnivore's Dilemma," both by Michael Pollan. He is fantastic and very well thought out-no extremes, just logic and utmost simplicity. You will love it.