Eating Less Meat For Completely Selfish Reasons

If we must be technical: when I say "vegetarian" here I mean "ovo-lacto-vegetarian", a.k.a. everything goes except body parts.The fleshly transgressions are inevitably for getting Asian food with my Asian-American friends, which I have not come to a resolution on yet because the literally killer combo of cultural connection and delicious nostalgia seems to be great at overriding my capability to say no to things. The non-fleshly vegan transgressions are mostly cheese.
When I first found out about factory farming, I naively thought it was an exception, exaggerated for propaganda — because how could we as a species possibly normalize such callous conditions for pure profit? It wasn’t until stumbling across Eating Animals (Jonathan Safran Foer) while hanging out in a living room that I was exposed to hard stats about the factory farming conditions that the vast majority of animals raised for meat are subjected to. I knew I had to overcome my activation energy.

My selfish reasons to eat less meat

Meat spoils 10x+ faster than non-meat

Most fruits and vegetables stay fresh and crispy for weeks in the fridge. Root vegetables last months unrefrigerated. Dried pasta, beans, flour, and grains will keep for literally years. Even soy meat (which has gotten much tastier in recent years) will easily last for a couple weeks in the fridge. It’s really convenient to be able to keep food around for so long and use different ingredients whenever you feel like it!

for gratuitous aesthetic purposes, here is a pastiche of autumn/winter fruits, featuring the one true fruit I salivate in anticipation of until mid-November each year, persimmons. (try fuyu persimmons first; hachiya persimmons are optimized for baking.)

Meat is more expensive

Factory farming has significantly lessened this cost gap by growing animals under genetically and environmentally unnatural conditions, packed into minimal square footage with artificially accelerated meat growth. Although the margins are smaller in the modern era, meat is still more expensive than the nutritionally/calorically equivalent vegetable nourishment, whether at the grocery store or cooked by someone else.

Fruits & vegetables make you feel fuller for longer

I have an outrageously fast metabolism, worsened by an almost-lifelong tendency to not eat very many vegetables. I’ve spent most of my life desperately snacking every few hours with rapid onset of hunger fugue if I don’t.

Cooking without meat is so much faster and easier

Meat has to be monitored more carefully, and cooked longer and more thoroughly than other foods to kill certain bacteria. Tough cuts of meat need to be slow-cooked before they’re enjoyable to eat. A lot of meat needs to be marinated for a long time before it becomes delicious. Meat is tragically easy to overcook. Cutting boards and utensils need to be washed carefully after handling raw meat to avoid contamination.

roasted cauliflower via how to roast fall & winter vegetables | the food lab

Vegetables offer SO MUCH VARIETY

When I used to cook meat often, my dishes were all about how to enhance the meat flavor, what herbs to use on the meat, how to make the meat tender…

roasted carrots with black sesame dressing might be my favorite easy vegetable right now

“Vegetarian” includes carbs and butter ;)

Ok, we’ve been disproportionately talking about cooking raw vegetables here, but quick change of topic. Assuming carbs and butter are not amongst your dietary restrictions: YOU STILL GET TO EAT CARBS AND BUTTER.

Hot tips

Like I said, I wasn’t very successful the first few times I thought about going mostly-vegetarian, and even got sick on the second-to-last attempt because I was merely eating a meat-centric-diet-minus-the-meat, as opposed to an actual nutritionally balanced diet.

Prioritize deliciousness

Whatever you do, do not look up “health food”; that is a surefire way to make you hate vegetables. No one wants steamed broccoli and overcooked firm tofu on brown rice.

crash hot potatoes | pioneer woman
Salt Fat Acid Heat (Samin Nosrat)

Meat awareness

It’s relatively easy to cut meat out of your cooking. But outside the house, meat is so literally everywhere that it’s easy to eat it on accident, especially if you don’t pack your own lunch for work. Meat in America is opt-out, not opt-in.

diagram by daiyi on the simplicity of going vegetarian —the vegetarian foodspace is more similar to the omnivorous foodspace than you might think, the only difference is literal flesh & bone

Nutritional balance

Meat is an easy source of B-vitamins, so you might want to get a multivitamin supplement to patch that if you’re used to a meat-heavy diet. In particular, B-12 is only naturally found in animal products. Fortunately, in modern times, you can get them in a delicious fruit-flavored gummy format (I like Vitafusion).

how to use red chard | julie yoon

Helpful cooking weapons

Steaming, blanching, and roasting are all minimal-effort ways to make veggies delicious. If you don’t have time for that, there’s no shame in microwaving. I actually prefer to parcook hard root vegetables in the microwave before roasting, because the microwave takes care of them way faster than boiling and you can barely tell the flavor difference after the roasting step.

japanese sweet potatoes with a bit of salt and butter are a truly luscious, chestnutty, hearty miracle for any occasion, be it snacks, meals, or potlucks. photo via bonappetit

Be shameless

Meat is the norm. If you’re not used to having a dietary restriction, it can feel awkward to tell someone, “Hey, I, uh…would prefer to eat vegetarian, is there another option?”

Collect inspiration

Sometimes, the biggest blocker to eating vegetarian is simply knowing where and what your options are.

pile of tasty tropical fruit via Honolulu Magazine
  • Veggie Galaxy menu — my favorite diner and incidentally vegetarian restaurant all in one, with beer-battered onion rings so hearty I daydream about them when I’m far away. This place is my top pick for getting dinner with a consummate meat lover.
  • Serious Eats — “Easiest Ever” (only 4 ingredients allowed)
    This category isn’t strictly vegetarian, but like me, 90%+ of it is accidentally vegetarian…because veggies are easy.
  • Southeast Asian flavor profiles. Even though a lot of dishes traditionally use meat, the flavor profiles actually make tofu taste amazing, unlike the way American health food uses tofu. Particular personal favorites include spicy Vietnamese eggplants and every kind of Thai curry.
  • Mexi-cali food
  • Salvadorean food, especially pupusas
  • Madrones, or fried ripe plantains, are literally candy
  • Beets are also candy
  • The Food Lab — Vegan Month
    Labor-intensive, but tasty experiments in vegan cooking. I haven’t made specific recipes from this because my favorite vegan food is easy, accidental vegan food, but perhaps other people will enjoy this!

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rhetoricize

rhetoricize

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autotelic polymath with an overwhelming compulsion to reverse engineer things I’ve never tried before