Why I'm a Part-Time Vegetarian

Try going veggie!

I have pretty much of a heterodox philosophy towards vegetarianism. My wife and I cook a lot of vegetarian dishes and we embrace the cuisine from a style and health standpoint, but we are occasional meat eaters (maybe twice or three times a week) and not at all apologetic about it.

I understand the logic behind being a vegetarian and I understand and to an extent identify with the philosophical underpinnings of going veggie. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that we also have tons of (thankfully non-proseletyzing) vegetarian friends. When we have our vegetarian or vegan friends over for dinner we are happy to cook according to their dietary requests. No problem at all. Heck, maybe the only reason we have vegetarian friends is that they're just using me because I actually LIKE cooking veggie food and I'm good at it.

I do have one ethical issue to throw out to readers out there however: putting aside for a moment the fact that I eat meat, is it unethical to take a vegetarian dish and ADD meat to it? We have done this on occasion, in particular with some of the soup recipes from Jay Solomon's Vegetarian Soup Cuisine (see below for other veggie cookbook recommendations). One year we had leftover turkey meat from Thanksgiving and we added it to his Garden Gumbo. It worked well in the dish but at the same time we felt guilty because I'm sure Mr. Solomon would consider this a horrible bastardization of his recipe.

So what do you think out there? Am I a bad person?

One of my main beefs (sorry) with strict vegetarianism is with the fact that many of our vegetarian friends are staggeringly unscientific about their diets and they seem to get sick constantly. A few of them look pale--like they're not getting enough iron in their diet.

And holy cow, I also think if you plan to raise your kids on a vegetarian or vegan diet, you need to put on your scientist's hat and make sure you're getting all you need in terms of amino acids, minerals, etc.

But this isn't a polemic against vegetarianism. Far from it! This is actually a celebration of the cuisine by somebody who just happens to eat meat too.

Vegetarian dishes are a lot more likely to be high in fiber, low in fat, low in sodium and all around healthier than a typical meat-centered meal. They are cheaper too. Do you realize that an entire pound of collard greens costs only 99c? And a couple of servings of collards has as many antioxidants as an Ocuvite tablet--and for a heckuva lot less money too? And our politicians wring their hands about Medicare being out of control.

So this week I encourage you to try a vegetarian meal, or even try a vegan meal (no meat, dairy or eggs) and see what you think.

Here are a couple of cookbooks that I strongly recommend for getting into vegetarian cooking:
1) Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant: Ethnic and Regional Recipes from the Cooks at the Legendary Restaurant by the Moosewood Collective
2) Vegetarian Soup Cuisine: 125 Soups and Stews from Around the World by Jay Solomon
3) The New Laurel's Kitchen: A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery and Nutrition is another classic
4) Also Molly Katzen's original The New Moosewood Cookbook is a classic. There's an awesome hummus recipe in there that is a staple in our kitchen.

My wife and I lived in Ithaca, New York for a while in the late 80s/early 90s and that's how we got hooked on the Moosewood Restaurant and its cookbooks. If you're ever in Ithaca, make time to have dinner there. (Helpful hint: be sure to go to Ithaca during the summer!)

Try this dish while you're at it:
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Spanish Chickpea and Garlic Soup:
(heavily modified--without permission--from Jay Solomon's book)

Ingredients:
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 onions, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
10-12 scallions, chopped
6 carrots, peeled and sliced
5-6 potatoes, washed and unpeeled, chopped into chunks

1 14.5 ounce canned chickpeas, drained (prefer Goya)
5 cups water

3/4 cup fresh parsley, very coarsely chopped.

Directions:
In a large stock pot, heat oil briefly.
Add onions, paprika and black pepper.
Saute on medium-high heat until softened, about 7-8 minutes.
Add garlic, saute another 2-3 minutes.
Add tomatoes, scallions, carrots and saute another 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
Add potatoes, chick peas and water. Bring to a boil.
Simmer for 30-40 minutes until potatoes are tender.

Remove from heat and add parsley. Let stand 5 minutes, then serve.
Serves 6-8.

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Related Posts:
Garden Gumbo Recipe
Invigorate Your Cooking with Fresh Herbs
Groundnut Stew: A Classic and Exotic Vegetarian Recipe
The Pros and Cons of a High-Carb/Low-Fat Diet: Diet and Athletic Training Part 2
How to Create Your Own Original Pasta Salad Recipes Using the Pasta Salad Permutator



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10 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Vegetarian dishes are a lot more likely to be high in fiber, low in fat, low in sodium and all around healthier than a typical meat-centered meal. They are cheaper too. Do you realize that an entire pound of collard greens costs only 99c? And a couple of servings of collards has as many antioxidants as an Ocuvite tablet--and for a heckuva lot less money too? And our politicians wring their hands about Medicare being out of control..."

Great, great points about the health benefits of vegetarian cooking. Too often folks seem to think eating vegetarian means using a standard recipe but leaving out the meat! Egads! In my experience veggie meals tend to be "one-pot" recipes with everything in it, rather than separate dishes that partition the nutritional food pyramid. A sneaky eater could leave out an entire food group for weeks just by driving the token vegetable around the plate a few times before hiding it underneath the mashed potatoes. There's no getting around the rich, diverse tastes of countless veggies and the legumes and grains that often accompany them in a vegetarian dish. I agree that everyone should give it a try!!

- veggie in NJ

Vanessa said...

I'm a former veg. Still don't eat meat every day far from it. My son loves meat and would be happy on a 100% carnivorous diet but too bad for him, he got me for a mom. Still, on his more-vegetarian-than-not diet, he is certainly not pale and gets plenty of protein through tofu, dairy, and combinations of beans and grains. If you're eating a balanced vegetarian diet, the combo-proteins (which are supposedly healthier anyway) just happen without you even thinking about it. (I eat a lot of eggs too, but the boy doesn't like them.) Iron is trickier - fortunately he does eat broccoli, so I feed him as much as I can get away with.

Vegetarianism isn't for everyone, that's fine with me. But people who claim it's not healthy need to do some more research - billions of people around the world throughout history, burning a lot more calories per day than most of us in the modern developed world - have survived quite well on veg. diets. Like Michael Franti said, "Most people on the planet eat beans and rice / Cuz they can't afford meat or they think cows are nice."

Daniel Koontz said...

Vanessa:

"Most people on the planet eat beans and rice / Cuz they can't afford meat or they think cows are nice."

That is classic. Thanks for sharing!

DK

Anonymous said...

just happened to stumble upon your blog.
I Loved it!

I totally agree the previous comment on vegetarianism.
Raised in India, my family (and my husband's) have been
strict vegetarians for generations and I am proud to say that for the past 5 or 6 generations,
there has been no case of death by heart attack/stroke/diabetes in both our families.
However, our parents were less strict, raising us as eggitarians,
which itself, was a big deal for them.

Me and my husband occassionally eat chicken,
and we both love cooking chicken our own different styles
and we love it regardless.
However, the ethical factor just gets to me at times,
(dont take life if you can't give life -) It is definitely debatable.

Well, I just wanted to say keep up the good work!!

southindianmom from Florida

Daniel Koontz said...

Hi southindianmom:

Thanks so much for the positive feedback! And I hear you on debating the ethical issues of eating meat. But certainly the health benefits of vegetarian cuisine are NOT up to debate.

Thank you for your comment--and come back anytime!

DK

Laura said...

I've been trying to follow a more vegetarian/vegan diet for health reasons, and I love the results, but I do enjoy meat sometimes. Thanks for such an interesting perspective!

Human_Being said...

I recently discovered the label "Part Time Vegetarian" and find it useful and empowering as a sort of half step to a healthier diet. Eating healthier is a process that is easy to start and and with just a little effort can be very rewarding.
Check out this web page with some good information.
http://www.squidoo.com/Parttimevegetarian

Sally said...

Your question made me chuckle. I certainly don't consider it to be unethical. It's frugal -- a wise use of the ingredients you had on hand. In fact, I don't think Mr. Solomon would consider it unethical. I think he must approach it from a health viewpoint rather than for ethical reasons. He's certainly not opposed to eating (or serving) meat: http://www.jayspatiocafe.com/AboutUs_JaySolomon.html

I think Jay Solomon's Garden Gumbo is a "horrible bastardization" of the real thing. Aside from including the trinity (celery, onion and bell pepper) his recipe bears no resemblance to the real thing. Gumbo is cooked a long time, includes shellfish and/or meat, rarely includes vegetables except for the trinity, and is thickened using either okra, a roux, or filé powder and is served over rice. There is a vegetarian version that used to be served during Lent, gumbo z'herbes, but it's not at all similar to Mr. Solomon's recipe. His recipe sounds like a tasty soup/stew, but it's not gumbo. It bears slightly more resemblance to jambalaya.

In many traditional cuisines there are dishes that may or may not include meat depending on whether or not it was available or affordable. There are also dishes that never include meat and those that are only made with meat. I have a problem with vegetarians adapting recipes that always include meat to a meatless version. It's certainly not a matter of ethics, but tradition. Gumbo and chili include meat; gazpacho and Caesar salad don't.

If you look at it from a traditional viewpoint, most recipes/dishes in American homes and restaurants today are horrible bastardizations of the real thing.

Anonymous said...

There's never anything wrong with what or how you eat, & the way you write about it here sounds like you know there's something wrong with it, & that's why you are talking about it. That is inconsequential. My main point is, one cannot be a "part time vegetarian" You either are or are not a vegetarian. And the worst offender of your post is the assumption that the vegetarians are not healthy. You seem to live in the isolated world of the whites (I am taking a big risk of being branded a racist). But that's a myth propagated by those who have this opinion of themselves being superior to all else & that they are some god's gift to humanity. BTW, there's absolutely nothing wrong with you or any one putting meat in the vegetarian dishes. Just as long as you don't put it in the ones u're servbing to the vegetarians. & please, stop being a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical companies for the multivites & et all. I can only guess your background from your post, that you are one of the meat & potatoes person who uses the "part time vegetarian" status as a pretense for being modern & scientific & cutting edge & whatever. But you sure do not have any knowledge about the nutritional science, though you do have some information. And, I wonder who these friends of yours are who you think "use you for your cooking skills" There's much more to vegetarian cooking than the west will ever know.

Melanie said...

In response to the comments written by Anonymous from 1/07/2012, all I have to say is; Whoa... these are comments made by a very angry person. Not necessary. Unfortunately those of us from the "west" as you've stated, are products of commercialization and heavy global demands for more foods, etc... we "westerners" were raised on t.v. dinners, canned vegetables, hormones added to our animals and foods, parents that survived the depression and back to back wars, ruined agricultural crops, introduction of corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, and a more sedentary lifestyle because of our busier and less active lifestyles. By incorporating a "vegetarian" lifestyle (and yes you can be both), Americans are learning how to opt for a more natural, healthy way of eating as opposed to how we were raised. It's shameful how Americans are blamed for the results of commercialization that were bestowed upon us. Many of us are trying the best that we can to avoid prescription drugs as we age. My advice to you Anonymous is: Cleanse your liver to remove some anger! (I actually have a delicious recipe for that). I have added a copy of your comments to remind you of your previous statements.


Anonymous said...

There's never anything wrong with what or how you eat, & the way you write about it here sounds like you know there's something wrong with it, & that's why you are talking about it. That is inconsequential. My main point is, one cannot be a "part time vegetarian" You either are or are not a vegetarian. And the worst offender of your post is the assumption that the vegetarians are not healthy. You seem to live in the isolated world of the whites (I am taking a big risk of being branded a racist). But that's a myth propagated by those who have this opinion of themselves being superior to all else & that they are some god's gift to humanity. BTW, there's absolutely nothing wrong with you or any one putting meat in the vegetarian dishes. Just as long as you don't put it in the ones u're servbing to the vegetarians. & please, stop being a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical companies for the multivites & et all. I can only guess your background from your post, that you are one of the meat & potatoes person who uses the "part time vegetarian" status as a pretense for being modern & scientific & cutting edge & whatever. But you sure do not have any knowledge about the nutritional science, though you do have some information. And, I wonder who these friends of yours are who you think "use you for your cooking skills" There's much more to vegetarian cooking than the west will ever know.

1/07/2012 10:29 AM

Whoa... this is a very angry person. Not necessary. Cleanse your liver to remove some anger!