Disclaimer: This is a personal essay on my experiment over the past year with reducing the number of animal products I consume. I'm not a nutritionist, doctor, or expert of any kind. This is also my own opinions based on my own research. I haven't cited any sources, I'm not saying everyone can or should do this, it's simply my experience.
If you've been following either of my Instagram accounts (@ashleyeblom and @forking_up), you've probably noticed a pretty consistent hashtag over the past year: #MeatlessMonday.
Last New Years I made a silent resolution to myself to keep to Meatless Monday. This was a decision based on a number of things. Firstly, the pressing environmental concerns we're facing as a planet. Secondly, my long flirtation with vegetarianism.
|Roasted corn and black bean tacos with lime crema
I think as children we all have that moment of discovering where exactly our happy meal comes from and some of us determine in that moment that if we love our puppies and kitties, what makes them different than the moo cows and piggies we see at the farm? I definitely had that moment. My first brush with trying the diet didn't quite work out. My mom was a nurse and concerned I wouldn't get the proper nutrition, and also we didn't really have the budget for her to be making two separate dinners each night.
|Spicy veggie stir fry and spicy edamame
The second time was in college, and was my longest stint with going meat free. Aided by dating a string of vegetarians (lol) and being able to make my own menu, I succeeded in staying vegetarian for two years. Then a bout of stomach issues persuaded me to go back to meat for health reasons. Turns out, it was a defective gallbladder, and the meat made it even worse.
|Asparagus on whole grain toast with hollandais, side of sweet potato hash
By this time I'd dove headfirst into food blogging, so going meat free wasn't quite an option for where I wanted my life to go. Plus I married a man who was a self-proclaimed veggie hater, so options were limited.
But as I've gotten older I've realized a few things--for one, it's harder to be healthy. My father died at age 47 and over 300 pounds. The easiest way to get your proper vitamins? More veggies. By filling up on nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, there's less room for all the junk. And yes, as someone who worries about their weight the added benefit of consuming fewer calories while still feeling full is attractive.
|Vegan lazy golumkis and wild rice
I also took an honest look about my relationship to animals. I do think humans evolved to eat meat, but I think along the way we've lost all respect for the animals that nourish us. If they are making that sacrifice, the least we can do is treat them well. And factory farms are not it. If I could ensure all animal products I consume are from local family farms, that's one thing, but that's hard to do.
Health of the body is just one part though. The most impactful thing a person can do for the environment is to reduce their meat intake. Factory farms, where we get the majority of our meat, eggs, and dairy, are terrible. The animals live in fear. The pollution is insane. And an acre of vegetables or grain can feed hundreds more people than an acre of cattle.
|Portobello sandwich and cheddar broccoli soup
This doesn't even mean cutting it out entirely. But by doing this experiment of reducing, I discovered a few things:
- I didn't miss meat nearly as much as I thought I would. Subbing out a burger for a portobello mushroom was just as satisfying to me. A vegetarian lasagna tasted just as good as one with beef. Pasta and sauce is delicious, quick, and easy, and doesn't lack flavor at all. Tacos with refried beans instead of beef are still mighty tasty.
- My passion for cooking returned. This blog hasn't been the most active this year, due to some life things and my other commitments keeping me busy, and I found myself eating out more and taking time to cook less. But Mondays were the exception.
- Without my grocery budget being eaten up by pricey meat of unknown origin, I had more money to spend on higher quality, organic, and local ingredients. Do you know what you're missing by buying cheap grocery store eggs? Buy a local, farm-fresh dozen and get ready to have your mind blown.
- It is easy to rely on processed food to fill the meat void, and it's definitely something I did in the beginning. With all the new brands popping up with plant-based meat, you can almost entirely replace your proteins with these and feel like you never even stopped. But then you're reducing the environmental good of cutting out meat. So as the experiment progressed I tried to limit these to treats when I had a craving--the Impossible Burger is SO good, y'all!--instead of always making them the star of my dish.
|Crock pot mulligatawny soup
Will I go vegetarian full time? Probably not. I'm pretty entwined in the food community in Austin and still want to explore. I love traveling, and since food is so tied to culture I want to make sure everywhere I visit I can truly experience it. Holidays with family have so many food traditions I don't want to give up. For me, for my life, going 100% is not going to happen.
But can I make my own kitchen meat-free? Absolutely. Can I find new, meatless items at my tried and true favorite restaurants? Yes. Can I make better choices in what I buy? Yup.
|Homemade veggie tortellini soup
This blog isn't going full-veg, but if you see a higher number of meatless meals in the coming year, now you know why.
My new goal is to be a weekday vegetarian, with flexibility on the weekends. It's the right choice for me, and it's one I feel good about. And I promised myself if I were to become rich and famous I'd go vegan, because let's face it--it's much easier to accomplish with a bigger budget. And it'd be a nice thank you to the universe.
|Roasted butternut squash pizza with ricotta, goat cheese, and veggies
If you're thinking of trying out a lifestyle with a reduced animal product intake, I definitely suggest trying out Meatless Mondays. Sticking to one day a week is a simple way to cut down, and makes a dramatic impact on your carbon footprint. Even if you don't expand it, there are studies that show just one day a week helps.