Becoming vegan would be the most planet-friendly way to go, followed by going vegetarian. Picture: New York Times
Becoming vegan would be the most planet-friendly way to go, followed by going vegetarian. Picture: New York Times

A meat-lover’s guide to eating less meat

By Melissa Clark Time of article published Feb 5, 2020

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For all of my adult life, I’ve revelled in rare rib-eye steaks and oozing Camembert. I won’t let go of my drumstick until I’ve gnawed off every bit of cartilage and golden skin, and it’s best to not even talk about bacon so crisp that it won’t bend for that first porky bite.

Yet over the past few months, I’ve cut way down on my lamb chops and grilled cheese sandwiches. And if you’re meat-and-dairy eater who aches over the environmental state of our planet, then you may be thinking of doing the same thing, too.

Meat and dairy production alone account for 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, as much each year as from all cars, trucks, aeroplanes and ships combined. It’s a staggering statistic.

Becoming vegan would be the most planet-friendly way to go, followed by going vegetarian.

I love meat and dairy too much to give them up entirely. But eating less of them - that I can do.

So how much meat and dairy should we actually be eating? 

What follows is my own personal guide to eating less meat, and dairy too, with tips, strategies and plenty of recipes.

Eat beans and more beans

We are a family of bean lovers, so adding more of them to our weekly menu makes for happiness all around. To keep us from getting bored, though, I’ve widened the net, seeking out less common varieties like brown-dappled Jacob’s Cattle beans and purple-swirled Christmas lima beans, along with my usual roster of chickpeas, lentils and cannellini.

Turn to high-protein grains (pasta counts!)

Yes, there’s quinoa, the quick-cooking staple that fills many a grain bowl. But there’s also kamut, teff, millet, wild rice, buckwheat, cornmeal and even pasta. Grains have a lot more protein than we often give them credit for, along with a host of other vital nutrients, especially when we eat them whole.

Grain bowls make diverse, ever-changing meals that I can throw together from whatever is in the fridge, anything from leftovers to condiments or both. These days I find myself putting together a grain bowl at least once a week, topped with roasted vegetables and some kind of savoury sauce to bind everything together. These bowls never get boring.

But within this category, pasta is my first choice, and I adore it in every incarnation. And using toasted breadcrumbs in place of Parmesan keeps the dairy quotient down, too.

Elevate your tofu game

Whether pillow-soft and fluffy or crisp-edged and browned, tofu is always welcome on my plate. This is not the case for the rest of my family, who give it the side-eye whenever I serve it. The trick in our house has been to pair tofu, which has a relatively neutral taste, with ingredients with pizazz - the more umami-intense, the better. Miso, soy sauce, mushrooms, hot sauce and fermented black beans do a lot of the heavy lifting.

Embrace nuts and seeds

I could sing the praises of toasted nuts, nut butter and tahini here, but you probably already know everything you need to about them. Whether toasted and chopped so they’re satisfyingly crunchy, or puréed and seasoned to become alluringly creamy dressings or sauces, nuts and nut butters are a great way to round out a plate of roasted, steamed or raw vegetables.

What I really want to talk about is my newfound love of home-made vegan cheese (though I won’t turn my nose up at store-bought nut-based queso dip, either). The best recipes I’ve tried are made from cashews, ground up with nutritional yeast and all manner of seasonings (smoked paprika, garlic powder, oregano), and then set with agar powder.

No, they don’t taste anything like actual cheese. But when I rush home, ravenous and stressed after work, and there’s some in the refrigerator that I can heap on to my Wheat Thins and nibble with my glass of wine, I don’t miss Stilton nearly as much as I’d feared.

Consider plant-based meats

There’s no denying how processed most vegan meats are, loaded with unidentifiable ingredients, but they do scratch the itch for burgers and meatballs. And plant-based sausages remind me of kishke, a traditional Jewish and Eastern European sausage made with beef and bread or grains, in a very good way. These products are often a starting point for people who want to cut down on their meat intake and, with some brands, once that faux burger patty is stuffed into a bun and loaded with condiments, it may be hard to tell the difference.

The New York Times

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