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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Food in the Balance

I am not a vegetarian.

Though I have the deepest respect for vegetarians, I just couldn’t be one. While I certainly enjoy a nice salad, a diet consisting entirely of “rabbit food” has never had the least appeal to me and the whole genre of 1970s style “fake meat” recipes leaves me cold. As a Southern boy, something tells me that pulled tofu barbecue doesn’t even bear thinking about. Still, I’ve got to admit that there is a lot behind vegetarianism.

First, there are the obvious health benefits. Nobody needs all of the cholesterol that goes along with a meat-heavy diet, especially not those of us whose families have a history of heart disease. Then there are the ecological arguments against eating meat. The folks at make a compelling argument, pointing out that it takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce a pound of meat. It really makes you stop and think about not only how we can be better stewards of the earth, but also about the ethics of eating meat when there are still people starving because of lack of food. Finally, there’s the economic perspective. Ever-increasing grocery bills sure make me want to eat less expensive food and vegetables are a lot cheaper than meat. Since I become the primary cook in my home a few weeks ago, I’ve been working on becoming less dependent on meat and have been trying out new recipes.

Last week, my mother in law gave me a copy of Mark Bittman’s new cookbook, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. (Thanks, Chris!) Bittman has a food column for the New York Times and I have used his cookbooks for years. I have a thoroughly dog-eared and food-stained copy of his first major cookbook, How to Cook Everything, which I reach for before any other cookbook. I also enjoy two of his other cookbooks The Minimalist Cooks at Home and The Best Recipes in the World. My new cookbook has proven to be interesting reading and I’m looking forward to working my way through Bittman’s recipes, especially since he and I have similar attitudes toward food.

For me, food is all about the senses. It doesn’t matter too much to me if food is healthy if it tastes like sawdust or if it leaves me with the feeling of having skipped a meal. That’s why I’ve been so selective in the meals that I prepare. This past week, for example, I have served broiled open-face sandwiches made with tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella, as well as a stick-to-your-ribs lentil soup with coconut, zucchini and okra, served with homemade chapattis. Tonight, though, we’re off of vegetarian food, with mushroom, ham and gruyere filled crêpes and a garden salad.

I invite you to follow my cooking adventures at my new cooking blog at [Note: Food in the Balance was discontinued 1/25/09] as I plan menus and try new recipes that try to balance nutrition, taste and ecology. This entry is cross-posted there to get the ball rolling.

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