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A meal without meat

Is a meatless meal really incomplete? Columnist and organic expert, Janet Steer looks into this cornerstone of the traditional dinner plate.

by: Janet Steer | 02 Apr 2007

I fondly recall my mother frequently asking my father "What do you want for dinner tonight?" His reply would either be "anything", "you decide my love" or a vaguely audible "hmm". Sensing his anxiety, my mom would offer a supportive "meat, chicken or fish?" And now, armed with a complete and concise list, he would promptly respond, and one of the three would command the dinner plate that evening.

At the time, I thought nothing of the question or the response. I did not know any better. But, overtime, I have started to question the cornerstone of our dinner plate. Perhaps this questioning has been fuelled by my interest in our nation's health, or was it the concluding line in a recent article attributing global warming to the consumption of animal products? Or maybe it is just my general irritation at the macho mentality that a meatless meal is incomplete.

I am not a vegetarian, but I have no desire to eat meat and chicken. I am happy to avoid the effect that the meat as well as the accompanying cocktail of hormones and antibiotics have on my body. However, this is not to say that, on occasion, a hearty steak may be just what the doctor orders.

My intention is not to bad mouth meat. I do not want to hop onto that bandwagon. But we do eat a lot of it. Most meat is high in saturated fat, is acid forming, pumped full of hormones, and dare I say, supportive of aggressive behaviour. Chicken is also not what it used to be. Chickens now have a higher fat and lower protein content than ever before, and we won't even start on their living conditions. Cutting down on both could bring health and life changes beyond our wildest dreams.

So how do we change someone who chooses their restaurant steak according to weight and not cut? How do we convince someone that the Atkins diet is not necessarily the way to go? And how do we remind someone that vegetables will still be served when they've already plucked their fill direct from the braai grid? Do we remind them of their gluttony? Do we try to change them with direct and even subtle comments? I think not.

If you are cooking for someone who, unlike you, demands their nightly meat fix, the secret is in living by example. By tantalising your taste buds, you'll tantalise theirs. Start introducing tasty and satisfying alternatives... little reminders that there is more to life than just meat. If you are cooking for yourself, a hardened meat-eater, do not discount a recipe just because it lacks that essential ingredient. Experiment with new flavours, new ingredients and incorporate more herbs and spices.

Start reducing your weekly meat quota. Or better still; try to save the luxury for eating at restaurants or when invited out, you're bound to be served meat. Be selective in your meat and chicken choices. Choose quality over quantity. We need protein, but not as much as we think we need. And remember that protein can also be obtained from beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, tofu and the more gentle white-meat fish.

Let's try to think beyond just "meat, chicken or fish?" Start tempting with "pizza, pasta, curry, casserole, soup, salad or stir-fry?" Free from the meat monster, your kitchen now becomes your playground with its endless variety of ingredients. For those who are truly shackled by the meat chains, join the Japanese and reduce its presence to that of a humble side dish. Make way for other delicacies and delight in dining with diversity. .

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