By Cinda Chavich
How YAM’s food writer embraced reducetarianism, stopped overeating animal protein and learned to love the lentil.
You know I love meat — a yen for smoky sausages, artisan bacon and steak is apparently hardwired into my Slavic/Scottish/Prairie DNA. But I also hate waste and the modern system of industrial meat production that wastes water, land and, by extension, our potential to feed the world.
That’s the message from the growing “reducetarian” movement, a way of eating that advocates reducing our collective meat consumption for social, environmental, ethical and personal-health reasons. North Americans eat far more meat than we need, and the ever-increasing demand for meat worldwide has created a system that’s, frankly, unsustainable.
I’m not going vegan but have decided to be more mindful of the meat I buy — opting for smaller amounts of better meat, sourced from smaller producers who factor in the values I hold dear when producing their grass-fed beef, pastured pork and chicken.
Beyond Meatless Mondays, many people are also exploring alternative proteins and recipes that rely on vegetables and grains to bulk up the portions. Not vegetarian, but reducetarian living.
It’s an idea that’s gaining high-profile fans, from Mario Batali and Oprah to Paul McCartney and Deepak Chopra, who says eating less meat “offers us a path toward a more ecological, sustainable, humane and compassionate world.”
They’re all referenced in The Reducetarian Solution, a collection of essays from a wide variety of contributors, riffing on the topic of why we need to eat less meat.
Brian Kateman, president of the non-profit Reducetarian Foundation, edited the book and coined the term to describe his own efforts to mindfully eat less meat and other animal products, without feeling like a “cheating vegan” or “lazy vegetarian.”
“Meat consumption isn’t an all-or-nothing premise,” he writes, “but every plant-based meal is one worth celebrating because it is healthier, more eco-friendly and kinder to animals.”
Vegetables Take Centre Stage
Chefs are embracing the idea of vegetable-forward dishes as well. At Part and Parcel, Chef Grant Gard takes his inspiration from local, sustainable ingredients and says that often means vegetables take centre stage.
“We like to showcase what we can get from local farms and what comes in through the back door,” says Gard.
Popular dishes — from his carrot falafel and hummus to his roasted beet and quinoa salad — are vegetarian, but others include ethically raised meat, fish and poultry, simply in smaller portions.
“I’m focused on keeping our prices low, so we use braising cuts and try to work with vegetables in different ways,” says Gard of his casual but technique-driven meals. “Our dishes have a lot of different components, but meat is expensive and you don’t need to eat it all the time.”
Gard, who loves Italian, Japanese and Mediterranean flavours, says it’s not hard to find inspiration for meatless meals. Sometimes, he says, a dish he devises just happens to be meat-free, owing to ingredients like beluga lentils, chickpeas, faro, blue barley and quinoa from Vancouver’s Grain, or the seasonal selection of vegetables from Victoria’s Square Root Farm.
“We do a dish of faro, wheat berries and lentils, dressed with a pickle vinaigrette, that’s scooped over labneh (strained yogurt) with kale juice, greens and a crunchy nut-and-seed mixture on top,” he says. “Different textures, different flavours — really interesting to eat.”
A LESS DAUNTING CHALLENGE
Only five per cent of Americans are vegetarian or vegan, and studies show that many vegetarians eventually revert to their carnivorous ways. Cutting back on meat — rather than cutting it out altogether — is a positive but less daunting change that’s easier to achieve and likely healthier.
And the thing about eating meals without meat, or with far less, is that there’s no deprivation involved.
At Saveur restaurant, Chef Robert Cassels specializes in five-course tasting menus — both a protein-based Chef’s Tasting Menu and a Chef’s Vegetarian Tasting Menu. The latter puts seasonal local vegetables at the centre of the plate and appeals to diners of all stripes.
“It’s common for one person to order the protein-tasting menu and one to order the vegetarian menu and share,” says Cassels. “The vegetarian menu was not as popular when we first introduced it, but interest has skyrocketed in the last few months.”
Cassels says he creates vegetarian dishes with “the same depth and richness” as his protein plates, and works hard to showcase vegetables in unique preparations.
“I love the versatility of vegetables,” he says, describing a carrot dish that includes carrot stock, a black tea carrot emulsion, crispy carrot, roasted carrot and carrot powder. “Instead of nose to tail, this is root to stem. We don’t like seeing things wasted.”
HOW TO REDUCE MEAT
One of the easiest ways to cut back on animal products is by scheduling Meatless Mondays or cooking more “vegetable forward” cuisine at home. Many classic vegetarian dishes combine plant proteins and grains in healthy ratios — think Mexican rice and beans, Indian dal, chickpea hummus and curries with flatbread, eggplant Parmesan, cheesy perogies, chili and grilled cheese or falafel sandwiches. Many other foods — whether pasta dishes, risottos, stir-fries or pizzas — rely on meat as a garnish or flavour enhancer, not as a main ingredient.
Don’t worry about protein — we get plenty. The minimum daily recommendation is .37 grams per pound of body weight (0.8 grams/kilograms) or about 50 grams of protein for a 140-pound woman (or up to 135 grams if you are extremely active).
How much is 25 grams of protein? It’s a small, three-ounce portion of pork, beef or chicken, eight medium shrimp or six oysters.
Beyond meat and poultry, there’s plenty of protein in other animal products, from eggs and milk to cheese. Or just include vegetable proteins from lentils, nuts and grains like quinoa. You get 25 grams of protein in 1 2/3 cups of black beans, a cup of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, 3 cups of cooked quinoa, four eggs or 17 cashews.
Mushrooms and eggplant, even young jackfruit, can add meaty texture to your sandwiches, stir-fries and curries, while avocados, tahini and olive oil provide healthy fats that will keep you sated longer.
You can buy plant-based burgers and “meatballs” or use a single spicy chorizo sausage to season a pot of beans. Stretch a bit of chicken or pork with lots of stir-fried vegetables and rice, or garnish a mushroom risotto with a few fresh spot prawns.
THE BENEFITS OF GOING MEATLESS
The long-term benefits of eating less meat seem so logical, especially in the area of individual heath and animal welfare.
Adding more vegetable-forward recipes to the rotation saves money and boosts your personal vitamin and fibre intake, which is great for your bank account and your body. And there’s the greater good to consider too — clean water, clean food and a clean environment forall.
I’m happy that there’s a new reducetarian trend to remind us about the joys of eating vegetables. It’s the kind of old-fashioned wisdom your great-grandmother might have shared, and the basis of author Michael Pollan’s common sense mantra: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
MAKE CHEF ROBERT CASSELS OF SAVEUR’S SILVER RILL CORN RISOTTO
Chef Robert Cassels always has a risotto dish on his vegetarian tasting menu at Saveur. It’s a great way to use any seasonal vegetable, and Cassels uses every part of the ingredient — from root to shoot — to avoid food waste in the kitchen. To add richness to this roasted-corn stock, he adds Parmesan rinds.
• 2 or 3 cobs of young fresh corn
• Parmesan cheese rinds
• Bouquet garni (bundle of fresh herbs like parsley, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns, celery or leek)
Roasted corn purée:
• Reserved corn kernels
• 1 large shallot, finely chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 2 tbsp butter
• 2 tbsp butter
• 1 large shallot, minced
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 cup arborio rice
• 1/4 cup good-quality Chardonnay
• 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
• 4 tbsp cold butter, cubed
• Green pea shoot pistou (on the next page) and deep-fried corn silk
Shuck the corn, reserving corn silk.
Cut the kernels from the cobs and reserve. You should have about 1 1/2 cups.
Heat the barbecue grill or broiler to high and grill the cobs until lightly charred on all sides.
Place the cobs in a stockpot and cover with 6 cups of cold water. Tie the Parmesan rinds and bouquet garni into a piece of cheesecloth and add to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Strain the stock, discarding the cobs and bouquet garni. Measure the corn stock and add enough water to make 6 cups. Season with salt. Set aside.
Meanwhile, make the corn purée. Sauté the reserved corn kernels with chopped shallot, garlic and butter over medium heat until tender. Place in a blender with a little of the reserved corn stock and purée. Set aside.
To make the risotto, heat the butter over medium heat in a wide sauté pan and cook the shallot and garlic for 2 to 3 minutes, until translucent but not brown. Add the rice to the pan and stir until the rice kernels are glossy.
Deglaze with Chardonnay, stirring, then start adding the reserved corn stock, one ladleful at a time. Stir until the stock is almost absorbed, then add another ladleful, and continue in this manner until 2/3 of the stock is incorporated.
Stir in the reserved corn purée and continue cooking, stirring and adding more stock, until the rice is just cooked, al dente.
Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan and cubed butter.
Serve immediately, garnished with pea shoot pistou and fried corn silk.