Monday, February 16, 2009

Quietly going veggo

Once or twice I've idly commented to Action Man that I could easily become a vegetarian. AM then regards me with slight panic in his eyes. What, a life with no meat? Understand that AM grew up in a house, like so many Australians, where it was steak and eggs for breakfast, practically every day. And while he hasn’t had a steak for breakfast since I have known him, he still loves a good steak for dinner.

But, things change, and we have to change with them. I read about a CSIRO and University of Sydney study that calculated that for every dollar spent on beef generates 26.7 kilograms of greenhouse gases, compared to 3.2 kilograms for pigs and 2.4 kilograms for chickens. If ever there was an argument for reducing consumption of red meat in particular, this was it.

As much as I would like to deny it, decisions about what we eat are based in part on the family’s preferences. If you are going to the trouble of making dinner, you want to be sure people will eat it happily, correct? And while vegetable likes and dislikes are a bit of minefield, everyone happily eats the meat on their plate. I knew I would have to proceed cautiously, or risk a mutiny.

Over time, I have reached the point where we eat about 1 vegetarian dinner a week, while on some other nights, meat takes a back seat to the plant foods on the plate. About three nights a week we eat meals where meat, in whatever form, is the basis of the meal, but the portions are smaller. This represents a big reduction in the amount of meat we are eating.

The biggest achievement, though, is that I have managed to do this without drawing any comment whatsoever from AM or the kids. How? The Quiet Revolution method. Here’s what it entails:

1. Don’t make any announcements, comments, explanations about your intentions. Do not draw attention to the fact that you are reducing the amount of meat on offer, and chances are, no one will notice. Do not, for example, read out articles about meat consumption and greenhouse gases to your family in passing. Do not let the word “vegetarian” pass your lips. Someone will put two and two together, and the game will be up.
2. Increase the volume of your plant food offerings to compensate, so that the plate still has the same volume of food on it.
3. Introduce new vegetarian and near-vegetarian recipes that you think will appeal, but at the same time, try to have at least one offering that is familiar and non-controversial, so you can maintain the comfort zone.
4. Mix up your menus over the course of a week, so that you have a veggo meal between two nights of meat-meals. Try not to have a run of veggo or near veggo meals, or they’ll start to get suspicious.
5. If you eat desserts, schedule them on vegetarian nights. This gives you leverage, should you need it, to “encourage” your children to eat their dinner.

By following these strategies, I reckon I have halved our meat consumption and put a sizeable dent in our food budget. And I feel I’ve done something positive about our carbon footprint. And my dear family has never twigged.

Michael Pollan’s book In Defence of Food, voted Best Book in Any Category in 2008 by me, speculates about the effect on America’s diet if the First Family adopted a veg meal once a week, and in turn how that simple action would affect the level of greenhouse gas emissions. So, how about it, Barack and Michele?

You don’t have to wait for them, though. How about scheduling your own Quiet Revolution?


Linda said...

We do that here, I think to save money, I suppose it has evolved. Our sausage meals only have 500g per 6 people, as the sausages are cut up and are in the dish itself. If we were to have sausages with potatoes as a normal meal we would need over 1kg.

Keltie said...

Wow - good on you! we are largely vegetarian - we eat fish now and then but no other meat although we do eat eggs and dairy products (i am trying to cut back dairy because this too is inefficient). i love the term mindful consumption. the internet has some wonderful resources for vegetarian meals - have you seen the 'nourish me' blog?

Paola said...

Linda, 500g sausages between 6 people is an achievement. My son loves sausages and can easily eat 500g on his own if I let him. He is ten and eats more than AM.

Keltie, I'm going to try and go largely veggo myself without making any announcements. I will go and check out the "nourish me" blog.