Hi, this is Tisha from ASPI where we promote sustainable living.
My dad always raised a cow each year – mostly it was an unwanted baby bull from a dairy operation. He would castrate them, put them to pasture, add some hay from a field we kept for the purpose, and eventually load them into an old trailer and go back to the slaughter house later to pick up the meat. Dad would occasionally put up some venison. We had rabbits for a few years. Looking back, we ate meat – good meat, often. Meals were mostly planned around the meat – which took up a large portion of our plates. When my brother struck out on his own, he found out how expensive meat was, and he came home to fill a cooler.
My parents came recently for dinner – soup, salad, and bread. “Wonderful,” they said. “Delicious,” they said. They meant it. There was protein – beans, eggs, and a bit of chicken in the soup. My table – surrounded by my husband, three kids, and me – and their table – just Mom and Dad, now – support a lot less meat.
We could talk about the ethical reasons, but it is the health reasons my parents will quote. It isn’t even that meat is bad for us – especially if it is pasture-raised. (Those things can and should be argued – just not my focus here!) It is that since the 1950’s our portions have become skewed. The majority of food on our plates and in our bowls should be recognizable as the plant(s) from which it came. For my family, the portions skewed toward meat. For my husband’s family growing up, the portions skewed toward processed food. Breads (though I love them) do not look like wheat. Wilted greens still look like plants. Chips do not look like plants, and cooked squash does.
If the pyramid and My Plate recommendations are too much, we can plan our meals so that the majority of the meal is recognizable plant matter and check for some protein. We started doing this for our family – and realized we were making all of the recommended daily allowances.
So what does that mean for meals?
Here’s an example: When it was just three of us – my husband, toddler daughter, and I – we could finish off most of small roasted chicken in one meal.
Now a roasted chicken for a family of 5 – the children are elementary-school aged, not teenagers yet! – yields meat for three meals. We make it a side dish, instead of the main course.
The first night it’s a small side to larger portions of plant-based foods. The remaining nights it’s worked into chicken salads, soups, tortilla fillings, or veggie-heavy stir fries.
We eat more vegetarian meals. We relish the taste that a little sausage adds to dishes – rather than eating a pound of sausage patties in one meal.
There are entire aisles of the supermarket that can ignore. It makes shopping so much easier. And as with everything, it is a process. We are working toward minimally processed breakfasts – especially during the school week, and I admit that ice cream will be with us forever. Each change has been deliberate, but after a month or two, we forget that we ever bought such things as frozen meals or Doritos. We thought we would treat ourselves on New Years’ Eve and spent a long time trying to find frozen cheese sticks – we had no idea there were so many pre-made meal options available. (The kids preferred the fresh-popped, nothing-added popcorn, by the way!)
And . . . here are the two best parts for us: 1) our diets are healthier 2) we can support our neighbors and animal welfare by using the savings to buy pasture-raised, local meat. We have found sources of local meat, but we also trade. We carry vegetables during the high season and preserved foods during the winter to our neighbor. He stops by with frozen beef when they butcher – it’s not formal, just friendly. Folks who hunt on our property share their successes.
We do have to buy more plants to eat – but plants are cheaper than meat, and our garden gets bigger every year.