Recently my dad fussed at me about dinner. “Please don’t make any more cream sauces,” he said. “I’m gaining weight.” Now, please know that I rarely make cream sauces, but the entrée I planned to make suddenly had to change when I discovered that a main ingredient in the refrigerator had spoiled. Thus, we ended up with a very tasty chicken with a mustard cream sauce. (And about Dad’s weight gain – he has quit exercising and become very sedentary, so there are other factors besides my cooking involved.)
So on Sunday, I suggested an option – what about embracing “Meatless Mondays”? Although he asked cautiously what I was thinking about making, he seemed to be open to the idea. For our first Meatless Monday, I made pasta with a spinach/jalapeno/walnut pesto that I found in Giada de Laurentiis’ cookbook, “Giada at Home,” and a tossed salad.
So what is “Meatless Monday”? Turns out this effort is an international campaign through The Monday Campaigns, Inc. in association with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health designed to encourage people to eat a meatless diet on Mondays.
Researchers have found that by reducing meat consumption by 15% (which is equal to one day a week) can lower the risk of chronic preventable disease and also has a positive impact on the environment. “Going meatless once a week may reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, It can also help reduce your carbon footprint and save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel,” the Meatless Monday website reports.
Started in 2003, Meatless Monday out that a whole group of organizations have embraced the concept, including six municipalities (Ghent, Belgium; Hasselt, Belgium; Tel Aviv, Israel; Cape Town, South Africa; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Covington, Kentucky) as well as schools, hospitals and restaurants. The program is modeled after an effort by the U.S. Food Administration during World War I to reduce consumption of key staples to aid the war effort.
It turns out that not only is going meatless good for you, but many of the top chefs in the world are focusing their menus on vegetables and decreasing their emphasis on meat. Time magazine’s Joel Stein wrote a featured entitled, “Where’s the Beet? How Big-Name Chefs Are Shrinking Their Customer’s Carnivore Quota.” Jose Andres, who owns six restaurants in Los Angeles and Washington, is one of the chefs quoted as preferring vegetables and fruits. “Pure flavor to pure flavor, I’m sorry, but brussel sprouts, white asparagus, a Clementine, a pineapple, a good peach, the flavor in the mouth, the smell – it’s unbeatable,” he tells Stein. “It’s a rainbow of possibilities. It’s more interesting than any meat.” Other chefs who are identified in the story as doing menus with less meat include John Fraser of Dovetail in New York City, Quinn Hatfield of Hatfield’s in Los Angeles, Wolfgang Puck (who owns 22 restaurants in nine states), Mario Batali (who owns 15 restaurants in three states), and Bill Telepan of Telepan in New York City.
So what can you actually cook on Meatless Monday? Turns out there are a lot of options. If you are a member of Facebook, there’s a Meatless Monday page where participants offer a variety of menus. You can also check out cookbooks by Mollie Katzen and Deborah Madison, both of whom have done a lot of work in making vegetables delicious! Whole Foods’ cookbook and website have many great options focused on vegetables. I also have a free email subscription to No Take Out.com, which often sends a Meatless Monday recipe that’s easy, healthy and tasty. Recent recipes include Rice Noodles and Summer Vegetable Tofu and Zucchini Pancakes. You can also practice making cuisines that have more of a focus on vegetables (such as Chinese food and Indian food).
I think Meatless Monday is actually going to expand the meal options that I can create for Dad and me. Getting a chance to play with the different flavors of vegetables as well as the different cuisines could end up making Monday be my most favorite day of the cooking week.