It was funny. After My Year Without Meat people would ask me, “Are you back on the meat?” As a well-known carnivore it was like I had left a club of bon vivant imbibers for a while and upon my return was greeted with, “good to see you’re having a drink with us again”.
People don’t like other people who choose to leave the pack. When asked ‘what is a good meat substitute?’ I always feel that there is a tacit implication that meat is superior and eating without it is a lesser proposition. Eating meat is the dominant paradigm in the West and after a year and a bit out of the loop the biggest thing I learned is that people really don’t like vegetarians and despise vegans. But globally and throughout history meat was mostly off the table except for the very wealthy.
The Aztecs worked out how to feed an empire with very little flesh. Prior to Columbus the Meso Americans only had animals like deer and duck to hunt. They fed themselves on a tasty triumvirate of beans, corn and squash. Corn and beans grow together, the corn supporting the climbing bean and the bean adding nitrogen to the soil. On a mound of earth the board leaves of the squash protected the soil from the sun. Corn and beans provide all the essential amino acids essential for a healthy life. Stuff that in your taco!
The Roman armies spread across Europe and the Mediterranean fuelled on a diet of fava beans and barley.
This duo of seed and bean is the staple food for most of the world. Consider dahl on rice. Simple. It feeds millions of Indians every day. Cook green lentils together with brown rice in a rice cooker – add a stick of cinnamon or a bay leaf – and you have the basis for a cold salad, the base over which you can top with vegetable stew or curry or bind with sourdough breadcrumbs to make veggie patties for a burger.
The Roman armies spread across Europe and the Mediterranean fuelled on a diet of fava beans and barley. Cooked together with a few whole cloves of garlic and fresh thyme and finished with chopped parsley a good splurge of extra virgin olive oil you get a soup that conquers hunger and provides essential nutrition.
Recently I met The Vegan Butcher in The Hague. He sells a whole range of dishes form burgers to stews and bases his incredibly delicious range on grains, pulses and green and orange vegetables. There’s not a lot of textured vegetable protein and tofu in his food. Creations like Facon (fake bacon) and Tofurkey (tofu turkey) are simply junk food created by the same thinking that made meat based junk food.
Yes I am back on the meat. But having seen the way that most animals are raised for meat I now only buy a little bit of the best I can afford – meat raised by ethical farmers who look after their animals. Until that one day…
My Year Without Meat by Richard Cornish (MUP) is out now and can be purchased here