The main course

I stopped eating meat almost four years ago, primarily for health reasons after reading The China Study, and cut out most dairy too. I do eat a bit of fish, for the vitamin B12 (and because it keeps me sane), and I still eat things that have butter in them/on them, because that makes me happy.

I’ve noticed over these past few years that, in the US at least, there are more and more veg-friendly options out there. Salad shops, soup shops, and also food from around the world that is delicious and not made with meat.

Where I still feel vegetarians are misunderstood is that, because it can be such a strange concept not to eat meat, many people assume that vegetarians go to the other extreme: that being vegetarian means that I eat side dishes all day long, food that’s more spare and has less flavor than meat-eaters would find satisfying. In fact, I have no interest in steamed broccoli with no salt or olive oil, nor do I like salads and raw, cold food much more than most people.

Great, complex, fully satisfying vegetarian main dishes are still hard to find, so when I come across them I’m quick to go back for more. The other day I had a vegan mushroom ramen from Mokbar that was every bit as ramen-y, rich, and delicious as I hoped it would be, and I was pretty amazed that they could create that much depth of flavor without any pork shoulder in the broth. That got me thinking about my top-top list of most delicious vegetarian dishes that erase any remaining longing for meaty goodness:

  • Squash rice from the Fat Hen in Johns Island, South Carolina (just had this last month for the first time. Amazing)
  • The Warm Farro & Fried Egg Salad from Red Hat Bistro in Irvington, NY (which may have disappeared from their menu, which would be a shame)
  • Tofu Bahn Mi sandwich from CoBa, on 17th St and 9th Avenue
  • Eggplant Sabich from Taim Falafel, 45 Spring Street, New York
  • Black bean burger from Smashburger (far and away the best veg hamburger I’ve ever had)
  • Lentil pie from the Tuck Shop in Chelsea Market
  • Vegetarian chili recipe from Cooks Illustrated (umami-full flavors that win over the meat-eaters)
  • Pumpkin Curry from Ariana Kebab House on 52nd Street and 9th Avenue

This list omits Indian restaurants, as I don’t have a favorite, and gets me thinking about great veg dishes at Thai restaurants.

What about you? What would you add to this list of great main course vegetarian dishes?

Wild rice, onions and Brussel sprouts

Lots of reactions to yesterday’s post on The China Study. Some people sent along skeptical and detailed posts about the conclusions in the China Study – which I read along with some thoughtful rebuttals – and some asked if I really was going to give up cappuccinos.

The most helpful “some’s” sent along supportive stories.  Here’s an example:

Hi Sasha,

A good friend recommended The China Study about 6 months ago.  My girlfriend read it immediately and we set out to change our diet – not 100%, but just tilt the scales towards plants.  Our 30 day trial has morphed into several months.  We aim for a Vegan/Vegetarian work-week and then on the weekend we might enjoy fish or lamb on a dinner out.  We’ve both lost weight – 15 pounds for me, 10 for her, and we feel great.  I’m glad to hear you are giving it a try.

Of course it is so tempting to cling to the counter-arguments, the skeptics and the doubters that let me say to myself, “You’re doing everything right already, don’t change anything.”

Then again, radical change shouldn’t be taken lightly, and before making any leaps one has to get back to one’s own sense of what makes sense, informed by the data and analysis we can get our hands on.

The most sensible, pithy advice on diet I’ve ever found was in Michael Pollan’s Food Rules:

Eat food, mostly plants, not too much

Which translates as:

  • Eat food: processed junk is not food.  Food is food.
  • Mostly plants: the majority of your calories should come from plants
  • Not too much: eat in moderation

And when I’m honest with myself, I’m following “eat food” and “not too much,” and falling way short on the “mostly plants” bit.  And I’m 100% sure if I shift to “mostly plants” I will:

  • Increase the amount of fiber I eat (almost no one eats the required minimum of 30g / day, and we all should)
  • Decrease my cholesterol
  • Eat more nutrient-dense foods
  • And probably decrease my overall calorie intake

So lunch today was wild rice, onions and Brussel sprouts, and it was delicious.  And while I’m sure I’ve not consumed my last latte, my last yoghurt, or even my last piece of meat, I think that the time has come to “tilt the scales towards plants.”

And the thing is, you can always do this tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes.  Today is the only time to act, to make change.

Thanks for coming along for this slight dietary detour…we’ll now get back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

(and here’s Graham Hill’s 4-minute TED talk on becoming a weekday vegetarian.)