¿Vege-Que? Healthy Eating Week Series
An Exploration of Healthy Food Choices
It means, I eat meat and fish. But only sometimes. And usually not at home, like maybe only 3% of the time, because I do like ham and cheese sandwiches once in a while.
Anyway, growing up Carnivore Cuban and living in the South — home of the infamous Meat & Three — I didn’t ever think this would be me.
But, let me tell you lo que paso: I cooked and ate a pork chop cut from a heritage pig, one that lived and grew outside in the Tennessee hill country.
On this fated night, my husband and I took the first bite of our chops at the same time, looked across the table at each other, our eyes locked and we both said, at the same time: “Oh.My.God!” Simultaneous joy! You know the kind? That chop was nutty and juicy and greasy in the right kind of way. Still memorable.
In that moment, we knew it was the beginning of some changes — good ones.
We immediately stopped buying flavorless grocery store pork, considering that if we were going to eat pork, nothing but that amazing good stuff would do. Then, I started buying locally processed chicken and cut back on the top loin, a favorite indulgence.
The Cuban picadillo is now made with ground soy, the arroz con pollo became arroz con shrimp or tofu.
This week’s Tiki Tiki series — ¿Vege-Que? — is inspired by conversations had with other Latinos on the topic of being vegetarian, flexitarian, vegan and other mostly “unthinkable” non-meat life choices. It’s like most of us believe we’re not supposed to be vegetarian, we’re not supposed to go for veggie fajitas instead of the beef ones because, carajo, soy Latino! It’s culturally insulting, mi’ja, to give up meat. Or, so the general consensus goes.
But, times are changing. And more and more people are moving toward reducing — if not, eliminating — meat from their diets. About 7.3 million Americans are vegetarian; Meatless Mondays recipes are super popular all over the web; and the NYT columnist Mark Bittman has inspired “Vegan until Dinner” believers. Farmer’s markets, CSAs and local meat producers are on the rise.
To begin a conversation about Latinos, vegetarianism, flexitarianism and healthy eating we have collected wonderful essays and recipes that we’ll publish this week on the Tiki Tiki.
The essays are not designed to convince anyone to become a vegetarian only to show it is possible to eat delicious and satisfying non-meat meals, and still honor the spirit and flavor of our Latin culture.
And, I have purposely left out the politics of living meat-free, but we can talk about it in the comments, on Facebook or Twitter, if you like.
Given the obscenely high rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity in the Latino population, these are the conversations we really should be having.
- Today: This intro essay on being Flexitarian and The ¿Vege-Que? Giveaways post.
- Tuesday: Roxanna Buil of The Yuca Diaries writes about the joy of discovering new vegetables and global flavors. Recipe: Spicy Eggplant Szechuan.
- Wednesday: Lucia Lopez Plunkett, a California psychotherapist, on becoming vegetarian after her 2-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. Recipe: “Te Quiero Dicen las Lentejas” soup.
- Thursday: A Tiki Tiki interview with Terry Hope Romero, the author of Viva Vegan, a delicious Latin-inspired collection of recipes. She shares her recipes for Arroz con Seitan, Un-dulce Leche and Seitan, a great meat substitute.
- Friday: Yvonne Condes of Yvonne in LA cooks delicious gluten-free meals at home. Recipe: Tamales.
- Saturday: Daniela Garcia, a writer and publisher of That Mexican Girl, on when your mom owns a Mexican restaurant and you’re a vegetarian. Recipe: Vegetable Quesadillas.
- Sunday: Links to favorite healthy food sites, recipes, resources and book suggestions. Giveaway winner announced in giveaway post.
On Becoming Flexitarian
So more on my story. About 18 months ago, my husband and I agreed to add more greens to our diet. I bought kale, Swiss chard and bok choy, learned to stir them up as a side dish, mix them with rice, add them to soups. Then, I cooked more with tofu, tempeh and seitan. I started trying new curries, increased our bean servings, started using more grains like farro, millet and quinoa. I searched out new spices and spice mixes. I spent a lot of time searching on 101 Cookbooks, All Recipes and Epicurious for filling, satisifying recipes that had great texture and color.
I found them, cooked them, loved them.
And then one day, we realized we had not bought meat in weeks. And we were happy. And eating well. And satisfied. (And no, none of this applies to the picky 7-year-old.)
Again, it has been about a year-and-a-half. And, the least thing I miss is chicken.
The Joy of Being Flexitarian
- My grocery bill has shrunk.
- Grocery shopping takes less time.
- The Farmer’s Market is a colorful adventure.
- Dinners are simple: Generally, I just pull some vegetables from the fridge, chop them up, roast or pan cook them, add a grain, maybe throw in some tofu or tempeh, some spices of choice and we’re done.
- Our meals are much more interesting without meat because the combinations and flavors we come up with are so varied.
- Grains are easy to cook and can be frozen, cutting down daily dinner prep time.
- We’re big fans of fish, which is healthy, can be relatively inexpensive and is super easy to cook.
- I don’t have to give up lechon in Miami, and I don’t have to pass up a taco truck lunch. We also don’t have to be the “difficult” dinner guest with food issues.
- I feel better, physically and spiritually, though I haven’t lost a pound.
I know this is a crazy idea for a lot of you, but I don’t really believe it when someone says they never could eat without meat on the plate. I was that person once, and a new world or flavor has opened up. I truly have gained, rather than lost, by going Flexitarian.
And for the doubters, let me tell you, crispy seitan con garlicky mojo and a side of Cuban black beans and rice is pretty tremendo awesome.
Carrie’s Whatever is in the Veg Bin Medley
Cook your favorite grain.
While the asparagus and cauliflower steam for five to seven minutes, place the seitan in a frying pan with a little bit of olive oil. Pan fry until the edges are crispy. Put aside in a warm oven.
In the same pan, add more olive oil and cook the garlic, bell pepper, onion to desired tenderness. Add spinach and stir until wilted. Add any spices that make you happy.
Stir the cooked grain, asparagus and cauliflower into your veggie mix. Add the seitan to the pan, or plate it.
Serves 2, depending on how much vegetable and grain you make. And, we make this all the time, but it never is exactly the same twice because we use whatever is available.
What about you?
Think you could be a Flexitarian? Are you already a Flexitarian?
Check out the Giveaways
Please be sure to read today’s ¿Vege-Que? Giveaways post to enter for some great prizes, including cookware from IMUSA, copies of Viva Vegan!, the e-book Healthy Snacks to Go; and new EatStrong trail mix and bars.
***You must comment in the giveaways post and in one essay, such as this one, this week to be entered to win.
I look forward to our conversation this week, and click the share buttons below this essay to grow the habla habla.