No, I’m not Catholic. Will was raised Catholic, but he never did like “giving up” something for Lent. I was able to overcome his resistance though, and we are “sort of” giving up meat for Lent. The chain of events goes something like this:
We’d been eating less meat anyway because we wanted to make sure that the meat we did eat was of unassailable quality. We wanted our beef to be grass-fed, perhaps even dry-aged. We wanted our chicken to be free-range organic, perhaps even kosher. Well, these are extraordinarily expensive cuts of meat! When grocery stores would advertise or news stories would report about the cost of meat ($2 for pound of ground beef, less than a $1 per pound for a roasting chicken, etc.), I would wonder where this meat was coming from. What would consuming meat that cheap do to our health, to the quality of life of these animals, to the maintenance of our planet?
We started observing Meatless Mondays on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and many other days of the week. We started ordering organic local fruits and vegetables at our CSA with more regularity. We bypassed meat when we went out to dinner in favor of fish that we would have a harder time preparing at home anyway.
At the same time, we started reading books and watching a series of documentaries—or semi-documentaries—that cemented the deal. When Omnivore’s Dilemma became the talk of NPR stations everywhere, I read that voraciously. I avoided corn syrup in everything and pondered about the feasibility of only eating meat that I hunted down and slaughtered myself. (Then I quickly abandoned that idea.)
Food, Inc. and Fast Food Nation followed. Then our friend Laura recommended Forks Over Knives. Admittedly, Will was a bit wary of yet another documentary book or movie that would cast a censorious eye over his pork-loving diet. He desperately suggested other options for our Sunday evening viewing. Isn’t there another episode of Poirot that we haven’t seen yet? Should we join the throng and actually watch Downtown Abbey? But he gave in eventually. He was even a bit heartened by the fact that the vegans featured in the movie were not the monkish ascetics that he’d always imagined—and, honestly, witnessed—but rather very buff fire-fighting, Mixed Martial Arts competing, aspirational models for would-be macho men everywhere. Those vehicles made it so much easier to swallow the pill: Give up meat.
Ok, in actuality, Forks Over Knives advocates giving up a lot more than just meat. A Chicago city administrator was vehemently arguing that we need to give up anything that had a “mommy or daddy,” that had “eyes or ears,” that moved in any way—walking, creeping, slithering, swimming. Yikes. Will, clutching his new favorite toy, Bouchon Bakery cookbook, was looking very nervous as the movie suggested that flour and sugar had to leave our kitchen. I thought I was digesting most of this information with only a few serious qualms, but the dairy part made me aghast. Me? Give up cheese and butter? I had to draw the line somewhere.
So this is what we decided. We would eat mostly vegetarian in a loose, degraded sense of that word. That is, we would still consume eggs, dairy, and—yes—seafood. Since we are not very decisive people either, we decided that we would do this slowly. That is, in fact, we would sometimes eat meat. I have over-developed guest instincts which make it hard for me to refuse food someone offers me—it’s cultural, I think—so I would eat meat if invited to dinner at someone’s home. Weekends might be sort of tough, we figured, since we might be eating with others.
As timing would have it, the day I resolved to start this vegetarian diet in earnest—with these many exceptions—I heard on the news that it was the start of Lent. Being a person who likes “signs” when they already fit my agenda, I researched how this giving-up-something-for-Lent process worked. Luckily, I found a Wikipedia site that told me that some Christians break their Lent-fast on Sundays to go along with the idea of God resting on the seventh day of creation. Another sign! We will break our meat-fast one day a week (either weekend day). Unfortunately, breaking our meat-fast one day meant that the day became a meat-fest: bacon at breakfast, burgers at lunch, roast chicken at dinner. We are, however, settling down to a weekend diet that is much less carnivorous. Whew!
One of the perks of this new diet is to discover that there are some really excellent vegetarian recipes that we have not tried since we tended to skip right over cookbook sections that announced “Vegetable Entrees”—which we hitherto considered an oxymoron. One of our favorite cookbooks is Hay Day Country Market Cookbook, and it offers some really yummy-sounding entrees. By the time Lent is over, we will have tried all of them. Look at that Couscous-Vegetable Lasagne at the top of this post.
You layer couscous and chopped sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil) mixed with shredded Fontina and grated Parmesan. Then you place a layer of sautéed vegetables (mushroom, onion, garlic, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, basil, olive oil and wine). Then you alternate layers again to create couscous-veggies-couscous-veggies lasagna. Sprinkle some parmesan on top, and bake! Really, the cheeses smell heavenly as they melt and hold the couscous together, and the vegetables are so fragrant!
We are talking about extending this new diet past Easter…