Thanks to the popularity of the unofficial movement called Meatless Mondays, more and more diners are embracing the chance to try foods that in the past only a card-carrying vegetarian could love.
Meatless Mondays were born without rules or regulations, and participation is certainly never mandatory. If a 48-ounce porterhouse is your idea of a good time for Monday’s lunch or dinner, no one is going to stop you. Yet considering the dramatically different, less deprivational approach to a vegetarian (or “plant-based”) diet in other exotic cultures, to not have at least Mondays be meatless seems deprivational unto itself.
The movement has been around since 2003, when Sid Lerner founded it in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Ghent in Belgium was the first non-U.S. city to sign on, joining six years after that. No less a figure than Sir Paul McCartney, widely known as a vegetarian since his marriage to the late Linda McCartney, gave the idea a major push in Great Britain. Of course, there such foods are called “Meat-Free.” Now Meatless Mondays are observed in 44 countries around the world.
One of the reasons it’s not called Vegan Mondays, or even Plant-Based Mondays, is that vegetarianism takes so many forms – and people adopt these forms for a variety of reasons. Vegans are, in a sense, the ultimate plant-based eaters, dining only on foods made with things grown and harvested from the earth. Still other loosely defined vegetarians are fine with dairy and eggs (“lacto-ovo”), while others think anything that’s not red meat is okay. The promotional boards for chicken, pork and seafood like these folks a lot.
At least as fascinating as the people who participate in Meatless Every Day are the reasons one might. Some concerns are directly related to individual health, to the belief that meat is simply bad for you or, more precisely, to doctor’s orders stemming from a specific problem or issue. People forced into low-cholesterol diets know all about this. For the most part, this brand of vegetarian is the least preachy on a day-to-day, live-with-them basis, presumably because their diet is seldom voluntary.
Far more likely to criticize those eating meat are the people who adopt vegetarianism for animal welfare or environmental reasons. As you can guess, and probably even appreciate, those who look at modern practices and decide God’s creatures are being abused find little room for compromise. In a carnivorous setting, they might in fact be the most adamant. According to one statistic bandied about, every single person who adopts a diet free of meat, including fish and shellfish, for one day per week saves the lives of 58 animals.
Others of an equally political bent fear what is happening to the planet because of people, especially Americans, simply being the carnivores they tend to be. They point to “incredible inefficiencies” in the meat production chain and consider the resulting greenhouse gases worse than anything arising from transportation. Connected problems include climate change, air and water pollution, land degradation and deforestation, and biodiversity decline.
In a country of immense religious diversity, it’s worth noting that many faith traditions either limit or forbid the consumption of meat. The biblical prohibition against eating pork, for instance, is shared by observant Jews and Muslims, while several subsets of Hinduism eat no meat at all. They believe that, because killing any creature is violent, eating the creatures that are killed arouses violence within the diner.
You might think of these things each Monday and consider going meatless, just like a few million other people, even if only for one day per week. Or you might want to do it because of none of these things, only because meatless dishes can be delicious. The full-flavored traditional dishes of most Asian cultures are particularly rich in meatless options, whatever your personal beliefs about life, love, politics or the stock market.
PEANUT COCONUT NOODLES
Soba and udon noodles are especially popular in Japan, while the blending of coconut milk and peanuts into a savory sauce is one of the great contribution of Thailand. Here’s a super-easy, colorful and flavorful recipe that tips its hat to both food cultures.
4 ounces soba buckwheat noodles
4 ounces udon noodles
1 jar Dr. Foo’s Kitchen Thai Peanut Coconut Sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
½ tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons chile paste with garlic
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces firm tofu, drained and cut into ½-inch cubes
2 cups broccoli-carrot slaw
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
3 green onions, thinly sliced
Prepare the noodles separately according to package directions, then drain and toss together. Combine the sauce with the vinegar, sesame oil, sesame seeds and chile paste in a bowl. Heat a skillet or wok with the olive oil and add the tofu, stirring for 4 minutes, adding the carrots, bell pepper and green onions about halfway through. Add the noodles and the sauce, mixing until well combined. Serve hot immediately or chilled. Serves 8.
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