Over the past year or so I became more vegetarian than I’ve ever been. It was a choice I made based on the importance of plant-based diets for mitigating and preventing global warming. I’ve been incredible happy with my choice and now think of myself as a “flexitarian”. I default to eating vegetarian, and when I eat non-vegetarian foods I mainly eat fish. But there are exceptions: one of my very favorite things to eat is the lamb dumplings from Xi'an Famous Foods. I’m drooling a little just thinking about them.
I think a lot about global warming and how it can be prevented through mass action and policy and writing and art. This fall I participated in the Artists and Climate Change Incubator, a week-long intensive for artists whose work engages with climate change and global warming. While individual lifestyle changes (like becoming flexitarian or vegetarian) are meaningless by themselves, I think they are important because they help you sustain an inner life and consciousness that is constantly considering climate change. I feel like I’ve had to ‘get to know’ climate change. To become friendly with climate change. To casually date climate change? I grew up in New York City and wasn’t a very outdoorsy child. I don’t feel like observing the natural world around me in New York has helped me internalize and understand global warming. I’ve had to use my imagination instead, to develop feelings for climate change in a way I’ve never had to do before.
Moving away from meat doesn’t have to be painful or sacrificial. It wasn’t for me. Actually, changing my diet has been incredibly fun and energizing. I’d love to share some thoughts on how I did it and how you can do it too.
My sister has been vegetarian since she was five years old. I was four. The story goes that she asked our beloved baby sitter what’s in a chicken nugget and hasn’t touch meat ever since. After I graduated from college we moved in together. We didn’t cook very often but when we did it was always vegetarian, so we could share. Plus we’re addicted to vegetables. My favorite breakfast recipe is:
- One Coach Farm goat yogurt
- Cubed tomatoes and cucumbers
- Olive Oil
- A tiny bit of salt/pepper
I think becoming flexitarian has been easier for me because I love eating vegetables. All summer the background on my phone was a photo of some summer tomatoes my dad sent me. If you don’t love eating vegetables, or there are only a few you like, one thing to consider might be whether the ingredients you’re using/eating are fresh/seasonal. Tomatoes that have been sitting in a refrigerator for days hardly taste like anything. They taste like acidic water. But you can still get good, flavorful vegetables in the winter.
I don’t remember when I made a conscious choice to eat less meat, but it was very casual. I didn’t refuse meat at events like Thanksgiving, or dinner at a friend’s house. I definitely have lox (early and) often. I just casually decided to buy less meat/fish, to cook less meat/fish, and to see what happened. And what happened was really positive and fun.
The Hardest Part
For me the hardest part starting out was feeling and staying full. In the past, I’ve started and then stopped being fully vegetarian because the diet I was eating made me feel hungry all the time. When I eat red meat or fish or any animal protein I feel incredible satiated. When I eat vegetarian proteins this isn’t necessarily the case. That being said, I feel like my body has gotten used to relying on proteins like beans and tofu and this has become way less of an issue for me. Currently, I don’t struggle with that issue at all. This is part of why I think just reducing consumption of meat is probably a great goal for people to start out with. Instead of approaching it from the perspective of self-sacrifice and suffering, approach it as reduction. Or even better, approach it as an opportunity to try foods you don’t normally eat.
Ever since I lived in Baltimore I’ve been inspired by the concept of hyper-specific Best-Of lists. Baltimore City Paper’s Best Of issue always includes incredibly specific categories, I think so that every business can be a winner and can thrive. What a great place.
Here is my hyper-specific Best Of list to help you eat more great food and less meat.
Best Fast Salad with Great Ingredients
If you want to eat more salad for lunch but your lunch salad always just tastes like water, check out Sweetgreen. Sweetgreen’s ingredients always taste amazing. How exactly they manage to do it is an operations question that fascinates me and my other friends who are diehards. P.S. Sweetgreen has an app you can order from so you don’t have to wait in a massive line.
For brunch I love Peacefood. If you’re looking for a more traditional breakfast-y thing, try the Tofu Scramble which is addictively food (and add toast), or get the Peace Bowl that comes with three types of vegetables that you choose and brown rice. It comes with garlic oil with smushed pieces of garlic in it and it’s delicious.
Best Casual But Incredible Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
west~bourne is one of my favorite restaurants in the city at this point. I’ve gone through almost the entire menu, and eaten there at every time of day, and it genuinely never disappoints. The wine is amazing. The coffee is wonderful. Some of my favorite things to eat there are the Mushreuben sandwich, Over The Rainbowl, and Sunset Grains. Their dishes are incredibly delicious, unique and low key all vegetarian. After about four months of going there I just realized that it’s a vegetarian restaurant. west~bourne is my #1 favorite place to have a solo dinner after a long day at work or to invite friends to for a pre-work hang. Also, the Sunrise Kingdom sandwich tastes just like McDonalds for some bizarre reason. But it’s there - and tasty - if that’s your thing!
Best Tomato and Cucumber Salad
Antique Garage/Cafe Mogador/Manousheh/My House
Tomato and cucumber salad is my #1 favorite food. I’m Israeli and grew up eating increasingly large cubes of Israeli salad through the generations of my family: my grandfather’s salad cubes were super thin. My mom’s were bigger. And my sister and I are avant garde salad-makers, for whom chopping is a creative process, and no two cubes look alike.
This category is a three-way tie between three great places: Antique Garage (a fun sit-down place with live jazz sometimes), Cafe Mogador (an incredible Moroccan restaurant with locations in Williamsburg and the East Village), and Manousheh (a takeout place with an incredible tomato, cucumber, and mint salad). Eat the salad at any of these places and your life will change. Slurp.
Best Alternative to Xi'an Famous Foods’ Lamb Dumplings
Xi'an Famous Foods Spinach Dumplings
The lamb itself in these dumplings is exquisitely good but what’s even better is the spicy oil they are served in. You can get the spinach dumplings, which are served with the same delicious oil, if you’re looking for an alternative.
Best Bean Of The Month Club
Rancho Gordo’s Bean Club
To my knowledge there is only one Bean of the Month Club, but it’s still the best. I’m talking about Rancho Gordo’s Bean Club. To read more about the club check out this writeup in the New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/04/23/the-hunt-for-mexicos-heirloom-beans. I think joining would be a really fun way of kicking off your exploration of eating less meat.
Best Pre-Cooked Vegetarian Protein
Trader Joe’s sells a block of lentils and they are extremely delicious. That is all.
Know any other great places I should add to the Best Of list? Feel free to email me at tamarnachmany [@] gmail.com and I’ll add them here below.
I hope this helps you see how easy and chill it can be to modify your diet to consume less animal products/meat.
The principles that I’ve gone by:
- Don’t see it as a chance to sacrifice and suffer. See it as an opportunity to eat other fun and delicious food.
- Be the friend who coordinates the dinner plans and choose a place with good non-meat options
- Find the freshest vegetables you can (and gobble them)
- Eat lox at the Yom Kippur breakfast (a must)
(The photo above pictures The Good Egg a is from https://www.standard.co.uk/go/london/restaurants/cook-for-syria-top-chefs-including-jos-pizarro-nuno-mendes-and-yotam-ottolenghi-create-charity-a3343816.html)