Mike and I talked about the issue of choosing to consume less meat for a long time. The transition was relatively painless for me as meat dishes are not generally among my favorite choices anyway. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love bacon, really nice bacon, or a simple, well-constructed burger, like the basic Backyard at The Back Abbey in Claremont, CA, or a Classic at Blanc here in Kansas City.
But I’ve always loved fruits and vegetables, even as a kid, and my food group of choice is unquestionably the grains—crusty European loaves or textured multi-grained breads, couscous, quinoa, any form of pita, brown rice, wild rice… you name it. Also, I’m a sucker for beans and legumes. So, for me, eating less meat still meant a world of endless possibilities. Mike is a particularly creative cook and has readily altered even our favorite dishes into meatless options, from a relatively straightforward adaptation of homemade pizzas topped with fresh veggies to the more innovative substitution of mushrooms for crawfish in a robust étouffée with plenty of chunky vegetables. I’m sure the adjustment has been more of a challenge for Mike, whose palate is certainly more acute than my own, and I suspect that limiting meat in our diet has been a much deeper expression of restraint and discipline for him than it has been for me.
But as I said, it was a slow transition. For eight months to a year, we simply talked about the fact that we should try to eat less meat. Finally, for the next six moths or so, we began to substitute two vegetarian dinners a week into our general habits. Then we moved to California and discovered the amazing joys and wonder of Abundant Harvest Organics, a farmshare co-op, to which we subscribed weekly and received the most wonderful box of fresh produce I have ever tasted, and we began to limit our meated meals to about twice a week.
It has been seven/eight months since we moved to Missouri and have been without our box, and I still comment to Mike how much I miss it and how amazing the produce was. We enjoyed the best of some of my favorite fruits and vegetables: the best grapes, the best kiwis, the best avocados, the best oranges, the best spinach.We were introduced to some of our new favorites, like figs and different varieties of squashes, including kabocha and patty-pans. And we were forced to appreciate things I would have previously never voluntarily purchased in a grocery store: beets, which as it turns out, are delicious roasted (bake at 400°F wrapped in tinfoil like baked potatoes for about 30 minutes, then plunge them into ice water and peel off the skins when they are cool enough to handle—and watch out for stains!); turnips, which are a great substitute for daikon radish in gaktugi (kimchi); and eggplant, which I have always liked but Mike could live without, and which he doesn’t so much mind in eggplant parmigiana.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that our lives were changed by getting this box of fruits and vegetables each week. There were the obvious health benefits of consuming such a wonderful variety of food packed with vitamins and minerals; we have never avoided colds and flu so effectively in our lives. But I think it has most significantly shaped our characters.
We are more thankful, not only for the fullness of God’s provision in our lives but also for his great creativity and abundance in the kind of the provision he gives to us in the created order. And we have begun to learn the lessons that the Amish and Mennonites seem to understand so clearly: that we are shaped individually and communally so profoundly in the ways we obtain food and consume on a daily basis. (I love how this is so practically expressed in the book Simply in Season.)
As Barbara Kingsolver puts it, “Only our closest friends, probably, have taken real notice of the changes in our household: that nearly all the food we put on our table, in every season, was grown in our garden or very nearby. That the animals we eat took no more from the land than they gave back to it, and led sunlit, contentedly grassy lives. Our children know how to bake bread, stretch mozzarella cheese, ride a horse, keep a flock of hens laying, help a neighbor, pack a healthy lunch, and politely decline the world’s less wholesome offerings. They know the first fresh garden tomato tastes as good as it does, partly, because you’ve been waiting for it since last Thanksgiving, and that the awful one you could have bought at the grocery in between would only subtract from this equation. This rule applies to many things beyond tomatoes” (The Essential Agrarian Reader, xv).
We continue to work toward the day when we will be able to say that fully about our own lives.
I try to make it a point not to be pushy about these things, and I genuinely respect that different people are in different circumstances with different commitments. But if you have made it to this point in the entry, hopefully you will bear with me to make one appeal: take on some form of commitment to eat local and in season for some period of time this year. Where we live in Missouri, it is really difficult to find fresh produce at this time of year, and maybe that is the case for you. So maybe start in May or June. Don’t buy anything that isn’t in season. Actually eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day in conjunction with whatever you normally eat. Each week, try to buy at least one thing you have never had before or make a meal you’ve never had. … And let me know what you think.