Every year, more people switch to a healthy, plant-based diet. There is no doubt that the earth and its inhabitants fare better when meat is not a priority at dinner, or breakfast or lunch, for that matter.
The flexitarian diet is a food movement and a way of life putting the emphasis on tolerance, moderation, mutual respect and co-operation, both in the kitchen and at the table. Flexitarians are flexible in the way they think about food, how they cook, and who they serve. A flexitarian may be a strict vegetarian that prepares meals on a regular basis for non-vegetarians. A flexitarian may also be a meat-eater who wants to be healthy and is willing to try new foods and experiment with meatless cooking.
Indeed, the flexitarian diet has no fixed rules. Instead, it recognizes that for some body types, responsible consumption of small amounts of organic beef, lamb, chicken and fish may be beneficial. Proponents of the flexitarian diet encourage people to adopt a healthy eating style, one that is largely based on vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and fruit.
For omnivores, smaller portions of organic, ethical animal proteins are recommended, understanding that North Americans eat far more than the recommended daily portion.
WHAT IS RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION OF MEAT?
The flexitarian eating style accepts that foods from animals can be healthy, environmentally appropriate, and ethical. While informed flexitarians agree that factory-farmed meat is extremely harmful to animals, the environment and humans, they also acknowledge that animals are essential to sustainable farms that grow organic plant food as well as ethically raised animal food. Indeed, animals can increase soil fertility, contribute to pest and weed control, and turn marginal, uncultivated land into food for humans.
Flexitarians consider free-range, pasture-fed, drug-free and non-factory-farmed chickens, turkeys, pigs and cows to be ethically raised.
Flexitarians consider the amount of meat they are consuming each day. In healthy people, increasing protein intake to 20 to 25% of calories can reduce the risk of obesity and heart disease, if the extra protein replaces refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, or sugary drinks. High-quality plant protein (beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and organic fermented soy) along with only one piece of organic meat about the size of your palm, provides optimum daily protein for most people.
Flexitarians also consider the amount of animal protein they eat in a week. They eat meat-free meals at least one day and up to four days each week. As vegetarians know, this practice will have a dramatic effect on the health of the land.
VEGETARIANISM – FAD OR REALITY?
With the steady rise of vegan and vegetarian eating, the increasing availability of clinical data about dietary health, and everyone at a different point along the vegan-to-meat-eating continuum, the flexitarian option is a practical way to meet everyone’s needs.
Mintel International, a leading global market research company, has tracked the flexitarian trend. In its 2003 Vegetarian Foods Report, Mintel noted that only 8% of polled consumers identified as vegetarians. However, in the same year, the market for meat-free foods grew by 40% annually. Mintel attributed the huge growth in meatless foods to ‘occasional’ or ‘flexible vegetarians’ – people who forego meat in favour of vegetarian options most or some of the time.
In December 2010, http://www.epicurious.com predicted that “Meatless Mondays” and “Tofu Thursdays” would help define flexitarianism as a top trend in 2011. The goal of the Meatless Monday movement (http://www.meatlessmonday.ca) is to encourage everyone to cut their meat consumption by 15% – something flexitarians are already doing – for the betterment of our health and the planet.
School districts from New Haven to Santa Barbara have embraced the cause, as have more than 20 public health organizations. The movement has struck a chord on a global scale, with websites springing up in Canada, Europe, the United Kingdom and countries in the Middle East. And it is attracting prominent chefs such as Marcus Samuelsson, as well as celebrities and dignitaries such as Sir Paul McCartney and Hindu statesman Rajan Zed.
Cities, school boards, restaurants and prominent individuals are embracing the flexitarian way of thinking about food.
NETTIE CRONISH – FLEXITARIAN BY FIRE
Thirty-year vegetarian, cookbook author, culinary instructor, wife and mother of three non-vegetarians, Nettie Cronish knows all about tolerance in the kitchen and at the table.
The Toronto-based organic foods chef learned to adapt after her children decided to start eating meat. “I couldn’t leave and I didn’t want to make food a tense issue at meal times, so I learned to bend,” she says. “I presented the facts about factory meat and white sugar without emotion. I learned to accept their curiosity about food and as long as they were making healthy food choices, I began to take it in stride.”
Cronish’s family experiences were the catalyst for a book about the flexitarian eating style. She was thrilled when, sometime in the 1990s, the word ‘flexitarian’ was coined, because it put a name to her family’s eating habits. It also helped her focus on the concepts behind the book she co-authored with me. Together, in Everyday Flexitarian, we found a way to present great vegetarian recipes that could be sensibly embellished to account for meat-eaters.
With sales topping 5,000 copies in less than nine months, Everyday Flexitarian appears to have touched a nerve with Canadians. Below, Nettie shares some of the recipes from the book.
The recipes in Everyday Flexitarian are flexible enough to serve six vegetarians or four vegetarians and two omnivores or two vegetarians and four omnivores. It all depends on the amount, if any, of the meat portions added to the recipe.
For all-vegetarian dishes, ignore the instructions in red. For four vegetarian and two meat portions, follow both the black and the red instructions. For two vegetarians and four meat portions, double the amount of meat called for and follow both the black and red instructions.
Sweet Potato, Fennel and Apple Salad
Sweet potatoes come in many varieties with skins ranging from tan to purple and flesh from pale yellow to red- orange. They combine well with a wide range of flavours, from aromatic spices to fleshy fruits, nuts, chilies and fresh herbs. The combination of olive oil, apple cider vinegar and pomegranate syrup lend a fruity and fragrant essence to the dressing for this salad. Splashes of toasted sesame oil and tart-sweet pomegranate syrup balance the acidic tones of the vinegar. Toasted walnuts complement the hint of sesame oil. (Serves 6.)
- 3 sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch rounds
- 2 apples, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 cup coarsely chopped fennel bulb
- ½ cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
- ½ red onion, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup chopped dried cherries or cranberries
- ¼ cup toasted sesame oil
- 2 Tbsp olive oil, hemp or safflower oil
- ¼ cup organic unpasteurized apple cider vinegar (Filsinger’s is a good local brand)
- 1 Tbsp Pomegranate Glaze (see below) or brown rice syrup
1) Cook sweet potatoes in a saucepan, covered with water, over medium-high heat for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse under cold water. When cool enough to handle, remove and discard peel. Combine apples, fennel, walnuts, onion, cherries and sweet potatoes in a bowl. Whisk together olive oil, sesame oil, vinegar and pomegranate glaze in a bowl (or shake in a jar) to combine. Pour over salad ingredients and toss to mix.
A glaze is thicker than a sauce, and something you can spread or “glaze” over ingredients. This sauce is sold commercially as pomegranate molasses. (Makes 2 cups.)
- 4 cups (1 L) pomegranate juice
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1) Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat and keep simmering gently for about 1 hour, on until thick and syrupy. Liquid should be reduced by at least one half. Pour the hot liquid into a canning jar before cooling. Cap, label, and let cool. Use immediately, or store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Kale with Pine Nuts, Cranberries and Smoked Salmon
Lacinato kale stands apart from other greens. It has long, crinkled green leaves, whose color intensifies with cooking and is a very beautiful dish to serve. Remove the center ribs from the leaves and chop or thinly slice the leaves for this dish. Have the water or stock on hand, but if the wok or skillet is heavy and the heat is low enough, the kale won’t stick and you won’t need it. (Makes 4 veg + 2 meat servings.)
Trout, whitefish, tuna and grilled seafood are very nice with the braised kale. There are sweet hits from the cranberries and raisins and buttery nutty bites from the toasted pine nuts, rendering the greens richly complex. You can add Tempeh Sausage and Ground Pork Patties (page 206 in cookbook) with this for a complete meal in a pan.
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 8 cups lightly packed thinly sliced kale leaves (2 lb/1 kg)
- ½ cup water or Vegetable Stock
- ½ cup dried cranberries or raisins
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ cup toasted pine nuts
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 5 oz (150 g) smoked salmon (preferably wild, not farmed)
1) Heat olive oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently for 30 seconds. Add kale in 2-cup amounts and reduce heat to medium. Stir for about a minute and as kale begins to shrink, add next 2 cups along with small amounts of water (about 2 Tbsp) to keep the kale from sticking as it cooks. When all the kale has been added, cook, stirring and tossing for 5 to 7 minutes or until tender. Add cranberries, lemon juice and pine nuts. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring and tossing to coat the kale. Season with salt and pepper and lift out onto 6 plates. Separate the salmon into large flakes using a fork. Divide the flakes in half and garnish two plates of cooked kale.
Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate Glaze
Always buy the smallest Brussels sprouts. They are more tender and sweeter. You can also roast halved Brussels sprouts, tossed with 2 Tbsp olive oil, in the oven at 450° F for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender. I often add a tablespoon of good quality Balsamic vinegar just before serving. (Serves 6.)
- 2 lb (1 kg) Brussels sprouts, halved and trimmed
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp Pomegranate Glaze
- 1 cup shelled pistachio nuts
1) Add enough water to reach the bottom of a collapsible steamer set in a 4-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Place Brussels sprout halves in steamer basket, cover and steam for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender. Or cover Brussels sprouts with water in a saucepan and bring the water to a boil. Reduce heat and lightly boil for 10 to 12 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add steamed or boiled and drained Brussels sprouts. Cook, stirring constantly for 2 to 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Drizzle pomegranate glaze over and toss to mix well. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with pistachio nuts.
Pat Crocker is a Culinary Herbalist, Home Economist and Healthy Food Writer. She loved working with Nettie on Everyday Flexitarian, which is now available along with Pat’s other books including Preserving, 150 Best Tagine Recipes, The Yogurt Bible, The Vegan Cook’s Bible, The Vegetarian Cook’s Bible, The Juicing Bible and The Smoothies Bible, at bookstores throughout Canada and the United States. Write or e-mail Pat at 536 Mill Street, Neustadt ON N0G 2M0, email@example.com. Visit her online at http://www.riversongherbals.com or http://www.foodwedsherbs.blogspot.com