The beef rant. As promised.
Okay, I love meat. In spirit and desire, I'm a total carnivore. I don't even like to dress it up with much seasoning or salt--there's not much I like better than a nice juicy steak. Just lovely and delicious and...wow.
However. I don't eat them much any more. (In fact, I can't remember when the last time I had a steak was...unless it was that night Al and I went out to Ruth's Chris for our schmantzy first anniversary date. That was six years ago. Wow, has it been that long?) I still eat beef occasionally, but usually as a second-billed ingredient and only in things where I can't substitute something else. And on Superbowl Sunday I relent and actually put beef in the chili. And yesterday's blog entry did mention how we'll still do beef lunchmeat from time to time, but I'm working on excising that. Don't tell Al. (It's okay, he probably knows.)
Last summer I read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. This is not a book for anyone who wants to remain in blissful bigfoot ignorance or who would have deep personal pain about never wanting to pull into a McDonald's drive-thru again. You'll learn more than you ever wanted to know, but what will gross you out more is realizing how much of this semi-food you've been eating without knowing what was in it and how it got to you. Since then I've read a few more books (Pollan's In Defense of Food is also really good, and sort of less scary.) --but Omnivore is that rare book that has actually hit me hard enough to, overnight, change the way I think of food and eating. Read it. Read both. (Omnivore grossed me out and scared good habits into me, and Defense gave me a way to live those habits with some joy and hope.)
Did you know that cows have to consume 16 times as much grain to produce an equal amount of meat? That's before even getting to the part about how they are fed food that's bad for them and makes them sick (corn, which they can't digest properly...that's why grass-fed beef is so much more expensive), then pumped full of antibiotics to keep them alive long enough to be fattened enough for market. That's also without factoring in refrigeration and processing of the cattle into meat. Chicken is better, but only a little--something like 8:1 instead of 16:1. I mean, yes, significantly better, but if it takes 1 acre of rice to meet the caloric needs of, say 8 people, and 5 acres to feed chicken to feed the same 8, and 10 acres for the same caloric result in beef, well, do the math. (These figures adapted from michaelbluejay.com/veg/environment.html --but check around, this is becoming fairly common knowledge.)
Mark Bittman's Food Matters is another good book on this topic--he explores (and supports fairly well, though with somewhat propagandy if effective hyperbole) the now fairly widely disseminated idea that the single best thing every American could do to reduce their carbon footprint has little to do with consuming less oil and everything to do with consuming less meat. I highly recommend it, although while I'd buy and re-read the Pollan books, I'd probably get the Bittman from the library first. His recipes are good, but their appeal to the greenmama is eclipsed by the skepticism of the speedymama. In fact, it is the book that led to the inception of this blog--I wanted to document at least my own ways of living the values without spending the time his methods seem to require. (He also talks a lot about packaging, like how it takes something like 1600 calories in expended energy to make that plastic bottle the zero calorie water is served in. Sort of appalling.)
So, below is a recipe for an "alternate" taco, with no meat at all. Does it taste like beef? Can you tell the difference? Well...no, it doesn't, and yes you can. But it's still yummy. And made in quantity and stored in the freezer, it's pretty labor-light.
Tasty Lentil Tacos
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon canola oil
- 1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup salsa
- 12 taco shells or lightly toasted corn tortillas (taco shells are easier; corn tortillas can be fried or grilled to a little crispy, sort of floppier than regular taco shells but in my opinion way yummier. And at least in Chicago, no "authentic" Mexican restaurant serves the pre-shaped-Taco-Bell kind of taco shells...)
- Grilled or sauteed seasoned bell peppers and onions--I tend to make a lot of this and then throw it into various things. I'll recipe this one of these days and reference back to here.
- shredded lettuce
- chopped fresh tomato
- shredded cheese (cheddar, jack, pepper jack, whatever you like!) (If you live in a place where Mexican groceries are easily available, Chihuahua cheese is the best. It's delicately flavored, but also really high-fat.)
- mediterranean yogurt or yogurt cheese (or sour cream--but it doesn't have the Good Stuff in it yogurt does.)
- In a large nonstick skillet, saute the onion and garlic in oil until tender. Add the lentils, chili powder, cumin and oregano; cook and stir for 1 minute. Add broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Uncover; cook for 6-8 minutes or until mixture is thickened. Mash lentils slightly.
- Stir in salsa. Spoon about 1/4 cup lentil mixture into each taco shell. Top with lettuce, tomato, cheese and optional yogurt or yogurt cheese. (Or sour cream)