Less meat…at our table!

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For a certain period of time, I have been vegetarian.

The reasons why I have been, continue to be the same ones why, after some time, I came back to be omnivorous : the respect of the species killed and the uniqueness of their life, the care of my personal and my loved ones’ health and being mindful of the consequences of my choices and actions, even in the food compartment.

For me, these statements are not insignificant. In fact, they have a ‘fundamental importance in my life and still guide the ethical and food choices of our family.

“If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

 

These few words have been printed inside me since few years, after having read a very famous book by Jonathan Safran Foer . A novel, or an essay, or an investigation, I do not know how to define it well, which for many has become the banner of vegetarians or vegans, but, in my opinion, is much more than that.

Indeed, this book, in my opinion, speaks more to omnivores than to vegetarians or vegans. In fact, it has no intention of dividing the world into categories of human meat eaters, ugly and bad, and of who does not eat it, good and compassionate. It would be too easy and, indeed, there would be no need for another book on the subject.

Who wants to know, in fact, as it is highly inhuman and horribly cruel, and the ‘ intensive livestock designed and kept alive, if you can still speak of life, exclusively for meat slaughter ready for the indiscriminate use of such (un) human will already have way of knowing. And, if they pursues theirs actions , they will certainly have their own reasons, which justify such behavior.

Into Who does not want to know, continues to quietly think this overall situation of our entire ecosystem, does not concern him at all , and really the meat they buy, cut and packaged, or already turned into food ready to be consumed, has been taken from animals killed without any kind of pain and that were grazing placidly until a few hours before the green lawns and courtyards clean and spacious depicted in advertising, which also unconsciously choose to eat every day.

Into Instead, what the author shows us very simply, with grace, sweetness and genuineness of those who move with purity of heart in the harshness of the world and among the diversity of people with whom they compare respectfully, is that, although man is born omnivorous and hunter, as well as collector and then, grower, has on his side the opportunity to choose to eat food that the animal (meat and fish for vegetarians, but also dairy products and eggs for vegans) can be consciously excluded or drastically reduced, in view of ethical values based on compassion for living beings on our planet and in the name of human existence that is raised in a equal and respectful towards other forms of life.

all this, first of all, because the consumption of meat, especially on the part of American civilization (on which the author bases his investigation, but that also reflects our European way of life) is absolutely disproportionate to the needs of the population of the U.S.: so that the total quantity could even feed the entire world population.

And, secondly, because this orientation is unidirectional, is not dictated by cultural propensities, and even less for geographical reasons, but by a gradual and calculated planning of ‘ flattening the taste according to rules of ruthless economic market , which produces meat for slaughter at very low cost and very high gain, exploiting animals now completely distorted both quality of life for genetic factors built in the laboratory.

Tthis political-economic strategy, which has over time changed the entire look of geo-territorial thousands and thousands of acres of American lands, used exclusively for the cultivation of maize for fodder, also GM , based on the consumption of meat and fish from intensive farming it is the base of nutrition (and health) of an entire nation, but not only of it.

However, what is clear from any segetarian, vegan or simply between omnivores aware, is that the world of food available to us, is rather vast and varied . Often (and this speech goes beyond direct analysis of meat and fish, but concerns all food) we are all mentally imprisoned by types of food preparation and consumption of it, dictated more by cultural habits, that choices , while it would be desirable to have a greater openness to other foods and ingredients, likewise nutrients that we simply do not know or are not relevant to our culture.

While it is true that you have to favor the consumption of local food, both for quality issues, but also for reasons of sustainability, it is true that nobody forces us to conceive the way we eat solely based on what that most of our peers or parents, have done and continues to do , just because we live in a certain place or belong to a certain food culture.

Let us take as an example the structure of an Italian dining, made of a temporal sequence of a cereal-based first course, of a protein main course and a vegetable side. If we think about it, this is a completely absurd law, if it means limited to stay within the boundaries of this theoretical framework. And everyone can, without detracting from the healthy and enviable tradition of Italian cuisine, enjoy the same nutritional components in a single course or in a different sequence or composition of them.

This kind of reasons, must be applied when it comes to meat and fish, too: essential for our daily protein intake, are absolutely replaceable with other plant foods (legumes , cereal protein, algae, oil seeds) or fleshless protein foods (dairy, eggs) that can and should support the diversity of our food choices both for our health and for that of our entire planet.

Everyone, even the most skeptical and reluctant to this kind of awareness, are aware of how many precious resources are used and depleted to support the intensive rearing and the industrial production of meat and fish. And in a cross-cultural and globalized world, it is equally absurd to focus on consumer choices and market-driven economic reasons, rather than to personal taste or ideological choices.

In my opinion, we must always have in mind that we all, as consumers, have the power to weigh our choices in the food department. Take as an example, fresh fish: from personal experience I know that the local markets in my area, are stocked with almost always the same types of not raised fresh fish: cod, sole, sea bass and sea bream, or fish already filleted (and for God’s sake, without thorns!) as Pangasius. Only rarely is another type of fish, but the seafood. Yet our Mediterranean Sea is full of oily fish, such as anchovies, sardines, anchovies, herring, mackerel or mackerel, sea bream, or pagello. But this fish, it is very little, if you ask why, all the merchants I’ve heard, they told me that mostly, all this kind of fish, not even is able to reach the general markets, because there is little demand from consumers. I can surely wonder it’s true, as a mackerel, absolutely comparable in taste and nutritional qualities to salmon and tuna, costs at least 5 times less per kilo compared to a noble sole!. Yet, on the rare occasions that I found it, I bought it and we all have tasted its delicacy and versatility. And for once, some cods and soles, were able to swim a little longer in the sea.

That is to say, that in our small way, we consumers can do much in directing the laws of the market. Ultimately, the final word belongs really to us and nobody else. Being able to diversify our food choices, especially for us omnivores, is a matter of great ethical value, as well as for health and economic developmental reasons.

In our family, we have never been of greatest consumers of meat. We have always tried to vary the protein alternatives on the table. However, since the children have become older and have started eating school lunches and taking part to social events, we noticed that both had suddenly changed their taste, preferring far produced and ready for use foods, almost always meat, to those based on vegetables or fish. Not to mention the vegetables, which at one point seemed not to tolerate even the sight of them!

It was not easy, and in some cases still is, getting progressively with the patience and tenacity of a Chinese drop, to redirect their converted taste , to the path of variety and to the attractiveness of a non-synthetic, but natural taste. I must say that I got great results. Even the most stubborn and recalcitrant one, that if it depended only on him, would go on with meat, pasta, pizza and fries only.

It’s been a gradual, but consistent path, and nowadays we are seated on a once a week consumption of meat (local, organic and comes from animals that have had room to move around and eat grass pasture or bean), without counting the Sunday lunch at grandparents’ or those children eat at the school canteen (which in 60-70% of cases unfortunately involves prepared, although fortunately, organic, meat or frozen fish. ). And for the rest a varied choice of vegetables, dairy products, eggs and oil seeds.

Actually, we don’t miss meat at all, especially because over time we have learned to use legumes as protein-based and absolutely equivalent meal to flesh based ones, even in methods of preparation. In fact, I must admit, on many occasions, it has earned us a additional great taste!

 

To give you an example, here is be the best veggie burgers we have ever eaten!

And plus, we usually serve them the American way, with lots of ketchup and in an homemade bun!

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Homemade hazelnut chocolate cream

Everybody likes chocolate cream….and my children do as well.

For a long time, one of my most challenging cooking struggles has been feeding them mindfully and thoughtfully without making them feel the “About a boy” syndrome (do you remember that the mother “healthy” homemade bread was thrown in the park lake by her child and killed the duck?)

For me, one of the foods that can emblematically embrace the wise compromise between “healthy” and “social convenience” is Nutella.

So, proud to fight the system, I let my children eat … our own version of it!

It all begun as an interesting experiment, but I can tell, since that day, that chocolate cream has become our favorite, overtaking the most widespread one!

So this is “my” version:

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It’s been told it could last more than 15-20 days, if well refrigerated…but somehow we don’t know by our own experience!

Weekly menu planning

We are almost there.
Between more or less 2 weeks, our family life will have a new start, again.
And this time, all 4 of us will be completely into that!
As I wrote before, we are all very excited. And we have absolutely no idea what our life will change into.

During this transitional period, I need, more that ever, clear and steady strategies. And, as an organizer junkie, I am making my way to create them, taking faith to the personal need of clearness and to our priorities as a family.

From a practical point of view, one of the best organizing strategies I have ever applied to simplify our family life, has been creating and using a weekly menu planning.

Together with daily and weekly routines, that I would be pleased to talk about when I have the chance, creating a menu-plan is something I use to organize a consistent part of our family life.
Knowing in advance which are the main dinners of the coming week, it’s a useful tool to avoid the famous “5 p.m. stress”, I mean the eternal question every mom asks herself at that time of the day: “What’s for dinner?”
With menu-planning, this issue won’t belong to you anymore, or in any case, that question has a clear answer, every day.

At the beginning, more or less one and a half year ago, I began writing meals according to my children school-lunches menu: to avoid repetitions, I made up my mind to create 5 dinners a week that were different from what they ate for lunch at school. It was amusing to notice our health soon benefited from this simple strategy: there was more variety and a more mindful choice of nutritive components.

Actually, menu-planning has been a huge help regarding economic reasons, too: it allows us to write a grocery list in advance and, shopping with this only, it saves time and money. It also limits trips to/from grocery stores during the week, then it allows us to shop once a week and save even more!

Menu-planning, mostly during my last trimester of pregnancy, has become extremely helpful for our family menage because it allows me to spend less time as possible, even in actually just planning the menus.
I like cooking and I must admit I don’t excessively stress on spending time daily in the kitchen, but in these last months of pregnancy, I have included some important changes to the planning part that helped me so much in getting the most, with less effort.

In fact I began to plan 2 weeks of menus in only one session of planning.
Mostly, I understood clearly that, according to my family’s habits and tastes, we didn’t actually need to plan for brand new menus every week. We just needed 2 flexible and down-to-earth menus, just to make my life easier and effortless in terms of focusing and pre-planning.

Firstly, according briefly to children lunches’, I planned the protein choices (aka the main courses) of dinners, for 2 weeks.
I actually don’t need to plan for produce (veggies and fruits), because I am more or less aware of our weekly consumption and I actually shop for what is available in season and at the local farmer market.
Also, I usually choose easy and fast recipes for our week-days meals, and they happen to be the kind of meals we indeed like the most.

Then, I planned a 2 weeks-scheme of dinners that I alternate every 2 weeks.
Having planned main courses only, their flexibility allows to avoid feeling bored and enjoy enough variety.

That’s an example of my 2 weeks menu-plan:

1st week:
MONDAY: meat (chili or marinades, chicken or venison)
TUESDAY: soup and fish
WEDNESDAY: cheese and legumes (steamed lentils, beans with tomato sauce, steamed chickpeas or homemade falafel, rice and peas…)
THURSDAY: burritos and stir fry veggies
FRIDAY: fish or homemade pizza (it depends on what we prefer the most)
SATURDAY: I plan for lunch, too: eggs (omelet, sunny-side eggs, hard boiled or à la coque). For dinner: american style (buns and french fries)
SUNDAY: we usually go out at relatives’ or at friends’ for lunch (pasta and meat main course) so we take it easy at dinner: just a sandwich or a light veggie soup with grated cheese on top.

2nd week:
MONDAY: meat (meatballs, crumbed or roasted meat or frozen in advance meat)
TUESDAY: cheese and legumes
WEDNESDAY:eggs
THURSDAY: soup and legumes
FRIDAY: pasta and fish
SATURDAY: I plan for lunch, too: pasta with homemade pesto (or something that includes seeds) For dinner: homemade pizza
SUNDAY: light & take-it-easy dinner: veggie soup with grated cheese on top.

I also planned for breakfasts, snacks and my weekdays lunches, but I usually look at them for ideas or for checking I am eating the healthiest as possible, especially now that I am pregnant. I often eat dinner leftovers and I bake breakfast meals in advance (cakes, pan brioches, cookies….)
It helps a lot cooking in bulk dinner’s main courses in advance and freeze them for the week. I usually prefer to cook in less sessions I can: it’s useful for saving time and for spending less in daily kitchen cleaning.
Also, if we like to try something new, I can easily choose the recipe ingredients according to the main scheme of the day.

So this is the scheme I apply for our family living, but it’s easy to adapt it to everyone’s style and habits.
It’s a helpful approach I surely invite you to implement, as well. I know it would be very helpful to us, especially during the first months after baby’s arriving, when we will really need to shop and cook the less as possible. This method also doesn’t require my supervision, because it’s so simple my husband can easily use it on his own.

Surely, life will be extremely busy during next months and knowing this part of our family life is more or less, under control allows me to de-stress and to focus only on what/who really requires my full attention.

And what about you? Which are the strategies you use and suggest in planning your family meals?