Chef Geoff's Vegetarian Escapade

I must preface this column with a strong disclaimer: I have always enjoyed eating meat. In my mind, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a thick, juicy medium-rare steak, sizzling hot off the grill. With that in mind, I’d like to talk about a little experiment that I’m about to perform on myself (and, to some degree, on my family).

This experiment is fueled, primarily, by ongoing discussions of renewable food sources. This led, perhaps inevitably, to some examination of the vegetarian lifestyle, as vegetable food sources are the epitome of renewable food. There are essentially two types of vegetarians: vegans, who eat no animal products whatsoever, and ovo-lacto vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products. Many people consider those who eat no meat with the exception of fish to be vegetarians as well, but these people can accurately be referred to as pescatarians. There are any number of reasons why people choose to enjoy a vegetarian lifestyle, but there appears to be three main motivations.

First of all, a proper vegetarian diet is simply healthier than one which contains animal fat. The myriad of health problems from which Americans suffer are often related to poor diet. And, in many cases, the chief culprit in that diet is cholesterol, which is, of course, the result of animal fat. Thus, the burger, ribs, and steak can be held at least partly responsible for the issue of cholesterol-related maladies, like heart disease. A vegan diet, by definition, removes the intake of animal fat. However, even an ovo-lacto vegetarian will consume substantially less animal fat than his carnivorous counterpart.

The second reason is one of morality. Many people feel that the act of killing animals for food is morally wrong. Their arguments and concerns become even more compelling when one takes into account the industrialization of farming. There is public outcry over the manner in which these animals are treated, as recently graphically presented in a number of hidden camera exposés or on the PETA website. Those who opt for the vegetarian lifestyle on a moral basis still reap the benefits of a healthier, low cholesterol diet.

The remaining reason is, in my view, a combination of economic and social concerns. It takes a tremendous amount of resources to produce meat for our table. In point of fact, the energy expended for fuel, fertilizer, irrigation, and elimination of other potential crops to produce the bushels of corn in order to feed the Black Angus which will eventually show up as a steak on my plate represents a net loss. If the vegetable product was used directly to feed humans or other products were farmed instead, it would go farther than the beef which was fed on the corn. Thus, the concern is one wherein people must ask themselves if creating a loss on the production balance sheet makes sense, especially given the rising number of famines across the globe. As with those who undertake the lifestyle out of moral concerns, those who move in this direction as a result of these socioeconomic reasons still have a healthier diet than most.

From a personal standpoint, I would rather take on the burden of downsizing meat portions and getting exercise to deal with the health issues. Likewise, from the moral standpoint, it is not my personal belief that there is anything immoral about being in the same circle of life as are other carnivores (or omnivores). I must admit that the cruelty issue has given me pause on occasion, but there are always free-range chickens, grass-fed beef, and similar happy animals which, while no less dead than the industrial-raised animal, were presumably more content while they were alive. The motivation for my experiment is the mathematical stupidity of using more food product to produce less. It seems to be the opposite of a renewable food source - an intentional depletion, purposefully investing more resources to produce less food.

Those of you who have followed my culinary ramblings know that I’m not hesitant to add a new food to my diet. I have what might be referred to as an adventurous palate. I enjoy trying new dishes, preparations, and foodstuffs. Many times I find I really enjoy the addition, sometimes not. In many cases, the additions become standards in my repertoire. But, generally, I’ve always changed my palate through addition. This time, however, I’ll attempt an addition by subtraction.

And so, I announce that on March 20, 2007, I am making a fairly major, if temporary, change. To better understand what it is to be a vegetarian, for the next several weeks, I will strive to be an ovo-lacto vegetarian. I will add to my diet by the subtraction of meat in it. And, because it would be far too easy to simply subsist on omelets supplemented by Boca Burgers, it is my intent to continue to be one who eats to live, rather than lives to eat. Rather than looking towards dinner with a trepidation and a “what, no steak again” attitude, my attempt will be to use this as an opportunity to seek out dishes and recipes that are not a part of my usual mix, but ones that, hopefully, will become a regular part of the meal repertoire.

And, my dear readers, I want to take you along as the experiment proceeds. I will be posting, in the Chef Geoff section of the Lakewood Observer Observation Deck, some daily ramblings and thoughts, my food intake, and recipes tried as this experiment progresses. Please feel free to add your own advice and insights as my culinary journey continues.
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Volume 3, Issue 6, Posted 2:48 PM, 03.11.2007