Meathead To Go Meatless: Call Me Potatohead

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Why on earth would a cook nicknamed Meathead decide to become Potatohead for 30 days? Why would I violate my well publicized motto "No rules in the bedroom or dining room"?


I have decided I will not bore you with a blow by blow diary of everything I eat. Instead I have posted some notes about what I am eating and cooking, and the problems I encounter here, on my website.

I'll stick to the core concepts, events, and thoughts there. So far this has been easy. My standard breakfast is high fiber cereal with 2% milk and fresh fruit. My standard lunch is a sandwich, this month there will be a lot of tomato sammies with thick slices of homegrown tomatoes, fresh basil, on whole wheat bread. My standard afternoon snack is almonds or carrots. Fact is this is my usual diet, although often lunch has leftover meat from dinner the night before. No longer. Dinner is the only real challenge.

It is fascinating how so many of the commenters below think my mission is to further the vegetarian cause when I say plainly that my mission is to tell meat producers that a prominent meat lover is on strike for 30 days over their methods. This article is NOT about the merits about eating meat. It is about how meat is grown. If you would like to debate the merits of eating meat or not, Huffington Post has a lively ongoing discussion on the subject with an in depth discussion on the subject. Just click here.

8/12 Day 4

This just in: In today's New York Times there is a report from the front lines titled "Farmers Lean to Truce on Animals' Close Quarters". The dateline is West Mansfield, OH, in the heart of Ohio farm country.Here's the lead paragraph "Concessions by farmers in this state to sharply restrict the close confinement of hens, hogs and veal calves are the latest sign that so-called factory farming -- a staple of modern agriculture that is seen by critics as inhumane and a threat to the environment and health -- is on the verge of significant change."

The article goes on to state that the agreement in Ohio is expected to be a model for other states, but it directly addresses the concerns in my article. Some farms will be grandfatehred and will not be forced to change, but new ones will need to meet new regulations that require more physical space for animals in which to live, and reduction of antibiotics. Farmers say "they sense that they must bend with the political and cultural winds."Let's keep the wind up!
In June, in order to better understand the issues surrounding our dietary choices, I wrote an article on Huffington Post called "Meat or No Meat". It attempted to explain the pros and cons of eating meat and divided the arguments into six categories. I continue to edit it based on reader comments.

There have been more than 8,000 passionate comments from everyone from cattle ranchers to PETA members. People feel religiously about this subject. I invite you to go there, read it, and join the debate.

Some of the arguments against meat do not impress me. But two give me pause every time I reach for my tongs:

  1. The way most of our beef, pork, fowl, and fish are grown nowadays, in huge factory farms, can be inhumane.
  2. These methods may be harmful to humans.

I want to use my prominence in the food community and as a man whose reputation was built on cooking meat, to send a message to the factory farms that I think they can do better and that I am willing to pay more for my meat if it is grown better.

2010-08-09-turkey.jpgNotice that I did not say all of our meat concerns me. A growing number of farmers have proven that they can bring high quality meat to market at competitive prices, in a humane way, without use of hormones and preventive antibiotics, and that they can do so with far less an environmental impact than factory farms.

My readings tell me that:

  1. The overuse of preventive antibiotics is probably fostering antibiotic resistant bacteria that can infect humans. Antibiotics are needed to treat sick animals so they cannot be banned. But they should not be used on all animals as prevention because they are kept in too close quarters.

  2. There is a small but significant quantity of valid, scientific, peer-reviewed research that calls into question the meat industry's claim that growth hormones are harmless. Even if there was no contradictory research, the levels that the US Government sets for some meats as "GRAS" (generally regarded as safe) are not thoroughly tested and are unacceptably high to many other countries, including the European Union.
  3. The use of CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) create major waste disposal problems for soil and water that are significantly lessened by distributed farming.

There are many good books on the subject, but here is a free document from the Union of Concerned Scientists "CAFOs Uncovered". If you are busy, at least read the executive summary at the beginning.

I understand that we are addicted to cheap protein as much as we are addicted to cheap oil. I understand that cheap protein has helped the poor feed their families and kept school lunch prices down. I understand that improved animal husbandry will likely mean higher meat prices. If so, I think that we can absorb them. I think that we have alternatives. Those of us who can afford it will buy slightly more expensive meats. Or maybe we will buy less. Maybe some of us will buy other forms of protein and more fruits, vegetables, and grains. And this might not be bad.

In addition to my desire to send a message, I have two other motives:

  1. I have read scores of testimonials from vegetarians about how going meatless made them feel great. I want to see how it makes me feel.
  2. I love veggies and carbs almost as much as meat. I want to challenge my outdoor cooking skills and see if I can discover and create new dishes that will satisfy my meat loving readers. I will also use this as an opportunity to overcome my fear of flour. I will try to learn to bake on the grill.

So beginning August 9, for 30 days I will become an ovo-lacto vegetarian. That means I will forswear all animal flesh, but I will allow myself eggs and dairy. Why not go all the way and leave out the dairy and eggs?

Because I'm chicken. Ummm, I mean, I'm afraid. I'm afraid that my cooking skills will let me down, that the temptation to stray will be too great, and that nutritionally there are some pitfalls to the strict vegan diet and I am not knowledgeable enough to implement. I have learned that one must really understand nutrition to be a strict vegan.

How will this change me? Who knows? It is not likely that I will give up meat forever. I am already looking forward to my famous smoked turkey for Thanksgiving. But I may discover that I need much less meat than I thought. Meatless Mondays might become a habit (fact is there are usually two or three days a week that I don't eat meat already). Then again, after 30 days, I may need it more than ever. The scent of roasting ribs and sizzling steaks are as important to me as music or art.

Will I change the world? No chance. But this meatlover's voice is one more in a growing chorus and perhaps together we can change farming in the US. Perhaps you will join me this next 30 days and just say "no" as you walk past the meat case. After all, August is the easiest month to go vegetarian...

During the next month I plan to find sources for meat grown properly and hopefully locally for when I return to normal. I will share what I learn. I will blog about my experiences on this page and publish my best recipes on Huffington Post and on my website

I have already encountered a problem. A friend emailed me that he had found the most amazing artisan bacon and he want to bring me some. I told him it would have to wait. And I am also trying to figure out how I'm going to do a chicken grilling demo in late August without tasting what I'm cooking.

I invite you to share your ideas for how I can get through the next 30 days in the comments below. If you want to argue about why you think your dietary choices are superior, please go to my other article, "Meat or No Meat" and join the debate there.

HuffPost readers are pretty sharp. Share with me links to peer reviewed quality research that supports or contradicts my position.

I await your advice and brickbats.

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