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Rethinking Meal Structures

Why our protein-centered food model could use some work


You know you're a veg type when a lot of what you eat comes in quotation marks. For example, I just broke fast on some "bacon", "buttered" toast and coffee with "cream". Not that I'm complaining. That Morning Star fake-on (facon? fakon? I don't know, man) was good enough to make me rethink my policy on meat substitutes and Earth Balance tastes butterier than the butteriest butter. And neither is full of things that will kill me from the outside. In fact, I've recently come to the conclusion that vegan junk food is the best kind, because you can gorge on frozen burritos and "ice cream" and not feel like a molten ball of grease after the fact.

That being said, I still have some problems with constructing a vegetarian or vegan diet from reconstructed meat-eaters' menus. The social constructs regarding what, when and how we eat tend to obstruct the whole foods, plant-based diet that's not only compassionate toward other sentient life, but also much healthier than the norm. 

The idea of a diet centered around meat and grains with fruits and vegetables as afterthoughts seems utterly anachronistic in this day and age. We're not serfs anymore. We don't have to rely on meats and breads just to get enough calories to get through the day. Yet we're socially conditioned to eat as though we still lived in the middle ages, when fresh plant foods weren't yet farmed and distributed. These days, you can pick up bananas and lettuce at your local 7-11--yet we're still socially conditioned to believe that animal proteins and starches are the best supplies with which to put together a meal.

It's a construct that fuels that age-old "what do you eat?" question whenever an omnivore learns of our dietary habits. But the truth is that most of us can survive just fine on what most would tend to consider side dishes. I keep it simpler than most, but I've still made entire meals out of just sauteed chard or roasted asparagus. No central protein, no excess carbs, just slightly enhanced plants. And yes, I feel full after eating. Swallow down half a braised cabbage and tell me you don't feel full. It's a different kind of full, maybe, from the meat-based one most are used to, but that's largely because you're not inundating your digestive tract with too much stuff it's not really supposed to process. We didn't evolve physiologically to subsist on refined sugars and proteins alone. We need leaves, nuts, roots, fruits. Stuff that springs up from the ground and falls from trees, whole, untampered-with. It's about time we invert that meal model and put the green stuff at the center. Meat can be the afterthought, if we think of it at all.