Topline Trends Tuesday: Almost – or just sometimes – meatless

May 12, 2009


Is anyone sick of me bragging about how I identified a new trend first? Rest assured, you aren’t alone. The people forced to spend time with me on a regular basis tell me they’re really sick of me pointing my finger at books and products and shrieking, “See!” I know it’s a flaw. I own it.

That said, I’ll do it again. In fact, I’m doing it right now by writing this post about the trend toward eating less meat for environmental reasons. I’m almost sick of congratulating myself on this one but very glad to see that the trend has developed in such credible ways and been buoyed up by great writing from talented food journalists.

On the cookbook front, there’s the lovely and eminently usable Almost Meatless (10 Speed Press, 2009) by Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond. This book helps people who want to eat less meat — whether for cost, health or environmental reasons — to do so enjoyably.

In the world of newspapers, venerable New York Times food editor Mark Bittman wrote this influential piece about meat and environmentalism that I encourage you to read or least click on since the picture at the top of his article is startling, in-and-of itself.

But, if you’re too lazy to click away from this page, you can read the following January 2008 article I wrote on the same topic that was picked up by numerous Canadian newspapers.
Will Soy Save Our Planet?
By Dana McCauley

Daily news stories about global warming and climate control are influencing Canadians to modify their shopping, cooking and eating habits. Although pasta, meatloaf and pizza nights are still common weekly mealtime traditions in many Canadian households, some consumers are even revising their menu plans. In fact, including a ‘tofu night’ is expected to become a more common response to recent reports that eating less meat can reduce green house gas emissions significantly.

Leading the way in education is United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization scientist and Nobel Prize winner Rajendra Pachauri who recently declared meat a very carbon-intensive commodity. In a public statement she explained that whenever we choose meat for supper, we’re contributing more to the creation of harmful greenhouse gases than we might be aware: Global demand for meat has quadrupled in the last 35 years, which has led to the industrialization of farming practices. A by-product of this change is that raising livestock now consumes enormous amounts of energy.

Another motivation urging consumers to consider change is news from Health Canada that meat is not always the healthiest mealtime choice. In fact, the recently revised Canada’s Food Guide for Healthy Eating encourages Canadians to choose meat alternates (soy, legumes, etc) more often to reduce intake of dietary saturated fat. Although we can all learn how to combine legumes and vegetables to create nutritious meals that provide adequate protein, one of the easiest ways for home cooks to replace meat is to cook with tofu.

Tofu is made from iron rich soybeans that have been ground, cooked and pressed in a method that is quite similar to making cheese. “Growing soy beans and using them to create tofu uses much less energy than raising livestock,” comments Amy Snider, a spokesperson for Sunrise Tofu.

Likewise, eating soybeans and soybean products like tofu ourselves instead of feeding them to livestock is a better use of energy on a calorie-for-calorie basis. The Japanese National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science reports that producing a 250-calorie piece of meat requires that the animal eat at least 500-calories (and up to 2500-calories for some types of animals) of grain and/or soy feed.

Plus, with the exception of very tender cuts, meat usually requires much more energy for cooking than soy based meals, too. “While slow simmered stews or roasted meats often need hours to be prepared properly, many recipes made with tofu require cooking times of fifteen minutes or less. As a result, energy savings that can help the environment compound when you choose to serve tofu for dinner at least once a week,” points out Snider.

But are consumers really ready to adopt ‘tofu night’ en masse? In light of the success of other green initiatives, it seems likely that they are. Successful consumer product launches for ‘green profile’ non-food items are more frequent. For instance environmentally friendlier products such as non-stick Green Pans, unbleached parchment paper and baking cups, recycled aluminum foil and disposable cutlery made from biodegradable potato starch are products that are making their way into shopping carts more often.

Likewise, the growing locavore trend has renewed interest in home vegetable gardening, farmer’s markets and Upick farms. To preserve the local bounty for the off-season, Canadian cooks are returning to home canning and showing a renewed appreciation for home freezers. Sales of gadgets such as the Vacu-seal, which removes air quickly and easily from packages, appeal to these green consumers who want to keep their produce in tip-top shape.

So, while some old traditions such as canning and freezing produce are being renewed, new traditions such as learning to cook with tofu are expected to trend up as consumers take their green intentions home. (written January 2008)