Unless you’ve been under
some or other lockdown a rock for the last few years, you cannot but know about the growing popularity of a plant-based diet. If you read my blog from time to time, by now you’ll also know a few things like:
- I have long (like, thirty plus years) been a wannabe vegetarian.
- My father was a
gardenerhorticulturist, and I grew up in a garden that had the biggest vegetable patch in the universe. Growing vegetables and composting is in my genes.
- I am married to a dedicated carnivore who spent all of his working life in some or other role in stock farming, from beef to poultry and a few things in between – in Zimbabwe and South Africa. You could say, I married Farmer Brown.
A “sustainable” approach to doing things is not a new concept – to me
My 1978 Geography teacher who became a mentor and later a friend, was the first person, that I remember, talking about the dangers of global warming, climate change and environmental conservation, non-renewable resources, like water, coal and oil, as well as the hazards of plastic.
Those lessons stuck and I went on to study, along with English, Geography.
Needless to say, The Husband and I both have strong views about this plant-based
fad trend that seems to have replaced the keto diet of a few years ago.
“It” should be about more than just food. As a beef rancher, preserving and maintaining natural pasture was central to production, productivity and healthy beasties – his word – cows are still has favourite animal.
This brings me to a critical point that he constantly and consistently makes when the question of a dedicated plant-based diet inevitably comes up in conversation:
What about people who live in areas and where you can’t grow crops?
This applies to significant parts of South Africa: close to home, the Karoo. We live on the cusp of the Karoo – classified as a semi-desert. The recovered productivity of our vegetable garden is thanks to the investment in a borehole. Not too far away, is a “proper” desert, the Kalahari. Significant parts of central west and north Africa, are not arable and where communities, like those in the Sahara and the Sahel who live (or try) as they have for centuries. Yes, people forage, but they also hunt and/or keep livestock often leading nomadic lifestyles. If they could not eat meat and use animal products, they’d not (have) survive(d). As it is, these cultures are threatened; that, however, is another discussion for another time.
The conflict in many of these regions is associated with either the shortage, or decimation of, natural and traditional resources because of population growth, climate change and politics. The same applies to indigenous communities on other continents.
Busting the farmer myth
Back to The Husband: he refers, specifically to Matebeleland, the part of Zimbabwe where he ranched – free range – cattle in the late 70s. At the time, he was part of a team (in a multinational company) that roundly rejected the use of growth hormone in animal husbandry. Contrary to popular opinion, many (good) stock farmers are animal lovers, who treat their animals with great respect and humanity and are very concerned about the environment.
Before he fell into stock farming, The Husband was an aspirant vet. Agriculture and farming, are (with water) the source of life, never mind, livelihoods. He abhors, and hated working in, the broiler chicken industry and, similarly, dislikes the practice of feedlots, all of which have become necessary. Agriculture has had to consistently and constantly increase production to keep up with demand.
Demand driven by both population numbers and the almost universal shift towards a “western” style diet which has seen red meat consumption burgeon.
Ethics and spirituality-based choices
Other arguments for dietary choices are based on ethics and spirituality (or religion). These I understand and respect. When someone says to me that s/he will eat nothing with a face, I get it. I also acknowledge, in my own admittedly
hypocritical Piscean way, on working very hard at not thinking about the journey an animal must take from pasture to plate.
A couple of weeks ago, I heard a discussion about the climate diet. Of course, I listened with only half an ear, but thought (with my Geographer’s brain),
That sounds to me like “proper” seasonal food: eat what’s mostly indigenous, in season and available locally.
McFadyen also introduced the concept of “flexitarian”: someone who moves between omnivore, vegetarian and vegan. This is just like me, and, more reluctantly, The Husband, who admits to being most comfortable as an omnivore. He waxes lyrical about how humans’ dentition proves that we are designed to be omnivorous.
I did a little research ahead of writing this because one source to which I’d only paid half a mind wasn’t enough. Initially, what popped up suggested that one had to eschew all meat and dairy in favour of a plant-based diet. On further delving, my research revealed that my instinctive understanding was on point: the climate diet is part of living more lightly (being among other things, carbon and environmentally conscious) and, particularly, a climate-friendly lifestyle. Again, I came across “flexitarian,” a notion making its way on to menus in a country with as many dedicated carnivores as South Africa, Australia.
“Climating” one’s diet, is essentially how I grew up, and how we live. We:
- live in an alternate technology home which is, by and large, more energy efficient than a conventional build
- have solar water heating (off the grid is a
- compost and recycle
- eat from the garden. A lot (of one thing at the moment…)
- eat between three and four meat-free main meals a week and on a Monday, the meal is often entirely plant-based
- as far as practical (budget is a big consideration), we get our meat, other fresh produce and groceries from local suppliers
- we limit our shopping (with lists and meal plans), as far as possible, to one 50-odd km round trip to the nearest town per week
- we cook (with gas or The Husband braais) – from scratch. When I don’t cook, I use up “leftovers” which are not really left over because I’ve planned meals around them. I also cook more than we need, to freeze for those evenings when cooking is a chore and not a joy. They do happen!
- garden surplus and gleanings are processed into chutneys, pickles, preserves and jams
I’ve often described myself as a salmon – swimming against the stream. My shift away from eating meat pre-dates the current trend. When I lived alone, before
shacking up with anyone settling down, I rarely ate meat – at home or when I dined out. I just simply didn’t. In this country, many men’s preferred diets are vleis, rys en aardappels (meat – preferably red – rice and potatoes), so until pretty recently, menus (especially in platteland country) tended to red. Now, when we dine out, my (now more varied) choices remain mostly vegetarian or vegan.
The Husband, happily, has always enjoyed vegetables so I didn’t have the hard task of introducing them to his diet. In the same meal. I did give The Husband a baptism of fire, in a sense. Twenty-one years ago, not long after we’d got together, a vegetarian friend came to dinner. The menu: roast vegetables with parmesan cheese and a mixed salad. All set, and waiting for said guest to arrive, his question:
So, where’s the meat?
There isn’t any.
He admits that I correctly read the thought bubble above his head: he was contemplating the closest burger joint to which he might escape if he was still hungry after dinner!
He didn’t. Escape. He wasn’t still hungry…
Although I suggest that introducing more and more meat free meals was a compromise, it wasn’t really. I am lucky that not only does The Husband enjoy vegetables, but he’ll try anything at least once. If he enjoys it, he’ll eat it again. And again. Folk who follow me on Instagram will know that when I try a new vegetarian or vegan dish, my notes often include The Husband’s response. The highest accolade is not: “delicious” or “you can do that again”, which he says quite often, but rather, “you can add that to your regular repertoire”.
The upshot is that our diet is as climate-friendly as it can be, and it is “flexitarian”. That is the compromise: I prefer to cook one meal rather than two, and after all these years, it seems to be working for us.
About those beans and carrots
It’s taken a while to get to the point: there are times that although I do have a weekly meal plan, the planning fairy deserts me and the already sparse headline is reduced to “veg something”. The “headlines” are prompts and not much more. If, by the time we get to that point in the calendar and my imagination remains a wasteland, after checking the garden and pantry for ingredients, and I’m still not inspired, I turn to the interweb. Usually it doesn’t take long to find something that gets the juices flowing. This happened late last year when I discovered carrots and fresh coriander (a classic combination) in the fridge. There are always beans in the cupboard and, at the time, there was a little roasted butternut.
In the end, that evening’s supper combined carrots, haricot beans and harissa served on a bed of wild rocket, topped with the roasted butternut and fresh coriander. All piled on flatbreads.
Truth be told, I didn’t follow the recipe properly. I used harissa and just winged it. It was sufficient of a hit to get a “you can add that to your regular repertoire”…
The next time I made it, I did pay proper attention to the recipe. Partly because I couldn’t find the piece of paper with my notes and because we had wonderful green beans in the garden. I figured that they’d make a great addition: just as carrots like coriander, so green beans like cumin.
I “lost” the butternut and harissa, and instead of using white (haricot beans), I used red beans. I’d forgotten about the rocket until I looked at the photograph, but it wasn’t missed. This time, instead of flatbreads, I served the dish on a bed of one of South Africa’s traditional staples, umngqusho, which consists of dried corn (samp) and dried beans that are soaked and boiled until soft. On its own, it’s a meal, but rather bland and traditionally served with a type of local spinach or a sauce – with or without meat. But I digress. As usual.
This time round, I did a much, much better job. The addition of the green beans took it to another level. They enhanced an already an already versatile dish that can be eaten as a cold or warm side salad or main meal. Using the red, instead of white beans didn’t affect the flavour. In future, my choice will be guided, to a large extent, by the visual impact I’d like the salad to make. If it’s to be a side on a platter, I’d probably choose white beans.
On the umngqusho: as I said, it’s bland. Before plating, I stirred through some finely sliced sweet chillies (deseeded) and some fresh tomato chilli sauce left over from another meal.
The verdict this time round:
you can add that to your regular repertoire…
A last word or three
My ruminations on dietary choices are partly a function of ongoing conversations that happen around our table, and partly rising to the tongue-in-cheek challenge from my blogpal, Katie (on WordPress and on the Hive blockchain as @plantstoplanks). Unlike The Husband, she is a dedicated herbivore. That said, we have much in common including our love of cooking, food and flavours, which transcends the Atlantic and our specific dietary paths.
Since 2104, people around the world have been encouraged to participate in “Veganuary“. Back on the blockchain and in a “community” in which I play a little, it was suggested that we document our journey (or not) to a plant-based diet. It did give me cause for pause and provided the opportunity to share my thoughts.
Also, some of my blogpals, anyway, have been waiting for the first 2021 Fiona treatment of some or other topic. How could I disappoint them?
None of the above is intended as either a judgement of, or attack on, the move to plant-based foods – there is much to recommend that choice. Nor is it a defence of my choices, but rather contemplation of a constant conundrum.
Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa
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