Thursday, September 13, 2007

"But how do you get enough protein without meat?"

Two recent new stories point towards the West's--and particularly the U.S.'s--overconsumption of protein rather than our need to go more Atkins. Specifically, we overconsume animal protein (lest we forget that protein is only found in animal flesh and their secretions). A piece in this morning's Yahoo! News states the not-so-obvious to some, "Eating less meat may slow climate change." The article explains findings from a special energy and health series of the medical journal The Lancet and goes on to note that:

Reducing global red meat consumption by 10 percent, they said, would cut the gases emitted by cows, sheep and goats that contribute to global warming...

Other ways of reducing greenhouse gases from farming practices, like feeding animals higher-quality grains, would only have a limited impact on cutting emissions. Gases from animals destined for dinner plates account for nearly a quarter of all emissions worldwide…

"That leaves reducing demand for meat as the only real option," said Dr. John Powles, a public health expert at Cambridge University, one of the study's authors.

The amount of meat eaten varies considerably worldwide. In developed countries, people typically eat about 224 grams per day. But in Africa, most people only get about 31 grams a day.

Man, when I calculated how much protein I need (for healthy adults, multiply your weight in pounds times .4 or use this protein calculator), it was way, way less than freakin' 200 GRAMS! I need about 60 grams. 60, people. And that's from a nutritionist's stance, vegetarian or otherwise. We just don't need all this meat. Besides the harm it does to animals, it doesn't do human animals much better.

In an original contribution to the American Journal of Epidemiology, published online on September 4, researchers found a link between eating cured meats (such as bacon and hot dogs) and an increased risk for chronic pulmonary obstructive disease in men. Even after adjusting for age, smoking status habits, energy intake, race and ethnicity, geographic location, body mass index, and physical activity, the consumption of cured meats was positively associated with the risk of newly diagnosed COPD. The reason for this increased risk is probably due to the high amount of nitrites in cured meats. I remember trying to drink orange juice with my bacon after hearing the vitamin C could counteract the possible cancer causing effects of the nitrites. Now I just don't eat pigs (more to come on hanging out with live pigs at the Catskills Animal Sanctuary, which just further adds to my resolve to not eat animals).

But we do need protein and we do need to eat. So how? No matter your diet--vegan, vegetarian, omnivore--this next dish is super easy and tasty, chock full of protein, fiber, and flavor. I made it for dinner last night and the leftovers will be even tastier tonight, now that the ingredients have really melded all day. This is more a suggestion than a strict recipe. Just use whatever veggies you have handy:

Quick Tofu Stir Fry with Tamari and Maple Syrup, Serves about 4 (or two really hungry people)

Drain and press a block of extra-firm organic tofu (tofu and soy in general is one of those products worth springing a few extra cents for so you can have the organic. Nonorganic soybeans are otherwise highly pesticized). To press, after I've drained the water from the package, I just place the tofu on a plate, place another plate on top, and put a bottle of water atop the plate so all the water drains out. While the tofu is being drained, I cut up some of the veggies I have around--a red bell pepper, half a yellow onion, a whole bunch of broccolini. In a bowl, mix up about 1/4 cup of tamari (or soy sauce) with a few good plops of maple syrup (I'd say about no more than a tablespoon). Then add a teaspoon of canola oil and a teaspoon of sesame oil, a tiny sprinkle of kosher salt, and a good grinding of fresh pepper. Mix it all up. Use a paper towel to pat dry the pressed tofu. Cut it into smallish triangles (or cubes) and place in the tamari-maple syrup mixture, making sure to coat it well. Heat a teaspoon each of canola and sesame oil in a pan. I had some leftover recaito, an absolutely necessary flavor base in Puerto Rican cooking but only optional for this dish. Recaito is just mixed up onion, sweet chilis, a bell pepper, garlic, and cilantro. Not necessary but it's nice to have on hand (I freeze the remainder into an ice cube tray so I can use small amounts as needed). Otherwise, add your onions and red bell pepper to the oil and let them heat up and brown slightly, for about 5 minutes. Add broccolini, tofu mixture, and a handful of frozen peas. Stir-fry over medium high heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, allowing tofu to brown slightly. Pour a serving over some brown rice, making sure to get that yummy tamari and syrup mixture over everything. Eat up.

There you go. Tons of protein and no extra flatulence from cows or cancer from bologna.

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