Meat eater’s balancing act

By Diane Toroian Keaggy

(Illustration by Dan Martin/P-D)

I blame the bratwurst. For years, I ate no filet mignon, no rack of lamb, no osso buco. And honestly, I didn’t miss meat at all. Except pork. Not pork tenderloin or pork chops, but the really bad stuff like bacon and breakfast sausage and the aforementioned bratwurst, especially the Busch Stadium variety.


Your browser may not support display of this image.  Pasta With Sausage And Butternut Squash

Your browser may not support display of this image.  Cassoulet With Lots Of Vegetables

Your browser may not support display of this image.  Lamb And Potato Phyllo Pie

Your browser may not support display of this image.  Quick Thai Beef Salad

Your browser may not support display of this image.  Enchiladas Verdes De Aguascalientes

So I made myself a deal — I could eat meat at Major League Baseball games. That approach worked fine until I was invited to see the Rams. Then I amended my rule to permit pork consumption at any professional sporting event. But once you make an exception for motorcycles on ice, why even bother? 
So here I am, seduced again by meat’s greasy allure. But with every yummy bite comes a stab of anxiety. Is the meat I’m eating safe? Do the fertilizers used to grow livestock feed pollute the water? Does the production and transportation of my hamburger lead to global warming? Has the overuse of antibiotics spawned drug-resistant superbugs? And what about the welfare of the animals slaughtered to feed my family? 
The answers aren’t hard to find.

Well-documented studies reported widely in newspapers, television and the Internet show that factory farms are big-time contributors to environmental destruction. The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that animal excrement has contaminated 35,000 miles of American waterways, and numerous studies prove that fertilizer runoff has created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.  
More than 300 organizations, including the American Medical Association, have urged livestock producers to stop adding nontherapeutic antibiotics to feed. A 2006 United Nations report states livestock accounts for 18 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, more than the world’s cars, trains, planes and boats combined. 
And the animals well, it’s never fun to sit at the lower end of the food chain, but life is especially miserable for the chickens, cows and pigs of the factory farm. Chickens are bred to grow so fast, their legs can’t support their weight. Highly intelligent pigs have their tails chopped off to prevent tailbiting, a reaction to premature weening and the stressful conditions of the factory farm. Cows suffer ulcers from a diet of corn they were never meant to eat. 
And then there are the health risks. Currently, the USDA reports the average American consumes about 200 pounds of meat annually, an increase of about 60 pounds from the 1950s. All of that meat can lead to a host of health problems, including increased heart disease and cancer. And last year, the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study found a link between red and processed meats and an increased risk of mortality.  
The conflict between these facts and my family’s love of a good meatball has made my weekly trip to the store fraught with angst. I want change, but how? I could pretend to say goodbye to meat again. But who am I kidding: Opening day is less than three months away. Or I could make my braised short ribs and Armenian yogurt chicken (tastes better than it sounds!) with organic or locally, sustainably farmed meat. But then I could no longer afford life’s little luxuries such as hot running water. 
Faced with such distasteful options, I have opted for a compromise: to become, as New York Times food writer and cookbook author Mark Bittman says, a lessmeatarian. And I’m not alone. Paul McCartney launched Meat Free Monday, a campaign to eliminate meat consumption one day a week. A number of U.S. hospitals have cut their meat offerings by 20 percent. And cookbooks and food magazines are producing flexitarian offerings that feature reduced-meat recipes. 
The approach has required a fundamental shift in how I view meat. Meat is no longer a course, but an ingredient in stews, soups, pies and casseroles. I have found that 2 ounces per serving is just enough to get the flavor and texture of meat. Yes, forking over $16 for a pastured broiler at Local Harvest is hard, especially when Schnucks sells chickens for 89 cents a pound. But that one bird delivered a plate of 12 green enchiladas (see recipe) as well as a large pot of avgolemono soup, making my buy-less-but-better strategy cost-neutral.