A Bad Person Trying to Be Better: My Meatless Week
Editor's Note: This is a recurring feature in which comedian and admitted horrible person Alex Blagg documents his attempts at becoming a slightly better individual.
I am terrified of not getting enough protein.
Every time I sit down for a meal, there is this nervous anxiety inside of me, a nagging fear that whatever I am about to eat will not contain enough of my daily recommended protein intake, and I will wither into nothing. But the truth is, I have no idea what my daily recommended protein intake is (or if such a thing even exists). In fact, I don’t even know what protein actually does, how it helps me, or why it is important. But I am obsessed with getting it, and perpetually afraid that I never have enough of it!
So I eat meat. A lot. And not just because of my protein-deficiency phobia. I also happen to love the way that it tastes, and how it feels when I chew it in my mouth (like I’m a big scary dinosaur). The way I see it, we humans worked hard to secure our spot at the top of the food chain, so I’ve never felt too bad about eating animals.
In my mind, the perfect meal would consist of a giant rare steak with bacon-wrapped potatoes and a side of fried chicken tenders cut into the shape of vegetables, liberally seasoned with ground beef, and all served on a plate that is actually just a meat-lovers pizza (great, now I’m starving).
For some reason, my wife seems to think my meat fetish is ridiculous. It might be because she’s a classically trained chef who cooks for me free of charge (and could literally make a package of saltines taste like delicious haute cuisine) even though I whine like a baby every time she tries to sneak a non-meat-centric meal in front of me.
I think it has more to do with her not understanding the possible dangers of protein deficiency.
The Problem With This:
I did a little Internet research, and as it turns out, the problem with my meat obsession is pretty much everything.
First of all, producing meat is terrible for the environment. Apparently the meat industry is responsible for a whopping one-fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, which is a major contributing factor to climate change. To make things worse, each calorie of feed lot beef requires an average of 40 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce, and an estimated 1,8000 to 2,500 gallons of water goes into a single pound of beef. For someone who loves steak almost as much as he loves inhabiting a livable planet, these are very inconvenient truths.
But perhaps most disturbingly (at least for someone who is primarily concerned with his own well-being), eating lots of meat is terrible for my health. Now this might come as a surprise to you, but I am slightly overweight (I KNOW. How could a man with such healthy and balanced dietary instincts possibly have anything but a Golden BMI? But it’s true: I’m hauling around a little extra poundage here and there). And according to everything I’m reading, meat (especially my beloved beef) is high in saturated fats that can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
How I Tried to Be Better:
At my wife’s insistence, I had already been (somewhat unwillingly) participating in Meatless Mondays (an increasingly popular movement encouraging people to cut back on their meat consumption at least one day a week) for several months now. Since that seemed to be going okay, and I had not yet withered away and died due to a lack of protein, I decided to see if I could go without meat for an entire week (if you’re not a meat person, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now, but just try to imagine what it would be like if someone took away your precious soy-based products for SEVEN WHOLE DAYS). Anyway, the rules for this experiment were pretty simple: For one week, I would eat no flesh from anything that has a face.
Findings and Observations:
— Breakfast was no sweat. As much as I love bacon, we’re usually too lazy to make it, and I’m quite content with a bowl of cereal.
— Going to the farmers market actually became kind of fun, because by taking the primary focus off of meat, we started thinking about new and interesting ways to prepare vegetables (as opposed to quickly-sauteed afterthoughts next to the pork chops).
— To soothe my protein deficiency fears, we ate lots of nuts and eggs (all of which were purchased fresh from our farmers market). As it turns out, eggs are basically mother nature’s sauce, and are delicious on almost everything.
— When dining out, the meatless options were much better at Asian restaurants. We’re lucky enough to live near some really great authentic Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese places, and they all blew my mind by what they were capable of doing with tofu, seitan and other meat substitutes. One place made these meatless chicken wings that were almost indistinguishable from the real thing (I probably ate 40 of them).
— The meals we (okay, mostly she) made were surprisingly hearty even without meat, and I definitely didn’t spend the whole week feeling hungry like I imagined would be the case. Our meals included: Sweet Potato and Rosemary Flatbread with Brie, Meatless Nicoise Salad with Poached Egg, Huevos Rancheros, Curry Carrot Soup, Farro Salad with Farmers Market Veggies, and Wild Mushroom Risotto.
— Pizza and pasta became my new best friends, and no matter what happens with this whole less meat thing, we’re going to stay in close touch.
— The less meat I ate, the more I seemed to crave cookies. I have no idea why this is, but more than a few of the calories I saved by not eating meat were replaced with sugar and butter. Oh, well.
With so many people in this world who, for whatever reason, don’t have access to decent and healthy food, I realize it’s pretty ridiculous for one privileged first-world individual to act like one week without meat is that big of a deal. So yes, OBVIOUSLY I survived this grueling experiment in not being such a fat, over-consuming jerk of a human being.
And the truth is, as much as the carnivorous dinosaur in me is loathe to admit it, I probably ate more interesting meals during this week than I had in months of my inflexible, closed-minded meat-centric thinking.
Also, in my totally uninformed medical opinion: my protein levels appear to be stable.
Alex Blagg is a writer and comedian in Los Angeles. Most recently he created the satirical website BajillionHits.Biz, for which The Daily Beast called him the "Stephen Colbert of New Media." Prior to that, he was the founding Editor-in-Chief of MSN's Wonderwall.com, won two Webby Awards for his work running Vh1's "Best Week Ever" blog, and was included in The Huffington Post's list of "50 Funny People You Should Be Following On Twitter." He is truly a horrible person.