“There are 52 weeks in a year. Why not make at least one of them meat-free?”
Launched in 2009 by animal rights group Compassion Over Killing, US Veg Week is an idea that’s in keeping with a shift in consciousness over the past decade that has contributed to a continued decline in U.S. meat consumption.
For various reasons—health, animal welfare, environmental concerns, and economics, just to name a few—Americans are cutting back on meat. But the change isn’t just one of diet; people are also redefining who they are in terms of what they eat, as evidenced by the Meatless Monday phenomenon and words like “flexitarian” and “weekday vegetarian” entering the vernacular.
This shift in food culture has brought about a new generation of meatless cookbooks. Penned by meat-loving food writers, including Joe Yonan (who recently “came out” as a vegetarian), Mark Bittman (whose latest title, VB6, lands April 30) and yours truly, these books are the direct result of a Meatless Monday-style adventure.
As a former daily meat eater, I can relate firsthand to the challenges of dietary change, not just because it’s tough to get going but also to make those changes stick. For me, that route has been gradual—one meatless day eventually became two, and now, five years later, I’m up to four meatless days (and sometimes five).
Through incremental shifts, I created a “new normal” which felt both attainable and like a tangible accomplishment. Although it works for some, I’m not a fan of drastic change, like going vegan overnight. The thing to remember is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to diet, but all of us—T-bone and tofu lovers alike—owe it to ourselves to periodically check in with the state of our diets and ask the hard questions. That’s why I like the idea of a meatless day or meatless week—it’s an opportunity to think/eat/cook outside the box, and challenge ourselves in the kindest of ways. Stepping out of our comfort zones can be a tremendous (delicious) learning experience.
And yet it can be daunting. When I go out on the road to teach cooking classes, I meet folks from all walks of life interested in the idea of making change, but they don’t know how to put those ideas into motion or how to get started.
In keeping with the spirit of tasting everything once, I’ve put together a collection of recipes for those of you curious to take US Veg Week out for a spin. Allow me to introduce Green Plate Special, a weeklong meatless meal planner featuring dishes from the country’s plant-forward literati. From today until Friday, April 26, TakePart will feature a meatless main from a different cookbook author, with suggested accompanying sides, as well as tips to help green your diet or just get you thinking.
And away we go. First up: Joe Yonan’s Benedict Rancheros.