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Gena Bigler: ‘Beef. It’s what’s for dinner’ doesn’t have to be true seven days a week


Mujaddara is a popular Middle Eastern dish of lentils, fried onions, spices and rice. This is a customized version made with a fried egg on top. It is commonly served with plain yogurt or a garnish of diced tomatoes, parsley and lemon juice. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Mujaddara is a popular Middle Eastern dish of lentils, fried onions, spices and rice. This is a customized version made with a fried egg on top. It is commonly served with plain yogurt or a garnish of diced tomatoes, parsley and lemon juice. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 
In America, and especially in the South, it is not uncommon to have some form of meat in every dish served for any given meal. From waffles, donuts, potato salad and even jam, bacon is everywhere. It’s so permeated our culture that many people can’t fathom a meat-free meal.
 
The words “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner” are ingrained into our collective culture. The companion campaign promoted beef as an important source of protein. The beef industry spent $42 million the first year of this marketing campaign and it has worked beautifully. After 20 years and billions of dollars, the phrase is recognized by 88 percent of Americans.
 
If you ask Americans why they eat meat, most will say for protein. Yet, most Americans eat too much protein. Studies have shown that high protein diets contribute to increased risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. All of those health risks are rampant in our country and are among the top 10 causes of death.
 
Recently, in Cell Metabolism Journal, a study detailed how people under age 65 who ate high protein diets had a 75 percent increase in death rates, were four times as likely to have cancer and were five times as likely to have diabetes.
 
Heart disease alone kills 1 in 4 of our neighbors each year. That is about 600,000 people. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease and is responsible for costing America about $108.9 billion each year.
 
The CDC reports that 29 million Americans have diabetes (up from 26 million 4 years ago) and that another 86 million have pre-diabetes and are expected to develop diabetes within 5 years.
 
The economic cost of diabetes was estimated to be $245 billion in 2012 alone. The director of the Diabetes Division of the CDC Ann Albright has said, “Diabetes is costly in both human and economic terms. It’s urgent that we take swift action to effectively treat and prevent this serious disease.”
 
One way of taking action is very simple. Join the Meatless Monday movement. Take a day or two or three off each week from eating meat.
 
You don’t need to go to extreme measures to skip meat. Many popular dishes are meat-free and probably already in your diet. You will still get all the protein you need while lowering your health risks. An added bonus, meat-free eating costs less.
 
In New Orleans on Monday red beans and rice are traditionally served. Beans and rice are a popular dish across the world and show up in varying forms from culture to culture. If the New Orleans-style doesn’t please you, try the Northern Indian version or maybe some Puerto Rican pink beans. In Appalachia, soup beans (pinto beans) and cornbread are a culinary comfort.
 
Lentils are quick to cook and nutritious and can be served as a soup, a cold salad or as the main ingredient in a mock meatloaf. Incredibly diverse, lentils are also incredibly affordable and cost about a dollar or so a pound.
 
My favorite tomato soup is mostly red lentils and very few people notice the lentils, and are surprised when they read the requested recipe. It is filling, delicious and fairly quick to make.
 
Another quick veggie meal is black bean and corn burritos. Vegetarian chili is a winter staple that can be quickly made or tossed in a slow cooker. My favorite bean dish is a creamy rich white bean stew that warms you down to your toes, a vegetarian cassoulet.
 
One trick I rely on to lend the smoky flavor you often get from adding meat to a dish, especially beans, is to use a dash of liquid smoke along with vegetable broth for cooking. It is nothing more than water that has been infused with wood smoke, but it can add depth of flavor without the usual pork.
 
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It is easy to eat a plant-based diet if you are willing to think about food a little differently. Restaurants are providing more plant-based options and grocers are adding meat and dairy alternatives every day. There are more vegetarian options now than there were even a few years ago.
 
Meatless Monday is good for your wallet and your health. Besides saving money, you could be saving your life.
 
 

Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at lgbigler@gmail.com.

 

Click here to read more columns from Gena Bigler.


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