When I was a kid my parents took us to a relatively smart restaurant. Well, it was a change from the Spur. Snails in garlic was on the menu. I was fascinated. Snails? You can eat them? How awesome!
“I want snails!” I said. My mother admonished me, “No, you won’t like them.” She had a point – how many 9 year olds will eat broccoli, nevermind snails? After promising to finish them no matter what, I got my snails. I’ve subsequently had far better ones, but those first squishy little buggers made me realise the world offers a myriad of flavours and textures.
I adore everything about food. I love selecting it, preparing it, cooking it, serving it. I will try anything. I want to taste everything. I am a particularly omnivorous omnivore. If I don’t like something, I try it again a few years later to see if my tastebuds have changed their mind (it happens).
When the husband and I first started out, it was a particularly hellish time for the economy and the price of chicken and red meat went up dramatically. My mother bought me a vegetarian recipe book for Christmas, Pick of the Bunch by Lynn Bedford Hall, and we used it every night for six months. We’d occasionally have meat when we went to visit the parental units, but most of the time we were semi-vegetarians.
I learnt to cook hearty and delicious veggie food. I discovered the versatility of chickpeas and lentils, aromatic combinations of spices, a wide variety of mushrooms, and how filling brinjals can be. Even when we could afford meat more regularly, we still made plenty of vegetarian meals.
But a few weeks ago I noticed I was cooking meat virtually every night, usually chicken or pork, sometimes mince. I’d fallen into the “dinner isn’t a meal without meat” mindset.
Of course, it’s easier to just roast some potatoes and chicken and slap a salad together. Tasty and healthy vegetarian meals don’t necessarily take longer, they just require more thought. But that thought is what makes us omnivores.
Someone figured out a prickly artichoke is actually edible (not to mention the snails) precisely because there was a shortage of other foods. We also neglect fish, preferring to get a tuna sushi fix rather than prepare a piece of readily available hake at home. Add this to the environmental destruction wrought by industrial production of meat, and the planet is not thanking us.
It’s just not natural to eat meat every night. It’s become too convenient and ubiquitous, it’s made us lazy. So I’ve decided to institute what I call “The 3-2-2 Principle”. I divide up the 7 nights of the week like this – 3 nights vegetarian, 2 nights meat, 2 nights fish. Eating well should be simple and sensible, not a restrictive or excessive minefield. Having a rough guideline makes that easier.
Of course there will be those late nights where a Woolworths lasagne is the only option, but then I add some steamed broccoli to it. There are always ways to get the balance right, if we just use our omnivorous brains.