Health & Fitness Issue 2016: The carnivore's guide to veganism

Eat meat, but eat it better.

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I love bacon.

If that sounds like an odd thing to see in a veggie-focused issue, well, it is. But it’s also likely true for more of you than it is not.

In America, we love our animal flesh. Don’t worry – I’m not about to preach. I know those of you who – like me – eat meat have likely thumbed through this issue with trepidation and perhaps the odd eye roll.
Here’s the thing, though: we can do meat better. Much, much better. Look, I have the occasional Big Mac binge (other people have booze hangovers, I get the meat sweats), but those rare instances aside, there’s a wonderful world of meat just waiting for you out there – if only you can forsake it just as often as you eat it.

Stay with me. This first became an issue when my boyfriend and I moved in together a few years ago. He grew up in a family where dinner every night consisted of meat, potatoes, and a veggie – and meat usually took up half the plate. I grew up in a family where meat didn’t happen every night (and never on Fridays, because Jesus doesn’t let Catholics eat meat on Fridays.) Despite not eating meat every day, my family struggles with issues of diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and heart disease. You know, typical Americans.

As an adult worried about these things, I dabbled in vegetables and experimented with grains. The moment I roasted Brussel sprouts with sesame oil, sesame seeds, black pepper, and a shot of lemon, I was hooked. I would happily live on roasted veggies with an occasional filet mignon. My boyfriend, however, had his doubts about a plant-based diet. Melding our two philosophies about eating (his pot roast to my eggplant) proved challenging.

The solution? Change how we ate meat. We didn’t stop eating meat (because, to reiterate, meat is awesome): we just shifted a little.

We eat organic fruits and veggies, we buy organic milk and butter, and we pay a neighbor to raise two chickens (Foghorn and Yasmine) so I can have fresh eggs from chickens who live a better life than most third-world families.
Grass-fed (not grass-finished, and yes, I could tell you why but it is fucking exhausting and I don’t want to do that to you so please trust me) organic beef costs more than conventional beef, so much so I considered a second job. The benefits, though, convinced me that if I wanted to eat meat, I needed to look at its origin, feeding and care. Fun fact: Florida is the ninth-largest cattle state in the US, which means you don’t have to search too hard to find local grass-fed beef. Lower carbon footprint? Check. Leaner, healthier cuts of meat from grass-fed beef? Check. Lower grocery bill? Eh, not so much.

Instead of reverting to eating less expensive beef, we opted instead to eat less beef. Which meant more veggies, which meant I had to find was to make them sexy enough that a man who grew up with pot roast and lamb on the reg could handle bok choy and tofu instead. I bought a wok and a steamer. I realized a lack of meat meant I could use more oil, and started incorporating sesame oil into many roasted veggie dishes. I cook a lot of Mexican, because you don’t need beef in many dishes (beans offer great protein and a hearty texture that helps offset the lack of cow.) The one thing I won’t do? I refuse to try and make things taste like steak (or cheese, or whatever) because if I want a steak, I’ll have a steak. Just not eight ounces of factory-farmed beef.

We eat meat and cheese and butter, but as side dishes, not the main attraction. Eating a plant-based diet leaves room in our diet (and budget) for higher-quality meats and dairy, and trust me, nothing tastes like a well-raised, well-prepared filet. The taste difference between the meat we buy and what most restaurants serve is so dramatic we rarely order red meat when dining out (with one exception: a local restaurant whose owner buys local grass-fed beef.)
And that is how two unapologetic omnivores transitioned into a vegetable-based household.

Yes, it was exhausting at first. Now? It’s second nature. My cholesterol is down 40 points, my weight is down 30 pounds, and I feel better.

I’ll never be vegan — I loved Bradshaw’s vegan “cheese ball” this past Christmas, but it was no Brillat-Savarin — but by upping my veggie intake, I can eat higher-quality, more socially and environmentally responsible, infinitely tastier beef.

Pretty sure that isn’t the vegan agenda, but it works for me. 

About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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