A Meat Lover’s Manifesto for Meatless Monday

by Sarah Henry on October 24, 2010 · 40 comments

in civil eats,food books,meatless monday

Photo: Myra Kohn

Food news hound Kim O’Donnel is often ahead of the culinary curve.

In a longtime online gig for The Washington Post, the seasoned journalist began blogging about all things edible and conducting kitchen chats before such venues took off in gastronomical cyber circles.

She started Canning Across America before pickling and preserving D.I.Y.ers turned up in a photo spread in the New York Times Magazine.

And she was one of the first mainstream reporters to cover the meat-free Monday phenomenon.

She began writing about the subject for the Post a couple of years ago in a recipe-focused column that proved the impetus for her new cookbook, The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores Will Devour (Da Capo Press, $18.95).

The unapologetically omniverous O’Donnel, who thoroughly enjoys roast chicken, pork shoulder, and a juicy burger, earned her chef chops from the Institute of Culinary Education (on a James Beard Foundation scholarship no less). O’Donnel, who has written for Real Simple, The Huffington Post, True/Slant, and Civil Eats, says her book isn’t intended for devout vegetarians.

There are already plenty of classic tomes geared to that group, she notes, though herbivores will likely find dishes that make them happy in her book’s pages.

Rather, she wants to bring confirmed carnivores into the fold with satisfying recipes that won’t earn her the rabbit food rap. Flesh eaters take note: There’s no lentil-nut loaf among the offerings here. No sprouts or faux meat either. We’re talking hearty fare.

Every recipe had to pass the Kim O’Donnel test: This is a gal who includes a photo of herself as a toddler happily going to town on a T-bone on the back of her business card. (Nowadays, she wants to know where meat she eats comes from and how it was raised.)

So she knows her audience. “I want people who can’t imagine going a day without eating meat to give this a try and see if it doesn’t expand their horizons,” says O’Donnel, in an interview last summer at her home in Alki Beach in Seattle, where egrets and seals are frequent visitors.

“I’m not into food rules and I’m not asking people to learn a whole new language or set of skills in the kitchen,” adds the host of Table Talk, a weekly cooking chat on Culinate. “I’m just suggesting that they make an incremental change to diversify their diet and include less meat in the mix.”

O’Donnel is optimistic, despite the fact that recent research reveals that many Americans rarely let a veggie pass their lips. The Centers for Disease Control, for instance, found that less than a third of American adults eat three or more vegetables a day.

Still, she’s hoping that if the steak-loving set come along for the ride, they’ll see, as she did, that there’s a world of flavors in veg-centric cuisine that can take the rut out of any cook’s recipe repertoire.

The guide is arranged a little differently from your typical cookbook. There’s 52 menus, one for each week of the year, organized by season, rather than chapters on different courses. The 95 recipes are, where appropriate, designated gluten-free, vegan, dairy-optional, kid-friendly, and leftover bonus, so you can tailor what you cook to your needs and those of others joining you at the table.

As for many, O’Donnel, 44, decided to try life with less meat for health, personal, and environmental reasons. She’s battled high cholesterol since her teens. Her dad died young from heart disease.

And she was struck by a comment made by Nobel Peace Prize winner and UN climate expert Rajendra Pachauri that one of the most important things you can do to help the planet is not trade in your gas guzzler for a Prius, but go meat-free once a week.

These days, she goes meatless, on average, about three times a week. That means there are a lot more legumes, grains, and produce on her plate now. “I don’t think in terms of looking for a stand-in for meat,” she says. “I’m just looking for a good mix of protein, complex carbs, veg and fruit.”

She’s a big fan of beans of all kinds and sees nothing wrong with eating eggs for supper (a concept whole-heartedly endorsed by this writer). From her cookbook selection she counts Potpie with Cheddar Biscuit Crust and Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili as two meals likely to win over meat lovers in a heart beat.

O’Donnel is in good company on the cut-back-on-meat bandwagon. Launched in 2003, Meatless Monday is an initiative of New York-based nonprofit Healthy Monday, in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The day-off-from-meat campaign is an attempt to help Americans cut their saturated fat intake by 15 percent. (Mondays, at the start of the week, are considered a good day to set intentions.)

Vegetarian cookbook scribes Mollie Katzen and Deborah Madison are among a growing group of chefs who champion using meat as a flavor accent to a meal, if at all. Even hardcore carnivores like restauranteur Mario Batali have embraced Meatless Monday.

But O’Donnel, a recent West Coast transplant looking for more balance in her life,  has a touch of the zen about her. She’s not aggressively trying to convert carnivores.

Going meatless simply makes her feel better, she says, and she thinks other eaters might like to discover that too. Since she made the switch to a more plant-based way of eating O’Donnel pays more attention to what she cooks and turns out more flavorful food that costs less than a meal with meat. Who can argue against that?

Next month, this cookbook author begins a bimonthly column for USA Today called “The Family Kitchen.” It’s a safe bet that O’Donnel will bring meat-free meals, sans heavy-handed sermonizing or dietary dogma, to this middle American audience, simply making her case for cooking vegetarian recipes without sacrificing sustenance, taste, or texture.

Bay Area readers: O’Donnel will appear at 18 Reasons for a Meatless Monday dinner and talk tonight. She’ll also be talking up the merits of an eat-less-meat life at Kitchen Table Talks the following evening. Click here to find out about other upcoming events and appearances.

You might also like:

Meatless Mondays a Handy Primer: Part One

5 Meatless Meals Anyone Could Whip up on Monday

A Culinary Confession

Paul McCartney Sings: All You Need is Meatless Monday

This post also appears on Civil Eats.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Marthaandme October 25, 2010 at 7:30 am

This is a great idea for a cookbook and I will definitely be picking this one up!

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Sarah Henry October 25, 2010 at 10:16 am

It’s right up your alley, M&Me.

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Jane Boursaw October 25, 2010 at 7:32 am

Love it. I eat less and less meat as the years go by, and it’s so odd to think of people eating meat every single day. Not to say I don’t enjoy a nice steak or roasted chicken now and then, though.
Jane Boursaw´s last [type] ..Family Movie Review- Hereafter

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Sarah Henry October 25, 2010 at 10:17 am

Sounds like this book is for someone just like you, Jane.

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Ruth Pennebaker October 25, 2010 at 7:33 am

I love the whole idea of simply changing your carnivorous habits a little at a time. No judgment, just do it.
Ruth Pennebaker´s last [type] ..Wanted- A Posterior Body Part Future Unlimited

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Sarah Henry October 25, 2010 at 10:17 am

Yes, Ruth, I agree. I think you’re more likely to gain converts this way.

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Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart October 25, 2010 at 8:12 am

This looks like a great book. We do skip meat once in a while around here. Maybe I’ll get some new ideas. Thanks!

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Sarah Henry October 25, 2010 at 10:17 am

I’m all for finding new ideas for meal times, Roxanne.

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MyKidsEatSquid October 25, 2010 at 8:15 am

We’re happy omnivores around our house, but more and more we’re going meatless just for variety. I’ve never really been a beef fan anyway. But I don’t think I could go without pork. This sounds like a cookbook our family would love.

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Sarah Henry October 25, 2010 at 10:18 am

Yep, think this one will suit your brood, MKES.

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Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi October 25, 2010 at 9:35 am

We often eat meatless, but don’t try to fake it into looking like meat. Plenty of fabulous unapologetically vegetarian mains out there that will knock your socks off. Last night? Gnocchi with mushrooms in a white wine sauce. FAB!

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Sarah Henry October 25, 2010 at 10:19 am

Sounds like my kinda dinner, Melanie. And I’ve never liked the fake meat myself, either. What’s with that, anyway?

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Susan October 25, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Gnocchi with mushrooms in a white wine sauce?? Yum! If you weren’t on the other side of the world, I’d consider inviting myself over for dinner, Melanie, because that sounds delicious!

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Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi October 29, 2010 at 10:40 am

Oh, I SHOULD mention that the gnocchi was homemade. What can I say, my man ROCKS!
Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi´s last [type] ..Friday Freebie- When Glaciers Attack

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Robin Asbell October 25, 2010 at 10:37 am

It’s good to see meat-lovers making changes as they are able. It’s always been delicious, every little bit helps!

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Sarah Henry October 25, 2010 at 10:46 am

Well said, Robin.

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Sheryl Kraft October 25, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Thanks for this mention and recommendation. I haven’t eaten meat in probably 30 years and am always looking for new ideas for veggies and other alternatives.

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Sarah Henry October 25, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Stay tuned, Sheryl. The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook is this month’s giveaway.

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Christine @ Origami Mommy October 25, 2010 at 3:26 pm

How timely – I am making a meatless meal tonight. I’ll be doing a vegetarian version of Korean bi-bim-bap, a rice bowl filled with vegetables, and, traditionally, meat. But the meat is in small amounts and I can achieve a similar taste, I think, with marinated broiled tofu. My family isn’t vegetarian but I want to introduce more meatless meals – it looks like this cookbook would be a great aid towards that goal!
Christine @ Origami Mommy´s last [type] ..Old doll- new hair

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Sarah Henry October 25, 2010 at 4:18 pm

If you weren’t in Japan I’d be inviting myself over for dinner, Christine.

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Jennifer Margulis October 25, 2010 at 8:50 pm

This recipe book sounds really great. We’re mostly meatless in our family (though I have discovered, after 20 years of being a vegetarian, that my body needs some meat). I am an omnivore but find myself not unapologetic about it (since my daughters are vegetarians and give me a hard time!). I’d love to have this book on my shelf!
Jennifer Margulis´s last [type] ..Why You Should Believe in Your Book and Never Give Up- Guest Post by Alisa Bowman of Project Happily Ever After

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Sarah Henry October 25, 2010 at 10:36 pm

So funny, Jennifer, we have such similar histories (20-plus years as a strict vegetarian, raising a veg-head (his choice), who is horrified that i now occasionally eat chicken. We’ll have to compare notes when we meet.

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Sue Dickman October 26, 2010 at 7:46 am

Very nice profile! I’ve been mostly vegetarian for many years now, but I’m always looking to expand my vegetarian repertoire. And having more recipes that will persuade devoted meat eaters that vegetarian meals can be both filling and delicious is an extra bonus.
Sue Dickman´s last [type] ..Bread and Jam- Part II- Not Just for the New Year Round Challah

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Sarah Henry October 26, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Hi Sue, Thanks for weighing in. And it’s true in a household with different dietary persuasions, it’s a bonus to find recipes everyone enjoys.

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Kris Bordessa October 26, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Though we eat meat, I’m always trying to eat less of it, for health, environmental, and budget reasons. I’ll have to look for this because I am married to an absolute carnivore. He could have coined the phrase, ‘Where’s the beef?’

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Sarah Henry October 29, 2010 at 10:36 am

You’re not alone, Kris. I think there are many mixed marriages out there trying to find compromise on the food front.

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Casey@Good. Food. Stories. October 28, 2010 at 7:34 pm

This book sounds wonderfully well-organized – I can’t wait to pick up a copy so I can continue the conversion of my husband’s diet. We’re already down to one burger per week and he’s happily eating soy crumbles in his monthly tacos (not overdoing it on the soy, I promise). He’ll never even notice the difference!
Casey@Good. Food. Stories.´s last [type] ..GUEST POST- Edie’s Luncheonette- Little Silver- NJ

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Sarah Henry October 29, 2010 at 10:37 am

Soy crumbles, Casey? Never tried ‘em. Do you have a particular brand or flavor you’d recommend?

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Melanie Haiken October 29, 2010 at 4:03 am

So… think these recipes would work for my meatloaf-loving Indiana boy and teenagers who won’t touch anything with too many “green bits” in it? I’ve been trying veggie meals at least twice a week for several weeks, and so far have had the best luck getting pasta dishes and stir frys past my picky eaters. Would love to try some of these!

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Sarah Henry October 29, 2010 at 10:38 am

I say no harm in trying, Melanie. And let me know if you win anyone over.

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Jeanine Barone October 29, 2010 at 10:37 am

As a nutritionist and vegetarian — a conditional vegetarian, really, I love the idea for this book. Making small changes is the way to do it, for sure, rather than going all out saying you’ll never eat any meat.
Jeanine

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Sarah Henry October 31, 2010 at 11:48 am

Whatever the change is, most experts on the subject agree that taking small steps is more likely to lead to long-term change down the track. Is that what you see, Jeanine, in your work as a nutritionist?

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