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This should come as no surprise given where I work, but I care deeply about food. I'm even in a foodie book club, which has introduced me to books that have changed the way I think and feel about what I eat. The Omnivore's Dilemma turned me on to local foods and off from corn sweeteners and processed food. And now another book is threatening to turn me (mostly) vegetarian.

New York Times food writer Mark Bittman's new book Food Matters is a cookbook with a long introduction laying out his philosophy on eating (he makes many of the same points in this talk), one of the most important of which is that we have to cut back on meat. Raising animals industrially on feedlots and in battery cages is bad for the animals, for the earth, and ultimately for us.

Bittman says that to keep meat production sustainable, we have to cut back to half a pound each, per week. That means a double cheeseburger at lunch and some pork roast for dinner and you're done with meat for most of the month. I'm an inveterate carnivore (look for a future post about my girlfriend's bacon-themed birthday gift), but I've taken up the challenge for the last three weeks, and it's hard.

I've been eating a lot of eggs and experimenting with tofu, but going fully veg just isn't satisfying. Unfortunately, one chicken breast on Monday pretty much blows my meat quota for the whole week. So I've started to think of meat as a condiment and not an ingredient. If I'm gonna get down to half a pound, meat has to be for flavor only, not substance.


Luckily, recipes that use meat this way are around in abundance. One of my favorites is Ma Po Tofu (that's what's in the photo). This version contains only one ounce of meat per spicy, savory, satisfying serving. Another boon to my new mostly-vegetarian diet is bacon. One slice in a pot of beans adds plenty of smoky goodness. I love brussels sprouts (why do all kids on TV hate brussels sprouts anyway?), and usually cook them similarly to this recipe. I've found that a single slice of bacon is enough to flavor a good pound of brussels sprouts. Add some pasta or rice to that and you've got a filling dinner for two that uses perhaps an ounce of meat. Stir-fries are great, too: Just increase the veggies and decrease the meat. It's surprising how large a single pork chop or chicken breast can seem if you cut it small and surround it with ample vegetables.

Anyone else out there trying to cut down on meat without dropping it altogether? Got any favorite recipes?