MeatLess, by Kristie Middleton, is a wonderful resource for everybody who is interested in bringing more plant-based food into their daily diets. The book offers a nice balance of research, real-life stories, and practical ideas for slowly eliminating animal products from your menus and your life.
Divided into three parts —- “Why MeatLess,” “Getting Started,” and “Recipes for Success” — the book moves from a rationale about why eating less meat is important, to a series of easy-to-understand data about the effects of motivation and values on our eating habits, and onto many ideas for swapping common meat items for plant-based foods. Of the three sections, the final one was most helpful to me as a semi-vegetarian who needed concrete information about different ingredients that would accomplish my culinary goals but with many fewer dairy and egg elements. Inserts in each chapter, too, offer bulleted lists that I found very appealing.
MeatLess: Central Themes
One of the book’s central theme, certainly, speaks to farm agriculture’s painful treatment of mass-produced animals. Middleton argues that, even though most of us “want animals to be treated humanely, there remains a cognitive dissonance in which our daily actions don’t necessarily align with our values” (4). She adds that “we haven’t succeeded in rectifying our love of animals and how we eat” (5). More than anything, she say that MeatLess is about “reclaiming our health, eating greener, and sparing animals” (7).
Section One: Why MeatLess?
To help us understand how we can reconcile our meat consumption to live healthier, happier lives, the first section, “Why MeatLess,” contrasts stories of chickens, pigs, and turkeys allowed to live according to their natural instincts with the same animals and their “extreme confinement and lack of environmental enhancements” (27). The first section of the book is a bit sprawling and ambitious, as it discusses many topics. They definitely illuminate how animal agriculture is contributing to global temperature rises. This section includes lots of research study references, many of which deserved a slower analysis and continuity among each other.
But— if you ever needed evidence why eating meat has consequences that affect the environment, this is the book for you. Poorly paid and trained workers in factory farms settings (37). Animal waste cesspools that exemplify factory farms’ impact (39). Switching from the myths that reducing water usage through retooling household usage to understand how much water is used to grow food crops that make up 98% of the water footprint (42). The large extent to which animal foods contribute to our most serious and pressing environmental problems, including climate change, biodiversity loss, water pollution, and deforestation (76).
The first section ends with a quick explanation of the fishing industry: health concerns for fish and the humans who eat them, problematic methods used to catch fish, fish farm aquaculture illnesses, and the preponderance of feeding fish to other fish. These final remarks of the chapter shake the reader from talking oneself into a silent switch from meat to fish eating.
Section Two: Getting Started
Part two, “Getting Started,” helps us to understand the psychological motivations for many of our behaviors, then offers “tricks to help making change” — such as eating less meat— all that much easier. As inset called “Dining Out” is filled with lots of easy-to-locate options for healthy, meat-free, and sometimes customized dishes while out on the town.
Although we sometimes struggle with finding vegetable-centric menus, Middleton reminds us to rise to levels of plant-consciousness with a poignant quote from Michelin-awarded chef Alain Ducasse. “The planet has increasingly rare resources, so we have to consumer more ethically, more fairly.”
In another persuasive reminder, an inset called “The Hard Stuff: Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions” includes the following statement: “Most farm animals live lives of complete deprivation on factory farms — where they’re often crammed into tiny cages and crates, or (in the case of chickens) bred to grow so fat so fast that their legs may literally break underneath them” (86). In contrast, Middleton describes the Global Animal Partnership program, where meat producers adhere to higher animal welfare standards. She reiterates that some people choose “to reduce the amount of meat they eat and replace it with products from those who treat their animals more humanely”— yet she always reinforcing the book’s central concept of the importance of “plant-forward diets” (87).
Section Three: Recipes for Success
The third and final section of the book, “Recipes for Success,” starts by defining many ingredients that are part of typical vegan conversations but may seem mysterious to those unfamiliar with plant-based diets. This is a supportive way to introduce the topics to follow, as it demystifies how these ingredients translate into everyday cooking and baking.
Then the real fun starts. Over fifty recipes are divided into categories of Breakfast, Handhelds, Soups, Sides and Sauces, Entrees, and Desserts. In particular, I was grateful to find plant-based recipes for some of my family’s non-plant favorite menu items. Macaroni and Cheese Surprise substitutes cashews for the creaminess of cheese. Who ever thought to replace chickpeas for tuna in the all-time favorite sandwich of lunch boxes across the U.S.? The Fresh Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce is soon to become a staple item on my home menus. While I wish that there was a deeper discussion of how to bake without eggs, the recipes for Mocha Rice Pudding and Chocolate Pecan Pie are going to the top of my final course selections.
Looking at the Book as a Whole
MeatLess is a valuable addition to the bookshelf of anyone who is interested in the effects of animal agriculture on our planet or who just wants to learn more about eating with plants. I’ve struggled in the last year to find books with high quality vegan recipes; this book offers those and much more. It would make a good gift for that climate change action advocate in your family or social circle.