Going meatless in May
04/25/2012 10:00 PM
I’ve gone back and forth about becoming a vegetarian for decades. My mother has been one for more than 30 years, so it’s probably in my genetic makeup to take up the mantle. She’s just short of 85, so I don’t think it’s hurt her. She’s strict. When she did develop a health problem years ago, I begged her to just eat a can of tuna to build her up a bit. But she refused. And, to her credit, it turned out OK.
Like all people considering vegetarianism, I worry about getting the necessary protein. On the other hand, I also kind of hate the idea of eating meat — when I think about what I’m doing. I have to ignore reality when I eat a burger, or even a piece of salmon. How truly sickening it really is to eat the flesh of a living being, how mean it is to take an animal’s life for a momentary taste buzz. And even to subject oneself to all the additives, from antibiotics to hormones, with which the meat producers inject their product.
The great scientific minds of the day are telling us at a steadier and steadier clip that eating meat is asking for your own demise, from the fat in red meat to the pollutants in fish.
If you want to nix the world of meat, it’s also hard to decide what kind of vegetarian to become. Do you eliminate just red meat or all animal products? Do you include pork (the other white meat) and poultry and fish (a lot of “vegetarians” do eat poultry and fish) in what you will no longer consume? Do you also swear off dairy products and eggs and run the gamut? And how many fruits and vegetables and beans and nuts do you have to consume in a day to make up the nutrients found in all of that meat and dairy and eggs? It boggles the mind. Not that a lot of us are thinking of nutrients when we consume scones for breakfast, french fries for lunch and dressing on our salads at dinner made from too-fatty oils and high fructose corn syrup. Not to mention a pint of Ben & Jerry’s now and then.
All of which brings me to longtime South Loop resident Gail Merritt, who is currently spearheading a one-month South Loop version of an international program called Meatless Mondays. It’s a small way to find out what it would be like to go no-meat. Merritt is starting slow, asking that South Loop residents commit to eat no meat on the four Mondays in May. It’s nothing if not an educational campaign to demonstrate the downside of eating red meat, pork and poultry in terms of the disease connection (i.e., heart disease and cancer) and the environmental connection (meat producing makes a huge carbon footprint and adds considerably to global warming). She asks that every South Loop resident take a pledge to eat no meat on Mondays May 7, 14, 21 and 28. (Notice that one of those Mondays is Memorial Day, the day the Weber comes out of hibernation. Need I say more?)
South Loopers may recognize Merritt’s name because she has been a go-getter and on the cutting edge in the neighborhood for years. I met her a decade ago when she was mixing up homemade ginger ale at a reception that Historic Printers Row Neighbors (the forerunner to South Loop Neighbors) was having at the opening of their photo contest and show at Dearborn Station. She had me at hello. The fresh ginger was pungent and delicious and I wanted the recipe for that beverage immediately, not to mention Merritt’s friendship. And another glass of ginger ale.
Merritt’s first big successful project was the building of a neighborhood dog park, and the beginning of the DogPAC, which was inaugurated through her vision several years ago. Grant Bark Park was born of her efforts, a place for dogs to play and frolic off leash in our neighborhood’s front yard. Next came her plan to excavate and create a rain garden on the south side of Polk Street, just west of Dearborn. Ergo, the Ferd Kramer rain garden was born, named after one of the founders of Dearborn Park. Merritt made lemonade from lemons in a grassy area that was seriously eroding and causing problems. From that mess, she created a worthwhile drainage area and a beautiful little garden with the City’s help.
Not one to let grass grow under her feet, Merritt then formed an organization called Alliance for a Greener South Loop, giving away green, greener and greenest awards each year to neighborhood residences, institutions and businesses that practice outstandingly green techniques. The competition is rough. And the winners are expected to share their green secrets.
And now, Merritt’s Meatless Mondays in May is her way of getting the South Loop neighborhood into cutting their meat consumption and patronizing South Loop restaurants (10 at last count) which will feature new meatless offerings, or discounts on their usual ones. Although one wonders how an iconic hamburger restaurant like Hackney’s, for instance, albeit having a vegetarian section on their menu, can actually get on the bandwagon on those Mondays. But Merritt got them on board! The list of restaurants is on www.greenersouthloop.com. For non-restaurant-goers, Merritt encourages preparing a great meatless pasta or a cool vitamin rich salad in the comfort of one’s own home on Mondays in May. She will have recipes on the website as well.
I think it would be cool to have groups of South Loopers go to the restaurants or to each other’s homes on Mondays in May to sample the meatless fare together. Maybe we can have progressive dinners? Or an intellectual salon or two with our meatless fare?
Perhaps the vegetarians among us can help others dip their feet, and their pita.