... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Mostly plants

The short advice given by Michael Pollan is his various books (which I haven't read. Yet) is: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

This is advice we have been trying to take to heart lately. Briefly, we were both long time vegetarians (me for fifteen odd years, Jim for more than 25) until a few years ago. I decided (or realised) that being a lacto-vegetarian - that is, not eating meat or fish, but eating dairy produce and eggs - was a cop out, at least from the animal welfare and environmental perspectives that were our primary motivation. There's more animal suffering and environmental damage in a conventionally produced omelette or pint of milk than in, say, a free range organic lamb chop. So I went vegan - that is, avoiding all animal products - and actually managed to keep it up for over a year despite being the only one in the household. It was getting the job in Huddersfield that did for me; cooking for one and sometimes needing to use convenience foods made it seem impossible at the time.

But eating humanely reared, organic meat didn't seem like the biggest crime either, when smug veggies were tucking into mass produced cheese, factory farmed milk and battery eggs. It was the discovery of the Nightingales Farm Shop in Atherstone (now sadly no longer there, although their produce is available at local farmers' markets) and their absolutely sublime locally reared steak pies that knocked Jim off the wagon - not only beautiful meat, but divine gravy and perfect pastry made these irresistible. The trouble with falling off any wagon is that you tend to land on a slippery slope... and before too long we were eating Fray Bentos pies. Obviously, this is not good. Nor even pleasant.

So, we decided to have another go. Not to be vegan; not, in fact, to 'be' anything rigid, but to try to eat mostly plants. The idea is for all the meals we cook at home to be plant based, but to allow ourselves some leeway when eating out or visiting others. Sometimes it used to be hard to think of something original or interesting to cook for dinner (tea for readers north of Watford), and we'd get involved in complex, expensive recipes. Now the aim is to base each day's dinner around fresh vegetables, pulses and grains - the last two between them containing all the amino acids required to provide protein as good as animal based. Hopefully this will be simpler, better for our health and our pocket, and doing what we can to promote animal welfare and environmental sustainability. Recent dinners have included:

Cauliflower and chick pea curry with brown rice

Lentil dahl with garlic and ginger (the only vegetables we had left on the boat one evening) and bread

Wholewheat spaghetti with a sauce of fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, canellini beans and white wine (all the stuff we found in the fridge when we got back from the boats)

Chilli (peppers, tomatoes, fresh chillis and kidney beans) with brown rice

Beetroot and lentil soup with horseradish, served with Jim's wonderful home made wholemeal bread

Winter vegetable stew with butter beans and dumplings, served with greens

Moussaka, made with fresh aubergines and green lentils in a rich tomato sauce, flavoured with cinnamon, and served with garlic bread

Leek and potato pie, with canellini beans, all in wholegrain mustard sauce under a shortcrust pastry lid.

The fact that I'm eating less, losing weight, and not feeling hungry but full of energy says to me that this is a healthy diet which is meeting all my nutritional needs - easily and cheaply too. The challenge will be in not reaching for the convenience food or the pub steak at the end of a hard day's boating.

I will try to post from time to time about how well we're managing to keep it up, and any new recipe ideas that emerge.

I started writing this ages ago, by the way, long before all the tired old arguments resurfaced again on CWF.


  1. ....(tea for readers north of Watford) quite right especially now you are a northerner again.

    You were dobbed in for being meat eater on the boat but not at home by some hairy bloke captaining your boat recently...good to see you are enjoying the rewards of a balanced diet, I really should try it - what about alcohol ??

  2. Beer is made from plants :-)

    I did tell Neil and Paul to help themselves to the contents of the food cupboard and especially the Fray Bentos pies - I'm hoping to go back and find them all gone.

    I'm not going to say categorically that I don't/won't eat meat. But if I do it will be a rare and special treat.

    Tonight's tea: roasted mediterranean vegetables (peppers, onion, garlic, capers and a tin of artichoke hearts) in fresh tomato sauce with butterbeans, served with wholemeal spaghetti)

  3. Sssh... You'll be giving away your age!

  4. not eating meat is quite a good strategy for a fridgeless boat like mine.I do eat meat but enjoy a lot of meatless meals.
    I can see a recipe swap coming up in the future.Can't get exited about wholemeal pasta though and pasta salad is one of the devils lesser hideous works but in my book a nasty one.I would rather eat a Fray Bentos pie any day.

  5. Agree that cold pasta is a Very Bad Idea.

  6. When we got Sickle I filled up the space under the side bed with stores of non-perishable foods - dried, tinned, etc. Then wrote down a load of recipes that I thought I could try out on the Epping stove. Then we had so much hot weather that the stove hardly went on, so I haven't tried out many yet. Risotto worked well, as it can cook fairly slowly, without spoiling if it needs to be kept warm while you work through a lock (or two).
    I do plan to try out a chestnut and mushroom suet pudding at some stage, as this should be able to cook slowly. However, as I haven't cooked any suet pastry since I got thrown out of cookery at school....
    I'll be watching here though as I'm always keen for some new ideas.