The guilt that accompanies eating is pervasive and untasty. Particularly around the meat/no-meat divide, where ethics and health debates often clash with appetite and comfort food.
We are quick to confine our diet, following despotic rules that ebb and flow like trends. Sometimes at the expense of our health. Other times at the inconvenience to others.
I have been a struggling vegetarian for years. Cheating a bit here to avoid offending a dinner host, following the "don't ask, don't tell" policy with ambiguous broth, or forgiving the purchase of a beautiful leather jacket in Argentina (someone else is eating the cow, I might as well recycle the byproducts, right?).
When I lived in Italy for six months in 2005, I quickly learned that I had been focusing on the wrong culprit. While there's barely an Italian word for 'vegetarian,' it's actually quite easy to get by on a meatless diet. That's because Italians focus on food that is simple, fresh and local. They view food not as cheap fuel to be quickly consumed; but rather as a leisurely art to be enjoyed in moderation, and often followed by a passagiata, a soft stroll through town.
The Italians showed confusion, but never cynicism, to my food preferences. They made it simple to remove meat from the meal, and showed genuine compassion for pleasing all eaters at the table. It was this adoration for food and focus on inclusion and respect that inspired me to begin collecting recipes that did just that.
Five years later and I, along with a talented group of volunteer chefs, have collected almost 200 recipes that will be printed in The Flexitarian Cookbook this summer. The recipes are healthy, hearty meals from around the world that are 'flexible,' and can be made for vegetarians or carnivores. The idea is to inspire inclusion and respect for all food preferences, while encouraging healthy, social eating with family and friends. And if you want to have a passagiata after dinner, we encourage that too.
"The Flexitarian Cookbook" is available for pre-order here. Proceeds from the book benefit Slow Food USA and Yoga Bear.