Food - Almost vegetarianism

Demi-vegetarians have their steak and eat it, too

Michael Graham, founder of Treehugger.com, gave an interesting talk at the 2010 TED conference. In "Why I'm a Weekday Vegetarian," Graham proposes a flexible model of demi-vegetarianism that advocates for cutting back on meat consumption rather than cutting it out altogether. The term, popularized by moral philosopher R.M. Hare, and later adopted by foodie intellectual Michael Pollan, refers to a diet that hinges on moderating intake. Demi-vegetarians eat meat, but insist that the animals come from small farms, are treated well, and fed an appropriate diet.

Ethical views aside, reducing meat consumption by 70 percent each week could have a profound impact on your health and the environment. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who eat plant-based diets generally consume fewer calories, weigh less, and have a lower risk of heart disease. The 2009 study "Meat Intake and Mortality," published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, revealed that the more red and processed meats you eat, the more likely you are to die from cancer or cardiovascular disease. And a widely referenced 2007 study by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that "2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days," according to the New York Times.

This is the South. We love our meat; it's in our Dixie nature. But in light of such facts, demi-vegetarianism and diets like Weekday Vegetarian are worth exploring.

To become a weekday vegetarian, most of what you need to know is implied in the name. As Graham explains in his talk, the diet is simply "nothing with a face Monday through Friday," and it's meant as a sustainability diet rather than one for weight loss. Keen on experimenting with demi-vegetarianism in Atlanta, CL consulted local vegetarians, and readers on Facebook and Twitter, to see where Atlanta's best vegetarian dishes were hiding. Here are five recommendations for vegetarian eats we think are good enough to stifle any weekday meat craving.

Quinoa is the foundation of chef David Sweeney's lunchtime grain bowl ($8) at Cakes & Ale and is supported by a rotating cast of fresh or dried beans and peas, depending on the season. A recent version included feta cheese, cannellini beans, and fresh parsley. The combination of beans and grain constitutes what nutritionists call a complete protein. It's a satisfying and nourishing plate of alternative protein.

Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q's smoked portobello sandwich ($9.95) is smoky and meaty and layered with melted pimento cheese, jalapeño mayo, red onion, lettuce, and tomato. The mushroom is dense, chewy, and naturally moist. You won't have any regrets about skipping Fox. Bros.' brisket.

The "Sketti and Neatballs" ($16) at Sauced substitutes crisp seitan (a high-protein meat replacement made from wheat) and al dente spaghetti-squash noodles in this spin on the Italian-American go-to. A tart and garlicky tomato arrabbiata sauce dresses the dish. There's enough flavor and texture contrast on the plate to keep your senses happily occupied.

The veggie loaf entrée ($15.50) at Leon's Full Service is made with a combination of quinoa, lentils, mushrooms, bulgur wheat, and sun-dried tomatoes, and served on a bed of roasted cauliflower, shiitake mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes. Scoop a little of everything into a single bite to get the full effect of the dish's rich, earthy flavors.

And finally, a veggie burger. It might be easier to choose a favorite child than to name an uncontested veggie burger champion of Atlanta. For this reason, we asked Sweeney, the veggie whisperer himself, what constitutes a great veggie burger. Sweeney says he sees the burger as a vehicle for his favorite part of the sandwich: the fresh vegetables and condiments. But in terms of the patty, Sweeney is a fan of a black bean base. "I think they have a nice texture, and they're easily seasoned. For me, the best veggie burger is a classic Southwestern-style black bean burger," he says. The big, sloppy, and hearty veggie burger at Grindhouse Killer Burgers ($5.99) meets Sweeney's requirements. Made with a flavorful mixture of black beans and quinoa, Grindhouse's homemade patty is thick, with a crisp outer layer that produces a pleasurable bite. And with more than 20 sauce, condiment, and veggie options you can customize it any way you like.

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