“Meat every Sunday and ground meat on Thursdays”—this was the rule around which my mother, and most Greek women, planned meals when I was growing up. The rule wasn’t invented for the health-conscious, and certainly wasn’t for those who wished to lose weight—rather, up until the 1960s, hardworking Greek men could barely afford food for their families. Malnutrition, rather than obesity, was the country’s epidemic—and meat was very expensive, as it was never plentiful in Greece, a mountainous country with no plains for raising cattle. Instead, farmers raised mountain goats and sheep, but primarily for milk and cheese. I often wonder if the current Greek obsession with roasted baby lamb, pork and other meats is a result of the fact that, for many years, meat has been a rare luxury—a festive dish enjoyed only on important religious and family occasions.
We know now that today’s over-consumption of meat is unhealthy for our hearts, our waistlines, and our planet. The mass production of meat—meant to satisfy the increasing needs of an expanding population—is unsustainable, and a terrible waste of resources. To add to the problem, pesticides, hormones and methane gas (from livestock manure) have become a significant source of pollution.
For both environmental and culinary reasons, we look back at the traditional Mediterranean dishes that ingeniously used meat as flavoring—rather than as a primary ingredient—to create healthy, one-pot family meals with vegetables, greens, and beans. The Black-Eyed Pea, Ground Lamb, and Chard Stew is a delicious example: it seems to be tailor-made by a modern nutritionist but is, in fact, adapted from Gaziatep—the part of southern Turkey that borders Syria. This, and many other recipes, may be found in my upcoming book, Mediterranean Hot and Spicy. (more…)