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Meat-free paddling for a good cause

Last week I received a French copy of the Meat Free Mondays Cookbook, an extraordinary initiative by Sir Paul McCartney and the women of his life (his daughter Stella and wife Mary) launched in 2009 to convince people to stop eating meat only one day each week in order to protect the health of the planet and our own. A part-time vegetarian myself, I must say that this book (along with the idea of slowing down on meat without turning an omnivore's life upside down) sparked my enthusiasm once again for a more sensible approach to food that would limit meat consumption.

Why we should pay attention

The concept of Meat Free Mondays isn't new but it is certainly worth reminding people what it is about a few years after its launch in order to rekindle our enthusiasm for such a great initiative. It was born in 2009, after Paul McCartney read a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) explaining that cattle ranching was harming the environment badly and that if humans were to cut their meat consumption only one day a week it would improve the planet's health significantly.

When stars get involved

So the ex-Beatle contacted friends: rock stars, movie stars, people from the fashion business and celebrity chefs (Gweneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, Woody Harrelson, Jeff Beck, Sir Richard Branson, Twiggy, Mario Batali, Tom Aikens, etc.) and he convinced them to embrace the simple idea of cooking every Monday without using meat. Not only did they join the parade with enthusiasm but they also created and shared their favorite meatless recipes. With such famous godparents, the Meat Free Mondays movement quickly gained popularity. No wonder: the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates roughly one fifth of man-made greenhouse gas emissions; much more than does transportation. It takes 40 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce one calorie of beef compared to 2.2 calories to produce plant-based proteins.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) if everyone in the US decided tomorrow to start a fully vegetarian diet it would be the equivalent of taking off 46 million cars off the road. The same organization notes that it takes 1800 to 2500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat. Those are some of the reasons Paul McCartney got involved in the movement in the first place. So why not support Meat Free Mondays by cutting back on meat once a week?

A book with great recipes

The concept of the book that evolved from the Meat Free Mondays campaign proved to be extremely ingenuous and simple: it proposed 52 vegetarian menus created for each and every Monday of the year. The result is 200 mouthwatering recipes that are also very easy to master, including roasted mushrooms with tomatoes, soft boiled egg with asparagus, oriental tabouleh, sweet potato gnocchis, spiced pumpkin pancakes, basil and mushroom tart, Pilau Rice with cashews and watermelon granité. The book can be ordered through internet via www.meatfreemondays.com. You can also support the initiative if it suits your convictions and desire to get involved.

How to adapt the concept to paddlers

Of course, paddlers travel with portable kitchens that limit their cooking choices and they have to be creative when mealtime comes; not all the recipes proposed in the book would be suitable in the context of outdoor cooking. Not to mention the fact that very often we kayakers and canoeists are literally starving after a long day on the water and we need to fix a quick but satisfying meal. Dips can be easy way to achieve that, allowing for many variations on the same theme. But, more importantly, they can be adapted in many vegetarian versions. Now that would suit Meat Free Mondays! The other interesting thing is that dips do not require lots of ingredients to be delicious and filling. But in order to get enough proteins it is important to bear in mind to eat your dips not only with an assortment of vegetables but also with whole grain crackers or pita bread.

Recipes for Paddlers

Classic garbanzo dip (4 portions)

  • 2 cups garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp olive or toasted sesame oil
  • Fresh or dried parsley, to taste

With a fork, mash the beans. Mix in the rest of the ingredients and serve with whole wheat pita bread, carrots, cucumber, celery and raw almonds.

Mini cucumber and garlic dip
(4 portions)

  • 6 mini cucumbers, finely diced
  • 1 cup Greek style yogurt
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together and serve with whole wheat pita bread, red bell peppers, kalamata olives and celery.

Tofu dip Asian style
(4 portions)

  • 1 package semi-soft silken tofu, drained
  • 4 tbsp crunchy all-natural peanut butter
  • 1 to 2 tbsp soy sauce (or more, to taste)
  • 2 green onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • Juice of 1 lime

With a fork, mash tofu with peanut butter. Add soy sauce and mix well. Add remaining ingredients and serve with sesame bread sticks, carrots, Chinese cabbage wedges and broccoli florets.

Goat cheese dip
(4-6 portions)

  • 10 to 12 oz creamy goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup caramelized onion jam
  • 4 tbsp pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup soy cream

Mix all ingredients together. Serve with Scandinavian bread or pretzels, celery, cauliflower florets, carrots and parsnip pieces.

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