By Sigrid Bjarnason
First appeared in the April 22nd edition of the Flying Shingle
My mother was raised on a farm in rural Saskatchewan. I remember her saying that farm wives worked themselves into an early grave preparing mountains of food for their children, the farm hands, adopted relatives, drifters, and anyone else who happened by.
Once mom got married and moved to the city, leaving the cows and the crops in the prairie dust, it didn’t take her long to discover that modern marvel – convenience foods! Don’t get me wrong, she could rustle up a tasty dinner from scratch and often did, but food prep was not her passion.
We kids had no complaints. When we pulled our chair up to a tin tray table in front of the TV, peeled back the foil lid on a frozen dinner and plunked down a glass of milk, we were in for a treat – Ed Sullivan and a TV dinner on Sunday night. Meat, grains, vegetables, fruit and dairy all in neat little compartments (the food rectangle perhaps?) Who knew from saturated fats, trans fats, lack of fiber, pesticides, hormones, too much salt and too much sugar? Those were innocent days.
Back then no one asked, “Where do you get your protein?” It was obvious. It came from pieces of an animal. We’ve since learned, however, that protein is not a synonym for meat. Now we know about the healthy sources of protein in foods like lentils, beans, nut butters, quinoa, avocado, brown rice, broccoli, spinach, pumpkin seeds, and lots of other things.
Unless their diet consists of Oreo cookies and root beer, people who leave animals off the menu get plenty of protein. Not long ago we thought it was essential to eat complete proteins in the form of animals. Failing that, we had to carefully combine complementary plants in the same meal to form complete proteins. Now we know better; as long as we eat a healthy variety of grains, legumes, and vegetables during the day, our bodies know how to combine foods into all the proteins we need.
Occasionally people tell me that meat and fish are the “natural” sources of protein for humans. When I look at my fingernails, toenails, and teeth I just can’t picture it. Bring down a deer for dinner? Snag a squirrel for lunch? An Oregon grape or a mushroom I can do. A moose, not so much.
There are plenty of examples of strong, impressive herbivores out there. How about elephants and hippos? And vegan athletes, for that matter. They all get their protein from plants. We can too.