Beef? Bugs! It’s what for dinner, Mate!

by Christina Meyer-Jax, Tastemaker in Residence

For most of American history, animal protein has been center stage of our plates. In fact the US ranks #2 in meat consumption per capita (the wee country of  Luxembourg is #1). With slogans such as: “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner”, “Where’s the Beef”, and “Pork: The Other White Meat” it’s been a cultural norm and a staple for our diets. My husband grew up on a pig and dairy farm in the Midwest, so as you can guess animal protein has been a major player in our house as well.

And on a recent trip to Australia, I saw for myself that Aussie’s are just as fond of their animal protein (ranked right behind the US at #3 in meat consumption per capita). Huge slaps of steak and creamery style yogurt can be found on many café menus.

So what’s behind the obsession with meat? Is it because of taste and satiety? Health…animal protein will help build more muscle? Could it be about socioeconomic status? For men, does eating meat seem like a “manly” thing to do? Heck there are even jokes about guys ordering a “salad” at a work dinner or date. Or is that plant based proteins are boring, weird, and hard to cook? When was the last time you threw some legumes on the “barbie”?

Regardless of reason, our current and ever growing global demand for animal protein is not sustainable. The strain on water, land, and air will push us into thinking differently about what takes center stage on our plates.

In the “land down under”, they do indeed love their meat, but they also have an indigenous diet that has included bugs. In Sydney, one of our meals included a bone broth (highly nutritious and resourceful use of animal “leftovers”) and it was sprinkled with crispy ants. What do crispy ants taste like (in case you aren’t game to try)? Lemony chia seeds. Just don’t look down much as you slurp ☺

And the bug eating didn’t stop there. Several of the stores carried and heavily promoted granola bars that included ground up cricket powder for added protein.

Ounce for ounce these bugs are packed with sustainable protein (we all know there are plenty of bugs out there). But can American meat eating culture get over the “ew” factor and embrace the option of bug based protein? Or can we look at other options like having meat and veggies flip on our plate? Can meat become the garnish instead of playing center stage?

If you aren’t ready to get your protein fix with bugs quite yet, try one of my favorite protein packed plant based dishes (see recipe below). 

Eating more plant-based foods is a win-win for human and planetary health. I not planning on being a vegetarian (or a “pretendatarian” for the sometimes I don’t eat meat folks), but am excited to explore more how I can make veggies and fruit take center stage on my plate.

Recipe: Smashed White Bean & Kale Quesadilla with Creamy BBQ Dip 

This is an amazing appetizer or full meal that’s perfect for Friday night and a glass of wine.