October is National Vegetarian Month, so last weekend I did something I almost never do: I ordered a vegetarian dinner at a restaurant, Amerikas (734 Lake St., Oak Park). Because I’m trying to eat mostly vegetarian at home, when we go out, I go for what I like most: beef.
I dream of hamburgers, I really do, but I know it’s probably best for personal and planetary health to cut back on red meat. Though research is beginning to question whether dietary cholesterol has much effect on bad cholesterol in the blood, it seems packing all that delicious meat and fat into my body is probably not a good strategy for continued survival for me or Earth (close to 20% of global methane emissions, which drive global warming, are due to ruminant livestock).
The good news is it’s getting easier than ever to eat a mostly vegetarian restaurant meal. Oak Park has long been home to Munch (104 N. Marion), which specializes in vegetarian and vegan food, and places like Jerusalem Café (1030 Lake) and Papaspiros (728 Lake) always have plant-forward menu options.
Earlier this month, in an article about Indigenous Peoples’ Day (Oct. 9), I mentioned Mexican food as one of the most prevalent and readily available Native North American foods, a culinary tradition that’s been going for millennia and is largely vegetable-based.
But Amerikas’ menu nods to many food groups.
“We try to balance the menu,” chef/owner Armando Gonzalez told us, “with one-third meat, one-third fish, and one-third vegetables.”
At Amerikas, the vegetarian options are available throughout the day. At dinnertime, we had several standout dishes. Acorn squash stuffed with creamy mushroom risotto is perked up with piquant chile peppers that balance the richness of truffle butter. Cauliflower (“our number one best seller,” said Gonzalez) comes with carrots, farro (a variety of wheat), a flavorful reduction of hibiscus and chile, and Manchego cheese. Guacamole, a Mexican restaurant standard, is here served with chips of tlayuda, a flat, crisp, almost brittle tortilla, very popular in Oaxaca, sprinkled with flowers. It looks and tastes fantastic. To drink, we suggest a Margarita with mezcal, another product of Oaxaca.
“We’re soon going to be making our own mezcal,” Gonzalez, who is also from Oaxaca, told us. We are very eager to try the spirit when it’s available.
Meat was once on the edge of luxury, not something many people ate every day. Now, hyper-industrialized feedlots make it possible to deliver meat for a low dollar amount. Heck, a cheeseburger on McDonald’s “dollar menu” is a buck. But the price you pay for eating too much beef, delicious as it may be, can come at a high cost to personal and planetary health. Perhaps ironically, eating the fruits of the earth is one of the simplest ways to save the Earth.
Not preaching here, just saying.
You’d be surprised how easy it is, and how good you’ll feel, after a dinner of mostly vegetables. Maybe it’s time to try a plant-based meal or two, whether you’re eating at home or in a restaurant.
Meatless Mondays are a good way to start.