By Kristen Rogers, CNN • Updated 2020 May 21
As the pandemic pokes holes in America’s meat supply chain, many people are thinking about eating less meat or even going vegetarian.
That leads to the following questions: What should a newbie eat? How do you get enough nutrients? And importantly — how do you make the food taste good?
Indian, Indonesian, Ethiopian and Nigerian cooks could teach novices a thing or two, since they’ve had meat-free eating down pat for hundreds or even thousands of years.
These four countries, all with robust cooking traditions, are among the Asian and African countries with low rates of meat consumption or high rates of vegetarianism, according to a 2019 agricultural report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.
For many countries, it’s a way of life rather than a lifestyle choice: Some are following religious mandates that respect some animals as sacred or that adhere to principles of nonviolence. Some lack the funds or access to meat.
These cultures have a tradition of making produce, grains and legumes the stars of their meals, all appreciating the varieties of flavors, textures and ingredients that make a good vegetarian dish.
“Vegetables aren’t just an afterthought, side dish or boring salad. It’s the blank canvas that can be paired with different spices and ingredients to make for hundreds of different dishes,” said Priyanka Naik, an Indian vegan celebrity chef and food personality in New York City.
You don’t have to be extreme in your approach, Ethiopian-Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson told CNN. You can just try to eat less meat at first.
“I would go 50/50 for two weeks and then I would go 60/40 and then 80/20,” he added. “I would ease myself into it.”
If you’re trying to shift from eating meat and have no clue what to do, these chefs and recipe developers can help.
The country with the most vegetarians
India has the highest rate of people following a vegetarian diet in the world, with about 31% of its population subsisting on a plant-based diet or one that includes dairy and eggs as of 2014. And for those who aren’t strictly vegetarian, regular meat consumption isn’t common.
Many Indians eat a vegetarian diet because of access to ingredients, cost and religious beliefs.
People who live in the countryside only have access to grains, legumes and different fruits and vegetables, Naik said. “Vegetables have always been a focal point of our meals, and the way we prepare vegetables is very, very creative,” she added.