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375 million vegetarians worldwide. All the reasons for a green lifestyle

Lifestyle / -

© Paul Liebhardt/Corbis

According to the 2014 Meat Atlas of the Friends of the Earth and the Heinrich Böll Foundation, only a small percentage of people in the world – and many for different reasons – are defined as “vegetarian” of which there are nearly half a billion.

Vegetarianism excludes foods of the “flesh” of any kind, be it red meat, poultry, birds, fish, shellfish or seafood. But it does concede milk and dairy products (cheese, butter, cream, whey and cottage cheese), eggs and honey, and other products of animal origin, as long as no animals are killed.

The numbers
In the U.S., four percent of men and seven percent of the women are defined as vegetarians. In India, where there are religious reasons guiding a cruelty-free diet, 31 percent of the population is considered vegetarian. In Europe, vegetarians are an estimated ten percent of the population. Worldwide, vegetarians total 375 million.

The roots of vegetarianism
Although supposedly a modern trend, vegetarianism in the West has very ancient roots. Many of the early Greek and Roman philosophers, including Plutarch, Pythagoras, Seneca and Porfirio, followed a meatless diet as a refusal of animal sacrifices to the gods and out of respect for living beings.

A cultural movement
Luminaries such as Leonardo da Vinci and Descartes were vegetarian: first, out of awareness of the suffering of animals, and second, because it was believed that a diet without meat was healthier one. However it was not until the nineteenth century, with the opening of the Vegetarian Society in Great Britain (1847) and in the USA (1850) that a true cultural movement was born.  Originating in France in 1845, from the Société des Animaux Protectrice, it was already in existence in England, Holland and Bavaria.

Vegetarian by faith
A quarter of India’s population – Hindus, Buddhists and Jainists – believe in reincarnation and the practice of non-violence, and therefore follow a vegetarian diet. Jain monks are so compassionate towards all living beings, even the smallest of insects, they sweep them out of the way so as not to tread on them.

Vegetarian for the planet
Another reason for bringing about a change of diet is respect for the environment born from an understanding of the damage to the ecosystem caused by the intensive rearing of cattle, pigs, chickens and hens for egg production. According to a study by the WWF, to produce one kg of beef steak, it takes 15,500 liters of water and 70 percent of the world's fresh water used to grow plants as fodder for livestock.

Vegetarian empathy
The reasons that drive people to embrace a meatless diet are varied and, last but not least, there is love for animals. Those who are vegetarian demonstrate the sincerest form of empathy towards others and reluctantly eat those that must die because of them. A famous phrase is attributed to writer George Bernard Shaw who said, "Animals are my friends, I do not eat my friends." It is the motivation that drives people to change their diet: so as not to inflict suffering on creatures that do not hurt you.

Becoming vegetarian
Those who stop eating meat may do so simply to stay healthy. According to medical science, too many meat-based foods increase the risk of cancer, while excess protein from meat damages the kidneys. A carnivorous diet may also encourage the onset of cardiovascular disease, increasing the proportion of lipids in the blood. The medical field however argues that eating meat counteracts anemia because it contains the type of iron more absorbable by the body, and doctors agree in saying that those who decide to choose a vegetarian diet must compensate with proteins of high biological value such as those found in legumes.

Niko Romito. Sustainability in the kitchen stems from old traditions

Taste / -

Niko Romito chef
©Francesco Fioramonti

He has three Michelin stars and a belief: that 'poor' dishes and traditions are the starting point for creating an 'ethical' haute cuisine. His favorite ingredients include the Solina grain, which grows in the mountains and, thanks to cold temperatures, needs no pesticides.

You have three Michelin stars. Do anti-waste and sustainability sit well with haute cuisine?
Today, ethics is important for the professional chef and we must try to avoid waste of any type of cuisine. We are increasingly aware that agribusiness production is outstripping demand by more than 50%, which means that it produces twice the quantity of the food we eat – which is a huge waste.
How can we avoid waste?
To avoid waste - speaking as a chef - you have to have a great food culture.  Italian culture is born from a home culture which has always done great things to save food, because it was sacred, from being thrown out. I remember my grandfather kept loaves of bread for two or three days in small mesh timber, and woe betide us if we threw them out. And if it happened, he made ​​the sign of the cross. If I think about the traditional recipes of Abruzzo, Central and Southern Italy in general, bread with all its symbolic value plays a leading part and had to be saved - as a sacred object and as essential.
Is it important to train the next generations of chefs that have not come into direct contact with these traditions?
Of course. When I say training I also mean knowing about our past, that from bread you can make incredible preparations and create a modern dish. Today the new century chef is different from the old century chef, so it is natural that recipes will change, but it should not change the underlying philosophy.
What does it mean to create a modern dish?
A modern dish means working with good legumes and with good oils, working on lightness and on fats. With my school I try to teach sustainability and fight waste. I refer to a dish from an Abruzzo town which started as a simple dish: the Pancotto. The recipe comes from transhumance, the migratory journey undertaken by shepherds every time they went from Puglia to Abruzzo when leading their flocks to graze in the summer in our territories. They brought with them large loaves of bread which, after 10-15 days, they could no longer eat. That's why this dish was born: bread, now hardened, was soaked with broth, made ​​with spring vegetables, which are easily found in the fields, and inside it was an egg would be positioned, a gift of the hens who normally lived in the courtyards. We took the same ingredients and made ​​Pancotto in our own way, with the same ingredients, but with a new approach: stale bread, a fresh egg and cooked vegetables that respect the plant, cooked for a few moments, without boiling for long. It was a dish we created in 2002, and is one of the most important ones that marked a path of study and the recovery of tradition that continues today.
What is for you the food of the future?
The food of the future will be highly dedicated to the world of plants, legumes and vegetables. It will be characterized in full respect of seasonality and, therefore, with a rotation of products at the table. And then it is time to do a great job on the grains and flours, from which you can get many products.
Can you give us an example?
I refer to the grain of Solina, which is the only grain that could be grown in the area where I have my restaurant, in the Abruzzo region, in Castel di Sangro. Living in these high mountain areas - with large temperature fluctuations – what is notable is that this grain does not need pesticides, as bacterial charges are destroyed by cold temperatures at night. It was a plant that had been abandoned, but it is starting to re-establish itself. This is the role of the chef, and where we have to intervene. I took a type of wheat that was about to be forgotten, and gave it value at the table, I carried it around with me, communicating and promoting it at events. I started sharing knowledge about the grain that had been totally lost. It was the way to create value starting from an ethical responsibility. A chef must choose a producer and let him know that behind a grain that was about to disappear, was the basis for creating his own company.
What does sustainability mean to you?
For me, sustainability is a profound value in two ways. "External" sustainability is the one we have just talked about so far, as respect for tradition that stems from saving a forgotten grain or legume or proposing an old recipe with a modern twist. “Internal” sustainability, however, comprises responsibility and a chef’s work ethic. It is about successfully conveying a message. I try to explain to the team working with me, to the students at my school, the central role a chef plays in his own territory in introducing and supporting certain products. The future is to go back to the land, our territory, creating companies that are able to support and become a mine of products to be transformed into good and wholesome dishes.

In the Dominican Republic, ginger is trendy and tourists love it - so says TripAdvisor

Cultura / -

ICEI turismo allo zenzero (Rep Domenicana)

A new model of tourism is moving from the beaches and mega complexes into the countryside: culture meets agriculture, flavors and local customs, to become a turbo of shared development. It's the Ginger Route: a themed itinerary created by two Italian NGOs.

The Samana Peninsula, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic:here you’ll find paradisiacal beaches and crystal clear waters under a tropical sky. Just name it and you feel like you’re a photo from a travel brochure, that eternal summer in a holiday village. And indeed, around Samana, for years, tourism has been almost just that: sea and tourist complexes operated by companies and foreign companies.
Outside the golden cages of these complexes, a few cents would end up in the pockets of the locals, their destiny stretching into the dark shadow of prostitution, child exploitation, increasing alcoholism and drug trafficking: all direct effects of vacationers’ shabby behavior.
ICEI and the Community of Don Gallo, together to help
Ringing the changes has been a series of partnership projects designed and already completed by two Italian companies, the NGO ICEI and the Comunità di S. Benedetto al Porto founded by Don Gallo. They decided to start from a typical product to promote a different type of tourism, one that would be sustainable and environmentally friendly, and to create jobs and development. Which product? Ginger, el jengibre as they call it here. Organic ginger: cultivated, processed, exported.
Guariquén ginger.  A ginger of quality
But also offered, cooked, and even something to talk about. So around Las Galeras, a village on the peninsula of Samana historically dedicated to agriculture, more than 120 farmers have been supported financially in their daily work, trained and advised in product promotion and helped along in the creation of a consortium for the protection of their excellent ginger, certified with a new brand name: Ginger Guariquén.
Come and see the ginger of Samana
In the language of the Indios, guariquén means "come and see" – and this turned out to be the real challenge. Invite tourists to taste and buy the ginger, entice them to leave the "usual" circuit to go and see the countryside, the daily life of those who live and work in Samana; transforming agriculture into a travel experience, promoting its landscape, its gastronomy and its culture.
Ginger is good, beautiful and trendy
Marketing of the local territory has led to the creation of a network of bed and breakfasts and restaurant services, but also of cookbooks and craft products. And, in parallel, art workshops and cultural initiatives are growing. Founded as the Ruta del Jengibre, namely, the Ginger Route, it represents a new model of tourism, a themed route that quickly ended up in the pages of La Repubblica and even Vogue. And in 2014 it appeared on TripAdvisor, with great reviews. Ginger really is good, beautiful and trendy.

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