IN the majority of households meat is still the central article of every meal; but there is an almost universal desire to decrease the amount of meat consumed, if not totally to eliminate it from the diet. The desire arises partly from thirst for variety, partly from reasons of economy, and partly from a growing distaste for animal food. Whatever the reason, the housewife is obliged to turn more and more to her list of meat-substitute dishes. Eggs have already been treated in a previous chapter, but they are by no means the only substitutes.
Foods which are served in place of meat should be rich in protein and fat and should also be savory. Cheese naturally suggests itself, for it contains nearly twice as much protein, weight for weight, as beef of average composition, and its fuel value is almost twice as great. In view of these facts it seems strange that it is not more widely used. One reason is, doubtless, that cheese is generally considered indigestible and liable to cause constipation; but investigations of the United States Department of Agriculture have happily disproved this as well as many other current superstitions in regard to food.
Care, however, should be exercised in planning meals in which cheese is employed as a substitute for meat. As cheese dishes are inclined to be somewhat "heavy," they should be offset by crisp, watery vegetables, watercress, celery, lettuce, fruit salads and light desserts, preferably fresh or cooked fruit. Another point, too, is to be considered. Whether raw or cooked, cheese seems to call for the harder kinds of bread - crusty rolls or biscuit, zwieback, toast, pulled bread or hard crackers.
Dried peas, beans and lentils are also excellent substitutes for meat. Since they contain as much protein as meat and since their fuel value is almost equal to that of cheese, it is not surprising to find that they are extensively used among all people who, either from necessity or choice, eat little or no meat. The impoverished Mexican uses at almost every meal the native bean or frijole, made palatable with green vegetables and chile or red pepper. There is a Hindoo proverb, "Rice is good, but lentils are my life," showing in what esteem the protein of the lentil was held even among ancient peoples.
There is, of course, the objection commonly raised to the indi-gestibility of these foods, and they can hardly be recommended for persons with delicate stomachs. Rightly prepared, however, and eaten in moderate quantities, they cannot be considered indigestible in the ordinary sense of the word. The removal of the skin aids greatly to increase the digestibility and hinders the formation of gas.
Nuts also may be employed as substitutes for meat; for they are very rich in oil, with only a small percentage of starch and sugar, and are also rich in nitrogen. And though frequently indigestible when taken by themselves, if properly combined with other foods they should be capable of digestion by any normal person.