Now Or Never

Why I'm trying to convince my parents to eat less meat, one recipe at a time

Mickal Aranha has been trying to convince her traditional, Latin American parents to eat less meat. As you might imagine, it hasn't been easy.

Mickal Aranha hopes to reduce the amount of meat her Latin American parents consume

Consider my dad skeptical about jackfruit. (CBC/Eric Van)

Contributed by Mickal Aranha

I've been trying to convince my traditional, Latin American parents to eat less meat. As you might imagine, it hasn't been easy.

My Mom and I like cooking together, and after months of slow exposure, she's started to enjoy experimenting with vegetarian recipes. My Dad on the other hand, still insists on chasing vegetarian meals with steak.

We're fortunate we eat together as a family regularly, but my Dad's attitude toward meatless meals makes it difficult for me to stay on track with one of my major goals: to reduce my environmental impact.

Culture clash

Mom and I in the kitchen. (CBC/Eric Van)

My parents were born and raised in Ecuador. They've lived in Canada for decades now and are fairly open-minded in general, but they're more or less set in their ways when it comes to their diet.

This is understandable. Food isn't only a source of nourishment, it's a source of comfort and pleasure and is closely linked to culture, history and memory.

It seems reasonable in most cases to ask that people be accountable for their environmental footprint. But is it reasonable for me to ask my parents to give up one of their last remaining ties to their homeland to make a negligible difference in fighting climate change?

Food isn't only a source of nourishment, it's a source of comfort and pleasure and is closely linked to culture, history and memory.- Mickal Aranha

Is it an even less reasonable demand coming from someone from my generation, with a completely different lived experience?

Pork versus jackfruit

I decided I needed a new approach to get my Dad to give up traditional pork and beef dishes for veggies. At least once in a while.

Can jackfruit replace pork in a traditional Ecuadorian dish? We're about to find out. (CBC/Eric Van)

I recently discovered that jackfruit, a large, oblong fruit with a green, bumpy exterior has become a favourite among vegetarians as a meat substitute. People swear the texture of its pale yellow flesh closely resembles pork and that it takes to seasoning well.

I figured if I could prepare a traditional Ecuadorian dish for my Dad and successfully substitute the pork for jackfruit, he might finally give vegetarianism a chance.

Climate change altered the way I eat

I first started trying to eat less meat and reduce personal waste about six years ago.

In 2014 I moved to Ecuador and then to Bolivia. The time I spent working among people being directly impacted by climate change was both distressing and inspiring.

Interviewing a quinoa producer in Bolivia. (Submitted by Mickal Aranha)

When doing field work in remote communities, eating llama was often the most sustainable — and often only — meal option. I slowly slipped back into eating meat regularly.

When I returned to Toronto in 2017, I was more motivated than ever to embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle, but it has been a challenging journey back to a plant-based diet.

The verdict

After an afternoon of grocery shopping in Toronto's Kensington market, my Mom and I prepared llapingachos (potato pancakes stuffed with cheese), which are typically accompanied by salad, a fried egg and pork.

The big moment. (CBC/Eric Van)

The finished dish looked pretty convincing. We were curious to taste the jackfruit and find out if my Dad would approve of the substitution.

After chewing for what seemed like a long while, he concluded that it tasted better than he thought it would, but that it didn't taste anything like pork.

He also wondered if substituting pork for a fruit sourced on the other side of the world was really offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. This was a valid point.

My Mom and I agreed that jackfruit, while tasty in its own right, was nothing like pork. So, the experimentation continues.

I'm glad my parents and I have had this conversation and get to share it with others. The experience highlighted the fact that immigrant communities, women and other disenfranchised people are disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of climate change.

Environmental movements like the waste-free movement need to include diverse voices and experiences.

Jackfruit Pulled 'Pork'

Ingredients

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 (20 oz.) cans young jackfruit in water or brine, drained, cores cut off

½ small yellow onion, thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon cumin

1 chili pepper, minced

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Instructions

       
  1. If the jackfruit was in brine, rinse well.
  2.    
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir onion and garlic,  until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. 
  4.    
  5. Add cumin, chili.
  6.    
  7. Add jackfruit; cook and stir until lightly browned and relatively free of moisture, about 10 minutes. add pepper.

Optional

       
  1. Transfer jackfruit mixture to oven; cover with barbeque sauce. 
  2.    
  3. Bake for 75 minutes at 180 degrees C, until the liquid has baked out and the jackfruit has a deeper brown colour.

 

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