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Slow Food USA staffer Deena Goldman was letting her busy work and personal life get in the way of creativity in the kitchen, so she decided to enroll in a cooking techniques class at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Food and Health. The institute focuses on health-supportive cooking and educates its students on the importance of local, sustainable food sourcing. Deena interviews her instructor, Peter Berley, to get his take on home cooking becoming the “in” thing to do. Berley is the author of numerous cookbooks for vegetarians, omnivores and everyone in between, and he has been active in the natural foods movement for more than 25 years.

Q: People are starting to figure out that eating less meat is a “green” thing to do. What recommendations do you have for the meat lover trying to do right by eating less?

I think the first thing to do is what food choices are available outside the world of meat – to look at cuisines that you enjoy and notice what in those cuisines could utilize small amounts or none at all. Italian, Mexican and Indian cuisines all have a lot of really satisfying vegetarian options or dishes where meat is a smaller part of the meal. (ie in Italian: legumes, chickpeas, beans.) Focus on whole grains, pastas, beans and vegetables, cheeses and eggs. Lacto-ovo veg diet can be satisfying. Look at traditional recipes for how to cook beans, how to make soups, and use seasonal vegetables. Go to farmers markets and check out what’s growing now. Buy a cookbook and take a cooking class. You have to jump in. The Flexitarian Table finds alternatives to meat-eating within the context of meat. How to use meats but in a smaller portion.

One example of making meat go a long way: a couple of days ago I roasted a chicken, which served as part of a meal for 3. The following day I took the whole carcass, with meat remaining on it, simmered it in a pot with vegetables, then picked the meat off the bone, put in some potatoes and barley. I got 2 really good meals out of 1 chicken. Unless one is philosophically a vegetarian, there’s no need to deny yourself meat, but you can eat less of it and still feel satisfied. My book, The Flexitarian Table, has a lot of alternatives to meat-eating within the context of meat – how to eat meats but in a small portion, where meat can become a condiment.

Q: What kind of advice would you give people who want to cook (more) but are scared of the kitchen?