Some in the media would have us believe that the rising cost of meat is a summer-time tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Yet the fact is, we Canadians could stand to cut back a little on our meat intake -- eating too much of it harms our health, the environment, pushes family farmers out of business, and causes suffering to animals on factory farms.
"Will you BBQ less given the rising costs of ribs?" several newspaper polls have asked, forgetting that we can fire up our BBQs every day this summer without running our grocery bill over budget, and without creating the problems associated with meat overconsumption.
Charred to perfection on a sizzling summer grill, sweet potato, eggplant and corn all make for mouth-watering mains. Personally, I go crazy for Portobello mushrooms drizzled with olive oil and minced garlic. Kebabs of cherry tomatoes, marinated tofu, button mushrooms, slivers of red onion and cubed zucchini are guaranteed crowd-pleasers. And for even heartier meals, I go with protein-packed veggie burgers, veggie dogs, and chick'n patties.
Meat-free grilling is a simple solution to a complex problem. Supply and demand issues and the outbreak of a deadly diarrheal virus on North American pig farms have sent meat prices through the roof in the last year. Yet the truth is, the meat on our supermarket shelves has been unrealistically cheap for a long time. Which isn't to say that we haven't been paying the price -- raising hundreds of millions animals to slaughter disproportionately taxes our health, the environment and family farmers.
Heart disease, diabetes and obesity -- all conditions linked to higher meat consumption -- kill tens of thousands of Canadians every year. Meat-free fare isn't just less expensive in the short-term, the long-term savings could be the difference between seeing your grandchildren take their first steps or not.
It's not just our internal health that's being adversely affected by too much meat consumption. The externalised costs of cheap meat are staggering -- the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that animal agriculture is one of the biggest contributing sectors to human-induced climate change. The David Suzuki Foundation recommends eating low on the food chain -- aka, meat-free -- to help cut our individual carbon footprints. Anyone who makes an effort to recycle, ride public transport, use green cleaning products or cut down on their electricity and water use could take a big bite out of their environmental impact simply by sinking their teeth into a succulent black bean burger every other BBQ.
Choosing fewer meat options also means the ones we do reach for can be higher quality products, meaning better returns for family farmers. Over the last few decades, Canadian farms have been disappearing at an alarming rate -- in 2011 there were 74,000 fewer farms than in 1991. While farm numbers have dropped, however, production has increased. Individual farms are bigger than ever, and this is bad news for animals and family farmers. Putting cheap animal products from industrial farm factories on grocery store shelves means fewer workers to care for more animals, lower returns and huge debts for producers.
Huge industrial farms are referred to as "factory farms" because it is simply impossible to call them anything else. Animals raised by the thousand in windowless barns have become nothing more than units on a production line. These animals virtually never receive any individual attention or veterinary care, and are rarely granted the opportunity to express natural behaviours like foraging, playing, or even stretching their limbs. For the majority of animals on Canadian farms, their first -- and last -- breath of fresh air will come on the day they are sent to slaughter.
As consumers, we have been making a difference with our purchasing power for years by prioritising products that match our values, like fair trade coffee and local produce. By choosing more meat-free meals this summer, we'll be cutting back on our environmental impact, reducing our risk of life-threatening disease, helping minimize animal cruelty and placing more value on humane and sustainable agriculture that benefits family farmers and rural communities. But there's no reason to cut back on barbequing.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
Say goodbye to those packages you have stuffed in your fridge or junk drawer. Start summer fresh with high-quality ingredients to make both sweet and savoury condiments."Chow chow, summer sweet corn and roasted red pepper relish, pickled red onions and even bacon jam can turn an ordinary ball park hot dog into something magical," says <a href="http://portrestaurant.ca/" target="_blank">chef Thomas Heitz of PORT restaurant in Pickering, Ont.</a>
It may be time to revamp your salt collection with more gourmet flavours. Heitz recommends avoiding iodized salt and trying salts with more of a natural flavour. Salts like maldon, fleur de sel, sel gris, Himalayan, kosher, rock salt, smoked salt and truffle salt, for example, all add a unique flavour to your sauces or meats.
Any piece of meat, along with vegetables or potatoes, always benefits from adding a little extra something. Marinades help tenderize tougher cuts like flat irons, flank steak and tenderloins.
Our country has a rich collection of craft beers that can satisfy anyone's thirst on those hot summer days. Not only are you supporting local breweries, but you're also getting customized flavours. Heitz also suggests using beers in your marinades for meats and veggies.
If you're ever looking for a shortcut to add a hint of sweetness to your meals, don't go for the white stuff. Maple syrup (oh so Canadian), adds a sweet tangy taste to anything you decide to barbecue. Heitz recommends bourbon maple glazed salmon or even maple chipotle saucy ribs.
Whether you're making a classic coleslaw with cabbage and carrots, or trying something a little fancier like shredded heirloom carrots, exotic Asian pear, watermelon, radish or bok choy with a soy vinaigrette, there's a slaw for everyone!
In Canada, spring and summer are the only opportunity to grow your own herbs, Heitz says. For the most part, herbs need relatively low maintenance and are great additions to salads, meats and grilled vegetables. "Some of my favourite herbs are lemon verbena, chocolate mint, garlic chives, rosemary, oregano and thyme." He also says homegrown herbs are two to three times more potent than store-bought herbs.
To cook the best of the best, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/05/fruits-vegetables-in-season_n_5268440.html?1400863476" target="_blank">cook for each season.</a> During spring and summer months, vegetables like ramps, fiddleheads and asparagus make great additions to your summer BBQs. And don't forget about zucchini, eggplants, tomatoes — they're great for grilling.
From Niagara peaches to canary melons to watermelon, summer is arguably the best time to enjoy fresh fruit. Not only do fresh fruits make great desserts and cooking options, but you can even add them to classic sangria recipes. Cheers!
Looking for that tangy zip? Just squeeze a fresh lemon (or two) over your favourite summer meals. Lemon, lime or any other seasonal citrus adds the perfect amount of zest to any grilled or smoked meal. Mix citrus with chicken, pork, salmon, asparagus and even potatoes.
Chicken paprikash originally comes from Hungary and is the perfect summer combination of a grilled classic with an international twist. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/16/grilled-chicken-paprikash_n_1522302.html" target="_hplink">Read the recipe here. </a>
This recipe is for the beer lovers. BBQ enthusiast Diva-Q combines spicy jalapenos and Big Rock McNally's Extra Ale.<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/16/jalapeno-beer-cornbread-recipe-_n_1522398.html" target="_hplink">Read the recipe here. </a>
The tri-tip is cut from the bottom sirloin in the area of the steer's hip. It is a three-sided, well-marbled, and underappreciated cut of meat with a robust flavour, especially when it's marinated with Great Lakes Brewery Devil's Pale Ale.<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/16/tri-tip-recipe_n_1522212.html" target="_hplink"> Read the recipe here. </a>
The perfect sauce for any BBQ. Slather it on ribs and chicken, spoon it over pork shoulder, and serve it with anything else you may fancy. You will not be disappointed. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/basic-barbecue-sauce_n_1049691.html" target="_hplink">Read the recipe here. </a>
This smoky mushroom-filled quesadilla is reminiscent of pulled pork. A touch of chipotle chile pepper adds extra heat. Serve with coleslaw and guacamole. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/barbecue-portobello-quesa_n_1061930.html" target="_hplink">Read the recipe here. </a>
Good-for-you salmon just got richer with the abundance of vitamins already in the juice which makes a fabulous salad dressing. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/bbq-salmon-salad_n_1057956.html" target="_hplink">Read the recipe here. </a>
You can't have a BBQ without classic side dishes. Tired of potato salad? Try scalloped potatoes. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/bbq-scalloped-potatoes_n_1059006.html" target="_hplink">Read the recipe here. </a>
Cooking whiskey removes the boozy taste, but leaves the sweet oaky flavour behind, which lends itself beautifully to tender grilled skirt steak, as we do here, or to grilled pork or chicken. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/grilled-steak-with-whiske_n_1062488.html" target="_hplink">Read the recipe here. </a>
This is it, the master recipe for the ur-beer-can chicken, the showstopper that will dazzle your family and friends. If you have never made beer-can chicken before, start here, and once you have mastered the basic procedure, there is no limit to its variations. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/basic-beer-can-chicken_n_1049692.html" target="_hplink">Read the recipe here. </a>
The sight of a whole barbecued cabbage never fails to grab attention and it tastes as great as it looks. The cabbage here is stuffed with bacon and onions, anointed with butter and barbecue sauce, and grilled using the indirect method until it is tender enough to cut with a fork. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/barbecued-cabbage_n_1049688.html" target="_hplink">Read the recipe here. </a>
Everyone needs a classic sangria recipe to return to again and again, and this one makes it simple to add whichever fruit you have in your kitchen. <a href="http://iowagirleats.com/2011/07/22/the-best-sangria-recipe-ever/" target="_blank">Learn how to make this at Iowa Girl Eats</a>.
Apple cinnamon might sound like winter flavours, but there's no reason to confine them to colder months — especially when they go so well on ice. <a href="http://www.inspiredbycharm.com/2013/09/apple-cider-sangria-lose-the-bottle-2500-contest.html" target="_blank">Learn how to make this on Inspired By Charm</a>.
How pretty will this look waiting for your guests? The inclusion of superfoods like blueberries will almost make you feel healthy while drinking. <a href="http://www.tasty-trials.com/2012/05/happy-birthday-to-us-and-sangria.html" target="_blank">Learn how to create this at Tasty Trials</a>.
This fruit-filled option is actually lighter than the usual sangria, thanks to the dryness of prosecco (or champagne). <a href="http://www.domesticate-me.com/sparkling-sangria/" target="_blank">Learn how to make this at Domesticate Me</a>.
Putting a salad ingredient into your sangria recipe can make all the difference — arugula's peppery flavour (especially when muddled) adds a kick you don't usually get with the drink. <a href="http://www.gimmesomeoven.com/the-best-sangria/" target="_blank">Learn how to make this at Gimme Some Oven</a>.
Perhaps you'd like your sangria in a frozen, Popsicle form? That is an excellent possibility (you can even make virgin ones for the kids). <a href="http://martieknows.squarespace.com/blog/2012/6/29/cocktail-popsicles-make-sangria-pops.html" target="_blank">Learn how to create these at Martie Knows Parties</a>.
Or perhaps you'd like a full-on sangria slushie? This is a great option for when it's really hot outside, so the coolness can last and last. <a href="http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/sangria-slushies/e566ab88-970d-4a16-bfef-c2a148204426" target="_blank">Learn how to make these at Betty Crocker</a>.
Sangria might usually be red, but a green hue (which comes from apple, cucumber, kiwi and mint) might be the refreshing option you need for your backyard party. <a href="http://www.arizonafoothillsmagazine.com/valleygirlblog/wine-and-dining/diy-low-calorie-st-patricks-day-cocktails/" target="_blank">Learn how to make this at Arizona Foothills</a>.
This minimalist sangria is the perfect option when you're planning to wear white. <a href="http://xoimagine.com/tropical-sangria-recipe/" target="_blank">Learn how to create this at Imagine</a> (or just using the picture!).
The heightened melon flavours of this sangria are toned down (and beautified) by kiwi. Yum! <a href="http://www.cocktailtimes.com/rum/kiwi_sangria.shtml" target="_blank">Learn how to make this at Cocktail Times</a>.
While many recipes opt for brandy and wine for their alcohol content, this one takes on a Mexican flavour with tequila (and a celebratory aspect with champagne!). <a href="http://hopelessdomestic.blogspot.ca/2010/02/raspberry-tequila-sangria.html" target="_blank">Learn how to make this at Hopeless Domestic</a>.
Is there anything more satisfying to drink than peaches in booze on a sunny day? We think not. <a href="http://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/2012/08/peach-sangria/" target="_blank">Learn how to make this recipe at Tori Avey</a>.
Finally, there's a place to use all that leftover watermelon from dessert — and it's equally as delicious. <a href="http://askmissa.com/2012/08/07/watermelon-sangria/" target="_blank">Learn how to make this at Ask Miss A</a>.
This one's known as a winter sangria, but if your grocery store sells pomegranates this time of year, we see no reason why these tasty (and healthy) seeds can't make their way into your drink in the summertime too. <a href="http://www.dimpleprints.com/2012/12/winter-sangria-party-drink-recipe/" target="_blank">Learn how to make this recipe at Dimple Prints</a>.
Oh, caliente! If you're serving a crowd that likes a bit of a kick, this hopped-up option with chile pepper will be just their style. <a href="http://www.foodrepublic.com/2011/05/05/spicy-sangria-recipe" target="_blank">Learn the recipe for this one at Food Republic</a>.
NEXT: 50 Summer Cocktails
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.imbibemagazine.com/Jackson-Punch-Recipe" target="_hplink">Jackson Punch</a> recipe from Imbibe</strong> Cognac and aged rum add a layer of richness to this raspberry-imbued refresher.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://steamykitchen.com/4269-xanadu-cocktail-basil-and-grapefruit.html" target="_hplink">Xanadu Cocktail</a> recipe from Steamy Kitchen</strong> The perfume of basil and the tartness of grapefruit create a well-balanced match in this gin-based cocktail.
<b>Get the <a href="http://liquor.com/recipes/the-shifting-sands/?utm_source=huffpo&utm_medium=articl&utm_campaign=beach">The Shifting Sands</a> recipe from Liquor.com</b> Though the beaches of England tend to be associated in most minds with rain and golf-ball-sized stones that <em>really</em> stretch the definition of "sand," we think <a href="http://liquor.com/articles/gin-101?utm_source=huffpo&utm_medium=articl&utm_campaign=beach">gin</a> still deserves a place on this list. Start with some <a href="http://liquor.com/articles/beefeater-24-gin-a-twist-on-an-old-classic/?utm_source=huffpo&utm_medium=articl&utm_campaign=beach">Beefeater 24</a>, add a little maraschino liqueur and pile on the citrus. Its poetic name is enough to counterbalance whatever paperback is in your beach bag.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.imbibemagazine.com/Homemade-Pimm-s-Recipe" target="_hplink">Homemade Pimm's</a> recipe from Imbibe</strong> Hosting a berry-spiked brunch? Be sure a pitcher of this strawberry-infused pick-me-up makes its way to the table.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://alldayidreamaboutfood.com/2012/04/strawberry-thyme-cocktail-guest-post.html" target="_hplink">Strawberry Thyme Cocktail</a> recipe from All Day I Dream About Food</strong> Strawberries and citrusy thyme work well in this unique cocktail. A strawberry and thyme syrup is the flavor base for the vodka cocktail.
<b>Get the <a href="http://liquor.com/recipes/cucumber-basil-lime-gimlet/?utm_source=articl&utm_medium=huffpo&utm_campaign=cookout">Cucumber, Basil & Lime Gimlet</a> recipe from Liquor.com</b> As the favorite drink of cult filmmaker Ed Wood, the Vodka Gimlet has what we like to think of as a storyteller's heritage. Our suggestion? Add muddled cucumber and basil, and go catch up with someone you haven't seen in a while. (Spoiler alert: That someone is <a href="http://liquor.com/articles/vodka-101/?utm_source=articl&utm_medium=huffpo&utm_campaign=cookout">vodka</a>.)
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.sugarandcharmblog.com/2011/06/summer-drink-recipes-from-st-germain.html" target="_hplink">Sangria Flora</a> recipe from Sugar and Charm Blog</strong> Adding Saint Germain to a typical sangria adds a floral note to this light drink. This recipe calls for peaches, strawberries, raspberries and grapes, but feel free to use any fruit you have on hand.
<b>Get the <a href="http://liquor.com/recipes/greyhound/?utm_source=articl&utm_medium=huffpo&utm_campaign=cookout">Greyhound</b> recipe from Liquor.com</a> Grapefruit juice gives this simple classic a tart edge that its cousin the <a href="http://liquor.com/recipes/screwdriver/?utm_source=articl&utm_medium=huffpo&utm_campaign=cookout">Screwdriver</a> strangely lacks. It's also a great pitcher/punch-bowl/gallon-jug (if you really don't care what people think) cocktail, so prepare a big batch and share the wealth.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.imbibemagazine.com/Bourbon-Street-Recipe" target="_hplink">Bourbon St.</a> from Imbibe</strong> Strawberries and bourbon are a match made in summer cocktail heaven, while honey and ginger sweeten the deal. <em>Photo: Courtesy <a href="http://one-eyedgypsy.com/" target="_hplink">One-Eyed Gypsy</a></em>
<strong>Get the <a href="http://bookcooker.blogspot.com/2012/03/cocktail-hour-lillet-basil-cocktail.html" target="_hplink">Lillet Basil Cocktail</a> recipe from Book Cooker</strong> The flavors in this drink make it the perfect cocktail for summer. Lillet (a French aperitif), gin, orange juice and basil combine to create this seasonal refresher.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://norecipes.com/blog/celery-lavender-martini/" target="_hplink">Celery Lavender Martini</a> recipe from No Recipes</strong> We know. It sounds crazy. However, having become big fans of the <a href="http://mattleeandtedlee.com/lee-bros/new-cookbook/" target="_hplink">Lee Bros Celery Julep</a> last summer, we are now believers of celery juice in cocktails. The citrusy taste of the celery provides a perfect platform for the lavender's aroma to be the star of the show.
<b>Get the <a href="http://liquor.com/recipes/traditional-mai-tai/?utm_source=huffpo&utm_medium=articl&utm_campaign=beach">Traditional Mai Tai</a> recipe from Liquor.com</b> Though the <a href="http://liquor.com/articles/rums-revival/?utm_source=huffpo&utm_medium=articl&utm_campaign=beach">tiki revival</a> might have peaked a few years back, this is one of the timeless elements it left behind. The key to the faux-Polynesian concoction (<a href="http://liquor.com/articles/behind-the-cocktail-the-mai-tai/?utm_source=huffpo&utm_medium=articl&utm_campaign=beach">invented</a> in the 1940s by "Trader Vic" Bergeron) is premium aged <a href="http://liquor.com/articles/rum-101?utm_source=huffpo&utm_medium=articl&utm_campaign=beach">rum</a>.
<strong>Get the <a href="http://www.imbibemagazine.com/Strawberry-Cooler-Recipe" target="_hplink">Strawberry Cooler</a> recipe from Imbibe</strong> Summer's ultimate porch sipper? This vodka, vermouth and strawberry cooler is a house favorite. <em>Photo: Courtesy <a href="http://www.15romolo.com/" target="_hplink">15 Romolo</a></em>
Follow Sayara Thurston on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SayaraThurston