If you ever find yourself at The Dandelion in Philadelphia, an upscale British pub themed Stephen Starr restaurant, order the Braised Celery Gratin for your meal. Yes, I’m telling you to order celery as your main course. You wouldn’t believe how good celery, when prepared with a Parmesan béchamel sauce, pickled pecans, oyster mushrooms and apples, can be.

I know this because I’ve had the dish recently. I, a beef lover at a British pub, ordered Braised Celery Gratin instead of steak and chips or fish and chips or shepherd’s pie or some other meat dish. Why? When I go out to a really good restaurant, I almost always order a vegetarian dish.

A few years ago, I started trying vegetarian main dishes at restaurants for a couple of reasons. The first and foremost was that I’ve cut way down on my meat. And, I figured that if I’m at a great restaurant that makes great food, the vegetarian meals are probably great, too.

I’m right about that most of the time. It’s become common for my husband to be disappointed in the way his steak is cooked or the skimpy number of shrimp in his seafood pasta when we’re out to dinner while I end up raving about whatever vegetarian dish I’ve ordered.

It’s also a way to save money. If I can really enjoy my food and lower my bill by $10-$15, it makes sense to do so. I can pocket the money, or I can chose to order a second glass of wine without thinking about the cost.

I’m not alone in my consumption of less meat. My entire family is consuming less because I’m the one who decides on meals. And, according to Mark Bittman’s latest Opinionator column, meat consumption is declining quickly.

The department of agriculture projects that our meat and poultry consumption will fall again this year, to about 12.2 percent less in 2012 than it was in 2007. Beef consumption has been in decline for about 20 years; the drop in chicken is even more dramatic, over the last five years or so; pork also has been steadily slipping for about five years.

Why are we consuming so much less meat? It depends on who you ask. Bittman comments that a Daily Livestock Report blames it on meat being less available because we’re exporting more, the rise in feed costs because of the production of ethanol from corn, and the federal government “waging war on meat protein consumption.” That third reason, Bittman finds a bit ridiculous.

Bittman points out two missing reasons. The first is the recent recession that’s not mentioned in the Daily Livestock Report. The second is that “we’re eating less meat because we want to eat less meat.” It’s a conscious decision. He cites among other things the Allrecipes.com survey released at the end of 2011 that says one-third of home cooks say they’re eating less meat and embracing a flexitarian lifestyle.

My family falls into that one-third that was surveyed, and I’m with those who are embracing a flexitarian lifestyle. I’m eating less meat because I want to for health reasons, for environmental reasons, for budget reasons and to discover new foods. If I wasn’t going flexitarian, I would have never tried the Braised Celery Gratin, and that would have been a shame. It was that delicious.

Are you eating less meat because you choose to?

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Are you eating less meat because you want to?
Mark Bittman challenges some of the conclusions in a study that found Americans are eating less meat. Yes, we are eating less meat, but why is consumption decli