mediterranean-dietWe’ve all heard that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world; the Italian island of Sardinia, for example, is home to some of the longest-living people on earth. But as with the introduction of most ethnic cuisines to this country, something always gets lost in the translation (General Tso’s chicken, anyone?).

My friend recently confessed that for years she thought she had been following a Mediterranean diet; then a month ago, she started the nutrition part of her nursing school curriculum and realized that she had had it all wrong.

“I always thought that the Mediterranean diet included lots and lots of fish,” she says. “After all, fish is good for you, right? Well, it turns out it’s actually a mostly vegetarian diet: whole grains, legumes, lots of fruits and vegetables, cheese, and, of course, red wine and olive oil. Fish is eaten occasionally, and meat even less often than that.”

Interestingly, recent research shows that it’s this “little meat” aspect that is partially responsible for the diet’s link to a longer life. In a paper published last week by the British medical journal BMJ, Harvard School of Public Health researchers trying to uncover the best parts of the Mediterranean diet reported that low consumption of meat and meat products accounted for 16.6 percent of the diet’s health benefits — and proved to be as important as consuming lots of vegetables (16.2 percent). (You’ll be pleased to know that the researchers discovered moderate alcohol consumption to be the most important factor.)

So for those who want to give Meatless Monday a try but can’t fathom a whole day without meat (or for those inspired by MM to embrace vegetarian eating the rest of the week), take a cue from our friends in Southern Europe: try thinking of meat and fish as a flavoring or side dish, not the main event. I always think of the panini I encountered in Italy: a few translucent slices of prosciutto in between a small crusty loaf. Contrast that to a typical American deli sandwich, which is piled with more meat than most Italians eat in an entire week.

Don’t forget the red wine!

–Jennifer Grayson

More Meatless Monday posts:
Meatless Monday catching on worldwide
Meatless Monday includes fish?
Meatless Monday: What’s for dinner?
Can’t afford a Prius? Try Meatless Monday

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Put a (real) cork in it

November 10th, 2009

Photo via Flickr: Stewart

Photo via Flickr: Stewart

When I recently wrote about recycling wine corks for my Eco Etiquette column — in which I expressed my disdain for the plastic, landfill-bound variety, as well as aluminum screw caps — I was not prepared for the slew of angry emails from the grape nut gallery.

I had your recycling corks article sent to me and, as someone who enjoys wine, it troubles me…. Some of the world’s best wines are now bottled under screw caps. Why? Because, by and large, they treat the wine better than cork does. And, as a side benefit, they are easier to open. A small fraction of wines bottled under cork can be tainted by the cork.

And another:

[Synthetic corks] are perfectly fine for wines you are going to bring home and drink within even a few months. They are, in large part, due to a worldwide shortage of natural cork…. unfortunately in your post you came across as completely pretentious, which I trust was not the intent, and is entirely the wrong approach to enjoying good wine and offering sage advice.

Now, I’m certainly not going to argue with a oenophile as to what method of closure ensures the best tasting wine, considering that most weeks I’m content with a bottle of Two Buck Chuck. There is no doubt that some very fine wines employ an aluminum screw cap; my main beef is with the environmental damage associated with synthetic corks (screw caps included). There’s a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to natural cork, so let me dispel a few myths:

Myth #1: Trees are cut down to make natural corks. Cork trees are not felled to harvest the cork; the renewable bark is stripped by hand off the tree. By using natural cork, you’re actually ensuring the survival of Mediterranean cork forests, which, like the rainforests of the Amazon, are crucial to the world’s biosphere.

Myth #2: There is a worldwide shortage of natural cork. Plain and simple, this is PR spin from the plastic cork/aluminum screw cap industry. “By all statistical standards, the cork forests have enough cork to close every bottle of wine produced, in the world, for the next 100 years, without planting new trees,” says Patrick Spencer, director of nonprofit cork recycler Cork ReHarvest.

Myth #3: You can recycle aluminum screw caps — natural corks aren’t recyclable. Actually, the plastic seal and adhesive in most screw caps contaminate the aluminum; the only choice is to send them to the landfill. And let’s not forget that harvesting aluminum is incredibly destructive to the environment. Natural cork, however, can be re-purposed into flooring tiles, building insulation, and packaging materials (and at the very least, can be cut up into compost).

Myth #4: Wines with natural corks are prone to spoilage. There’s been a rumor circulating for some time (perpetuated by alternative stopper manufacturers?) that with natural closures, one in 10 bottles of wine ends up corked. But a study by the UK’s Wine and Spirit Trade Association puts that figure between .7 and 1.2 percent; a prominent wine expert even announced earlier this year that TCA contamination is no longer a major problem for the US wine industry.

So go ahead, be a pretentious snob and insist on old-fashioned corks (just don’t forget to recycle them!): You’ll help save the cork forests, reduce destructive aluminum mining, and keep billions of screw caps and petroleum-based stoppers out of our landfills.

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: Stick to bottles with natural cork closures — and make sure they don’t die a landfill death. A few recycling options: Cork ReHarvest, Yemm & Hart, and ReCork America.

Related posts:
5 ways to choose local wine
Neato! Reusable wine totes

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Photo via Flickr: http2007

Photo via Flickr: http2007

Las Vegas is the antithesis of a sustainable city. Air conditioning, lights on 24/7, tourists flying in from all over the world, fountains that spray like fireworks — all in the middle of a vast desert that was meant to be home to jack rabbits and lizards (well, and the indigenous people who lived there, but that’s another post).

I’m not writing today to bag on Vegas — I certainly have paid a visit or two to Sin City, and even though it’s pretty much against everything I stand for, I managed to enjoy myself. I am human, after all.

Most of us aren’t gobbling up five-course dinners at four-star restaurants these days, but I found it entertaining nonetheless to see an adorably illustrated chart in this month’s Wired magazine (see below) about how Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare in the Wynn manages to serve fresh Mediterranean fish in the middle of the Mojave Desert. With so many chefs now embracing local — even restaurant-grown — ingredients, and the world facing the end of seafood by 2048, it’s an even more striking paradox to see chef Paul Bartolotta essentially giving the planet the bird.

Of course, Bartolotta isn’t the only offender. Creating a menu from truly local food in Las Vegas would be close to impossible (tumbleweeds and rattlesnake, anyone?). But it is some interesting food for thought. Check it out:

Wired: Seafood Express: Getting Mediterranean Fish to Las Vegas — Fast

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: There’s not much you can do in the way of sustainable eating once you’re already in Sin City, but the rest of the time, you can ensure that your sushi dinner isn’t destroying our oceans. Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide — there’s even a free iPhone app available.

Related posts:
Go see: The End of the Line
Sustainable seafood on the go

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flexitarianI know I probably should wait until (Meatless) Monday to post about this book, but I’m finding it so inspiring that I thought it might be a good beach-read recommend for your holiday weekend.

When I adopted Meatless Monday several months ago, I was a full-fledged meat-eater (although I always buy organic). But a funny thing happened by making that one change: As the weeks went on, I found myself experimenting with more vegetarian eating, like making lentil soup for weekday lunches, or ordering tofu when I went to my local Thai joint for dinner. And then, I started buying slightly smaller portions of meat for us at home, filling the void with more vegetables and complex carbs.

If every American going veg one day a week is the equivalent of all of us switching from our regular cars to fuel-efficient hybrids, why shouldn’t I see how far I can comfortably take this? I do call myself an environmentalist, after all. And the changes I’ve been making are so small, I barely notice the difference on a day-to-day basis. Yet I’ve probably managed to cut my overall meat consumption by about 30 percent since May.

Why not just embrace a vegetarian diet wholeheartedly, you ask? Well, during my college years, I had a brief, poorly planned foray into veganism that left me fairly ill and malnourished. The plus side is that I’m no stranger to sprouts and tofu, but I am a bit wary of saying goodbye once again to my favorite food (lobster) and my beloved LA taco trucks. So when I heard about The Flexitarian Diet — where you adopt a mostly vegetarian lifestyle but still have the flexibility to eat meat when the occasion warrants it — I thought, This is brilliant.

Yes, the book title does have the word “diet” in it, but it’s not a diet book in the true sense: There are no rules, calorie counting, or forbidden foods. It’s really more of a balanced, sane approach on how to make healthier — and, consequently, more eco-friendly — choices in your everyday life. (Although author Dawn Jackson Blatner does say that if you adopt a flexitarian eating plan, you can expect to see a 20-pound average weight loss in six to 12 months; all the more reason to crack it open this weekend, in between the barbecues and beer!)

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: Try going meatless for just one extra meal this week. It’s not as hard as you think — nearly 25 percent of Americans already eat four or more vegetarian meals a week, says Blatner.

Related posts:
Small steps to sustainability
Meatless Monday: Think Mediterranean

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No-cook Meatless Monday

August 31st, 2009

Photo via Flickr: Indigo Goat

Photo via Flickr: Indigo Goat

It’s 91 degrees outside, 83 degrees inside my un–air conditioned apartment, and the air is filled with ash and smoke from the apocalyptic fires raging a mere 15 miles away — there is no way in hell I’m turning on the oven tonight to make some sort of vegetarian casserole. I don’t even think I can muster the strength to turn on the stove.

Luckily, I’ve got a great plan for a no-cook MM Mediterranean meal that I’m sure you’ll appreciate even if you’re not currently living in a state of emergency.

It all centers around a simple recipe for tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern salad (it’s the national dish of Lebanon) that’s the perfect cooling cure for a hot summer day, thanks to the addition of fresh chopped mint.

Quick and Easy Tabbouleh Salad
1/2 cup bulgur wheat
4 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
1/3 cup finely chopped mint
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Place bulgur wheat in a medium size bowl, and add cold water to cover. Let stand until water is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Add tomatoes, parsley, mint, green onion, lemon juice, and olive oil. Toss and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Served with hummus and toasted whole wheat pita, this makes a light and satisfying dinner, but sometimes I like to pick up a few other fun accoutrements at Trader Joe’s (stuffed grape leaves, tzataziki, baba ghanoush) to round out the meal. Just stick to a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern theme, and you really can’t go wrong.

–Jennifer Grayson

More Meatless Monday posts:
Meatless Monday: BK Farmyards makes it easy to grow your own fruits and veggies
Meatless Monday: Eat less meat throughout the week
Meatless Monday: Special diets
Meatless Monday: Think Mediterranean

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Even at an early age, it was never difficult to convince me to eat my veggies — my mom loves to tell the story of how she rushed me to the doctor with a suspected case of jaundice, only to discover that I had, in fact, turned orange from eating too many sweet potatoes. But joining the Meatless Monday movement has expanded my plant-based repertoire even further; I’ve since been inspired to shop more frequently at farmers markets, join a CSA, and even try my hand at growing my own food (which is limited to herbs at this point, but I have plans for more substantive fare in the future).

Growing your own produce, of course, is the ultimate goal of any green foodie; aside from eliminating the environmental costs associated with its farming and transport (fossil fuels to operate gas-powered farming equipment and ship the produce to stores, chemical fertilizers and pesticides that pollute our waterways), it’s also the most nutritious and delicious way to eat those fruits and veggies.

But what if you don’t have the time to lovingly cultivate organic tomatoes in your backyard? Or what if (like me), you’ve inherited a touch of the black thumb? One Brooklyn organization has the answer.

BK Farmyards, which launched in May, is turning backyards and empty lots around Brooklyn, NY, into flourishing farms — and you barely have to lift a green thumb. The nonprofit’s motto is: You have the land, we grow the produce. Sign up to share your little patch of land, and BK Farmyards will do all the work for you, transforming your outdoor space (a minimum of 400 square feet) into a thriving urban garden that will feed your family and friends for up to six months out of the year.

WATCH:

Thanks to Brooklyn-based RWG reader PL for telling us about this cool company.

More Meatless Monday posts:
Meatless Monday: Eat less meat throughout the week
Meatless Monday: Special diets
Meatless Monday: Think Mediterranean
Meatless Monday catching on worldwide

–Jennifer Grayson

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Meatless Monday: Tofu chili?

August 10th, 2009

Always on the lookout for new veggie chili recipes, I stumbled across Niktor’s Rootin’ Tootin’ Chili recipe on the Meatless Monday site and was intrigued. It packs the additional protein punch of tofu, which I’ve never added to chili before — I’m interested to see how it turns out.

The recipe title is a bit scary, but it sounds delicious nonetheless. (I think I won’t mention the name to our dinner guests tonight, and just emphasize instead that I’ll be whipping up a pile of piping hot cornbread.)

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: Zoyachubby

Photo via Flickr: Zoyachubby

It’s now been over three months since I’ve adopted Meatless Mondays, and after a bit of experimentation (pasta without protein leaves me famished, eggplant parmigiana was delicious but sat like a brick in my stomach, and veggie chili was just a wee bit, um, beany to eat in social company), tofu stir-fry has become my go-to MM dinner. It’s filling, incredibly fast to prepare, and ridiculously cheap — even the “fancy” Wildwood Organics sprouted tofu I favor is under $2 a package. 

But tofu, as any wok master knows, takes a bit of care to cook properly. Without proper drainage, sufficient oil, and the right heat, it can stick to the pan like barnacles to a boat. Of course, if you’re using a nonstick pan, this isn’t an issue, but here at The Red, White, and Green we shy away from using toxic teflon (and haven’t yet made the investment in the new eco-friendly nonstick cookware). 

Luckily, I’ve discovered a super easy method of cooking tofu that doesn’t require a lot of oil, and ensures that it never sticks yet still achieves that golden brown on all sides — even if you don’t have time to drain it thoroughly. Here’s what you do:

  • Remove the block of firm or extra-firm tofu from its container, patting off as much water as possible with a paper towel or clean dish towel
  • Cut tofu into cubes or flat squares
  • Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil and a couple tablespoons of soy sauce in a large, flat pan (don’t use a wok for this) over medium-high heat
  • Add tofu and cook for several minutes on each side, until sufficiently browned

That’s it! Somehow, the addition of the soy sauce prevents the tofu from sticking. And the best part is that after you finish cooking it, you can place it on a plate, then add a bit more oil and soy sauce to the pan, turn up the heat, and flash cook whatever vegetables you want to serve over the tofu. No need to add the tofu back into the pan, either — it will stay piping hot even while you cook the veggies. 

Test it out tonight! (Try adding asparagus, Chinese eggplant, or my favorite stir-fry combo –mushrooms and onions.)

–Jennifer Grayson

More Meatless Monday posts:
Meatless Monday: Special diets
Meatless Monday: Think Mediterranean
Meatless Monday catching on worldwide
Meatless Monday includes fish?

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