90 seconds for Meatless Monday

September 12th, 2011

[Watch video on YouTube]

Happy Meatless Monday! I haven’t been regularly writing Meatless Monday posts, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about it; I just think that like me, most of you have not only gotten the hang of it by now, but even moved beyond it. (In the past year, I’ve moved to mostly meatless all the time.)

Just in case you’ve fallen off the wagon or are new to the movement, check out this quick (90-second) video, above. If hearing that Americans now eat twice the meat that they did in 1960 doesn’t make you think we all need to get back on track, I don’t know what will.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Pretty pic. But over 300,000 of these little guys are used to make 1 kg of shellac. Photo via Oasinweb.com

By now you’ve probably heard the buzz about the bugs-in-your-candy episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. If you haven’t, it goes a little something like this: It turns out that the stuff used to give candies like jellybeans that shiny coating — called shellac — is actually made from the secretions of the female lac bug, as Oliver demonstrates here.

Not that I had much of an appetite for candy after watching this eye-opening episode, but I was curious: Is shellac considered suitable for those avoiding animal products?

The website of one of the largest shellac exporters, India’s D. Manoharlal Pvt. Ltd., states that shellac is vegetarian, since sticklac (nicer word than secretion) does not “contain any part of living insect body. There are other similar examples of vegetarian produce [sic] from animals/insects like milk, honey, silk, etc.”

Not surprisingly, The Vegan Society tells a different story:

The twigs are scraped by hand to remove the layer of encrusted resin. At this stage, the raw lac material is known as sticklac. The sticklac is ground and sieved to remove any debris before being washed to get rid of the lac dye, a red pigment that comes directly from the insects crushed bodies. Lac dye may be discarded in the production of shellac, however if lac dye is the intended primary product then the lac resin is harvested before the males have emerged from their cocoons and the sticklac is dried in the sun to kill the lac beetles.

The website goes on to state that approximately 300,000 lac insects are killed to produce 1 kg of lac resin.

While it wouldn’t be all that difficult to avoid shellac-coated candy (you just have to start reading labels, as was the point of Oliver’s demonstration), what about the hundreds of other products that use shellac? Tell me vegans (and veggies): Do you avoid shiny apples and antique furniture?

Apologies for the less-than-appetizing Meatless Monday post.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Kale was one of those vegetables I never quite “got.” I know dark leafy greens are nature’s powerhouse, but every time I tried a recipe that included kale, I felt like I was mouthing giant leaves of slightly tough curly parsley.

Then a couple weeks back, I spotted a humble looking package of pre-washed, pre-made organic kale salad in Erewhon under the brand name Harvest Sensations. The bag beckoned; I turned it over.

There was a recipe for a simple-to-prepare sesame kale salad (see below) that actually sounded pretty tasty. That turned out to be an understatement: I’ve been addicted ever since. (As is everyone who’s tried it. My Chicago-born, char dog–loving husband actually exclaimed “Yesss!” last night when I told him I was making it for dinner.)

Don’t omit the sugar from the dressing in attempt to be even healthier; it’s really necessary for the full deliciousness of the salad.

Sesame Kale Salad

Serves 6

8 oz Harvest Sensations Kale Salad Blend (or wash and thoroughly dry one head of curly kale)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1/2 tsp good salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Toss all ingredients together and let sit 30 minutes before serving. If you can’t finish all of it, the leftovers will keep for two days.

Want to go total granola? Enjoy this for Meatless Monday with fried tofu and a side of brown rice.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: Cuttlefish

My mouth was watering when I read last week’s New York Times Dining piece featuring some of the best veggie burgers around the country, but it also dropped wide open when I came across this statistic in the article:

According to Mintel, a market research firm, there was a 26 percent increase in menu items labeled vegetarian or vegan between the last quarter of 2008 and the same quarter in 2010.

Twenty-six percent? That’s huge. The big question, though, is: What’s driving the demand? And, is this a fad like the low-carb craze, or are these numbers really here to stay?

I followed up with Mintel, but they’ve yet to look into reasons for the increase. My guess is that the still-sucky economy is playing a role; after all, meatless menu items are typically less pricey than meaty ones.

But I think the bigger piece of the puzzle is increased awareness that a meat-heavy diet simply isn’t sustainable — for our health and the planet’s. When Oprah goes vegan, when Wendi Murdoch convinces her media magnate husband to have a Meatless Monday at home, when celebs from Carrie Underwood to Forest Whitaker talk about going veg — these are seeds that sow into the public consciousness.

–Jennifer Grayson

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In my real life, I’m not on food stamps (that was an experiment for last week’s Eco Etiquette column on HuffPost), but I do regularly cook up a big batch of the “kitchen sink stew” I feature in this video. It’s pretty much perfection in a pot, and it’s virtually idiot-proof: You throw in whatever combo of veggies/dried beans/meat you have on hand (preferably organic); toss in water and a can of tomato paste; stick a lid on it and turn the heat to low; and magic! Three hours later, you have the most magnificently beautiful and tasty stew you could ever imagine.

As long as you stick to the basic outline, the possibilities are endless. One of my favorite combos to date used white beans, chicken sausage, butternut squash, and rosemary (no tomato paste). It can also easily be made vegetarian — perfect for Meatless Monday.

Kitchen Sink Stew

Makes 8 servings

Swirl of extra virgin olive oil
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 stalks celery, peeled and diced
1 large onion
1 pound meat or vegetarian substitute (ground turkey, stew beef, sausage removed from casing, crumbled extra firm tofu — it all works!)
1 pound dried beans, any variety, rinsed and sorted (no need to soak)
Assorted chopped veggies (cabbage, spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, squash — whatever!), enough to come near the top of a large pot or French oven
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
8 cups water
Assorted spices, plus salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add carrots, onion, and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add meat and brown on all sides (if using ground meat, stir until cooked through). Add dried beans, assorted chopped veggies, can of tomato paste, water and spices, and stir. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cook three hours, or until beans are plump yet firm and the whole thing has melded into a proper stew, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary. Serve with a side of rice, pasta, or crusty bread.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Cast iron corn sticks

February 7th, 2011

There’s something so quintessentially American about cast-iron cookware. It actually originated in China over 2,500 years ago, but I always picture cowboys cooking a big ol’ Dutch oven (the real kind) of beans over a nice toasty campfire.

I love cast iron because when well seasoned, it’s naturally nonstick (no yucky PFOA). And in our throwaway culture, it’s nice to know a Lodge pan will last long enough to hand down to your grandchildren.

I knew chili would be served at the Super Bowl party I attended yesterday, so I busted out the cast iron corn stick pans and baked up a double batch.

Cast iron pans, brushed with butter/oil and preheated

In goes the batter, already sizzling

Corn sticks!

Cast Iron Corn Sticks

Makes 28

1 1/2 cups of Bob’s Red Mill stone ground cornmeal (medium or coarse grind)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add eggs, milk, and vegetable oil. Whisk together until ingredients are just mixed.

Brush cast-iron corn stick pan with oil or melted butter and heat in oven until fat smokes. Fill molds and bake for 15 minutes. Serve with plenty of butter.

I’ll be eating the leftovers for today’s Meatless Monday breakfast.

–Jennifer Grayson

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At left, modern bread wheat; on the right, einkorn. Photo via Flickr: Mark and Delwen

It seems like only yesterday I learned how to pronounce quinoa. Now, there’s a new ancient grain sure to have supermarket-goers sounding out syllables in the shopping aisle: einkorn. (Hint: Think German 101.)

First cultivated by hunter-gatherers some 12,000 years ago, einkorn boasts a boon of health benefits seemingly lost over the course of thousands of years of hybridization and breeding: It’s higher in protein, tocols (an antioxidant), and carotenoids than modern wheat species.

More importantly, it may be tolerated by those with wheat sensitivities, since it has lower levels of gluten than the wheat found in your typical loaf of Wonder Bread. (Note: Those with celiac disease should steer clear until einkorn undergoes more testing.)

Gluten intolerance seems to be all the rage these days: As Vogue reports this month, the GF market now totals in the billions, up 17 percent since 2007.

Want to give einkorn a try? Jovial makes an einkorn pasta that I spotted recently at Whole Foods. I may test it out for tonight’s Meatless Monday dinner.

–Jennifer Grayson

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MLK Day meets Meatless Monday

January 17th, 2011

Martin Luther King Day. Meatless Monday. Seems like an odd pairing for a post, except that Dexter Scott King, the second son of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is a longtime vegan:

From People magazine, where the younger King was once named one of its 50 Most Beautiful People:

As head of Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Dexter led his family’s three-month battle with the National Park Service over its plans to build a visitors’ center on land the Kings coveted for a museum…He attributes much of his vigor to a vegetarian diet (“It got me in touch with my energy”) and to a health-food store product: Dr. Hauschka’s facial cleanser (“I use it every day”).

Granted, that People article is from 1995, but Dexter King still holds his post as chairman of the board of directors for The King Center, and is, by all accounts, still a vegan. (I’m not so sure about the Dr. Hauschka cleanser.) Inspired by her son, the late Coretta Scott King was also a vegan for the last 15 years of her life.

Eating lower on the food chain continues Dr. King’s message of nonviolence — for the animals, obviously, but really, for all Americans: By lessening our dependence on petroleum-intensive animal agriculture, we also help ensure that we never again fight a senseless war for oil.

Happy birthday, Dr. King.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: InExtremiss

I was never an American-style meat-eater. I distinctly remember special-occasion family dinners as a child at a famous-but-now-defunct steakhouse; I always ordered the spaghetti marinara.

It was the Meatless Monday campaign, though, that really opened my eyes to the environmental impact of eating animals. Since then, I’ve written 61 Meatless Monday posts on this blog. But not one has been about wearing animals.

An oversight, I know, since factory farming applies as much to leather as it does to London broil. But I’ve got to be honest: I haven’t thought a whole lot about this, probably because I rarely buy clothing or shoes (yay, anti-consumption).

Obviously, I’m not the only one: A green-minded friend contacted me after reading my Eco Etiquette column on the environmental impact of fur to ask whether Uggs are made from actual sheep skin or just the wool (the former, sorry to say).

So here’s my New Year’s resolution: Before I buy my next pair of shoes or a piece of clothing, I’m going to think about these things. And I’m going to look for viable eco alternatives. Stay tuned.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: McKay Savage

Sometime in 2011, we will reach a terrifying milestone: The world’s population will officially push past the 7 billion mark. We’ve added more than 3 billion people — the size of the entire planet in 1960 — since the year I was born.

Before you go in to holy *^%$, we’re all screwed freak-out mode, take a deep breath and read Robert Kunzig’s brilliant, mind-blowing article in this month’s National Geographic. Now. (Really: Click here.) It should be required reading for every environmentalist.

What I took away from it is this: The problem — and the solution — isn’t about population per se. As Kunzig points out, “The current population of the planet could fit into the state of Texas, if Texas were settled as densely as New York City.” It’s about consumption.

The World Bank has predicted that by 2030 more than a billion people in the developing world will belong to the “global middle class,” up from just 400 million in 2005. That’s a good thing. But it will be a hard thing for the planet if those people are eating meat and driving gasoline-powered cars at the same rate as Americans now do. It’s too late to keep the new middle class of 2030 from being born; it’s not too late to change how they and the rest of us will produce and consume food and energy. “Eating less meat seems more reasonable to me than saying, ‘Have fewer children!’” [French demographer Hervé] Le Bras says.

Happy Meatless Monday.

–Jennifer Grayson

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