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Patti Bess: Making a difference

Patti Bess


It’s funny as we humans confront change, our defenses go up faster than a Russian/U.S. military crisis. Soaring temperatures, the rising cost of home insurance, creating defensible space around our houses to protect against wildfires, and bigger storms all make climate change more real or a lot less deniable. It’s not just government intervention that’s going to solve the problems. Consumers can make significant, simple changes even in our own kitchens that can have an impact on this new reality as well as our health.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century the United States has been the largest beef producer in the world. And it follows that we have one of the highest rates of meat consumption. Meat, especially beef, has been a symbol of our affluence. It would be safe to say that it is as much a part of our culture as movies, baseball and backyard barbecues. And, as cultures around the world become more affluent, they are mimicking our preference for beef and meat in general.

Solid, respected research, even as far back as the 1970s, reported that eating less meat would be advantageous to our health. But now we also know the environmental reasons for cutting back on beef are clear. Much of the climate impact of industrial agriculture comes from raising cows for beef. Cows produce methane, lots of it, a greenhouse gas that is a major contributor to global warming. It’s much more potent than carbon dioxide. According to the World Resources Institute, an environmental research nonprofit, beef requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more greenhouse gas emissions per gram of edible protein than common plant proteins, like beans.

Consumers have been cutting back on beef consumption for some time, but it is important to note that changing from beef to chicken has its own complicated impacts. That’s a different story. Nutritional science, like the field of technology, has seen astounding advances in the last 25 years. Changing dietary habits instilled in early childhood is much more complex than learning to navigate the Internet. Many misconceptions/myths about our dietary need for meat are still widely accepted as fact.

The traditional peasant diets of many cultures around the world have gotten their protein needs met by plant sources (grains, legumes, nuts and soy) for thousands of years and have much less obesity, heart disease, and cancer than more developed countries.

In Asia the primary protein sources are rice and soy foods (with some fish). In South and Central America beans, corn and rice are the main staples. Tabbouleh (cracked wheat), hummus (garbanzo beans) and pita bread are foundations of the diet in the Middle East.

Last April the popular food magazine, Epicurious, announced that it would stop publishing beef recipes: “We know that some people might assume that this decision signals some sort of vendetta against cows — or the people who eat them. But this decision was not made because we hate hamburgers (we don’t!). Instead, our shift is solely about sustainability. We think of it not as anti-beef but rather pro-planet.”

Michael Pollan, author of several books on the cultural and historical perspectives of food, has recommended a simple solution for starters. He suggested instituting “meatless on Mondays” as a way for families to cut back on their meat/beef intake. It is not necessary to become complete vegetarians or vegans, but if more families reduced their intake it would have a significant impact not just on their health but even more so on our planet.

Industrialized beef production with thousands of cows crowded on feedlots is the primary culprit here. Small farmers that raise a few grass fed cows and use sustainable practices on their pastures are an excellent step in the right direction.

Meatless menus expand the repertoire of dynamically flavored meals that don’t in any way lack for flavor or variety. Especially on the grill, vegetables, polenta, and tofu take to the grill like any burger you’ve ever tasted. Try it out here with this traditional Spanish dish, paella. Next month I am visiting and writing about several long time gardeners who know the secrets to avoiding pesticides in their gardens. Stay tuned.

Grilled Summer Vegetable Paella

Two medium-sized summer squash, sliced lengthwise

One large green or yellow pepper

Six cups vegetable stock (cubes are OK)

One half teaspoon saffron threads

Three or four Roma tomatoes or two other larger juicier varieties

One cup frozen artichoke hearts, thawed

Three quarters cup green beans

Three to four tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

One small red onion, quartered and sliced

Three cloves garlic, minced

One and half cups Arborio rice (or a short grain rice if not available)

One quarter to a half teaspoon salt

One eighth teaspoon fresh ground pepper

One quarter teaspoon paprika (preferably a Spanish variety)

Prepare a fire in a kettle grill or preheat a gas grill to medium high.

Add summer squashes and pepper to the grill. Grill on for 4-5 minutes each side. Leave the pepper on the grill until the outside is evenly charred. Remove and set aside until cool enough to handle. Then cut up into bite-size pieces.

Combine broth and saffron in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover and set aside. Return to boiling before adding to the paella.

Cut up tomatoes and set aside. Slice artichoke hearts in half and cut green beans into 1-inch slices. Set aside separate from the tomatoes.

Add olive oil to a paellera (special wide fry pan used for this type dish in Spain) or cast iron skillet or other skillet with handles that can be used on the grill. Add onion and garlic; sauté 3-5 minutes or until slightly caramelized. Add the rice to the pan and sauté 1-2 minutes more.

Pour in about a third of the boiling broth mixture and stir. Add the cut-up peppers and squashes, tomatoes, salt, pepper, and paprika. As stock is absorbed, replenish with additional boiling stock until rice is tender. Add green beans and artichokes the last 5 minutes of cooking. Cover the paella with a clean dish towel and let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Add additional salt and peppers if desired; serve hot or at room temperature. Makes 6-8 servings.

Patti Bess is freelance writer from Grass Valley and the author of Vegetarian Barbecue. She can be reached at bess.pattia@gmail.com for questions or comments

Meatless menus expand the repertoire of dynamically flavored meals that don’t in any way lack for flavor or variety. Especially on the grill, vegetables, polenta, and tofu take to the grill like any burger you’ve ever tasted. Try it out here with this traditional Spanish dish, paella.
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