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How Green is Our Cuisine?

Posted by tinako on March 20, 2012

I went to the University of Rochester today to participate with R.A.V.S. in the Great American Meatout.  Two of us manned our table.

How Green is Our Cuisine? (Click to Zoom)

I trotted out my old “How Green is Our Cuisine?” display, and that was very useful (again).  I can’t believe I considered dismantling this display after the first time.   I thought this time I’d take a picture and tell you what’s included and what I plan to update.  If anyone wants the Word or Jpg files, I still have everything and am happy to share.

After researching, I had a LOT of info I wanted to include.  It is a very busy display, but I am always there to walk people through it.  It’s more of visual aide for my spiel.  The main focus is on greenhouse gases, and assuming people already knew that global warming is very bad, I wanted to make the point that diet is a big part of it (bigger than many other decisions we make for the environment), and how it plays such a big part.

I wrote the information I researched into an essay, A Disregarded Truth.  But verbally, my catch question is, “Did you know that what we eat has an enormous impact on the environment?” I talk about how many people think animals are still raised on a Charlotte’s Web type farm, and it’s hard to see how a nice farm like that could spoil the environment, but that those farms mostly disappeared decades ago and that the vast majority of farm animals lived on factory farms like those show in these pictures.  I go over the chart showing the numbers of animals on the average American farm, ending with egg-layers = over half a million – I point out the photo of 7 hens crammed in a cage and then the one showing them stacked 3 high and back into the dark distance – there are probably 60,000 hens in that one barn, and about 10 barns on a farm.  I say it’s probably easier now to see that these farms could have big environmental impacts.  I go over the list of environmental disasters that factory farms are a major contributor of, and then hone in on greenhouse gases.  I mention the 18% of greenhouse gas emissions fact, which everyone I talked to at the Meatout already knew – great job getting the word out, everybody!  One vegan did gently dispute that number, saying he’d heard it included transport, so somehow it wasn’t right to compare it to transport separately.  I pointed out to him that this wasn’t a pie chart where each slice was separate and all had to add to 100%.  The breakdowns are too complicated for that, and what these numbers say is that if all transport ended, 15% of current greenhouse gas would be saved, and that, separately, if all livestock ended, 18% would be saved.

Anyway, next I usually say, “You might be wondering how livestock can cause so much greenhouse gas,” at which point I start working down the left side of the display.  Amazon Deforestation is the largest single source of livestock’s contribution, and then Enteric Fermentation is second.  I have a lot of fun with the photos showing mountains and ponds of poop.

Next I usually go over the image from the N.Y. Times which shows Livestock’s High Energy Costs and Carbon Footprint.  The veggies vs. meat comparison is an eye-opener.  Over on the right I have two sections which try to put diet in context with other decisions that we make.  I chose to illustrate that study from the University of Chicago which looked at choice of car.  However, I have found these charts to just be too complicated.  They’re coming off the display.  Down below, however, is a really neat comparison of choice of bag (paper vs. plastic) compared to choice of what goes in the bag (one day’s groceries for a family of four, omnivore vs. vegan).  People really like this graphic.  I try to be sure to make the point that I’m not belittling these other environmental choices, just showing that diet needs to be way up there on the list of things an environmentalist thinks about.

I put my favorite food pyramid down at the bottom in case anyone asks me what you eat when you don’t eat meat (hey, that’s a catchy caption!).

When I updated this display for schoolchildren last year, I wanted to make it about more than global warming, so I removed a page about What Are We Eating (a lot of meat) and replaced it with some things I wanted to say about the broad range of ongoing disasters of which modern livestock farming is a major cause.  I’ll probably put What Are We Eating? back when I take off the car info. One bit of info I plan to add after “Killing Wildlife” is how many animals the Fish and Wildlife Service kills to protect livestock every year – had a question on that today and couldn’t remember.  It’s a lot.

The photos I swiped off the internet.  I deliberately chose mild images that do not show violence, only environmental messes and ordinary crowding.  Nevertheless, people tell me they are shocked.

One last point – notice that I include sources with everything.  I may start with vegan organizations or someone’s blog, but I always follow the sources, make sure they are sources people will trust (like the USDA or UN, not PETA, for instance) and I always print them.  What could be more embarrassing than standing there at an event and having someone tell me, “That’s a myth” or “Why should I believe them?”

All of this said, when I am talking to individuals I seldom yammer blindly on, instead listening for what is important to them.  For instance, someone I talked to today grew up on a farm.  She really wanted to talk, to tell me about her experience, so I listened and asked a lot of questions about how her family related to the animals, how they cared for the environment, and so forth.  After a while I could see that she had strong opinions about caring for animals and was certain that a business that didn’t could not prosper long term.  Every one of the pictures, she said, “I have a problem with that.”   I was able to explain to her how, despite the animals’ poor health, these businesses were able to prosper and even out-compete for the present, but that yes, it put an unsustainable strain on the land and it’s ruining our planet.  I didn’t see any need to argue about whether her small farm practices were a good idea for the planet, health, or peace.  Small steps, low-hanging fruit.  We had a great talk, I learned more about small farmers’ attitudes towards animals and what happens on a small farm, and she went away understanding how most meat in the stores is produced now, and the impact it’s having.   What would have happened if I hadn’t listened first?

I encourage anyone to do outreach like this.  Brush up on the issues, have some visual materials (you can reproduce my display if I send you the files), and get out there.  Earth Day is coming up – what’s going on in your community?  All the environmental events I’ve been to, I alone or with RAVS am the only one talking about diet.  If you’re not there, is anyone talking about it?  My first event I wasn’t even a member of RAVS – I just talked the event organizers into letting me have a table for free!  I’m an introvert by nature, but I walked in with just this display and a smile.  Visitors asked, “Who are you with?”  Me!  Just me!

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Cuban Black Bean Soup

Posted by tinako on December 1, 2009

Cuban Black Bean Soup and Herb Bread

This is the second time I’ve made Cuban Black Bean Soup, and this recipe might be the best soup I’ve ever had.  If I got this in a restaurant, I would be impressed.  I like that it does not taste like the typical Tex-Mex black beans.  For not too many different herbs and spices, it’s very complex.  I put the rum right in the soup this time, and frozen cilantro.  I also cooked the beans myself with a bay leaf, and put a couple extra cups of beans in the freezer for later.

I went to search for the post where I told you about freezing herbs, and I guess I never did.  I saw an episode of Totally Vegetarian with Toni Fiore, and her guest, Cathi Dicocco, said that parsley you can just stick in a bag and freeze dry, but that cilantro and basil need to be frozen in water in order to keep their color and flavor.  So you just pack them into the larger size ice cube trays, which is about 2 T, and then add just enough water to cover, and freeze.  Of course some of the leaves float a bit and are exposed, but I didn’t worry about that, and it really did seem to be more flavorful than my usual “stuff it in a bag” method.  When the cubes are frozen, you can pop them out and store them in a freezer bag.  Can you see how nice and green the cilantro is in the soup?

With the soup we had leftover Whole Grain Herb Bread and I had Oktoberfest beer.

Purple Potatoes, Sorrel, Mustard Greens, Salad Greens, and Braeburn Apples

While the soup was simmering, we walked to the Winter Farmer’s Market to finish yesterday’s shopping.  Those are the potatoes that are purple all the way through.  The sorrel seemed to be hydroponic and the farmer said he likes them lightly cooked.  They were pretty cheap, so I figured I’d give them a try.

Colossal Chocolate Chippers

After dinner I made Colossal Chocolate Chippers.

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Is it gravy or is it soup? Only the cook knows.

Posted by tinako on April 30, 2009

Sauteed Veggie Pita

Sauteed Veggie Pita

I had the greatest lunch, a sauteed vegetable pita.  Like most lunches, the inspiration for this one hit me as I stared into the fridge.  “Those portobello mushrooms, I’d better eat them.”  I heated my small skillet on med-high with some olive oil and put a frozen pita in the toaster.  I diced half a mushroom, then chopped up a little zucchini, dropped them all in the frypan and let them cook a few minutes.  You could put in whatever vegetables you like/have.  I sprinkled on that too-salty cajun seasoning I had.  When the the veggies were tender, which didn’t take too long, I turned off the heat and threw in some chopped cilantro.  I put them all in the pita with lettuce and tomato.  Mmmm, salty and wonderful.  A banana and veggie juice completed the meal, and I shared a mango later for a snack.  I don’t think this took more than 10 minutes to make.

Dinner was…interesting.  I was going to make a soup I just saw on PBS’ Totally Vegetarian.  It involved roasted red peppers, and I didn’t realize (because she didn’t demonstrate it) that you have to allow about an hour and a half to make them.

Jalapeno Corn...Soup!

Jalapeno Corn...Soup!

So there I was, standing somewhat desperately in front of the fridge again, when I spied the Jalapeno Corn “gravy” I made yesterday.  This gravy wanted so badly to be a soup that it tasted nothing like gravy, so it fulfilled its destiny tonight.  It was too thick, so I added some water, and also some leftover coconut water (what’s left when you steal the cream for ice cream), 2 chopped carrots, salt and pepper.  It was surprisingly good.

With it I served biscuits, this time with half whole wheat.  I was distracted when I was making them, and I screwed them up almost every way possible, but they were still popular.

Leftover Amaretto Ice Cream was popular too, but homemade ice cream never keeps very well – it gets icy.

Roasted Red Peppers

Roasted Red Peppers

I did roast the red peppers afterwards.  I put two red peppers on a baking sheet lined with tinfoil.  I put them under the broiler on the highest rack position, according to the directions.  They were practically touching the flame.  You cook them, or rather burn them, turning occasionally, until they are all black.  This takes 15 min or so.  Then you take them out, wrap the foil around them and let them sit for an hour.  Then you just rub the skins off and pull off the stem.  Cut in half and remove any seeds.

Sprouts

Starting Alfalfa Seeds

Another thing I did today was start some alfalfa sprouts.  These are so easy and inexpensive.  All you need is a wide mouth quart jar – canning jars work great, a square of fabric that will cover the mouth, a rubber band, and some alfalfa seeds, which you can find in the health food section or the bulk section of a health food store.  You only need to buy about 1/4 c to get started.  A white cloth will permanently turn sort of beige from the natural dye in the seeds, so don’t use heirloom linens.  I just hemmed a small piece of cheesecloth.  A lightweight baby washcloth might work, or a scrap of old dishtowel.

Put 1 T seeds in the jar and add a little water to cover the seeds.  Put the cloth over the mouth and attach with the rubber band.  Leave it on your counter.  In about half a day, empty the water, and for the next week or so, twice a day you will need to run a little water in to wet the seeds/sprouts, and then drain it out, all right through the fabric.   That T of seeds is going to fill that jar!  They will be ready to start eating maybe 4 days after starting.  Don’t delay, because they will start to get slimy about a week after they’re ready.  I keep them on the counter – maybe they would keep longer in the fridge (once they’re grown).  Use them in salads and on sandwiches/pitas/rollups, anywhere you would use lettuce.

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I’m going on a car trip, and with me I will bring…

Posted by tinako on April 17, 2009

I know that at 5:00 on most nights it is hard to imagine this, but can you remember being on a vacation somewhere and getting really sick of eating out?  I know I felt that way even before I was vegetarian.  Please, no more french fries!

I don’t know what exactly it is about restaurant food.  My friend says it’s just that they don’t cook the way we’re used to.  Different flavors, and way too rich.  Restaurants don’t particularly care about our health, and so they cook with white flour, white rice, lots of fat, sugar, and salt.  After all, it tastes good, and so customers return.  If there are any vegetables, they are probably overcooked and/or drenched in fatty, salty sauce.  Some restaurants think it’s not food unless it’s coated in oily, gloppy orange cheese.  But I can only eat so much of that sort of food, and my tolerance has lowered considerably now that I am used to eating healthy.  After just a few meals, I start craving fresh fruits and vegetables.

I don’t mind cooking, especially when I have a plan, and so when I am leaving home, I try to make sure that I have at least some meals that I prepare myself.  In my case, I will be visiting relatives, and I don’t want them to have to figure out what to make for me, so I do all the cooking.  I prepare for this by making up a menu list.

It only takes me a few minutes.  I sit down with a full sheet of paper, my recipe box, maybe one favorite cookbook.  I divide the sheet into three columns, “menu,” “bring,” and “buy.”  In the menu column, I write down the day, the meal, and what we will eat.  I include breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.  Then in the columns next to it I write down what I need to bring and buy for that meal, including utensils and pans.  I have a good idea what food and tools my hostess has on hand.  If I’m unsure, I write it down in the buy column and then just check it when I get there.  I make sure that my first day’s meals will not require a trip to the store.

I don’t cook every night.  I allow for some restaurant meals – after all, this is a vacation – and I am flexible as far as which days that will be.  As I am making the menu, I keep in mind not to make things that are too complicated or require me to bring too much, and of course I want to prepare things I think my hosts will enjoy.  I plan to make mixes of some things; for example, I am going to make focaccia one night.  Instead of bringing separate containers of yeast, etc., I am just going to mix up all the dry stuff and bring a container that I can just add water to.  Same thing for cake.  Don’t forget to bring the recipes!

Now I have a list that will do triple duty.  I use the “bring” list when packing, I take the “buy” list to the store there, and of course I refer to the menu list throughout the trip.

So even though I’m using this trick to plan for a visit in someone else’s home, you could do something similar for your camping trip, or a weeklong trip to Florida.  In that case, get a place with a kitchenette, make a plan, and you can bring along a few small ingredients that will make your meals more enjoyable.  This is of course more economical, as well.

While vacations can be a great way to try new food and relax away from the kitchen, I like to be prepared for my healthful cravings.

Check out food you can bring with you: Food for the Road

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Just when you thought it was safe to go to the grocery store…

Posted by tinako on April 16, 2009

Cue the Jaws soundtrack, because something sinister is coming.  Have you located the 8-track of it in your brain?  Good.  Because it’s here.  It’s Tofu.

All right, come back in the house and stop screaming.  It’s not actually going to kill you.  Unlike that other stuff you’ve been putting in your grocery cart.  Tofu is low in calories, contains beneficial amounts of iron and has no saturated fat or cholesterol. Depending on the brand, the tofu may also be high in calcium and magnesium.  The tofu I buy provides 10% RDA of calcium.

Tofu gets a bad rap, and sometimes it’s deserved.  I have a theory that some people, possibly with a genetic mutation of some sort, find the taste of raw or slightly cooked tofu appealing.  That’s why we so often encounter this unwelcome gelatinous white mass in our soups and other dishes.  We tried it once, it was gross, and so we think all tofu is gross.

So part two of my theory is that many more people would like tofu if it were cooked properly.  I find that I like tofu that has been mercilessly deep fried.  However, this isn’t how I want to eat, and it isn’t how I want to cook.  I invented a method I have never seen in any cookbook, and it’s much less messy and much more healthy.  Nuke it.

I know, you’re thinking that if you microwave a cube of glop you will be left with a cube of hot glop, but the secret is that this is Defcon 1 – we’re going to nuke the bejeezus out of that cube of glop.

A block of firm or extra-firm tofu in the refrigerator of the health food section of your grocery store costs about $2.  Will you try this with me?  I am certain you can recall having spent $2 more foolishly than this in the past.  And think how much you’ll impress the other natural food shoppers as you cavalierly toss the tofu into your cart.  “I guess I’ll just get one this week.”

The tofu will keep, unopened, for many many weeks in your fridge.  But don’t delay, open it up and take out the block.  The container is usually recyclable.  Cut the block in half the short way.  Put one half in a plastic container, cover the tofu with water, seal and refrigerate – it will keep 4-5 days.

Tofu before nuking

Tofu before nuking

Cut the remaining piece in half the same way, and cut each half in half the same way again, so you have 4 pieces about 1/2″ x 4″ x 2″.  Not that the way you cut it matters much, but I find this easiest.  Arrange the pieces on a plate and sprinkle them with soy sauce.  You don’t want a big puddle on the plate (but it’s OK if it happens), just get the tops lightly coated – sometimes I use my finger to spread it around.  Now microwave this for five minutes.  Then flip them over and microwave for 3 minutes.  If your microwave is underpowered, you may need to increase both of those by a minute or more – in our wimpy cottage microwave I double the times.  It should be springy when done.  Take them out and slice them.  I slice them pretty thin, maybe 1/4″.  They will firm up more as they cool.  If they taste gloppy they’re underdone and you can microwave them some more.  If they taste like rubber erasers you overdid it.  They will spatter a little in your microwave, but it beats cleaning up grease.

Microwaved Tofu

Microwaved Tofu

You can eat these plain, hot or cold.  My kids love them, so I often just put them out in a bowl with dinner.  My son, 9, learned how to make them himself  as a snack.  “Mom, can I make some tofu?”  What would you say?  You can keep them in the fridge for salads, you can add them to stirfry, curry, soup, anywhere tofu or meat is called for.  You can skip the soy sauce if you don’t want to interfere with the flavorings of the dish you’re making.  I always pre-mike tofu before I add it to a recipe.  This method will not work with the aseptic (room temperature) boxes of tofu, which are meant to be blended, like in pudding or ice cream.

I’m afraid to ask, but I hope you liked it.  A little?

Want to learn more about tofu?  Here’s Colleen: How it’s made | Textures | What to do with it

And you can also check out my Entrees tab above for more tofu recipes.

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