There’s a lot about the environment and diet we don’t know. Two things we do know to be true? First, climate change is real. Secondly, eating a more plant-based diet comprising less red meat and more vegetarian recipes will make a positive impact on the planet and on your health.
Meat and dairy production produce a staggering 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. One study of Japanese people whose diets were richer in plant proteins suggests that their choice contributed to a longer lifespan. You don’t have to look far to be persuaded to incorporate more beans, seaweed, sustainably raised seafood, tofu and more. And it needn’t be Earth Day for you to make a really wise tweak to your current diet. Here’s how.
We know, we know. It’s so easy to grab the blue box of white pasta in short, squat shapes—the ones everyone in the family loves. But nowadays you can choose among farro, teff, chickpea pasta, wild rice, millet, and buckwheat. They’ve got protein, and the Risotto-Style Farro with Porcini and Pecorino pictured above is an excellent reminder that you don’t need meat. (A bevy of hearty mushrooms do the heavy lifting of a “meaty” texture, too.)
We panic not when we run out of sausages or chicken in the freezer, but when we run out of beans in the pantry. Canned, dried, garbanzo, kidney—you name it; we’ve got to have them. Black beans are a handy staple, but chickpeas and cannellini can swap in and pinch hit more often than you’d think. Say you’ve simmered paprika, cumin, garlic and tomato paste together in olive oil with red pepper flakes, then realized you opened the wrong can of beans. Don’t fret: Most of them will be just great simmered in that mix and served up alongside a hunk of tortilla or handful of chips! If you’re unconvinced, spend some time making these Black Bean and Avocado Sopes, then get back to us. We promise you won’t miss chicken or chorizo.
Tofu isn’t perfect; it’s true. It hovers just below dairy and above beans and nuts on the scale of environmentally awesome. But it’s worlds better for the food system than pork, beef or chicken. And if you’ve never had tofu done “meaty,” you’ve arguably never had tofu. Anyone who has ever had mapo tofu knows we’re right. When it’s pressed, dried and fried, tofu is a perfectly textured dream. If you haven’t yet been smitten, we’d likely start by mingling it with chile peppers or plush eggplant, as in the soba dish seen here. Or both!
Having a nut-based meal means an easy, protein-packed, environmentally friendly element is your centerpiece. Sound daunting or expensive? Nope: Just find your jar of peanut butter. That’s the road to a vegetarian curry with punch, a cold noodle dish to take the edge off summer, or a spicy peanut sauce to dip raw veggies in. Then there are almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans… the list is endless. And almost any nuts can be the centerpiece of your dinner, helping you not miss the meat.
If you’re going to eat seafood, consider looking into how sustainable it is. It’s not always a matter of “farmed” versus “wild.” (We’ve found this Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app to be mighty helpful as we roam the market!) Mussels are one of the most sustainable, economical, delicious things you can cook. And they’re fast! Here are four ways to cook them, none of which require additional meat, all of which are delicious.
We’re so far beyond the bland, unsalted “portobello mushroom burger,” that vegetarian wedding menu staple. Now, four-star chefs can create an incredible vegetable-based “hamburger” and build a whole restaurant around its success, as Brooks Headley did with New York’s Superiority Burger. Beyond Meat has a reputation for actually being quite delicious. And we will have to pat ourselves on the back for these chickpea “burgers,” which thanks to super-savory paprika, sweet red pepper and a grounding potato are a darn delight.