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Meatless Monday: Beef -- It's Not What's For Dinner

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Dear President Obama,

Ahem, a little bailout money, please. Vegetarian organizations need a little financial stimulus in order to advance the issues giving you the greatest concern -- health care, the economy and green initiatives. Personal health, environmental concerns and a decision to economize are, in fact, the top three reasons people go meatless, whether it's for a day or for forever. Each reason is compelling, serious and profound. But face it, they're not very sexy or fun. Personal motivation and core philosophy have a tough time competing with clever, multimillion dollar ad campaigns. Come on, you know that better than anyone.

You think the Republicans are bad? Look at the beef industry. "Where's the beef?" "Beef, it's what's for dinner." Advertising is insidious. Beyond the catchy slogan comes the inculcating message. People become hardened, along with their arteries, to the idea eating meat is a must, that meat is all there is. Burger King's even stepping up their ad budget for 2010.

So how do you fight that? PETA, an organization with its heart in the right place, has launched a few ill-chosen ads, including a new one, with its in your face image of a bikini-ed woman of epic proportions accompanied by the slogan, "Save the whales. Lose the blubber. Go vegetarian." It has not won friends or fans. You wanna talk cash for clunkers?

And yet, bad advertising may be better than none. We need to get the word out. Eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables lowers our risk of stroke by more than 25 percent, according to a U.K. study. But only 12 percent of Brits actually eat that way.

We're doing no better over here. The International Food Information Council has just issued a survey stating 89 percent of Americans agree produce is good for them. However, they have trouble when it comes to incorporating it into their diet. These findings leave many of us saying, Doh.

Add vegetables to your pasta, toss fruit in with your cereal, there's a gazillion ways to get more plant-based foods into your your life. That isn't the problem. It's not that we lack handy tips, it's that we've got faulty wiring. Knowing what's good for us doesn't seem to be enough for us to make the good stuff happen. We've even got your wife on the case with the White House vegetable garden (major kudos to Michelle, by the way) and we're still losing ground.

The question is, how do we deliver the message the way Americans like -- light and frothy? Plant-based people need a rocking ad campaign, full-press Twitter tweets, cool t-shirts, live action figures and a great theme song. A little bailout money and we can make it happen. And good news -- musically, we're already in business. Check out "Leftovers?" by eco-rock band Green Beings.

It could work, Mr. President. Imagine -- a healthier, greener America, with spring in our steps, money in our wallets and a song in our hearts. It could open everyone to an world of excellent, edible plant-based possibilities and won't make anyone have a cow.

Respectfully yours,

Ellen Kanner

Gomen Wat (Ethiopian Collard Stew)

Collard greens feature in "Leftovers" and in the White House vegetable garden. Now's the time collards flourish, at the White House and elsewhere. They're fresh, available in farmers' markets all over the country and cheap, averaging just a dollar a pound.

This is an easy version of a traditional Ethiopian stew, or wat. It's usually served with
injera, an amazing spongy bread made from teff. Should you find yourself fresh out of injera, serve with rice, millet or scooped up with the flatbread of your choice.

1 pound collard greens
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 jalapeno, seeded
1 sweet red pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup vegetable stock or water
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon allspice
sea salt to taste

Wash collards, remove tough central stems and steam over high heat just until wilted but still bright green, about 5 minutes. Drain.

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Chop onion and saute stirring, until onion turns translucent, about 5 minutes. Mince garlic and jalapeno (wearing gloves prevents chili burns), add to pot. Chop red pepper, and add along with the grated ginger, cinnamon stick, turmeric and allspice. Stir and reduce heat to medium. If the mixture seems dry, add a little of stock to moisten. Cover pot.

Take drained collards and shred or chop fine. Add to pot. Stir well, adding 1/2 cup vegetable stock or water. Cook till heated through, another few minutes. Remove cinnamon stick, salt to taste and serve.

Serves 4.

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