THE BLOG

Meatless Monday: It's Meatless Monday in Montgomery County. Is Your County Next?

08/19/2013 08:03 am ET | Updated Oct 19, 2013

Valerie Ervin is officially one of Washington, D.C.'s most powerful women. So how does the Montgomery County council member wield that power? By adopting Meatless Monday.

Montgomery County, Md. now joins the ranks of D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco in proclaiming each Monday to be Meatless Monday. "We're really excited about it," says Ervin, who practices -- and eats -- what she preaches. Earlier this year, she took the 7-day Veg Pledge as part of U.S. Veg Week.

While some of her peers joked about it, "I don't think it's funny," she says. "My family has a history of heart attacks and high blood pressure and those kinds of ailments. Proper nutrition can reverse hypertension and type 2 diabetes. We've seen too many medical studies and we're too smart a nation. Americans are starting to wake up to the fact we're not healthy."

Ervin, whose son is vegetarian, took the Veg Pledge to show "going meatless isn't weird." Since passing the proclamation, "People have come up and thanked me for putting it out there," she says.

Since becoming elected council member in 2006, Ervin has worked with local farmers, advocating for more sustainability, more school gardens and greater access for healthy foods. People know her as the Food Lady. She can live with that. "All the issues of food are extraordinarily important to the health and vitality in communities. Reminding people on Monday to try to go meatless is an important thing."

Ervin, who pushed for summer breakfast programs for underserved children, hopes Montgomery County schools will take the Meatless Monday proclamation and apply it. "The kids in the school system would really like it," she says. "Vegetarian isn't weird to them."

Encouraging meatlessness by adopting a county-wide proclamation helps. Serving meatless meals in schools helps, too. But Ervin believes "it starts in the home. The habits children get they get from home. So many people don't know how to cook."

Ervin learned to cook from her own mother, who also kept a vegetable garden. Summers meant garden-fresh corn, tomatoes and beans. Meals were eaten together as a family. She carried on the tradition of home cooking and family meals as a mother and now a grandmother of three. "The act of preparing food in your home, where you have to think about it going into the mouths of your children, has a profound effect in the family," she says.

Think that kind of profound change in your home or hometown is impossible? Think again. Ervin encourages citizens to propose Meatless Monday to their own county council members. "There are people who would really love to have this conversation."

Ervin herself looks at Meatless Monday as a way to address the issues that worry her, including the rise of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes and the Republicans' recent cuts to the federal food stamp or SNAP program. "I am very, very concerned about this issue of poverty and how overlooked it is," she says. "We should be promoting healthy food, advocating vegetarian as a viable alternative for people."

It happens one delicious meatless meal, one game-changing Meatless Monday proclamation at a time. "Once you change one's person's mind," she says, "It's off to the races."

Cornmeal Flatbread with Local Farmers Market Corn, Tomatoes and Basil

From proofing the yeast to baking the dough, this homemade flatbread takes about half an hour. There's no need to roll it out, just press the dough into the pan. It looks impressively artisanal, is super easy and wildly adaptable -- swap out the corn and tomatoes for chopped rosemary and olive, thin slices of onions and peppers, any number of options. DIY is delicious.

For the dough:

1-1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch sea salt
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal, plus another tablespoon or two for the baking pan

For the topping:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup fresh organic grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 ears fresh organic corn, cut from cob (about 1-1/2 cups kernels)
1 bunch basil leaves (about 1/2 cup), coarsely chopped
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450.

In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar, yeast, 3/4 cups unbleached flour and a pinch of sea salt. Stir in warm water and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Mix well for 1 minute. Work in remaining all-purpose flour, sea salt, whole wheat flour and cornmeal.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, glossy and elastic -- about 5 minutes.

Cover dough and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add minced garlic, cooking for a minute or two or until fragrant and lightly golden. Add grape or cherry tomatoes, give pan a shake to coat tomatoes in oil.

Reduce heat to medium, add corn kernels and a pinch of sea salt. Remove from heat. Gently stir in the chopped basil. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Sprinkle additional corn meal on a 14x10-inch cookie sheet. Press dough onto cookie sheet and prick with a fork.

Spread corn and tomato mixture over the flatbread. Press the vegetables into the dough.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until flatbread is golden and crusty and corn and tomatoes start to char.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Enjoy.

Serves 4.