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Meatless Monday: Listening To Your Broccoli

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In an old comedy routine, Mel Brooks plays a therapist who advises his patient, "Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it."

I prefer my broccoli to keep its own council. Other people, however, seem to find talking food desirable, enough so that much food on the market is talking us. All the time. It says things like, "World famous!" "All-natural!" "Low carb!" "Contains antioxidants!" "New, improved!"

We want and deserve food that's natural, wonderful and healthful, so if it says it is, frequently we go for it. We're optimists. We listen to -- or read-- our food and believe. And buy. Alas, when it comes to what much of our food is saying, in the immortal words of Representative Joe Nelson, "You lie!"

Michael Pollan has said if food has to tell you how nutritious it is, it's been processed to the point where it probably isn't. The same goes for food that says it's delicious, fabulous, and my favorite, garden fresh. Fresh from the garden it might have been once, but then it was preserved, processed, packaged, plastered with a label boasting how fresh it is then finally sent to wait for you in your supermarket. That's a serious detour.

We get seduced by packaging, high production values and slick marketing. Our willingness to believe is part of our charm. And it's what manufacturers bank on. Literally. But unless there's quality, substance or passion behind a product, it won't last. Worse, manufacturers burn up a lot of good will in the process, because no one likes being conned. Outraged consumers filed a class action suit against Dannon over Activia, which isn't quite the probiotic panacea it promised. Lies and misinformation cost the company $35 million, a small victory for our side but a small enough price to pay for Dannon.

Meanwhile, food keeps on talking and with so many products competing for our money, it has to talk even louder. More ads, more eye-catching packaging, more empty promises. Soon our food will Twitter.

It could turn ugly. In fact, it already has. New York's Board of Health has launched an ad campaign saying don't listen to your food, listen to us. This rather pisses off New Yorkers, who dislike being told what to do. One group, Center for Consumer Freedom, has launched a counter campaign, with an ad that says, "When did the Big Apple Become Big Brother?"

We can't police what America eats, or legislate it, but we can learn a lot from an old comedy routine. Mel Brooks, it turns out, was right -- listen to your broccoli. The food that's really fresh, healthy and all-natural is broccoli. And beans, barley, Brazil nuts and blackberries -- whole food. Whole food bears no fancy labels, makes no false claims. It's not new and never needed packaging or marketing to tell us how nutritious, vitamin-packed and antioxidant-rich it is. The truth is, whole food has been talking to us all this time. We just need to start listening.

Quick Curried Broccoli

Lovely over whole grain couscous or quinoa. Also very nice stuffed in a pita.

1 large head of fresh broccoli
1/2 cup low-fat or vegan mayonnaise
juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon turmeric
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
sprinkle of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350.

Chop broccoli, both florets and stems, into bite-sized pieces. Steam broccoli for 7 minutes (alternately, microwave for 3 minutes) or until bright green and crisp-tender.

In a small bowl, mix together mayo, lemon juice, soy sauce and turmeric.

Place broccoli in a lightly oiled baking dish. Spoon curry mix on top. You may have more sauce than you need. Curry sauce overage can be stored chilled in the refrigerator for days and enjoyed as a vegetable dip.

Pour sunflower seeds into a small separate ovenproof dish.

Bake broccoli and sunflower seeds for 15 minutes, until broccoli is just heated through, topping is bubbly and sunflower seeds are crunchy. Pour sunflower seeds over broccoli, sprinkle with sea salt and enjoy.

Serves 4.

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