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Meatless Monday: Party for Planet Earth

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Welcome to that fabulous planetary party, Earth Day. How can you best celebrate Mother Earth? Use more twirly incandenscent lightbulbs? Walk instead of drive? Good ideas, but the biggest present you can give the planet is to show some plant-based love.

According to our brilliant buds at Carnegie Mellon, dialing down meat consumption lowers carbon output more than eating locally. Even skipping one day's worth of meat makes a difference. In their 2006 landmark study "Livestock's Long Shadow," the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization concludes nothing produces more greenhouse gas emissions than livestock production. Beef is the worst offender by 150%.

Add to that the toll animal agriculture takes on our limited natural resources. It requires far more energy, land and water than growing produce. It also requires more food. Beef production requires an outsized portion of grain -- grain that could go towards feeding us. At a time when there's seven billion of us with another two billion more anticipated, we need to grow food to feed us all.

America's meat-intensive diet means we are literally eating ourselves out of house and home -- by which I mean the planet. I'm sorry, there is no food on earth that satisfying, that delicious to warrant the end of the world as we know it.

You have the power to make a difference, just by choosing what you eat. So join the party. Help the planet and have a great time, too. Local and online vegan community can hook you up with support and great eats. Take part in U.S. VegWeek by taking the 7- Day VegPledge. Sponsored by the animal-friendly folks atCompassion Over Killing U.S. VegWeek starts today, Earth Day, and offers a week's worth of meatless celebration.

Earth Day is a party to which everyone's invited, and we're serving delicious food. A meatless diet is abundant, affordable, accessible and exciting -- from spicy red chili tacos to satifsying green herb and veggie tart. The slew of side benefits includes greater health by decreasing your risk of the big killer three -- heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and extra servings of joy and compassion that comes from eating well but keeping 50 animals a year off your plate. You get all that and the knowledge you're contributing to a sustainable planet and a sustainable future. No wonder environmental groups including the Natural Resource Defense Counci and the Sierra Club have advocated meatlessness as a means of protecting our overtaxed planet.

A meatless lifestyle is the coolest, easiest way to multitask I know of. If you want to enjoy fabulous food, boost your health, get the glow, show compassion, save money, save animals, save time and save the planet, all roads point to a plant-based diet. What's more, it's the Earth Day present the planet's been hoping for.

Blue Planet Greens Tart for Earth Day (and Every Day)

1 batch homemade pie dough, preferably whole wheat or 1 prepared unbaked pie shell crust
1 bunch chard leaves (reserve thick chard ribs for another use, such as making vegetable broth)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a smidge more for brushing the tart
1 onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 15-ounce can artichoke hearts (packed in water, not marinated in oil), well-drained
juice of 1 lemon
1 sprig fresh dill, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 handful kalamata olives, pitted and sliced

Preheat oven to 375.

Roll out pie dough and fit into an 8- or 9-inch pie pan. Prick inside with the tines of a fork and bake for 10 minutes, until it just starts to firm up. Remove from oven and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Blanche chard leaves, plunging them into the water for 1 minute. Drain chard and let it cool.

In the same pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic. Saute the mixture for about 4 minutes, or until onion starts to turn soft, fragrant and translucent. Reduce heat to low and cover for 15 minutes. Take pot off heat and allow to cool.

Spoon onion and garlic and any accumulated cooking juice into a food processor. Add chard leaves and pulse for a moment. Add half the artichoke hearts, reserving the rest for garnish. Pulse again until well-combined. The artichoke adds some body and a natural creaminess.

Add lemon juice, dill, and a generous amount of sea salt and pepper to taste.

Pour chard and artichoke mixture into pie shell. Top with remaining artichoke hearts and scatter the kalamatas. Brush lightly with that little extra bitof olive oil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until filling is firm and a knife blade inserted comes out clean.

Cool slightly and serve. You may also enjoy it at room temperature.

Serves 6.

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