Meatless Monday: Superheroes

08/30/2010 10:59 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Ellen Kanner Author and syndicated columnist, the Edgy Veggie

Cows have kind eyes and gentle natures, but they're not going to save the world. They're gargantuan greenhouse gas producers. Plus the way most cattle are raised produces so much toxic runoff, according to the 2006 UN Climate Change report it's "one of the top. . . most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems." Plants, on the other hand, effortlessly absorb another greenhouse gas -- carbon dioxide. In turn, they produce a substance cows, humans and assorted others species depend on to live -- oxygen. Remember photosynthesis from science class?. This is what plants do -- suck in the bad stuff, crank out the good stuff. They're nature's superheroes.

It's tough times, though, even for superhero plants. Hotter global temps are resulting in droughts and other climate extremes. As a result, according to University of Montana researchers, plant life has dwindled over the past decade. Less plants means less food, less oxygen, more carbon, more heat. This affects global food security, as well as global temperature.

You don't have to be a scientist to note nature has not been so temperate of late. We've had devastating floods in Pakistan, blistering heat in Russia, and it hasn't been exactly breezy and balmy in the States this summer, either. We could argue this is further proof of climate change or just nature being pissed off. However, we don't have that kind of time. Even our friends at the USDA and EPA agree climate change is real and and will affect what we grow. In fact, it already has. Across Asia, rice -- a staple crop feeding three billion people a day -- has decreased by as much as 20 percent.

Cows can't help farting, especially when they're corn-fed, not grass-fed. We, though, have the (super)power to reduce the amount of carbon we burn. Seasonal, local -- these terms have become such buzzwords we barely hear them now. We need to use our superpowers not just to listen, but to act. We need be to growing carbon-snarfing produce as if our lives depend on it. Because it does.

Every time we choose produce over processed, we're saying yes to farmers, yes to the guys who grow our food, yes to increased food production and cleaner air. Every time we choose local fruit and vegetables over produce shipped from miles if not countries away, we're dialing down carbon emissions and stepping away from heating up the planet even further. We've got the makings of a great meal, too.

Cows can't save the world. But maybe plants can. And by eating, buying and growing more produce, maybe we can, too.

Summer Harvest Pasta

When the vegetables and herbs are local, seasonal and super-fresh, they do most of the work for you, creating big flavor with minimal fuss. Top this light pasta with Parmesan or a dollop of ricotta, if desired, serve with bruschetta and salad.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 bunch mint, chopped
8 ounces whole wheat pasta
2 lemons, zest and juice
sea salt to taste
Parmesan or ricotta for garnish, if desired

Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add red pepper flakes and stir.

Add chopped fennel and zucchini. Stir vegetables occasionally, until they just soften, about 5 minutes. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low, letting vegetables cook for another 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions. Cook till just tender, so it still has some chew. Drain well and add spaghetti to skillet. Combine gently, until incorporated.

Grate in lemon zest, add lemon juice and chopped mint and parsley. Give one last stir and add sea salt to taste.

Serves 4.