02/07/2011 08:36 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Meatless Monday: The Missing Link

You may be chilly now, but on the global scale, things are heating up. Recent findings by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) conclude climate change will affect food security by 2050. Crop yields are forecast to be lower, and food prices, accordingly, will be higher, with staples like rice going up as much as 78 percent. That means we're going to have to work hard not to go hungry. Or as Charles Darwin might have put it, we adapt or perish.

One way to adapt could have huge positive consequences. The United Nations International Panel of Sustainable Resource Management has called for "a substantial worldwide diet change away from animal products." A UN panel analysis indicates meat and dairy production accounts for 70% of our global water supply and more than a third of our land use. We're going to need every inch of arable land to grow food. Reducing meat consumption might be what saves us.

No one liked what Darwin had to say, either. All the guy did was observe the natural world. Darwin didn't make up the idea of natural selection. He wasn't pushing any kind of agenda, just reporting his findings after years of research -- findings which pissed many people off. We're supposed to be God's appointed rulers of this earthly dominion, damnit, and it really fried our collective ass to think all that separated us from the apes were a few links in the evolutionary chain. It was easier to brand Darwin as a heretic and a wingnut than to buy his theory on the origin of the species. Many people still deride Darwin's notion and the man's been dead since 1882.

Similarly, the link between meat production and climate change has its host of detractors, too. It's easier to blame or defame the messenger than it is to change, to reduce the amount of meat we eat or face the fact we're out on a rapidly melting polar ice cap (thanks, climate change).

Maybe, despite the evidence, you don't believe in global warming. Or you think it's just part of God or nature's plan, that the planet is (intelligently) designed to throw climate curveballs every millenium or so. And in the long run, we're all going to die, anyway. That doesn't mean we need to hurry the process along, globally or personally.

The new USDA and Human Health Services dietary guideline tell you what you've already known -- making the move to a plant-based diet is good for you. Meanwhile, the American Cancer Society links daily meat consumption with heightened mortality risk. Eating meat shortens your life.

Change is hard, whether it's a matter of changing your world view or your diet. But all evidence points away from eating meat, if you want to stick around. To quote Darwin, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. . . but the one most adaptable to change."

It's not to late to adapt. That's what life on earth is about. As Darwin wrote, this is where "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

Darwinian Torte of Winter Greens

I used red-stemmed chard from my CSA (community-shared agriculture) box to make this, but feel free to change them up with whatever dark, leafy greens are seasonal and local for you. Being adaptable is good.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch chard or other winter greens
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 cup ricotta
1 egg
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
sea salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch basil, plus extra for garnish, if desired
Parmesan for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.

Lightly oil a 9-inch springform pan.

In a large pot heat oil over medium high heat. When it starts to shimmer, at chopped onions and garlic and pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring until vegetables sizzle, about 4 minutes.

Cover and reduce heat to low. Let vegetables mellow for about 30 minutes, or until onions turn golden and soft. Remove lid.

Bring heat back to medium-high. Add chopped chard or other greens and cook, stirring, until greens wilt, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat.

In a food processor, blitz together ricotta and egg (or vegan alternative below).*

Add greens and onion mixture, along with any broth produced during cooking.
Process until smooth, about 1 minute.

Add basil, salt and pepper and pulse briefly, until just combined.

Stir in breadcrumbs and pour the entire mixture into the prepared springform. 
Smooth top and bake for 30 minutes, or until tort is slightly crusty on top and firm to the touch.

Garnish with optional Parmesan and/or fresh basil, if desired.

Serves 6.

*For a very good vegan adaptation, lose the ricotta and egg. Substitute:

1/2 pound firm tofu, well-drained
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon white miso
juice of 1/2 lemon

Blitz together the tofu, tahini, nutritional yeast, miso and lemon juice in a food processor for a minute or so, until smooth and creamy, then proceed as above, adding wilted greens and onions.