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Earth Day: Make vegetables the center of the meal

Pasta fagiole. (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

This week is Earth Week — the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which began with the ecology movement in 1970. This is a time to promote environmental awareness. In the past, there were marches and demonstrations. This year, many ecology groups planned week-long celebrations — but that was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Earth Day commemorations are only happening in the virtual internet world.

Much has changed since 1970. Then, the message centered on cleaning up our air and water. The Environmental Protection Agency was formed in 1970. Our air and water is cleaner, and eagles are no longer being poisoned by DDT. Today, our biggest environmental issue is climate change.

Then, the food industry was still in its infancy. Today, many small family farms have been replaced by agribusiness, and much of our food comes from factories. This is especially true in the meat industry — yes, we now call it an industry. It is no longer a crop.

We call these animal factories CAFOs — confined animal feeding operations. They are systems designed to maximize output while minimizing expense. This is accomplished by cramming animals into small spaces — cramped, filthy sheds where they can’t move, have no fresh air and never see the sun. To keep them alive in crowded, unsanitary conditions, cows, pigs and chickens are given antibiotics and tranquilizers.

Such animal factories produce high concentrations of methane (a stinky greenhouse gas), and their manure lagoons pollute streams and groundwater. Raising livestock for food comes in second (after fossil fuels) in production of greenhouse gasses (CO2, methane and nitrous oxide).

Even with the current restrictions on public gatherings, there are steps you can take in your own home and community to fight climate change and decrease your carbon footprint. If each American replaced meat with a vegan meal just one day each week, the CO2 savings would be the same as taking one-half million cars off U.S. roads. Plant-rich meals can be delicious and nutritious all while saving our planet.

Eat local. Growing food locally supports the local economy and decreases the amount of fuel required for transport. Today, 20% of America’s petroleum output goes toward transporting food around the country. The average supermarket food item traveled 1,500 miles from source to table. Buying locally produced food is an effective way to reduce your personal carbon footprint and help stop global warming. Do we really need apples from New Zealand when we have perfectly good apples grown right here in the Champlain Valley? Locally grown food is fresher and tastes better because it is picked when it is ripe, rather than expected to ripen during shipment.

Select, purchase, and prepare food carefully. Choose whole, unaltered foods rather than their processed, packaged cousins. They taste better and are better for you. Consider the environmental effects of how your food is produced. Find out where it came from and how it was grown.

Natural “superfoods” include fresh greens like spinach and kale, nuts like almonds, fruits like apples and oranges, berries like blueberries or strawberries, vegetables like carrots and aquash, whole grains like quinoa or barley, and legumes like kidney beans. These amazing foods contain good fats, fiber, powerful antioxidants and essential vitamins and minerals. They can neutralize damaging free radicals, reduce your risk of heart disease, and regulate blood sugar levels.

Scientists and researchers advise that a plant-rich diet can help combat climate change. We can reduce our carbon footprint by reducing our consumption of meat and switching to a plant-based diet.

By reducing waste, recycling, using fewer resources, buying locally grown food, and reducing your consumption of meat, you can reduce your carbon footprint while honoring the earth’s bounty and sustaining our natural resources.

A plant-based diet is healthier. It simply means we should eat lots of plants: fruits and veggies that are rich in nutrients and antioxidants, low in calories, and will add color and flavor to your meals naturally.

If it grows, comes from a bush, plant or vine, it’s natural. Make vegetables the center of the meal — then figure out which protein and carbohydrate foods would enhance it.

Consider how your food choices affect the ecological landscape. Remember, you are what you eat. Make natural, wholesome, healthy choices.

Pasta Fagiole (Italian-style beans with pasta)

This can be a thicker main dish, or add more liquid for a stew or even soup consistency. Quick, easy, healthy and delicious.

Ingredients:

1/2 pound pasta

2 Tablespoons cooking oil

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 pound broccoli, cauliflower, or green beans (can use frozen)

1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried basil or oregano

1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans (1 can)

1 1/2 cups cooked navy, great northern or kidney beans

Serves 3.

Directions:

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Peel and mince the garlic, add, and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broccoli (or other veggies, see ingredients), season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook until tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and basil or oregano. Cook, uncovered, about 5 minutes to reduce the liquid. Add cooked or canned drained beans and the cooked, drained pasta. Serve hot, garnished with grated cheese if desired.

Corn and Black Bean Salad

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Ingredients:

2 cups cooked black beans, drained

2 cups corn

1 cup diced red bell pepper

1 cup diced green bell pepper

1 cup diced sweet onion

1/2 cup sliced celery

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

1 cup prepared salsa

Directions:

Place beans, peppers, onion, celery and parsley in salad bowl. Stir to combine. Stir in salsa.

Makes about 5 1-cup servings.

Option: fold in 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream.

Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Creamy Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.

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