Eating Liberally Food For Thought

by: Living Liberally

Mon Sep 03, 2007 at 16:15

By Kerry Trueman, Eating Liberally

Today is one of the three most popular days of the year to have a barbeque, according to CNN, with millions of Americans firing up their grills and engaging in the obligatory Labor Day meatfest (the other big barbeque holidays are, of course, the fourth of July and Memorial Day.)

Ah, but how does this animal flesh-eating frenzy mesh with your newly raised consciousness about meat-eating's contribution to climate change? Won't a charcoal-charred burger leave a smudge on your carbon footprint?

You don't have to set up a solar cooker and fry yourself a veggie burger to make your holiday barbeque more eco-friendly. CNN says there are simpler ways to "turn your backyard barbeque green":

... you may be concerned that your backyard barbecue is adding to global warming and wondering what you can do to make burger flipping a bit more environmentally sound…

Before you get too worried, Jay Gulledge, senior research fellow at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, counsels that "the carbon footprint of backyard grilling is not that significant compared to what people do in their everyday lives. Lights, TVs, cars, these are much more significant than grilling."

He also notes that backyard grilling with either gas or charcoal is likely to be a better environmental option than "using an electric stove in your house" that is powered by a coal-burning power plant.

Maybe the best way to reduce your carbon footprint when you grill might just be to turn off all the unnecessary electric lights in your home while everyone is outside around the barbecue.

Hey, I'm all in favor of conserving electricity, and it's entirely possible a grill is more energy efficient than an electric stove. But Gulledge's advice conveniently skirts around the inconvenient truth about skirt steaks, or whatever cut of meat you care to cook: meat production generates more greenhouse gases than cars do.

Let's say you're one of those climate change naysayers who thinks this whole global warming thing is just a lot of hot air. Oh, and you really don't care about animal welfare, either. Why can't I back off, already, and stop trying to rain on your barbeque?

Well, because even though you don't care about rising sea levels and institutionalized animal abuse, you'd probably rather not get cancer. Go ahead and savor that flame-broiled burger, but bear in mind that it may be dripping with carcinogens and toxins. Just ask health guru Dr. Andrew Weil, as one concerned lover of barbeque lovers did:

Q. What's the Best Barbecue?

My family loves summer barbecues, but I think the foods are unhealthy - all that meat! And I wonder about the grilling process itself. Any advice?

A. (Published 7/4/2006)

Your family probably won't thank you for looking into the health issues surrounding barbecuing, but in no way does the typical all-American cook-out qualify as a healthy meal. In the first place, there's the potentially carcinogenic smoke produced when you grill hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken over charcoal. Switching from charcoal to a gas or electric grill can eliminate the smoke hazard. If you do use charcoal, avoid using lighting fluid or self-lighting packages of charcoal briquettes - both add residues from toxic chemicals to food.

Then there are heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are formed when meats are cooked at very high temperatures until they char. There is evidence indicating HCAs are carcinogenic. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute found a link between the risk of stomach cancer and cooked meats - those who ate beef medium-well or well-done had three times the risk of those who ate beef rare or medium-rare. They also found that people who ate beef four or more times a week had more than twice the risk of stomach cancer than those consuming beef less often. There is also evidence that a high intake of barbecued meat is associated with an increased risk of developing colorectal, pancreatic and breast cancer. (The same goes for well-done and fried meats.) HCAs form on chicken and fish as well as beef.

You may be able to reduce some of the risks of barbecuing meat by precooking it and just finishing it on the grill. Marinating meats (particularly chicken) may also reduce HCA formation (use garlic, ginger and especially, turmeric in the marinades)…

…On the positive side of the barbecue, you may induce your family to eat more vegetables if you marinate them and cook them on the grill. You don't have to worry about HCAs because they don't form on vegetables.

There you have it, further proof that a plant-based diet is the way to go! And what better way, on Labor Day, to celebrate the legacy of labor leader Cesar Chavez, than to go veggie? Chavez was as passionate about animal rights as he was about workers' rights:

"I feel very deeply about vegetarianism and the animal kingdom. It was my dog Boycott who led me to question the right of humans to eat other sentient beings."

Chavez believed that "kindness and compassion towards all living beings is a mark of a civilized society. Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos are all cut from the same defective fabric: violence. Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves."

So I'm offering a Labor Day menu that honors the memory of a man who fought for fair treatment for all--the two-footed and four-footed alike:

Living Liberally :: Eating Liberally Food For Thought
CESAR CHAVEZ SALAD (serves four)

The foundation for a great Caesar salad is, of course, a nice fresh (i.e., local) head of Romaine lettuce, which, unlike pale, watery iceberg lettuce, actually contains a decent amount of nutrients such as folate, iron, and potassium. Like other darker colored lettuces, Romaine is also higher in beta carotenes, too. This vegetarian variation on the classic Caesar salad omits the anchovies:

First, make the croutons (feel free to use store bought, but try to find a whole grain crouton that's free of partially hydrogenated oils-good luck!):

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take 2 slices whole grain bread, brush (or spray) with olive oil, and, if you like, add a little garlic. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and crisp.

Next, make the dressing:

  6 ounces firm silken tofu (ideally, organic, non-GMO if you can get it)
  1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  1/2 cup water
  1 teaspoon minced garlic
  2 tablespoons drained capers
  1/4 cup nutritional (or brewer's) yeast
  2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  salt and pepper to taste

Puree ingredients in a blender or food processor till smooth.

Tear one large head of Romaine lettuce into bite-sized pieces and top with dressing, freshly grated Parmesan, and the croutons.

(I adapted this recipe from the Canyon Ranch Cooks book, and as an anchovy lover myself, I was skeptical about whether you could really make a true Caesar salad without these tasty little fish. But I am always amazed at the way this dressing mimics that delicious and distinctive anchovy tang.)


The definition of a hero is pretty elastic these days, and that goes double for hero sandwiches, which have historically consisted of anything you feel like putting on a roll, from cold cuts and cheese to pickled peppers or grilled vegetables. As Craig Claiborne wrote in the New York Times on August 27, 1963:

Hero sandwiches would be thoroughly appropriate for the forthcoming Labor Day weekend because they are casual fare and notably suited to ice cold beer and soft drinks. They are also easy to prepare and, as far as fillings are concerned, almost anything goes that is edible.

So stock up on freshly baked whole wheat or multigrain rolls, slice 'em up and slather on your favorite cheeses and grilled vegetables-onions and bell peppers are the classic choices, but mushrooms, summer squash and eggplant work great, too.

And if you can't handle going cold turkey on the cold cuts, consider some of the better veggie sausages and deli slices from Yves, Tofurkey, Lightlife, and others who make surprisingly satisfying soy-based meat substitutes. They may be fake, but they're a real option for those of us who want to reduce our meat intake.

If a meat-free Labor Day is a no-can-do for you, then at the very least try to go grass-fed. Even CNN's catching on to the grassroots groundswell for grass-fed meats:

Organic or local grass-fed meats are the best environmental options and often are considered the best nutritionally and in terms of taste. Shop for meat and poultry at your local farmer's market or look for meat that is USDA certified organic or certified by Humane Farm Animal Care.

A barbeque featuring tofu dogs or veggie burgers would be enough to start a riot in some American backyards, and I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the grass-fed burgers and hot dogs we buy from Hawthorne Valley and Fleisher's. Hey, I even ate a non-grass-fed burger (and a dog) at the Teamsters Cookout at Yearly Kos. I'm not a purist (for the record, Marion Nestle had a hot dog, too-it's all about moderation.) I just think we'd all be better off eating a lot less meat, and avoiding any meat (or dairy, or eggs) from factory farms. Note to Teamsters: pasture-raised meats contain brain-boosting omega 3's, and you need all the brainpower you can get to cope with globalization and grow the grassroots labor movement!

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