Monday, July 12, 2010

Meatless Monday: Musings

I have chosen the first day back from vacation to return to a thread from an earlier post — Meatless Monday.

Meatless Monday is one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet,” every Monday, all year long.

You might think I am returning to this theme out of guilt for writing about how to cook a woodchuck a few posts back, or you might rightly accuse me of not having my vacation adventures properly summarized and annotated. Whatever my motivation, Meatless Monday is the perfect opportunity to tell you about a couple of ground-breaking books with which you may not be familiar.

Diet for a Small PlanetIn the early 1970s, when the Joy of Cooking was THE cookbook on the kitchen shelf in many American homes, and Julia Child and James Beard were the decade’s culinary rock stars, two revolutionary books were published. Diet for a Small Planet, by Frances Moore Lappé (first edition 1971) and Recipes for a Small Planet, by Ellen Buchman Ewald (first edition 1973) promoted vegetarianism as a way to save yourself as well as the planet.

In the politically-charge Diet for a Small Planet, Lappé introduced the concept of “protein complementarity,” which she defined on the inside cover as “the combination, in the proper proportions, of non-meat foods, that produces high-grade protein nutrition equivalent to — or better than — meat protein.” The book can be viewed as a guide for healthy eating, but the work was originally motivated by Lapeé’s realization that we as a nation “squander” protein and are part of a system actively reducing the “earth’s capacity to provide food for all humanity.” The first half of the book is a scientific explanation of protein theory (along with a liberal smattering of political ideology), illustrated by copious charts and tables. This is followed by a series of recipes, each of which includes information on the protein in the recipe and how it is derived. Many of the recipes might be perceived as bland in this day and age, but there are a few I still use with a few tweaks (Vegetarian Enchiladas, Ricotta Lasagna Swirls, and Lentils Monastery Style). The appendix is a wealth of data supporting all that has come before, as well as helpful hints on cooking items that might be unfamiliar.

Recipes for a Small PlanetThe two authors had become acquainted as they pursued their individual projects and each became a major influence on the other’s work. Ewald helped Lappé with her recipes. Lappé wrote the Foreword to Ewald’s book. Recipes for a Small Planet begins with a more concise narrative on protein complementarity and includes a generous appendix, but it is mainly a collection of delicious recipes, each one composed with the goal of maximizing the amount of protein in each serving. Many of my favorites come from the salad and dressings section.

Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do about ItThe two books were published to be companion volumes. Both were revised, Recipes in 1985 and Diet most recently in 1991. Frances Moore Lappé has remained a political activist. With her daughter Anna she founded the Small Planet Institute, with the tagline “Living democracy, feeding hope.” Frances and Anna co-authored Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet in 2002. Anna has recently published her own volume — Diet for a Hot Planet “in which she continues where her mother left off and explores the intersection between global climate change and the way we eat.”

Ellen Buchman Ewald and Francis Moore Lappé changed the way a generation of Americans thought about food, cooked, and ate out. Numerous vegetarian cookbooks would follow as vegetarian dining became more mainstream, but these two authors paved the way.

One has to wonder if “Meatless Monday” would even exist without them.

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