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Articles / Food with Mark Bittman: Earth Day

Food with Mark Bittman: Earth Day

Published April 19, 2023

The incomparable Jane Goodall and the inspiring Lauren Sweeney


It’s Food with Mark Bittman day, and we’re celebrating Earth Day with two very special guests.

Sixteen years ago, a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization landed on my desk at the Times. It was called “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” and it revealed a stunning statistic: Global livestock production, it was thought at the time, was responsible for about a fifth of all greenhouse gases—more than transportation. These numbers have become debatable, but what’s not debatable is that industrial livestock production is a huge contributor to climate change. 

This was a signal moment for me; coming along with some personal health problems, an overall gloomy global outlook, and an increasing concern with animal products in general—the quality of meat, the endangerment of wild fish, the way domestic animals are raised, and the impact our diet has had on the environment. 

Never before had I realized that issues of personal and global health intersected so exquisitely. The destiny of the human race and that of the planet lay in our hands, and in the choices, as individuals and as a society, that we made. And make.

What you just read is an adaptation from the introduction to my book, Food Matters, which came out in 2009. The only difference being the report I refer to, which at the time of writing the book had come out two years ago, not sixteen. 

I could write that exact same intro today. There has been some progress on climate change—we’re all aware of that—it’s not happening fast enough, but it is happening. Progress on food, agriculture, industrial production of livestock, and those industries’ impact on climate change, and on our health, however—not so much. We’ll talk about that some other time.

Earth Day, as you probably know, is April 22, and to reflect that, we’re rerunning our episode of Food with Mark Bittman with the one and only Jane Goodall, but we’re also introducing you to—in a separate, shorter interview—the inspiring Lauren Sweeney, the CEO and co-founder of DeliverZero, a network of returnable, reusable food containers. Lauren is a working single mom, who often relies on the convenience of takeout and delivery, and as she became increasingly frustrated by how much waste came with each delivery—and questioned whether she could really recycle or compost the single use containers she received—she set out on a mission to make reuse easier and more transparent than recycling. She’s terrific, and working with a great idea.

“I think that when my seven-year-old daughter is an adult, the idea that we would ever use packaging one time and then just send it out into the ether is going to seem so weird; it will seem like smoking on an airplane.” — Lauren Sweeney

And Jane Goodall—I mean, come on, I can’t introduce her. So I’ll do it, instead, with a quote from our interview. 

“What the youth are doing is incredibly hopeful. As I was traveling around the world, before the pandemic, everywhere I was meeting amazing people doing incredible projects — restoring fertility to overused farmland, like we did, around Gombe, restoring a forest — bringing back life and nature, to a place that we’ve destroyed. Rescuing animals from the brink of extinction. We’ve got this indomitable spirit, we’re going to tackle things that seem impossible, and we won’t give up. Nature is amazingly resilient, if you give her a chance.” — Jane Goodall

FINALLY, I should mention here that if you’re in the mood for donating on Earth Day (or any day), the people I donate most frequently to are called HEAL Food Alliance; they are working on food, labor, agriculture, and the environment, so more bang for your buck. 

The recipe from today’s episode, Stir-Fried Beans with Asparagus or Broccoli, from Food Matters, is below. And recipes from the Jane Goodall Institute, Grilled Squash and Orzo Salad with Pine Nuts, and Pan-Seared Cauliflower with Garlic and Capers, can be found here

Thank you, as always.

— Mark

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Stir-Fried Beans with Asparagus or Broccoli

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 15 minutes

A different kind of stir-fry: no soy sauce. I like asparagus or broccoli, but in the winter, halved Brussels sprouts are excellent, especially with big white lima beans or chickpeas. Serve with some brown rice or toss with noodles.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound asparagus or broccoli, trimmed

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

  • 3 scallions, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 cup chopped dried tomatoes

  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock, white wine, or water, plus more as needed

  • 1 cup edamame, fava, or lima beans, fresh or thawed frozen

Instructions:

1. Cut the asparagus into 2-inch pieces or break the broccoli into florets. Put the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the asparagus or broccoli, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until coated in oil and just beginning to soften, about a minute. Add the scallions and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, just another minute. Add the cumin and tomatoes and give a good stir, then add the remaining ingredients.

2. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes plump up, the liquid is reduced a bit, and the vegetables and beans are crisp-tender, about 5 more minutes. If you prefer more liquid for tossing with pasta or rice, add a little more, but be careful not to overcook anything. Remove from heat, taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve.

— Recipe from Food Matters

Stir Fried Beans With Asparagus Or Broccoli
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