Meatless Monday: Don't Be Cruel

They're probably still singing "You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog" at Graceland, despite the fact Elvis Presley is still dead. The King would have turned 76 on Saturday, had he not died in 1977, a time when America was practically another country. It was life before the internet, although 1977 was the first year Apple went on the market. This was the time of the (first) oil crisis, Jimi Hendrix was dead, likewise the recently pardoned Jim Morrison, Lady Gaga wasn't even born. Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in the '70s. On the other hand, Burger King told us we could have it our way (hah). The signs of change were staring at us in the face, but we didn't want to see them. This is our standard operating procedure.

We live at a crazy disconnect. We love our animals, spending $35 to $45 billion a year on pet care. The weird thing is, despite the care we lavish on our pets, we don't have a problem eating animals for dinner. Whoops. I know, you don't want to look at this. Honey, I don't blame you, it ain't pretty. In fact it is against everything we believe we stand for. Certainly, it's against everything I stand for.

I always loved cows, their kind eyes, the solid, comforting bulk of their bodies, their serene nature. When I could make a connection between the animals I loved and what I was being served for dinner, I stopped eating meat. I was 13. My parents thought it was a phase. If so, it's been one long-ass phase, because I'm still in it. I literally can't swallow killing or cruelty.

And in many ways, neither can you. Remember the 2007 recall on tainted pet food? That more than last year's beef recalls and salmonella-tainted eggs seemed to galvanize Americans into demanding greater governmental action on food safety.

As psychologist Hal Herzog says in his breezy new book Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, we have a complicated relationship with our animal friends. It's easier for our already beleaguered consciences not to look at the evidence of the cruelty that goes on in factory farms or at our own inconsistent behavior. But we do look at it, every day. As Jonathan Safran Foer says in Eating Animals, the truth is right there at the end of our forks.

I'm not saying we can figure out human frailty, but we do know much more about how our food is produced than when Elvis was singing about being a hunka-hunka burnin' love. PETA didn't launch until 1980. Knowledge is power. You have the power to examine your own choices. An occasional meatless meal might make you feel less conflicted.

It's not so hard. During the bitter winter months, swapping a bowl of vegetable soup for the usual animal sandwich just makes sense -- it's warming, filling, fortifying. Or if you're married to the sandwich concept, in honor of Elvis, try the King's favorite -- peanut butter and banana. The flavors are elemental, taking you back to a more innocent time, and it just happens to be meatless. So enjoy. And don't be cruel.

Elvis Presley's Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich

Many have bemoaned Elvis' fave eats as a nutritional nightmare. Not so. It offers potassium, fiber and protein. The bad rap came from the Fat Elvis of white jumpsuit days and the rumor the King ate a dozen or more of these at a pop. You can probably make do with one. Make it with organic whole grain bread instead of the preservative-laden wonderwhite Elvis ate, same with organic peanut butter, rather than anything weird and hydrogenated. Go with a pat of butter or vegan marg or a quick swipe of oil rather than quarter stick he preferred and you have a treat, but not one that'll turn you into Fat Elvis.

4 slices organic whole grain bread
2 tablespoons organic peanut butter
1 banana, sliced thin
1 teaspoons vegan marg (like Earth Balance) or butter or a spritz of spray oil

LIghtly lube a skillet or grill pan with butter, vegan marge or oil. Heat over medium-high heat.

Meanwhile, spread peanut butter over two slices of bread. Top with sliced bananas. Cover with remaining slices of bread and place in the skillet.

Toast on one side for about 3 minutes or until the bread turns golden and crusty and the peanut butter becomes deliciously creamy.

Flip sandwiches and cook another 2 to 3 minutes on the other side.

Cut each sandwich in half and serve immediately, so you get the interplay of crunch from the bread and the creaminess of the warm peanut butter and banana.

Serves 2 to 4.

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