Meatless Monday: Eggs, Ethics and Getting Your Money's Worth

It's been argued good food isn't cheap.  I don't believe that.  I believe the opposite -- cheap food isn't good. 

A McDeal that seems too good to be true, is, in fact, neither good nor true.  Ignore the smoke and mirrors, take away the slick (and rarely recyclable) packaging, and we're left with a not-so-happy meal that come at a killer cost. We're not paying for it with our wallets, but we're taking it out on our planet, our bodies, and on the people toiling to feed us.. There's also the cost of factory farming.
Add it up, folks. This is cheap food we can't afford. "You have you to take a step back and figure out what's right and wrong," says Kathy Rudy. Rudy is neither a food policy wonk nor a farmer. She's a professor of ethics at Duke University.

Whoa. Bad enough we're dealing with a recall of half a billion eggs and 800,000 pounds of ground beef. Do we really want to drag morality into it? Yes, we do. And common sense.

"That much waste, that many chickens squeezed in without fresh air and no buffer against disease -- you'd have to be in a coma not to see that's wrong." Rudy knows right from wrong. So do the rest of us. We've just manage to stay in denial until yet another horror story. The egg and beef recalls are both awful and the inevitable result of "large scale distribution, centralized sourcing," says Rudy. "Nature created a beautiful system for us and we have destroyed it with industrial farming."

Rudy grew up in the '60s, eating more than her fair share of the processed food industrial farming churns out. "I grew up on McDonald's, Pizza Hut, KFC. I was a fast food kid." As a budget-strapped student and into her teaching career. "I bought products because they were cheaper. I had no idea of the hidden costs," she says. "The minute I learned what farms were like, I became vegetarian and then vegan."

Being vegan is morally aligned with who I am. It isn't for everyone. It isn't even for Rudy anymore. Now she eats "meat and dairy once a week at most." This puts her at the low end of the spectrum in this country. "For most Americans, it's not a meal without meat. There's something really wrong with that."

We both source our food locally. "I visit the farms, I see what's happening," says Rudy. I'll buy organic celery from a farmer I know (Florida is a big celery producer) rather than mystery celery from California or Chile. It may cost a little more up front, but as Rudy says, "You're going to pay for it one way or the other."

Eating less meat, making a greater connection to where our food comes from are easy ways to put the value back in what we eat. The issue isn't eggs. The issue isn't meat. It's the hidden cost of so-called cheap industrial food. " We don't think of it as an ethical question," says Rudy, "but it is."

It's time to put our money and our morality where our mouth is. Choose food that sustains us and the planet, that's produced ethically and transparently. Food that's green provides greater pleasure and costs less than food that's morally gray. What's the good of having a conscience if you don't use it?

Sweet Potato Salad With Tahini and Ginger

Sweet potatoes, in season now through the fall, are rich in vitamin A. Their own sweetness shines through without pineapple or marshmallow. This is a significant salad, but to make it more of main course, add 1-1/2 cups cooked whole grain, like quinoa or millet.

2 sweet potatoes, chopped into bite-sized cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pinch sea salt
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 cups fresh spinach, watercress, arugula or a combination of all three
juice and zest of 1 orange (about 1/3 cup juice)
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped
2 tablespoons tahini

Preheat oven to 400.

Spread sweet potato bites on a rimmed baking sheet. Add olive oil, sea salt and pepper flakes. Toss to coat sweet potatoes and roast for 25 minutes, stirring once to make sure sweet potatoes roast evenly and don't stick to the pan.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Using a blender or food processor, blitz together ginger, orange juice and tahini for 1 minute or until smooth. Makes about 1/2 cup dressing, enough for the salad plus leftovers. Dressing keeps covered and refrigerated for up to a week.

Keeping the oven at 400, toast chopped nuts in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown and fragrant.

To assemble salad: Place greens in a large bowl or arrange on a platter. Scatter with chopped celery, chopped sweet potatoes and chopped nuts. Drizzle dressing on top or serve separately.

Serves 4.