To start the new year off right, a true story in which the seemingly impossible comes to pass -- and in my 'hood, of all places. Sprawling Miami-Dade County may be best known for Miami, where I live, but it also encompasses numerous other municipalities, including the City of South Miami. Known as the City of Pleasant Living, this small burb of 12,000 residents has in its own small and pleasant way, created big impact -- it's officially proclaiming Mondays to be meatless.
It's part of Johns Hopkins' Meatless Monday campaign, which encourages starting the week with a little less meat, a little more good health and compassion. It's a reminder that eating less meat on Monday -- or any day -- has big personal and global impact.
"I am an omnivore but I'm cognizant of animal welfare and carbon emissions,"says South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard. "I've been reading over the years of the carbon costs of meat production. It's become an increasing concern of mine."
Stoddard's not just the mayor, he's a zoologist, a professor of biology and an environmentalist who's posted a composting video on Youtube. Still, Meatless Monday wasn't his intended mayoral legacy or even on his radar until a new Miami resident approached him about it. "I have to give the credit to Jessica Spain," he says. "This is really a cause with her."
A longtime vegetarian, Spain had been working in Africa and India, advocating on behalf of refugees. Returning to the United States in 2010, she became aware of farmed animals' "plight of misery, confinement, suffering." Spain became an instant and ardent vegan, changing her focus to "waking up as many people as possible to the health myths, planet toll, and gorgeous cruelty-free eating options" that's all part of being vegan.
Spain works part-time at Choices, my neighborhood vegan cafe but I've never seen her there, because most of the time, she's busy advocating on behalf of animal rights organizations including Compassion Over Killing. She's so devoted, she moved from Los Angeles to Miami last year as part of her meatless mission.
"The work of vegan education is monumental and endless anywhere, but I thought I'd be more effective here," she says. "The messaging hasn't gotten through as much as in other big progressive cities."
Stoddard agrees. "People need to see the message over and over again." As a zoologist, "I think of animals and their experience of the world a lot, that informs and directs my behavior.There's a lot of pain and suffering out there we create and we're not aware of."
He can't, of course, enforce Meatless Monday citywide, but he and his family enjoy meatless meals at home dring the week and have done long before he cast the tie-breaking vote to adopt the Meatless Monday resolution. He's not trying to set an example exactly. "What I'm trying to do is get people to think. That's how change comes about."
Will Miami follow the lead of the City of Pleasant Living and adopt Meatless Monday? It's a work in progress, or as Spain diplomatically puts it, "Miami is emerging." Still, I never thought I'd see any part of Miami joining the Meatless Monday ranks of Washington D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"That's why I put it on the agenda," says Stoddard. "We'd like to join with the other cities in our nation and across the world that have already urged their citizens to think about these things."
Ahem. Hear that, Miami?
City of South Miami Beans With Fennel
Mayor Stoddard's meatless meals trend towards rice and beans. Spain is into Chef AJ and what she calls hippie bowls of grains, beans and greens. Well, these are things I know something about. I always make a big pot of hopping john , that New Year's Day tradition of black-eyed peas and rice. It promises health and wealth and luck and it tastes terrific. I had some extra black-eyed peas this year and used them to make this bean stew fragrant with fennel. Fancy on the table, easy in the kitchen, what's not to love?
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 fennel bulb, sliced thin
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups black-eyed peas, cooked and cooled
1 bunch fresh kale, spinach or the greens of your dreams, washed well, blotted dry and sliced into bite-sized ribbons
1/4 cup anisette or white wine
1 teaspoon cider or sherry vinegar
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion, garlic and pepper flakes. Stir to coat and reduce heat to medium. Saute vegetables, stirring occasionally, until soft, golden and fragrant, about 15 minutes.
Stir in diced tomatoes, the black-eyed peas and wine or anisette. Add chopped greens by the handful and mix gently. Cover and reduce heat to low, so the greens become tender. Let ingredients simmer for another 15 minutes.
Stir in the cider or sherry vinegar and season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
You can serve it out of the pot, where it will moist but not watery. If you'd like a drier dish, pour beans and fennel into a lightly oiled casserole and bake uncovered at 350 for 20 to 30 minutes, until heated through and lightly crusty on top.
Serves 4 to 6 and keeps very nicely in the fridge for several days.