Meatless Monday: The Earth Is An Apple

Have an apple. Have two. Because this week, we get not one, but two holiday opportunities to make the world a better place. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, starts at sundown on Wednesday and World Vegetarian Day, on Saturday, kicks off Vegetarian Awareness Month all October long.

So what's with the apples? One of the most beloved Rosh Hashana traditions calls for eating apples, to start the new year with sweetness. You don't have to be Jewish to eat apples, and you don't have to wait till Wednesday night. In fact, the Earth would rather you don't.

Think of the Earth as an apple. American Farmland Trust does. For over three decades, AFT has worked to conserve America's dwindling farmland, and they see the earth as an apple as something other than a pretty metaphor. Image a whole apple. Now cut away everything until you have just a sliver of skin. That's proportionally the equivalent of the arable land that can be utilized for growing all the food we eat. Every day, urban sprawl and environmental degradation continue to eat away at that apple skin. Hungry as we are, we need as much apple skin as we can get.

We can help preserve and protect the precious little farmland we have, and according to a Jewish tenet, doing so is part of our job. Tikkun olam is Hebrew for healing the world. The term dates back perhaps far as the second century, when it was first believed to be part of a Rosh Hashana prayer. Millennia go by and we haven't healed the world yet. Perhaps this is perhaps why tikkun olam isn't just for Rosh Hashana anymore, it's in the Aleinu, a prayer to be recited three times a day, every day. As precepts, tikkun olam is both beloved and contentious. I mean, who doesn't want the world to be a better place? How we go about doing it is where things get fuzzy. We're still trying to hit on the right formula, the one where the heavens part and God says, "okay, guys, well done."

Start with doing what you believe in, by taking actions you'll actually enjoy doing, like eating. How you eat and what you eat can not only feed your belly but contribute to healing the planet.

Apples are just starting to come into glorious season, so if you live in an apple-growing area, get 'em where they're local, at your nearby farmers market. It'll be cheaper, fresher, will reduce carbon and make a farmer happy.

Participate in American Farmland Trust's upcoming Dine Out For Farms event at your favorite local restaurant. Raise awareness and funds for farmlands and enjoy great eats too.

Eat less meat. A new study by the Vienna University of Technology seconds that, asserting cutting back on meat consumption could reduce up to one third of global carbon emissions. And since it takes more land to raise cattle than it does to grow carrots, we'd have a lot more land available for agriculture and, as a result, more food for everyone, at a time when we're facing global food scarcity. We need every scrap of land we've got, we can't risk losing more.

This is the week of not one, but two opportunities for a do-over, a fresh start. To put a Gandhiesque spin on it and hopefully not step on too many religious toes, think of tikkun olam as being the change you want to see in the world. Think of the earth as an apple. You hold it in your hands. Making a choice to eat less meat is a specific, doable act with a healing, global consequence. How'd you like them apples?

The Earth is an Apple Salad

This warm apple-accented salad is a symphony of both flavor and texture, with tender shreds of kale, caramelized fennel, toasted walnuts and the snap of thinly sliced Granny Smith apple, it's a real wake-up call for your mouth. It also happens to be deeply nourishing and makes the most of early autumn produce.

You can toss it together in a bowl, but composing it on individual plates or one large platter provides major eye appeal. It's also dead easy to do.

1/4 tablespoon olive oil or, even better, walnut oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons prepared Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon agave or honey
1 large bulb fresh organic fennel (or 2 small), sliced thin, stems and fronds saved for another use
2 bunches fresh organic kale, preferably lacinato or black kale, central stems removed, and sliced into chiffonade (thin ribbons)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 Granny Smith apple or other tart apple, sliced thin
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400.

In a small bowl, whisk together walnut or olive oil, apple cider vinegar, mustard and agave or honey.

Spread sliced fennel on a large, lightly oiled baking sheet. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of dressing over the fennel, sprinkle on fennel seeds and toss to coat.

Roast for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fennel turns golden and tender.

Place chopped walnuts in a shallow baking dish and roast for 8 to 10 minutes

Meanwhile, add the kale to a large skillet and add another 2 tablespoons dressing. Heat over medium-heat and toss, until kale just begins to wilt. Lacinato kale will take about 6 minutes, other varieties like Russian or curly leaf kale may take slightly longer, 8 to 10 minutes. When kale starts to soften, remove from heat.

Toss everything together in a large bowl with the remaining dressing, season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

Alternately, mound kale on a platter or portion onto separate plates. Scatter sliced fennel on top, then walnuts and apples. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste and drizzle remaining dressing.

Serves 6 to 8.