Meatless Monday: Tough Times for Superheroes

The Lone Ranger, Iron Man (III), Superman -- all the summer blockbuster superheroes put together aren't going to save the world. That will take a particular kind of special effect -- cooling down our overheated planet and replenishing our damaged food supply.

Plants, on the other hand, effortlessly absorb another greenhouse gas -- carbon dioxide. In turn, they produce a substance humans and assorted others species depend on to live -- oxygen. Remember photosynthesis from science class? This is what plants do -- suck in the bad stuff, crank out the good stuff. They're nature's superheroes.

It's tough times, though, even for superheroes. Hotter global temps are resulting in droughts and other climate extremes. Plant life has dwindled over the past decade. Staple crops like corn and wheat have taken a hit in Africa and Asia and that trend is expected to continue, according to a climatology study. Less plants means less food, less oxygen, more carbon, more heat. This affects global food security, as well as global temperature.

You don't have to be a scientist to note nature has not been so temperate of late. We've had devastating floods in Europe and it hasn't been exactly breezy and balmy in the States. We could argue this is further proof of climate change or just nature being pissed off. However, we don't have that kind of time. Even the USDA and EPA agree climate change is real and is threatening our food supply.

Drought has already knocked down Mexico's agricultural output by as much as 40 percent, and with the drop in crops comes a drop in income. They are only the first. We're on our way to a global crises and not a superhero in sight.

As scientist/naturalist/author Gary Nabhan notes, global and federal policy needs to steer systemic change, but as individuals, we have a few superpowers of our own. We need to change what we eat.

Too much of the produce we need to live on goes towards feeding livestock, which feeds our insatiable desire for meat. In turn, livestock production pumps out tremendous amounts of carbon. We need to choose meatless meals and grow carbon-snarfing produce as if our lives depend on it. Because it does.

Every time we choose crops over cows we're saying yes to farmers, yes to the guys who grow our food, yes to increased food production and cleaner air. Every time we grow as much as a tomato, we're contributing to a global need and benefiting ourselves, too. Every time we choose local fruit and vegetables over produce shipped from miles if not countries away, we're dialing down carbon emissions and stepping away from heating up the planet even further. We've got the makings of a great meal, too.

The blockbuster superheroes of summer can't save the world. But maybe plants can. And by eating less meat and growing, sourcing and eating more produce, maybe we can, too.

Superhero Summer Pasta

When the vegetables and herbs are local, seasonal and super-fresh, they do most of the work for you, creating big flavor with minimal fuss, time and heat.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 bunch mint, chopped
8 ounces whole wheat spaghettini or other pasta
2 lemons, zest and juice
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add red pepper flakes and stir.
Add chopped fennel and zucchini. Stir vegetables occasionally, until they just soften, about 5 minutes. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low, letting vegetables cook for another 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions. Cook till just tender, so it still has some chew. Drain well and add spaghetti to skillet. Toss gently, until incorporated.

Grate in lemon zest, add lemon juice and chopped mint and parsley. Give one last stir and add sea salt and ground pepper to taste.

Serves 4.