Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know we’re messing up our planet. Real bad. Overfishing, deforestation, carbon emissions – the list goes on – all contributing to a seemingly intractable peril we’re hurling toward at a blinding speed. It’s daunting. But there’s a solution. What if I said that eating a vegan Reuben made a difference?
Hear me out.
A few weeks ago I got an email from Scott Weathers, a Harvard grad student who, along with his colleague Sophie Hermanns, organized an open letter to the World Health Organization on industrial animal farming and wanted me to write about the issue. At the time, they had almost 200 expert signatories, including Noam Chomsky, Mark Bittman, Marion Nestle, Bill McKibben, and Peter Singer. If you don’t know them, these are big names in academic circles. After reading the letter, they definitely had my attention.
Though Scott and Sophie’s letter is appropriately wonky, their argument is simple: Because the world is consuming too many animals, we are messing up everyone’s health, and if we continue on this path, the result will be disastrous. Plus, the World Health Organization, whose mandate is to protect and improve people’s health, should stop ignoring the fundamental link between industrial animal farming and the other issues it does acknowledge as “slow motion disasters,” such as climate change, antibiotic resistance, and chronic disease.
Their letter makes a great point, and it offers no fewer than nine concrete policy ideas. Not by accident, the letter is being issued next week, when the World Health Assembly will be taking place in Geneva, and when WHO will elect its next Director General. It’s a big week for the world’s top public health agency.
Let’s pause here for a second. Scott and Sophie’s letter says that industrial animal farming is a major contributor to greenhouse emissions, deforestation, and antibiotic resistance – all of which affect people’s health, which is why WHO needs to do something about it. They’re looking for a large-scale solution.
But can people like you and me do something small, yet meaningful? The answer is yes. Even if you’re overwhelmed by the magnitude and complexity of the issue, there’s something you can do right now, today, to make your health and the planet better. (Hint: this vegan Reuben.)
Let me introduce you to Dr. Gunhild Stordalen, whose TEDMED Talk, A Recipe for a Healthier Planet, puts the problem in simple terms and offers a viable, three-pronged solution.
Her argument is straightforward: We are eating too much meat, and that’s bad for our health, our pockets, and the environment. The livestock industry emits more greenhouse gases than all the world’s cars, trains, planes, and ships combined; it takes up a quarter of all land on earth; and it’s a really big driver of deforestation, which, as you know, adds insult to the greenhouse emission injury. (As an aside from me, not her, deforestation also contributes to the spillover of zoonotic diseases, like Ebola).
The case for less meat is clear, Stordalen concludes, and economists agree: If we follow the dietary guidelines on meat, the world can save $700 billion a year in healthcare costs.
She goes on to say that we’re eating too much food in general, way too many processed foods, and that we’re wasting a lot – all of which is bad for our health, our economies, and the planet.
Stordalen’s final takeaway: everything is interconnected – and this is where her argument and Scott and Sophie’s meet. There are so many synergies between the health and environmental agendas. So how long is it going to take for us to change our approach from piecemeal lameness to a coordinated, comprehensive, and collaborative big tackle?
We can’t afford to sit around staring into the horizon and hoping for someone to cure cancer or make a machine that takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere – though that would be terrific, wouldn’t it?
We can all act now by eating fewer animals.
So, sign Scott and Sophie’s letter, share it with a friend, and then make yourself this vegan Reuben. It’ll set you on the path of eating more plants and less animals, and you’ll be doing your part to help stop ruining our planet, and your health.
This recipe is courtesy of Scott and Sophie, who, you guessed it, are vegan.
- 2 slices rye bread with caraway seeds (you can sub any kind of bread, but this is objectively the tastiest choice here)
- 1/2 cup sliced portobello or small brown mushrooms
- 1/2 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- Salt, to taste
- 1 tsp rosemary
- 2 slices vegan cheese
- 1/3 cup sauerkraut
- 2 tbsp vegan mayo (e.g. Just Mayo)
- 2 tsp ketchup or tomato paste
- 1 pickle (optional)
Prep the mushrooms:
Clean mushrooms and trim stems, then slice the mushrooms and arrange them on a baking tray.
In a separate bowl, mix together oil, garlic, salt, and rosemary. Drizzle over and massage into the mushrooms.
Let it all stand for a bit so the mushrooms can marinate – anywhere between 15 minutes and few hours should be good.
Then, roast them in the oven at 400F for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender.
Build the Reuben:
(Optional): Crank up your oven as high as possible and place slices of bread on a rack for a few minutes, to bring out the flavors.
Put a frying pan on medium heat.
Butter or oil two slices of rye bread before placing them in the hot pan, buttered side down. Let them crisp for a few minutes, then flip.
Put cheese on each slice and let it melt a little.
Meanwhile, mix mayo and ketchup/tomato paste to make Russian dressing.
Spread Russian dressing on one slice and sauerkraut on the other.
Arrange mushrooms on one of your slices, then place the other slice on top.
Take a clean pan and press it on top of your sandwich. A heavy pan works best! You can also put a pot full of water in the pan, for extra weight. Press for a minute or two.
Serve with pickles.
I always make a big batch of mushrooms – use the leftovers as sides, for other sandwiches, or in salads
Getting the right Sauerkraut is very important, not just for this recipe but also for life. Please consult your local kosher deli, ALDI, or a nearby German.