The Real-Life Diet of Author Paul Greenberg, Who Knows How to Eat to Save the Planet -

The Real-Life Diet of Author Paul Greenberg, Who Knows How to Eat to Save the Planet

 The Real-Life Diet of Author Paul Greenberg, Who Knows How to Eat to Save the Planet

What’s your next meal after your breakfast bread?

There’s some intensive snacking on healthy non-processed things throughout the day, but then usually dinner is as a family. My partner and I, we have a son who is 14. I’m the carbon offset for my son, because he’s a meat eater. I feel like that’s his choice he has to make.

A common meal is some sort of pasta, but again, I’m picky about the pasta I use. I use ancient-grain pasta because you want high fiber, rather than shocking your system with a lot of energy in refined form. So usually that’s our popular choice. I do spiralize zucchini to go half-and-half to lighten the carb load. And if I’m doing a rice-based dish, I do cauliflower rice and usually cut that probably four to one with rice or couscous. 

And then the dishes that we might cook vary. I have a friend who has a salmon community supported fishery from Alaska, and we’ll sometimes barter salad greens in exchange for salmon. So we’ll do some grilled sockeye salmon, which we like, because it’s quick, you can broil that and then grill it for about five minutes. I do a lot of Moroccan couscous, vegetable couscous stew.

Sometimes I’ll cook chicken for my son, and I’ll put big pieces of tofu in with that. It’s cheating a little bit, because of course I love the delicious chicken flavor. But I’m not keen about being strictly vegan. If a little bit of meat touches my food, I’m not going to throw it out. Also frankly, when you’re cooking for a family that has mixed culinary needs or desires, you’re always looking for overlapping interests, ways that you can kind of double up on things. So that’s one way that I do it.

Do you have any other advice for families that have a range of dietary needs?

It’s definitely a challenge. Every meal is different. For example, when I make a bolognese for my son, Marcella Hazan’s classic bolognese, my mouth waters. I start out with the same mix of vegetables, divide that in two, and then brown the meat in my son’s and then I’ll take mushrooms and rough chop them and use that as the base for the vegan bolognese. And then Marcella calls for an actual milk, on one side I use oat milk for the vegan version. And then tomatoes to both of them and I finish… The meat one takes longer to finish, but if I do it right, I can get them to pretty much be done about the same time.

What kind of conversations have you had with your son about climate and diet?

There are many families where parents who’ve gone vegan or something like that. And I would say, he eye-rolls at me on that, the whole thing. At the same time, it’s hard to say what the youth is going to make of all of us when they finally inherit the earth. I don’t think he’s come into full consciousness about the dire, dire state that we’re in environmentally. Frankly, I don’t really want to burden his childhood with it. Especially with COVID, there’s enough on his plate. But at the same time, if you were to look at what my son actually eats, the tricky thing in all of this is he doesn’t eat a lot of meat. It’s a very rare day that a piece of steak lands on his plate. And he knows that that’s a treat. Dan Barber always says, “There’s nothing more wasteful than a five or six ounce piece of steak.” The whole processes that brought that steak to market, it’s an environmental disaster. So I think I practice, rather than severe austerity, it’s more like if you look at my son’s plate, I think it’s not too far off from Dan Barber’s Third Plate, in that there’s always an ample portion of whole grains, some vegetables and never a giant chunk of flesh on his plate.

Are there any recommendations you can make for someone who has yet to modify their diet at all to reduce their carbon footprint? Where should people start?

The very simple act of switching from beef to chicken is just hugely powerful. With beef, you’re talking about 27 kilos of carbon per five kilos beef produced. With chicken, you’re talking more in the order of five to six. So right then and there, you’re cutting your meat footprint by a fifth. Similarly, fish is super powerful. The average footprint for all wild fish is something like 1.6 kilos of carbon per kilo of food produced. 

I think what’s really important too is cheese. I think a lot of people go vegetarian for environmental reasons and then they keep eating cheese, and cheese causes about the same carbon emissions footprint as pork. You’re not doing the earth any favors by continuing to eat a lot of cheese.

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