Men are cooking slightly more than they have in recent American history, and for many men, that means grilling. Which is great, except that the way most people do it spells trouble for both their health and the environment. What do experts suggest to combat these issues? More veggies, of course.
"The increased popularity of grilling, especially during spring and summer months, has helped to continue the stability of red meat purchases in grocery stores even as it declines in restaurants," explains Arlin Wasserman, a partner at sustainable food strategy firm Changing Tastes.
It doesn't have to be that way. Wasserman is part of an emergent group of sustainable food proponents who see the intersection of diet and the environment as a potential win for both people and the planet. Dieticians are increasingly focusing on the idea of a "green" diet, and this year, for the first time ever, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering incorporating environmental concerns into its dietary guidelines.
"Environmental concerns aren't just a 'feel-good' thing, there are real health overlaps, whether it's protecting your health from things like hormones or antibiotics in meat, or getting more nutrients out of food by choosing pasture-raised animal products," says Kate Geagan, nutritionist and author of Go Green, Get Lean.
Greening your grill also doesn't have to mean sacrificing flavor or going vegan. With help from Geagan and Wasserman, we've put together the following five tips for eco- and waist-friendly grilling that will boost flavor and turn your basic Sunday barbecue into a culinary feast.
1. Go veggie crazy
Vegetables are often an after-thought at the grill, with the token mushroom thrown on for your vegetarian friend, but top chefs throughout the country are beginning to show us how amazing grilled veggies can be. Wasserman suggests grilling a carrot in the manner of a hotdog — parboiling it, marinating it with soy or Worcestshire sauce or your own concoction, and then either slow-roasting it on the grill or cooking it at high heat, or a combination of both so you get both the slow-smoked flavor and the charred ridges. Geagan also recommends radicchio or brussels sprouts on the grill in summer, and Wasserman points out that you can take advantage of the smoke even with vegetables that might fall apart on the grill — just throw them into a cast iron pan with olive oil, garlic, and herbs, and let them cook alongside your meats.
2. Size matters.
Like many sustainable food advocates, Wasserman says he thinks meat is a big environmental problem, but he also wants to sit out in the summer and have a burger and a beer. "Rather than getting a quarter of the people in the country to go vegetarian, we could turn our 8-ounce burgers into 6-ounce burgers, and add two ounces of veggies, either to the patty, the finished burger, or as a side, and get the exact same result for human health and the environment," he says. In addition to reducing the size of the burger patty, Wasserman suggests adding creative toppings — from traditional toppings like lettuce and tomato to more inventive options like homemade chutneys and relishes — to add flavor and girth to burgers.
3. Consider stuffing and kebab-ing.
We eat with our eyes as much as our stomachs, and adding color to our meats, via rolling vegetables into meats before grilling them, or creating kebabs with vegetables spaced between meat or seafood, is a great way to add both color and nutrients to a basic grilled dish.
4. Grill dessert.
Grilled fruits take on a caramel texture that elevates fruit from the world's most boring dessert to a perfectly sweet finish. Go for peaches, pineapple, really anything that won't fall apart on the grill.