How to Have an Eco-Friendly Fourth of July

Elementary school biology has taught us all that we need protein to grow healthily, but the idea that protein absolutely needs to come from animal products is quickly becoming a figment of the past. With more and more Americans adopting a more vegetarian lifestyle, for health and ethical reasons alike, and Meatless Mondays gaining speed across the world, plant-based alternatives are rapidly replacing animals proteins in our everyday diets.

However, as Mark Bittman points out in his New York Times article "Fourth of July: Tough Day For Meatless Monday," our upcoming holiday may prove to be a wrench in the vegetarian system, as outdoor grilling has become something of a Fourth of July tradition over the years. Many of us know the serious health risks of eating too much red meat, not to mention the harmful effects the environment, the farmers and the animals themselves.

But, as Bittman discovers, it's not just the taste of animal proteins that keeps us eating, but something deeper, literally. A recent study suggests that our stomachs, too, enjoy the animal products we eat, a sensation that is completely separate from our tongues, causing us to crave these proteins even more. And now that the Fourth of July falls on a Meatless Monday this year, he idea of combating the looming hotdogs and hamburgers seems virtually impossible.

And, if we thought matters couldn't get any worse, Brian Palmer points out, in his New York Times Op-Ed article "Fire Up the Grill, Not the Atmosphere," it's not just the meat we have to worry about this weekend, but the grill as well. As cooking certain foods releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the transport of such foods, we need to find a more environmentally conscious way to prepare our meals.

Luckily, Palmer doesn't ask us to completely abandon grilling for the Fourth of July, but rather he offers accessible, yet effective alternatives to our normal cooking routine. Instead of boiling potatoes, which wastes a lot of energy heating the water instead of cooking the actual potatoes, Palmer suggests a "direct-heat" approach, such as frying over the heat, to cook the potatoes thoroughly and efficiently.

For our much-loved grills, Palmer recommends charcoal briquettes, made from scrapped wood that would otherwise go to waste, as their effect on our environment's climate change is much lower than regular charcoal or propane. Lastly, instead of using that overheated oven to bake dessert pies or cakes, why not try these no-bake vegan truffles, or, as Palmer advises, try grilling fresh fruit, such as peaches or pears, on the waning coals for a healthier and more green dessert.

With these great alternatives, we do not need to sacrifice too much to enjoy our Fourth of July holiday, but both Bittman and Palmer recommend sticking to your Meatless Monday routine and forsaking meat completely for the most environmental effectiveness. Instead enjoy a delicious plate of rice and beans to get your protein fix or try these healthy alternatives to traditional grilling.

To read Mark Bittman's article in full, click here, and to read Brian Palmer's article in full, click here.

Photo: Hryck.