Vegetarians and vegans these days have it easy, compared to what it was like back in the early ‘70s when I decided to give up meat for a couple of decades. In my early days as an ovo/lacto-vegetarian (I drew the line at animal products that required taking the life of the animal), I couldn’t travel far from home without having to subsist on grilled cheese sandwiches and salads. I found myself an unpopular dinner guest, as few people I knew had figured out yet how to plan a balanced meatless meal. We rabbit-food-gnawing social outcasts treasured the few cookbooks and other resources that we then had at our disposal; and the one that really started a sort of food-sustainability revolution was a seminal 1971 book called Diet for a Small Planet, by Frances Moore Lappé.
Diet for a Small Planet and its sequel, Recipes for a Small Planet, strove to overcome popular prejudices of the day that a vegetarian diet couldn’t possibly provide enough protein by stressing a concept called “protein complementarity.” By cooking combinations of foods from plant sources with different amino acids, Lappé argued, one could replicate the “complete proteins” that occur in meat, eggs and dairy products. While this complementarity gospel prevailed, vegetarians were condemned to long hours in the kitchen preparing dishes combining dried beans and whole grains; it was a bit of a reprieve when the author finally softened her stance ten years later. It turns out that you can get perfectly adequate protein just by eating a variety of plant foods – they don’t all have to be ingested in the same meal.
Perhaps due in part to her healthy diet, Frances Moore Lappé is still alive and kicking, analyzing and theorizing about a topic that is on everyone’s lips in these sustainability-conscious times. She’ll be appearing at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook this Friday, March 23 at 7 p.m., talking about her latest book, EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want and her work as co-founder of Food First: The Institute for Food and Development Policy. The subject of food democracy, including equal access to nutritious food and equitable farm labor practices, is much on Lappé’s mind these days. So if you loved the movie Food, Inc. even while you were cringing at its depiction of the horrors of Big Agribusiness, come on out and catch up with what this pioneer of the food sustainability field has been doing. Admission is free.
Sadly, another enticing event scheduled for this weekend at the Cary Institute, Sunday’s Amphibian Egg Hunt, is already booked solid. But you can still preregister for the Weather Station Tour and Interpretive Walk that’s planned for Sunday, April 15. The Institute has been recording environmental conditions on its nearly-2,000-acre property for more than 25 years. On this tour of the Weather Station and hands-on stream monitoring activities with Vicky Kelly, manager of the Institute’s Environmental Monitoring Program, you can learn how weather patterns have changed and find out how long-term data provide insight into how weather and land use impact water quality. This two-mile walk begins at 1 p.m. at the main campus parking lot, located at 2801 Sharon Turnpike (Route 44) in Millbrook. In the event of heavy rain, the program will be canceled. Wear hiking shoes.
In fact, you can show up most any day with your boots at the ready, whether a public program is scheduled or not, once the Institute’s scenic hiking trails reopen to the public on April 1 after a winter hiatus. Visit meadow, woodland, wetland and creekside environments that are rich in biodiversity, including a profusion of butterflies that are just starting to emerge with the warmth of an earlier-than-usual spring. The Fern Glen is an especially popular destination. Links to download a free color trail map, as well as checklists of the birds and butterflies that you’re likely to encounter on the Cary campus, can be found on the website at www.caryinstitute.org/hiking-trails.html. Since the longest of the trail loops is under a mile-and-a-half in length, it’s a great destination to bring kids and couch potatoes who might be daunted by a hardier trek. From April 1 to October 31, the trails are open from sunrise to sunset, the internal roadway gates open at 8:30 a.m. and are locked at 7 p.m. To keep tabs on future public events at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, visit www.caryinstitute.org/events.html.