Research has shown that more people start diet and exercise regimes, quit smoking, and make doctors’ appointments on Mondays than any other day of the week.
Joel Fuhrman, M.D., is a board-certified family physician, a New York Times best-selling author, and nutritional researcher who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods. Dr. Fuhrman’s #1 New York Times best-selling book, Eat to Live, originally published in 2003 (Little Brown), has sold over 1,000,000 copies and has been published in multiple foreign language editions. He has appeared on hundreds of radio and television shows including The Dr. Oz Show, Today, and Good Morning America. And his hugely successful PBS television shows, 3 Steps to Incredible Health and Dr. Fuhrman’s Immunity Solution, brought nutritional science to homes all across America. Dr. Fuhrman joined Meatless Monday for a wide-ranging interview, discussing his new book, “The End of Dieting,” his well-known acronym for good eating, G-BOMBS, and why everyone should become a Nutritarian.
Meatless Monday: The issue of dieting is so prevalent in our society, our culture, and our media. From Paleo to Wheat Belly to a growing interest in vegetarianism, many people are either on a diet, off a diet, or thinking about a diet. You take the opposite approach. Your goal is for people to never go on a diet again.
Joel Fuhrman: That’s right. I tell my patients: don’t go on a diet. Improve your diet. There’s a big difference between “going on a diet” and “improving your diet.” I’m not discouraging people from making good food choices but they have to make choices keeping the long range goal in mind. And the long-range goal has to be: what can I eat to keep my weight stable, what can I eat regularly, and what foods can I eat every day that will lower my chances of disease like cancer, diabetes and heart attack.
MM: In your new book, The End of Dieting, you offer the smartest advice about eating and health I’ve ever read: “Don’t go on any diet unless you can eat that way every day for the rest of your life.”
JF: People need to ask: what can I do to permanently keep my weight down at a favorable weight, so I don’t bounce back again. Fluctuating the way you eat, and fluctuating your body weight, is not good for you. Weight comes off pretty easily if you calorically restrict but, after a while, you can’t live with yourself being hungry all the time, and you go back to eating a normal amount of food and you gain the weight back. But now you gain more weight back than you originally had because you’ve slowed down your metabolic rate and your fat storing hormones because you were calorically restricting. The important thing to understand is, gaining weight back again is very unhealthy. You take years to gain all the weight, then you rapidly lose weight, then you get it back again.
MM: Your approach is based on science. And the science says eating the right food is key to good health.
JF: I just want people to take advantage of modern nutritional science. Nutritional science has made exponential advances in recent years, and the only thing that makes sense is telling someone to eat fewer foods that are bad for you and more foods that are good for you. Let me repeat that. You want to eat fewer foods that promote fat storage in the body and more foods that don’t promote fat storage in the body. What makes my work unique is I am encouraging people to eat much larger amounts of healthier food. The term is, you “crowd out” foods you shouldn’t be eating in your diet. We have to get people to eat larger amounts of the right food.
MM: Let’s discuss some of these foods. I’d love to give our readers specific information about what they should be eating for good health. You created an acronym called G-BOMBS.
JF: G-BOMBS are foods with powerful anti-cancer properties that you should eat everyday. G-BOMBS stands for: Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries, and Seeds. Studies have shown that if someone eats a higher concentration of dark greens in their diet, their cancer rates drop tremendously, more than 50%. Studies also show that people who eat a higher amount of onions, compared to people who eat a normal amount, their cancer rates drop 50-80%. People who eat more mushrooms than an average person, their cancer rates drop 50-80%. People who eat more beans, their cancer rates drop 50-80%. People who eat more seeds, their cancer rates drop. It’s very simple: every food we are talking about in the G-BOMBS list, when people eat just more of those foods in particular, they have longer lives, they have lower cholesterol, lower rates of diabetes, and lower rates of cancer. And that’s just for each of these foods tested individually. Now what if a person ate higher rates of all these foods simultaneously? And, what if you did this at an age that was young enough to get the maximum benefits, before you have cancer in your body? The point is, these foods give people tremendous power to protect their own health and live a long life. We now have the evidence that can dramatically impact our life span, our quality of life, and really win the war on cancer in America. The answer is right under our noses and we can implement it right now.
MM: Regarding animal products, Meatless Monday began over 10 years ago with a simple mission: “One day a week, cut out meat.” Why is this still a good idea?
JF: There are a hundred reasons why. But the main reason is, America is eating too many animal products and too much animal protein. 40 or 50 years ago we didn’t understand everything we know now about nutrition. We thought getting cheap calories was what we needed. Then the government started subsidizing meat and dairy, making these products cheaper, and now you have Americans eating animal products three times a day. That’s 21 servings of animal protein a week, whether meat or chicken or fish or dairy, at every meal. And we’re finding out that’s much too much animal protein, leading to increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and particularly leading to risk of hormonally sensitive cancers, like colon cancer and breast cancer.
JF: Whether someone is flexitarian, vegetarian, vegan or Paleo, here’s the problem: those terms don’t define the quality of food they are eating. You can be a vegan and still be eating a diet that’s not very healthful. A Nutritarian, on the flip side, is a person with the knowledge base that what they eat controls their health destiny. A Nutritarian knows that they can control their future health by the food choices they make. I want everyone to be able to say: ‘I am a Nutritarian. I eat foods that protect my health. I eat foods that have nutritional quality.’ It’s not about dieting or counting calories. A Nutritarian recognizes that certain foods have protective affects, and they choose to put these quality foods in their body.
MM: If anyone follows the Standard American Diet, they certainly would not be a Nutritarian.
JF: The Standard American Diet is quite possibly the most dangerous way anyone could eat. It’s 60% of calories from processed food, which spikes up insulin–which is a fat storage hormone and promotes cancer–and then it’s 30% of calories from animal products, which raise IGF-1, which promotes cancer, as well. Even worse, processed foods and animal products both don’t contain antioxidants and phytochemicals. So the amount of vegetation and plant food is dangerously low, combined with the particular mix of the highly processed carbohydrates with the amount of animal products. The American diet is fat promoting and cancer promoting.
MM: In your private practice, when patients switch to your dietary plan, what results do they experience?
JF: My patients see remarkable results, and it happens very quickly. People can sometimes lose a pound a day the first week, and 10 to 15 pounds the first month. Their blood pressure and cholesterol and blood sugar comes down within a few days. If people are taking one or two medications for blood pressure or diabetes, for example, quite often after one week we are taking one medication away and by the first month we’re cutting the second medication. So whether it’s headaches, asthma, pain, high blood pressure, high glucose levels or high cholesterol, we see people feeling better, thinking more clearly, being more physically active.
MM: So your patients become more active, they get off medication, they get their health back. No wonder people think your approach is extreme.
JF: Right, isn’t that funny? To this day, when some people hear my plan, they’ll tell me, ‘I can’t do that.’ They can go to a hospital three times a week and get dialysis. Or they can inject themselves with insulin. Or they can have their chest cut open and have a heart bypass. But they can’t change the way they eat. It’s the craziness of our society today. My approach is perfectly logical. I am a physician and a nutritional scientist. Let’s objectively look at the data in a scientific way.
MM: For all the parents in our audience, I want to plug our initiative called The Kids Cook Monday, but I also want to promote one of your most vital books, Disease-Proof Your Child. I’m sure a lot of parents don’t understand the relationship between what their kids eat now and their long-term health.
JF: Here’s the information parents need: what kids eat in the first 10 years of their life can impact their health for the rest of their life. Let me repeat that. What kids eat in the first 10 years, can give them great health their whole life. The science here is compelling and fascinating, and it’s empowering for parents. How you eat in your childhood has a bigger contributory factor with regard to diseases like cancer. What you eat in childhood has a bigger influence than what you eat in adulthood.
MM: The information in The End of Diabetes is equally important. You say just by eating the right food, a person can stop or even reverse their Type 2 diabetes.
JF: Here are the facts: if you are overweight, you are heading toward Type 2 diabetes. And 80% of our population is overweight. That’s why people need this information. Diabetics should be told that, number one, your diabetes can be reversed. Number two, diabetes doesn’t have to cut short your life. And number three, the drugs are not going to make you live longer; they might even accelerate your death. People with Type 1 diabetes should have this information; even though they will still need some insulin, this program can save their life. And people determined to have prediabetes need this information. But instead of information about food, people are given more and more drugs, and they aren’t being told that the drugs will hurt them.
MM: You don’t have a lot of good things to say about the state of our healthcare. You say, “Medications are permission slips.”
JF: Yes. Our healthcare system has evolved into an industry where doctors mostly provide drugs, instead of being teachers of healthy living. The medical profession is not predominantly focused on preventing disease. They are a profession that’s diagnosing and treating disease, and the reality is, the treatments hardly work and the small benefits place people at significant risk, while the underlying disease process continues to advance.
MM: You want everyone to focus on prevention, not treatment. Last October, at the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, you wrote on Twitter, “October should be Breast Cancer Prevention Month.”
JF: Breast Cancer Awareness Month is about promoting mammograms. Mammograms will detect cancer in a woman after she’s had cancer in her body for about 10 years. So that means in that 10 year period, once a woman is diagnosed with cancer by a mammogram, a majority of women will have the cells spread outside of the breast, because the cancer has been there a long time. And then the ability to stop cancer from shortening their life has been lost. If we can get to women before they get diagnosed with breast cancer, if we can get women to eat berries, flax seeds, onions and mushrooms, all these anti-breast cancer foods before they get a diagnosis of cancer, that’s when you have the most power to prevent the cancer from developing to begin with. We have powerful interventions. We can start right now. Let’s really talk about ways women can protect themselves. But no one talks about true prevention.
MM: Last question: poor nutrition affects every aspect of our society. I saw a great comment on your Facebook page. Someone wrote, “The End of Dieting should be taught in schools.” Can you imagine if that happened, if high school students and school kids brought this information home to their parents?
JF: It would be fabulous. I always say in my public appearances, we should be teaching our children ‘reading, writing, arithmetic and nutrition.’ Because we graduate from high school, colleges, professional schools, medical schools, PhD’s, and people know nothing about nutrition. It’s the most important thing that people should be informed about because it affects their ability not just to live longer, but also to be happy in life, to have normal brain function. We know that processed foods and animal products and commercially baked goods are linked to depression. They are linked to aggressive behavior. They are linked to lower intelligence, to lower concentration in schools, to people’s inability to be productive in life. In other words, the American diet is detrimental not just to longevity but also to our performance and our happiness. Nutrition should be taught in schools. It is critical to the success of our young population.
For talented chef, teacher and cookbook author Jennifer Abadi, leading a class often comes down to following the lead. Abadi, the author of A Fistful of Lentils and the blog Too Good to Passover, takes her cues from a growing group of eager students at her door. “I teach in three cooking schools,” says Abadi. “At the Jewish Community Center, the Institute of Culinary Education, and the National Gourmet Institute. And over the years I’ve been getting more and more requests to offer vegetarian courses.”
As a professional, Abadi wasn’t surprised: the trend towards meatless dishes had already encroached on her personal life. “A few years ago, my mother and I hosted a Passover Seder and made a million dishes—we invited everyone,” she explains. After countless hours in the kitchen, Abadi expected a chorus of thanks when the food was finally served. But as the plates traveled around the table, one cousin sheepishly demurred, citing his new commitment to vegetarianism. That opened the floodgates. Family members left and right started refusing certain dishes on various grounds, all proclaiming their allegiance to some specific diet. “We ended up with all this food and only two dishes were eaten,” Abadi ruefully recalls.
Adaptability, more than ever, is what defines the modern hostess. Preparing a delicious meal is one thing, but a chef must also cater to the nutritional demands of her clientele. Veganism, vegetarianism, pescatarianism, flexitarianism: as the labels proliferate, the job becomes exponentially more difficult. It’s a thoroughly modern problem, but for Abadi, one with an old-school solution: Parve. Parve is a Hebrew word that denotes a dish without any meat or dairy. Jewish dietary laws consider parve food to be “neutral”, as it can be eaten with both meat and dairy dishes that otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to mix. In Jewish terms, it is the building block of an adaptable meal.
Abadi points out that adaptability was an essential quality for Jewish communities, which were often separated by wide swaths of geography and had to appropriate the local fare into their cuisine while keeping kosher. “They had to be adaptable by nature, but they also didn’t want to lose what was theirs,” she notes. Plant-based plates turned out to be a very convenient catch-all, and meatless dishes gained popularity. ”The idea of going meatless goes back centuries in Jewish culture,” Abadi says. “In the Middle East and the Mediterranean, they do eat meat, but it’s typically reserved for special occasions. In the Jewish case, meat was reserved for Shabbat. You didn’t eat it during the week.”
The uniquely modern challenge of pleasing everybody within the constraints of a kosher diet intrigued Abadi. “My vegetarian Passover class came about because I started to see that everybody wants their own—everybody wants to have their own way of eating while still observing the high holidays,” she says. But she points out that the same principle could be applied to secular feasts as well. “Consider a vegetarian Thanksgiving,” she says, “where you’re moving the sides, which people live for, to the front and center of the plate.” Whether a meal is completely vegetarian or not, Abadi notes, is sometimes beside the point. Kosher allows for the eating of meat, but only in a circumscribed setting. “You cannot separate keeping kosher from the Jewish culture,” she explains. “You have to follow the laws—it’s written. You may enjoy the animals, but not without thinking.” It’s this general mindfulness, rather than any one rule, that motivates much of Jewish cuisine. And it’s a lesson that all cultures, everywhere, can take to heart.
Try Jennifer’s Greek Passover Spanikopita for a meatless Passover dish you won’t soon forget.
The answer is right in your kitchen.
To be sure, eating completely vegetarian one day a week is hardly cause for concern when it comes to protein. The average adult only needs about 50 grams of protein daily, and in general, people are eating much more than that on a daily basis. What’s more, if you keep just a few staples in your pantry, healthy, meatless, protein-packed foods are always at hand, easy to cook, and provide all the protein anyone needs.
One day a week, discover how much protein you can get from green vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Eating an assortment of these foods will easily supply all the protein you need; beans alone have 15 grams of protein in a 1-cup serving, not to mention antioxidants, phytochemicals and tons of fiber. Take that, pot roast!
There are literally thousands of recipes and flavors to explore. Instead of traditional risotto, increase your intake of protein and fiber by replacing Arborio rice with whole farro and stir up a Farro Risotto with Mushrooms and Asparagus. The humble chickpea, by changing up spices and ingredients, can take you from the cuisines of India to Portugal to Mexico. Add a bright spot of flavor and a helping of protein to Morning Oatmeal with Green Apples and Almonds.
And that huge salad you’re going to have for lunch? Have it over a bed of intact grains like spelt, brown rice or quinoa, add protein-packed options like edamame and plenty of colorful veggies, and not only will you be doing something good for your health; you won’t have to answer the “protein question” again.
This week’s Feature Recipe: Spelt & Berry Salad
Homepage photo by: www.myfooddiary.com
Meatless Monday Peru–Lunes Sin Carne Peru–held their first major event last month in honor of Meatout Day.
Meatout Day is an annual holiday observed internationally on March 20th, the first day of spring, and seeks to promote the benefits of a plant-based diet while exposing the public to the vast selection of meat alternatives.
Founded in 1985, Meatout Day has enjoyed explosive growth, quickly becoming the world’s largest annual grassroots diet education campaign. Thousands of communities around the world use Meatout Day to welcome spring with an enduring combination of information and action, health and flavor.
This year, Lunes Sin Carne Peru was one such community.
Organizers hosted a vegetarian picnic for some 200 participants: a rousing number for a debut event. In addition to sampling meatless dishes, the various activities included yoga, meditation and giveaways. The picnic’s sponsors also dedicated a portion of the event to discuss the advantages of Meatless Monday and distribute informational flyers and recipes. Based on its encouraging results, the group hopes for “Picnic Sin Carne” to become a regular Meatless Monday event.
Despite its newcomer status, Lunes Sin Carne Peru has made considerable strides since its inception, attracting an impressive array of young and enthusiastic participants. In February it won the Meatless Monday Olympics Facebook Contest, soaring to victory across Meatless Monday’s social channels with the most likes and shares of the 31 countries featured in the contest.
Everyone has heard of “Bring your Child to Work Day.” For Meatless Monday advocates, April 7th could be called “Bring Your Veggies to Work Day.” Next Monday marks the start of National Public Health Week, an initiative of the American Public Health Association (APHA). This year, the APHA has recommended holding community-wide Meatless Monday events to encourage individuals to learn about the benefits of a plant-based diet and how delicious vegetarian cuisine can be. So why not use the occasion to get your local community or co-workers together for a Meatless Monday-themed potluck? It’s a great opportunity to come together and spread the word about the movement, and you’re likely to discover a few new favorite recipes in the process.
If you’ll be hosting your event in an office or community center with limited kitchen access, keep in mind the following tips for a safe and successful potluck everyone will enjoy:
1. Get organized: Pick a date, time and location. Email your participants and ask everyone to sign up for a main dish, salad, side dish, dessert or beverage so you’ll have a nice mix of offerings. Encourage some attendees to choose dishes that can be served cold to minimize the need for everyone to use the office microwave at once.
2. Keep in mind that prepared dishes shouldn’t be without refrigeration for more than four hours: Check with whomever is responsible for clearing out the office fridge regularly to make sure there will be enough space on the day of your event. If possible, post a sign stating that the fridge will be cleared on Friday afternoon to make room for Monday’s meal.
3. Have some large microwave-safe glass or ceramic dishes available: Attendees may want to transport their dishes in plastic or aluminum, but for those who do bring dishes that must be heated, glass and ceramic are considered safest for microwave use.
4. Remember that peanuts and tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat and soy are the most common food allergens: Have post-its or tent cards available for attendees to use to label their dishes and list potential allergens. Encourage each contributor to include their name on the label so that those who enjoy the dish can ask for the recipe!
Looking for inspiration on just what to cook? Some of our favorite recipes are perfect for feeding a crowd:
–Packed with spring flavors, this lemon mint quinoa salad is easy to transport and can be served cold.
–A classy take on the casserole, this dish comes together quickly and is a popular way to feed a crowd.
–This version of a pasta salad uses flavorful pesto in place of mayonnaise and is excellent cold.
–This addictive creamy dip is dairy-free and makes for an interesting side. Serve with pita or small slices of bread.
–The current darling of vegetarian cuisine, this salad is sure to be a hit with all your participants.
Over the past few decades, Hong Kong has emerged as a leading center of culture, finance and trade. But the city’s rapid growth has brought all the familiar problems of modernization: its per capita carbon footprint is the planet’s second highest, and it consumes beef at an astonishing rate. David Yeung, a cofounder of Green Monday—Hong Kong’s Meatless Monday cousin—is on a mission to stem the tide. Along with a growing group of socially conscious professionals, Yeung uses his experience in the corporate world to fashion innovative solutions for public health problems. And as an author, opinion columnist, and regular media personality, he has a significant platform at his disposal. We caught up with him during a stateside visit.
As your website notes, Hong Kong has one of the highest per capita carbon footprints in the world, as well as a rate of beef consumption seven times that of mainland China—both of which make the city a rather unlikely candidate for such a successful program. How can an organization begin to combat such entrenched habits?
Until Green Monday pointed out that Hong Kong has the highest meat consumption per capita, it was a data that went unnoticed and unreported. Once we cited that figure, it became a shock to the media as well as the entire city. While people here might be aware of their unhealthy eating pattern, they didn’t know the extent. Through explaining the extreme meat consumption situation, Hong Kong people realize that collectively we need to change our diet habits.
Another major angle we use, particularly when we approach corporations, is the reduction on carbon footprint. Before Green Monday, almost nobody in the city knew or talked about the correlation between meat and global warming. Since all corporations need to fulfill their corporate social responsibilities, Green Monday becomes a great and simple solution to them.
Last but certainly not least, we have been successful in engaging some of the biggest celebrities in the Greater China region to endorse and spread the message of Green Monday. We package Green Monday in a way that people feel is cool and trendy.
Green Monday has arrived at an interesting time. As China’s middle-class matures, its access to (and presumably demand for) imported animal products is at an all-time high. Beef and other meats have become commodities that Chinese families can enjoy with regularity, and yet environmental advocates are now urging them to cut back. Is this an issue that Green Monday finds itself addressing?
By calling our “Green Monday” rather than “Meatless Monday,” we deliberately avoid creating conflicts and use a more moderate approach. So while we are addressing the environmental issue, we also make sure that people don’t feel pressured to make a dramatic change.
Green Monday has an impressive roster of corporate partners. Can you speak to how companies and restaurants can collaborate with nonprofit missions like Green Monday to produce effective results?
Corporations and organizations such as the Hong Kong Airport Authority, Bank of China, Wheelock, Great Eagle, Del Monte, BUPA, among many others, choose to work with Green Monday because we play the role of a collaborator on green initiatives. We work with them not just to promote vegetarianism, but also to consult them on ways to promote their companies as visionary and socially responsible. We work hand-in-hand with them to implement solutions to reduce carbon emission or food waste, or other green initiatives that they would like to specifically work on.
What’s the next big project for Green Monday? How do you see the movement engaging with people over the next year or even decade?
The next big project for Green Monday is to expand beyond Hong Kong, with a primary focus to take the concept to China as well as other Asian countries and cities. We also look to extend the Green Monday lifestyle to not only vegetarianism but also other domains of green.
Do you have a favorite vegetarian recipe you’d like to share with our readers?
I am a fan of Indian food and there is no shortage of vegetarian choices at Indian cuisines. Meanwhile, among Chinese food, I love Sichuan food the most. It usually has a great number of dishes that are vegetarian.
Schedules are cleared, brackets unveiled and Buffett offers a billion: March Madness is upon us. Whether or not you find yourself personally invested in this year’s NCAA Division 1 Basketball Championship, you likely know someone who is. And that means a minimum of screen time, of ambient shouting, of complementary colors and chaotic sports bars. You might even be tasked with hosting an event that involves food. Fortunately, this tournament provides the perfect time to introduce your friends to some fabulous spring flavors.
Everyone knows that chicken wings are the unofficial mascot of most sporting events—particularly March Madness. But this meatless take on the old favorite made a welcome splash last month when Syracuse restaurant LoFo offered them to participants in the city’s annual Winterfest Wing Walk. The story ended up in front of ex-Beatle Paul McCartney’s eyes, who gave it prominent space on his Meat Free Mondays website. The recipe calls for cauliflower florets, cut into a wing shape, triple roasted and drizzled in a special sauce. Meatless Monday blogger Saucy Southerner shared this amazing Cauliflower Wings recipe with us that we’re pleased to pass on to you.
Hummus is the IKEA of healthy snack foods: cheap, interchangeable, quick to prepare and gets the job done. Devising endless variants to this tried and true staple is as much a challenge as it is a reward. This version, which incorporates chipotle peppers and artichoke hearts, is sure to sate the appetite of your most rabid sports fan.
Whither the lowly potato? When it comes to sporting events, we usually see these noble tubers stripped down and fried. But potatoes are even more satisfying baked whole, and offer enormous nutritional value to boot. Chock-full of vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber and potassium, these Sweet Pea-Stuffed Baked Potatoes will give your guests the energy to keep shouting at the screen long after the game has become hopeless.
Let’s face it: no match is complete without a burger. Preferably a plate of them. But this is meatless town. And while some meatless recipes aim to replicate a favorite culinary experience, this recipe aims to reinvent it. These black bean burgers have a texture like meat and a taste just as hardy, but they’re in a class of their own.
Pizza remains the perennial party favorite; so as a host, why disappoint? This flavorful version is simple, fast and perfect for large gatherings. The pesto provides a unique base while the mushrooms and peppers lend it a memorable kick. After sampling one of these slices, you might forgo delivery altogether.
A new celebrity has been spotted at Nick & Toni’s. A friend to some of the world’s most famous personalities, and loved by millions everywhere, Meatless Monday has arrived: every Monday at Nick & Toni’s, the East Hampton landmark, Meatless Monday vegetarian dishes will be featured on the menu.
It makes sense. In a region famous for million-dollar estates and breathtaking views, the reality is that agriculture is Long Island’s largest industry, with over $1 billion in annual revenue. Home to dozens of family-owned farms, award-winning vineyards, and endless roadside farmers’ markets dotting the landscape, on the East End, fresh produce has always been in fashion. It’s not surprising that Nick & Toni’s has joined the Meatless Monday movement; for the last 25 years, they’ve been serving their loyal customers local produce long before “eating locally” was in vogue.
We caught up with Executive Chef Joe Realmuto, who has embraced local, sustainable ingredients since arriving at Nick & Toni’s 21 years ago. No newcomer to the vegetable-forward cuisine, Nick & Toni’s not only has a backyard garden, but hosts a weekly farmers’ market in its parking lot.
Meatless Monday: I’d like to welcome Nick & Toni’s to the Meatless Monday movement. What made you decide to participate?
Joe Realmuto: I watched a recent TEDx talk and when I heard how widespread the movement was, I sent a link to all my chefs and managers and said, ‘you have to understand how big this is.’ So at all five of our restaurants, we’re going to launch it. In addition to Nick & Toni’s, at Rowdy Hall we just announced we are launching Meatless Monday on March 24. And soon, even at Townline BBQ. We are a very open-minded company, and so are our customers. So even at a BBQ place, we understand not everyone eats meat or wants to eat meat on any given night. So even there, we have 15 vegetarian items.
MM: This is great news, but it’s not new for Nick & Toni’s. Working with local farmers and embracing fresh produce has always been a part of your success.
JR: Yes. I came out here 21 years ago and fell in love not only with the restaurant, but also with the beauty of the land and the bounty of farms and fishing. About eight years ago, we started the farmers’ market in our parking lot every Friday. And we have a garden right behind the restaurant. So, for example, when the Black Kale is ready, it goes on the menu as a salad. We keep it simple.
MM: So from the weekly market to the garden to local farms, your customers are truly eating locally.
JR: Absolutely, without a doubt. We are big supporters of the Slow Food movement. It’s all about keeping it local, sustainable and traceable. I keep saying those three words, but it’s so important: local, sustainable and traceable. At Nick & Toni’s, 70% of our food comes from local farms in season when available. So in terms of supporting farmers, we try our best to get as much as possible from the area. We shouldn’t be buying garlic from overseas.
MM: And how was the reaction at Nick & Toni’s the first time Meatless Monday dishes were added to the menu?
JR: Because of where we’re located, and the fact we have so many fresh ingredients available, we change the menu every few weeks. We have a couple staples, like Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola, that are always on the menu. But over the years, our customers–and I think people everywhere–are paying more attention to what they eat. That’s why we’ve been putting one vegetarian item on the menu every night for the last seven years. We always have salads and pasta, but also a vegetarian entrée. We just never had the opportunity to formally bring attention to it, so Meatless Monday gave us that opportunity.
JR: For us, Meatless Monday is all about flexibility, and about adding options to the menu. It’s about choice. On Mondays, we also have a “Burger & Movie” night at Rowdy Hall. There’s a theater down the street and people can get a burger and a movie for $20. That’s why Meatless Monday works; it’s not all or nothing. If a couple comes in and one person wants a burger but the other wants to go vegetarian, they’re both happy. Meatless Monday represents what’s going on out there in the marketplace.
MM: The centerpiece of Nick & Toni’s is the famous wood-burning oven. If Meatless Monday dishes are cooked there, then we’ve arrived.
JR: We are currently making polenta in the wood-burning oven. Seared Gorgonzola Polenta with Wild Mushrooms and Leek Ragu. When customers walk in, the oven is the first thing they see.
For many Americans, St. Patrick’s Day conjures up images of tartaned ties, green confetti, and mass parades—not to mention corned beef and cabbage and a pint Guinness. Although such pub fare still dominates our perception of eating Irish, like all cuisines, Irish food enjoys a rich history and has evolved conspicuously even within the past few years. Chefs like Kevin Dundon and Noel McMeel have devoted their careers to revitalizing Irish fare while remaining true to its roots. Chef Dundon is the Executive Head Chef at Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel and Chef McMeel is Head Chef at Lough Erne Golf Resort in Northern Ireland. In their respective cookbooks Modern Irish Food and Irish Pantry, Dundon and McMeel tweak generations-old recipes for the contemporary palate, ushering ancient Gaelic ingredients into the new century.
A back-to-basics approach among amateur and professional cooks alike has taken hold across much of the Emerald Isle. Among the recent trends—mirroring developments in the U.S., UK and Europe—is a move towards more varied fruits and vegetables, and a newfound respect for their prominent place on the plate. “I have vegetarian customers in my restaurant every single night, and I actually enjoy the challenge that cooking vegetarian food presents to a chef,” Dundon has said. Though the heroic potato, for centuries Ireland’s chief crop and economic engine, still symbolizes Ireland’s past, its look has been updated; new dishes like Dundon’s Cauliflower, Pea and Potato Curry keep the old staples while incorporating new spices and flavors from around the world.
Irish consumers have become more health conscious as well. Last month the Irish Times praised Meatless Monday for addressing the global obesity epidemic, as well as growing environmental and ethical concerns. What shape the movement will take in Irish kitchens, restaurants—and yes, even pubs—remains to be seen, but its promotion portends exciting developments for Ireland’s culinary landscape. And today we salute those changes with a hearty “Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!” (Happy St. Patrick’s Day!)