The Beefless Summer

Save the planet and your taste buds by grilling veggies and topping them with dressings and marinades.

It’s officially summer, which in Southern California (and most of America) means outdoor activities. The beach, the park, the public pool and, of course, the backyard. This is the season when entertaining officially moves outside.

But lately, especially here in California, summer outdoor activities have faced a number of obstacles. Though we’ve had a record wet spring, I am bracing for a repeat of last year’s extreme heat, which drove me back inside more than once. A sky full of smoke from wild fires, which experts warn will become the new normal, also kept me in. And all that rainwater has produced an unusually large crop of mosquitos, which made hanging outside in the cool dusk — prime BBQ hours — miserable and hazardous. But even if none of those elements keep you inside this summer, these environmental changes are going to force us to reevaluate our idea of summer fun.There is no doubt that climate change has altered our environment. That I can see it in my lifetime is upsetting enough. What lies in store for my progeny is what keeps me up at night. Sure, your canvas tote bag and solar-powered phone charger are totally helping. But if you really want to make an impact, there is one significant thing you can do right now. 

Stop eating beef. 

By now, everyone is aware that factory farming is killing the planet. Numerous studies, international political movements and films have been highlighting the dangers for over a decade. (The 2008 film Food Inc. changed the way I sourced product at work.) There have been moderate attempts to offer planet-friendly alternatives to the masses, such as cage-free eggs and grass-fed meat. Chefs are creating plant-based menus, and the faux “Impossible Burger” is available from the best white-tableclothed joint to Burger King. But we still drool at the first whiff of charring meat. I’m fairly convinced that the Char Boy burger joint in my neighborhood doesn’t need to vent its grill smoke onto the street — but doing so is advertising genius. 

What will it take to get Americans to lay off cows? Perhaps the best incentive is fear of planetary extinction. 

While the “they’re coming for our hamburgers” rhetoric has been used as fodder for the anti–Green New Deal faction (the deal that, by the way, mentions nothing about beef), it is true that switching to a plant-focused diet is the single biggest thing we can do to lower greenhouse-gas emissions. In fact, of the four most important changes humans can make — eat plants, limit air travel, go car-free and have smaller families — giving up meat will have the largest impact, and it is the only one I am readily able to do. (Reminder — broccoli is cheaper than a Tesla.)

A recent National Academy of Sciences study on the environmental impact of animal foods looked at five of the most consumed animal products — beef, dairy, pork, poultry and eggs. It makes perfect sense that beef, the largest of the factory-farmed animals, is 10 times more damaging to the planet than other animal foods we consume. Beef production is responsible for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Cutting out red meat would do more for the planet than abandoning cars. It would also be easier and faster. (Which is a relief, because I love driving my manual transmission way more than I love beef.)

Although total livestock is the largest land user worldwide, the beef production uses 28 times more land, and 11 times more water, than each of the other four animal products. This means that you don’t even need to go as far as veganism to make an impact. Although, when compared to plant food production, beef uses 160 times more land, and creates 11 times the emissions. And because we live in a drought-familiar part of the country, you might find it interesting that one pound of beef requires 2,400 gallons of water, while one pound of wheat uses a mere 25 gallons. So, yeah, thanks for putting that brick in your toilet tank and turning off the faucet while you brush, but how ’bout you lay off the carne asada this weekend? It will save more water than a year of skipped showers.

I know. It’s grilling season. And grilling is as ’Merican as hamburger. And while I am encouraging you to lay off meat completely, I will settle for a temporary abstention from beef. To facilitate this, I am offering some suggestions for beef-free grilling that will not only make your smoke-choked, mosquito-infested barbeque a success, they will also help stem the tide of global warming.

My biggest peeve regarding vegetarianism is the compulsion many feel to make it seem like meat. Plants taste good as they are, and to disguise them does Mother Nature a disservice. Literally anything can be grilled, and everything is improved with the taste of the grill. Vegetable grilling is not rocket science, and there are a plethora of ideas in cookbooks and on the Internet for you to sift through. I have rounded up some of my favorites, with the caveat that you can easily create your own versions. I routinely grill all kinds of vegetables in the summer — not just the standard Portobello mushrooms and corn (which are perfect and delicious). Try quartered cauliflower, skewered Brussels sprouts, sliced winter squash, asparagus spears (place them perpendicular to the grill slats!), whole cherry tomatoes, hearts of romaine or radicchio and avocados (halved and pitted with skin on). Once the veggies are charred, they can be tossed with a dressing, chopped and stuffed into flatbread or sandwiched between buns.

Giving up meat altogether would be the ideal. But asking 400 million people to go meatless without some sort of immediate incentive (because it’s obvious that saving the planet is not enough of a motivator) is going to be challenging. What I will ask, though, is for you to give up red meat, at least a couple days a week. By doing this, you can still significantly reduce your carbon footprint.


All of these marinades are prepared by simply mixing all the ingredients together and macerating with your chosen vegetables for about 1 hour before grilling. When the veggies hit the grill, cook them until they are marked and a little charred. No need to check internal temperatures! Times will vary depending on the vegetables, but nothing will take longer than five to 10 minutes. You can grill veggies individually, lock them into a grilling basket or thread them on skewers. It’s easier, healthier and more conscience-soothing than a steak ever was.

Indian Curried Yogurt Marinade
Try this with quartered red onion, cauliflower, halved new potatoes, green beans and pumpkin. It’s great for chicken too. Scoop it up with some garlic naan.

2 cups plain yogurt
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 to 3 tablespoons grated ginger
3 tablespoons tandoori or garam masala spice blend
¼ cup coconut or canola oil

Middle-Eastern Pomegranate Marinade
Try this with halved parsnips, turnips, carrots, romaine hearts or summer squash.  Not bad with lamb either. Serve with some grilled pita and fresh hummus.

1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup pomegranate juice
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 chopped shallot
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of sea salt

Thai Green Curry Marinade
Try this with red or yellow bell peppers, zucchini, whole green onions, new potatoes, sweet potatoes, asparagus and wedged green or Savoy cabbage. Toss them into a dish of noodles or over a bowl of rice. It’s also great for shrimp.

1 cup coconut milk
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons coconut or canola oil
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
2 to 4 tablespoons green curry paste

Provençal Marinade
Perfect for zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, eggplant, fennel and artichokes. Chop them and layer onto a grilled flatbread, then top with goat cheese for a decadent summer pizza.

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon prepared pesto
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence (or ½ tablespoon each of thyme, oregano, rosemary, lavender)

Soy Balsamic Marinade
Use this for summer squash, eggplant, whole baby bok choy, green onions, broccoli and carrots. It’s also perfect for your favorite firm fish filet. Finish with fresh chopped cilantro and black sesame seeds.

¼ cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced

Sesame Peanut Marinade
Try with bok choy, cauliflower, whole small or halved large carrots, parsnips, zucchini, sweet potatoes and even pineapple wheels. Terrific on pork too.

¼ cup peanut butter
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 to 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce or Sriracha

Spicy Marinade for Tropical Fruit
Try this marinade for mango, pineapple, kiwi and bananas, firm melons and cucumbers. Then serve the finished fruits over cool sorbet with a coconut macaroon.

½ cup maple syrup
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne

Honey Port Marinade for…
Try this with whole figs, peaches, plums, pears and, when the season arrives in the fall, persimmons. Spoon over vanilla ice cream, or into a crispy meringue cup.

1 cup Port wine
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cardamom