The Edgy Veggie

Local institutions take food forward

Ellen Kanner, The Miami Herald's Edgy Veggie columnist.
Ellen Kanner, The Miami Herald's Edgy Veggie columnist.

When you think of the Humane Society, you probably think of puppies and kittens who need a good home. That’s what Audra Wright thought, too. Then the Humane Society approached Wright, Miami-Dade Public Schools nutrition wellness coordinator, about Food Forward.

The Humane Society of the United States, the country’s largest animal protection organization, works to protect all animals, including the ones that can end up on your plate. They developed Food Forward in 2013 as part of their farm animal protection campaign. Food Forward gives schools, healthcare facilities and other institutions the resources to move their kitchens food forward to feature more plant-based options. It offers menu plans, meatless recipes, apps, infographics, chef training and more. The program is nationwide, customizeable and — get this — free.

FINE WITH FREE

Free is good. So, local leaders and administrators learned, is Food Forward. Over lunch (vegan chili and vegan cupcakes) last week at Florida Atlantic University, they listened to Food Forward presenters including Wright, who launched Food Forward’s Lean and Green initiative in Miami-Dade Public Schools last year.

Lean and Green “fits right into our department’s goal of lean, green and healthy,” she said. Miami-Dade Public Schools are not only serving up more vegan options, more than 30 schools are participating in a pilot program, serving them on compostable plates.

Through Food Forward’s Farm to School initiative, Palm Beach Schools are have developed relationships with local farmers. They’re serving up more corn and green beans fresh from Belle Glade. Even better, kids are eating them. Palm Beach Schools nutrition service specialist Jamie McCarthy works with food critics (student focus groups) who taste-test and vet menu items before school-wide rollout.

Johnson & Wales University’s student dining operation The Mix began Meatless Monday in January. The school doesn’t offer an official vegan curriculum, but unofficially, Barbara Kamp, culinary professor and longtime vegan, leads plant-based culinary workshops for students and the community, including an upcoming vegan chocolate class.

READY TO CHANGE?

Still think vegan means icky?

“Change is difficult for some people, but everyone gets it,” said Wright. “We want to be leaders, to cultivate a new culture that’s going to take care of the environment.”

She’s working to take Food Forward’s Lean and Green past the plate and into the classroom, introducing it into the curriculum on subjects from sustainability to healthier eating. “I’m seeing endless possibilities.”

Ellen Kanner is the author of “Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner.”

Mealworthy Tuscan Escarole and White Bean Toast

Escarole and white beans, a classic Italian (and meatless) pairing, can be used to top crostini. But mounding it atop toasted bread, the way we love our avo toast, takes it from dainty morsel to something gutsy and mealworthy. Add a green salad or cup of soup.

Feel free to substitute a head of kale or bunch of dandelion greens for the escarole. All are in season and available from your local farmer.

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 pinch red pepper flakes

1 bunch escarole, rinsed, blotted dry and chopped into bite-sized pieces

2 cups cooked white beans (or 1-15 ounce can, rinsed), such as cannelini or navy beans

2 tablespoons fresh basil, torn or 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped

1 lemon, zested and juiced

Sea salt and ground pepper to taste

1 day-old whole grain baguette, sliced lengthwise, or 4 multigrain rolls, split

Additional olive oil for brushing

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add minced garlic and red pepper flakes and stir for a minute or two, until the garlic softens and turns golden and the red pepper flakes sizzle. Add chopped escarole or other greens by the handful, working in gently with a large spoon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens just wilt but retain their bright color, about 5 minutes. Add white beans, basil or rosemary and lemon juice and zest. Cover and reduce heat to low, cooking for another 10 to 15 minutes, until flavors are blended and greens and beans are heated through. Meanwhile, lightly toast or grill the sliced baguette or rolls. Lightly brush the cut side with olive oil. Remove the lid from the escarole and white beans. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Heap generously atop toasted baguette or rolls.

Yield: 4 servings

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