Writes Lauren Ní Fhloinn
As the beginning of the 2020/21 academic year draws near, students across UCC are undoubtedly filled with fresh resolve and good intentions for the semester ahead. “This year I promise I won’t tearfully scramble to submit my assignments at 23:59, or drink so much Peach Schnapps that I start performing my karaoke rendition of I Will Always Love You at prinks!” Another possible resolution for those on the road to self-improvement is the challenge to commit to Meatless Mondays for the semester. Reducing your consumption of animal-derived products is one of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint. While systematic change at the highest level is needed to truly tackle climate change, every individual also has a part to play. With growing obesity figures, and studies showing that Irish people don’t eat enough fibre, eating a colourful array of fruits, vegetables, beans and pulses can help to improve your health at the same time. And Meatless Mondays is the perfect place to start!
The Meatless Mondays Campaign started in the United States in 2003 as a public health initiative encouraging people to make a healthier choice for themselves and for the planet, one day per week. It has since spread across the globe, being introduced in UCC’s Main Rest a number of years ago to great furore. Many felt attacked, that their personal liberties were under siege and that their chicken roll lunches were in grave danger. That was not the goal. The goal of Meatless Mondays was simply to raise awareness about the positive impact that a plant-based diet can have on the environment, and to encourage people to include more plants in their eating regime. It was by no means an effort to shame meat eaters, or to eradicate meat from UCC campus. So why did people react so negatively?
There is a stereotype that vegans, and to a lesser degree, vegetarians, feel superior and look down their noses at anyone who has ever chomped chorizo or munched a meatball. But Meatless Mondays was not an attempt to preach, scold, or wag the finger. It was just a gentle reminder that making a slight change in your diet, even for one day per week, can have a positive impact on the environment and your health.
Vegan and vegetarian food doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, even the most enthusiastic carnivores probably already have some vegetarian recipes in their arsenals without realising it. Pesto pasta, saviour of students everywhere, is a wonderfully simple meal to prepare for Meatless Mondays (and to polish off on Tuesdays!). Here is a more colourful take on this classic budget dinner:
Pesto Pasta with Roast Vegetables
• Pasta – Penne, fusilli, linguine – the choice is yours!
• Pesto – Red or green, whatever floats your boat. I recommend buying fresh pesto, which can be found in the refrigerated aisle in the supermarket and is often produced in Ireland. It will be a little more expensive than the pesto in a jar on the shelf, and will have a best before date, but the payoff in taste is worth it. Vegan pesto (minus the parmesan) is also widely available.
• Vegetables – You can use anything you have in your cupboard, but some favourites of mine for this dish include tomatoes, carrots, onions, peppers, courgettes and aubergines.
• Pine nuts – Used as a garnish, these add a lovely crunch and subtle nutty taste to the dish. They can be expensive, so feel free to leave them out or to substitute another nut of your choice.
• Spinach – Another optional garnish and good source of iron, roughly chopped spinach leaves stirred into the warm pasta will gently wilt and add a rich, peppery taste.
• Pick two or three types of vegetable, or more if you’re feeling ambitious. Slice or cube your vegetables to your desired size (the smaller you cut them the quicker they’ll cook).
• Toss the vegetables in some cooking oil, season with some salt and pepper and roast in an oven at 180°C. Bear in mind that some vegetables, such as carrots for example, can take longer to cook than others. Shake them every 10 minutes or so to ensure they’re cooked evenly. Generally, the vegetables should be cooked within 20 to 30 minutes.
• Cook your pasta, referring to the cooking guide on the side of the packet.
• Strain the pasta and add as much pesto to it as you want. Mix well.
• Add the vegetables and sprinkle in some pine nuts/stir in some spinach (both optional) and enjoy!