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Less Meat, More Plants

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KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.
RYAN NELSON: I think chefs have a position where they can lead and lead every day. And why not eat a little better.
KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show we talk about sustainable eating strategies for a warming planet, from reducing the amount of beef and a burger to increasingly amount of plants in our diet, even some tips on growing plants at home and finding edible plants in the wild. All that plus stories from Harvest Public Media, and more, just ahead on Earth Eats. 

Thanks for listening to Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young. Renee Reed is here with food and farming reports from Harvest Public Media. Hi, Renee.
RENEE REED: Hi Kayte. Rural communities will receive millions in broadband funding from the US Department of Agriculture. But as Harvest Public Media's Seth Bodine reports providers might have to overcome some obstacles first. 
SETH BODINE: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $167 million in grants and loans will go to 12 states including Oklahoma and Missouri to expand broadband. But providers are having trouble getting the supplies they need. Shirley Bloomfield is the CEO of the National Rural Broadband Association. She says providers are waiting more than a year for fiber technology and have to stockpile. 

SHIRLEY BLOOMFIELD: They're trying to find ways to create scope and scale because the other thing to their credit that the large fiber manufacturers will share, is that they will give AT&T preference over small providers in these rural markets because they're smaller. 

SETH BODINE: Bloomfield says providers are having trouble getting up to 40% of their equipment like routers. She encouraged Vilsack to change the timeline of the grant program so providers can get the supplies they need. Seth Bodine, Harvest Public Media. 

RENEE REED: People who work outside including farm workers could lose out on income as climate change ramps up the number of excessive heat days across the country. A new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that billions of income dollars are in jeopardy for Midwesterners who work outside. Rachel Licker is a senior climate scientist who helped put together the report. She says people of color are at disproportionate risk. 

RACHEL LICKER: We found that black African American, Hispanic and Latino people hold more than 40% of outdoor jobs, despite comprising less than 1/3 of the overall population the United States, which suggests that these workers will disproportionately bear the brunt of these changes.
RENEE REED: She recommends the government imposed heat safety standards to protect workers, specifically farm workers who are among the most vulnerable to heat related illness and death. Thanks to Harvest Public Media's Seth Bodine and Dana Cronin for those reports. For Earth Eats, I'm Renee Reed. 

(Food and farming news reports theme) 

KAYTE YOUNG: The Piedmont Picnic Project wants you to know your roots, both literally and figuratively. On their wild food excursions the group teaches both regional history and local food skills. And sometimes the reward for all that learning is a truly wild pizza party. 

(Funky music)
JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Finding fresh local foods in late winter and early spring can be challenging, but a closer look at our backyards and walking paths reveals edible wild weeds everywhere. They can be pickled, added to smoothies, pesto and tea and used as toppings for pizza, pasta and salads. 

ELIZABETH WEICHEL: All of these spring greens are a little nutritional powerhouses right now because they're storing up so many nutrients right before they go to flower. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: It's two days after a rare February snowfall in Raleigh, North Carolina and I'm standing with about 20 other people at Well Fed Community Garden.
ELIZABETH WEICHEL: We are going to learn about some of the edible plants that grow all around us here in this mostly urban environment we live in and we're going to combine it with a little cultural, and social, and geographic, and natural history, and just kind of get really get closer to our food, get a deeper connection to where our food comes from and where we eat.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Elizabeth Weichel is a public historian and along with self described homesteader light Amanda Matson, she runs Piedmont Picnic Project. Their classes cover things like mixology, gardening, and fermentation and are grounded in local history. As we walk, Elizabeth will share how major snowfalls impacted the state capital as it developed into an agricultural powerhouse, while Amanda will show us how to identify edible plants. We start off with safety and etiquette. The first rule is Know Thy Plant, a skill one can develop with plant ID books, guides like Amanda or Elizabeth, or even phone apps or YouTube videos. 

AMANDA MATSON: Don't eat anything that you're unsure of what it is, make sure that you've positively identified any plant before you eat it. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Amanda recommends getting permission from home and property owners to pick plants and to be mindful of how one forages them. 

AMANDA MATSON: We never want to over harvest plants for a particular area. And there are some plants that are actually at risk or endangered because people have over harvested them. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: So we take off across a busy intersection walking past a local high school and stopping to examine the grass by the parking lot. Amanda says common environmental hazards can include poison ivy, fire ants, pollutants near industrial zones and railroad tracks that are heavily sprayed with herbicides. 

AMANDA MATSON: On the other hand if the grass is a polyculture, like we're seeing along here, right, there are a lot of different weeds growing, then it's probably a pretty good sign that they're not spraying or at least haven't sprayed anytime recently. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: So we spy or first plant - doc. This variety has fat leaves that curl like fried bacon. 

AMANDA MATSON: So there are several parts of doc that are edible, the leafy greens are one thing that you could eat. The best tasting ones are going to be the youngest leaves, and so those are the ones that are going to be the lightest, brightest green growing in the center of the plant. When you cook doc, it tastes kind of like a slightly lemony spinach I would say. If you pull some of the outer, more mature leaves, some of them will get you know this long, this wide. So you can even make something similar to a grape leaf wrap. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: We pick a few tall tubes of field garlic, also known as onion grass. 

AMANDA MATSON: It's hollow inside. And then the other big thing is that smell. You get that very strong onion or garlicly smell in your face. And they're one of our favorite pesto ingredients because you get this really kind of green, garlicky taste or smell. 

They make really good pickles. So you could pickle  the whole ball but like to leave a little bit of stem on them. And they're really cute and like a little wild Martini, if you're into that kind of thing. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: As we head into the mouth of the Greenway, we see a little clump of edible weeds, including Cory bittercress.
AMANDA MATSON: This is one of my absolute favorite wild greens. And it tastes to me almost exactly like arugula. So I'm gonna pass it around and if you feel comfortable, go ahead and take off a leaf and taste it. It's within the mustard family. So that's how you get that kind of peppery, spicy arugula taste from it. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: One of the easiest plants to identify as dandelion. 

AMANDA MATSON: My grandmother used to talk about how this time of year right as spring was breaking, they would go into the fields and gather dandelion greens, bring them home and kind of similar to collards, you cook them with some sort of pork fat and some vinegar to try to cut that kind of bitter taste to it and that was...

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: By the end of the half mile walk. We've also found chickweed, wild geranium, purple deadnettle and henbit. 

ELIZABETH WEICHEL: Is anybody going free? 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: We head back to Well Fed Garden where we prepare pizzas with some special ingredients from Piedmont Picnic Project, wild greens, pesto, hen of the woods, mushrooms, pickled pine tips, and muscadine marinara sauce. Tammy one of the Well Fed farmers entertains us as we put our bespoke pizzas into the outdoor wood fired oven. 

TAMMY: When we first moved in it was Thanksgiving, and we were told to cook a turkey in there. It takes four hours to eat but once it's heated up, it'll be like two days that it stays this warm. So we took the turkey put it in there, the 18 pound turkey was done in one hour. One hour!

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: As a final activity we try our hand at foraging pizza toppings from the weeds in the garden beds. 

PROJECT PARTICIPANT: This is a garlic. What did she call it? Wild garlic? She called it wild onion. 


AMANDA MATSON: It's called field garlic actually, but also known as...

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Amanda and Elizabeth want Piedmont picnic project to live up to its motto of knowing your roots and using them. 

AMANDA MATSON: And so we do that in a number of ways that try to build more food skills with people so they can have kind of more independence from that industrial food system. Connect them more with their local food system, especially things that they can make, grow or forage themselves. 

KAYTE YOUNG: That story comes to us from producer Josephine McRobbie. See photos and more at 

(Guitar chords)

I'm Kayte Young, this is Earth Eats. Still ahead a story on women and farming and strategies for sustainable eating. Stay with us. 


Denise O'Brian and Kate Edwards identities revolve around the American Farm. They've both experienced the difficulties of farm life and draw inspiration from each other. Producer Cole Stinson brings us this piece from an interview provided by StoryCorps. 

ANNOUNCER: All of the food we eat and much of the clothing we wear come from plants and animals that are raised on farms. 

ANNOUNCER: The small working farmer earns his living on the land. He works the soil to feed and clothe this country. 

FARMER: I get a kick out of everything that goes out of the ground. 

PREACHER: And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, "I need a caretaker." So God made a farmer. 

ANNOUNCER: Beautiful hilltop farm. Mr. Clark raises only purebred hogs. 

KATE EDWARDS: My first memory of you was when I was in college, at Iowa State University probably over a decade ago now. And you are running for Secretary of Ag of Iowa. And I was a young woman who was just enamored with it, there was a woman farmer that could run for office. 

You were wearing a brown suit, and it was hot. And I remember thinking that that would be hard to be going around and meeting people. And I remember shaking your hand and just being so amazed that that someone could be running for office, and be a farmer, and be a woman. I think at that moment, I was like, "I want to be Secretary of Ag someday!" 

My name is Kate Edwards, and I'm getting to talk to Denise my friend. 

DENISE O’BRIEN: I didn't grow up in a farm. So when I met Larry and he said he wanted to be an organic farmer. I'd been living out of the state and I came back for a family wedding and met Larry at the local bar. And he told me he was going to be an organic farmer. 

I learned to farm from him, I learned to drive a tractor, I learned to fix equipment, I learned about the language of farming, which really set me up for my life for the rest of the rest of my career, because it is a special language. 

KATE EDWARDS: Yeah, it's a whole vocabulary. 

DENISE O’BRIEN: Yeah, the two years that I sort of went through this apprenticeship then prepared me for what happened in the 80s, which was an unknown, we didn't know that there was going to be a farm crisis. 

ANNOUNCER: The farm crisis was the result of a confluence of many things, failed policy, mountains of debt, land and commodity price booms and busts, and add two droughts - one in 1983 and the other in 1988. Farmers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, were crushed. 

DENISE O’BRIEN: The two of us made a decision together one afternoon, that we needed to do something because people were losing their farms. So we came to a mutual agreement that he would stay home, and raise the kids, and milk the cows. And I would do that when I was home, but I would also be on the road doing things. And so some of my first meetings were with our daughter who was six months old. And I'd be sitting at the back of the room nursing her while we were doing meetings and learning again, the language of what the farm crisis was about. 

KATE EDWARDS: I was born in '86, which is the year the farm crisis ended. Both my parents grew up on farms and they didn't return to the farm because of the 80s. I grew up thinking oh my gosh, I wish I'd grown up on a farm. And I remember from a very young age, knowing that my grandparents almost lost their farm and they didn't. And there's a lot of people that did. And then I remember hearing about the suicides and murders and even though I wasn't around for it, I feel like I was because I know the stories. 

I know it affected the way our family looks at things, the way we look at money, the way we look at land, the way we look at work. So I grew up thinking I want to do something for farming. But because of the kind of patriarchal nature of the agricultural influence, I didn't necessarily think I could be a farmer. But I knew that I wanted to advocate on behalf of farmers. And so I remember, I was eight years old sitting at our kitchen table, the same kitchen table that was my great grandfather's kitchen table that had the notch in the edge where the tobacco had been cut on the one side. And sitting there thinking, I want to do something to change agriculture. 

DENISE O’BRIEN: What set me up for the rest of my life as a woman farmer and an organizer and a founder of a women's organization, was that I found out that women didn't identify themselves as farmers.

KATE EDWARDS: Yeah I know, my grandma's still to this day, she calls herself a farm wife, and she milked the cows, she raised hogs on her own, she did all these things but doesn't count herself as a farmer. And that's so even today that's so prevalent in Iowa, the women doing the work of the farm, calling themselves farm wives. 

DENISE O’BRIEN: Right, and so people as you said, about I stood up at this crowd and said I was a farmer. And I got used to that. I felt after the two years of apprenticeship with my husband that I could call myself a farmer. 

KATE EDWARDS: Did that shock people? 

DENISE O’BRIEN: Yes. Well, that's it...

KATE EDWARDS: Cause I still get shocked when people I tell them, I'm a farmer. Yeah. And they still are like...

DENISE O’BRIEN: Yeah, it's a long ways to go yet to change that image of a male farmer. 

On the other end of the spectrum, young women would come up to me, and similar to your experience when I address a college audience or whatever, and they'd say, "Wow, you call yourself a farmer." And so yeah, that really...

KATE EDWARDS: I really think you doing that and other women doing that really paved the way for women like me to just be able to do that. 

DENISE O’BRIEN: Be comfortable? 

KATE EDWARDS: Yeah, be comfortable with that.

DENISE O’BRIEN: Well, Kate, I think it's interesting that you're still experiencing that, that we haven't...

KATE EDWARDS: You know, I get called a gardener all the time. 

DENISE O’BRIEN: Gardener, yes!

KATE EDWARDS: And I tell people that my one acre of vegetables is 400 times the size of a garden. And I have right now, next year, I have nine acres of vegetables. So that's almost 4000 times the size of a garden. I'm not a gardener, I'm a farmer. 

DENISE O’BRIEN: You are a farmer. We really didn't have role models. Larry and I didn't with our farm with organic farming. Nor did I as a woman farmer, we had to create that. And I think that's been very strong with me is having to be this role model for women to know that they can do this sort of work. 

KATE EDWARDS: Being a woman farmers has its challenges in of itself, learning to farm itself as a challenge, and learning to know what one's voices and the larger conversation that's happening about agriculture is also a challenge. And so I feel so privileged as a young woman in farming to have kind of this the symphony of mentors around me. 

KAYTE YOUNG: This interview is provided by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanities stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world, 

This recording is part of research led by the Indiana University Ostrom workshop. Their study involves farm transitions from one generation to the next, in particular transitions between people who are not in the same family. 

This story was produced in a course at the IU media school taught by Allison Quants. Find more at 

(Mysterious Music)

KAYTE YOUNG: The recent climate report released from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, is alarming to say the least. It appears that we're looking at 30 years of a warming planet, even if humans were to stop carbon emissions completely and globally today. Here at Earth Eats we're concerned with the role of food production and consumption in global warming. It's well known that large scale meat production contributes to climate change in a number of ways, and vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise. Unfortunately, so is meat consumption, and I feel certain that people won't stop eating meat anytime soon, no matter how dire the warnings become. So I think it's useful to look at ways that meat can be produced more sustainably, and find ways to encourage a reduction in meat consumption. 

A few years ago, we had a show that looked at one of the ideas for reducing meat consumption in the US. It's called the Blended Burger Project. And its sponsors were the James Beard Foundation and the Mushroom Council. The idea behind the Blended Burger Project is to encourage chefs and others in the food world to make burgers using a blend of meat and mushrooms for a healthier, more sustainable burger, that doesn't sacrifice on flavor. I spoke with two of the chefs in Indianapolis who participated in the project. Let's hear about it from them. 

RYAN NELSON: It's a burger and it's our secret bar burger. When we first opened seven years ago, we had a burger on the menu, but we were selling them like hand over fist and I'm like, "I don't want to be the burger place." Check average wise and just the the style of the restaurant. So we made it a secret item in the bar only. And so the regulars know about it, it's not on the menu, and we sell a half dozen or so a night. I think that's always the best sort of way with restaurants is word of mouth, and people I think enjoy telling someone about a secret that they have or telling someone about a place that they know or a place where they're regular. And that's always I think the best kind of marketing there is. 

We bake the bun in house, it comes with caramelized onions and aged white cheddar, a little bit of lettuce. And it's a hit. It's a two patty burger, four ounces each and we serve it with our our fries, which are tossed in a bone marrow butter, and jalapenos. So it's pretty popular. 

Ryan Nelson, I'm the chef owner of Late Harvest kitchen. We opened Late Harvest Kitchen in November of 2011. And pretty much all of the the beef, and lamb, and pork, and rabbit, and chicken, and duck is all sourced from Indiana farms. We do our best with produce when we can and weather allows. I guess you would label us as farm to table. We have a gorgeous patio, wonderful herb garden on the patio, we have all of our own herbs. It's my wife and I's dream come true, this restaurant. 

We're participating in the Blended Burger Project. We've done that the last couple of years. It's an initiative through the Mushroom Council and the James Beard Organization. And it's essentially just kind of calling attention to a few things - A that mushrooms are nutritious and good for you, B that it takes less resources to produce a burger like this than it does one that's all beef. To produce one pound of ground beef in this country it takes 1,800 gallons of water. And I think a lot of people don't consider that, I mean, that's a ton of water for like one pound of one pound of beef. So we've got about, I would say the mushrooms represent maybe about 30% of a reduction of beef. And then lastly or C, what's most important, it's delicious. Mushrooms and beef go great together. 

I think chefs have a position where they can lead and we we eat every day. And why not eat a little better, both in a manner that's healthy or in a manner that's better for the environment and reducing our amount of beef that we're eating is probably a good thing. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Chef Nelson is going to show us how he makes his secret bar burger. 

RYAN NELSON: Here's our two patties. We've got some shitake mushrooms, cremini mushrooms, some Portobello mushrooms. We just sauté it with a little bit of shallot and garlic, some herbs, a little butter. 

KAYTE YOUNG: And they didn't look like they were finely chopped. 

RYAN NELSON: No it's pretty rustic. Yeah, pretty simple salt and pepper. A little bit of oil to get started. 

(Sound of pan sizzling)

I'm gonna toast our bun and heat up our onions as well. 

KAYTE YOUNG: I love that your bun is made in house too, that's nice. 

RYAN NELSON: Yeah, Anna and Meredith make sometimes it's up to nine different types of bread in a day. So fresh bread. Yeah. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Nothing ruins a good burger than a crappy bun. 

RYAN NELSON: I agree, and also like I would say that the the the meat to bun ratio is probably one of the most important things of a burger. You can't have like too much meat, you can't have too much bun. So the double patty works well with our with our large bun. Those mushrooms sear up great too. It's the same same preparation, just added mushrooms, less beef. Let's take this to the oven for a couple minutes. 

(Sound of cooking in the oven)

And we've had a great response, obviously it's a burger that's enjoyed by regulars and it's been 100% positive.

KAYTE YOUNG: No pushback at all?

RYAN NELSON: None. I honestly, I'm not sure people would even notice if we didn't say anything. 

Why is this a little bit better today? Yeah, our kitchen is pretty small. When we're all in here at night, we can like reach out and like, everybody can touch each other. 

KAYTE YOUNG: It's more efficient. 

RYAN NELSON: It is, everything has its place. If something's not in this place, you notice it. I'm gonna grab it, it's pretty close. 

(Sound of oven opening)

KAYTE YOUNG: Okay, and then a bit of caramelized onions

RYAN NELSON: Got those onions for some sweetness and depth of flavor. Lettuce. Our remoulade sauce, just kind of our secret sauce, if you will, just kind of brings it all together. We top it. And because it's such a large burger, knife in the middle, that way stays upright when it goes to the table. 



KAYTE YOUNG: Beautiful

RYAN NELSON: I think that's that's a real American thing too, is like sometimes you just want a burger. You know? Like we're like quote unquote, like fancy or or fine dining restaurant but a burger. Everybody likes a burger. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Especially at the bar, makes sense. 

RYAN NELSON: Casual fun, 100%. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Oh, yeah. I love that. I'm tasting the mushroom. 

RYAN NELSON: The mushrooms have that that fifth flavor, the umami. And that works so awesome with beef. The flavors just play off each other, plays off the fat, plays off the salty. There's a reason why we love burgers because in a way, they're kind of a perfect like mix of flavors. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah, it only adds, you don't miss anything. 

RYAN NELSON: 100%, yeah, it's enhancing the burger for sure. 

KAYTE YOUNG: That's what I like about it, I really hate fake meat and the whole trying to replace something or make it seemed like it's something it's not. And with this, it just feels like you're just making it better. 

RYAN NELSON: I agree. Yeah. And we could probably add even more mushrooms to it, to be honest. Yeah. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Oh, it's really nice. Thank you. Thanks for letting me dry it. 

RYAN NELSON: My pleasure. 

KAYTE YOUNG: That was Chef Ryan Nelson of Late Harvest Restaurant in Indianapolis. After a quick break we'll speak with Abbi Merriss, another chef up in Indianapolis about her blended burger, so stay with us. 

(Mysterious Music)

(Rock music)

ABBI MERRISS: My name is Abbi Merriss. I am chef and co owner of Bluebeard Indianapolis. We do a lot of sustainable foods here, we do a lot of local produce, try to source as many different proteins and vegetables as locally as possible.

KAYTE YOUNG: Bluebeard opened in 2012 in the heart of the Fountain Square district in Indianapolis. Amelia is their bakery is connected to the restaurant but also has its own storefront next door. Chef Abbi Merriss participated in the Blended Burger Project in 2018. And just as a reminder, the Blended Burger is a mix of beef and mushroom. 

ABBI MERRISS: I'm very happy to be included in it. I think It actually makes a better burger than just a regular ground beef patty, especially if you cook the mushrooms in a proper manner, and blend them up properly. And then you can build different ratios, it can be whatever you want. But yeah, I definitely think that the 25/75 blended is pretty stellar. But I also like the hard roast of the shiitakes. So I do have to go through a good amount of mushrooms to get that. 

KAYTE YOUNG: So could you describe your burger, the way that you're making it? 

ABBI MERRISS: So we're doing like I just said, 75/25 beef to mushroom ratio. The ground beef is from Fisher Farms, which is located in Jasper, Indiana. And we get roughly, if we're not grinding our own meat from them, we are just sourcing their ground beef that they already have on hand. I do roast the shiitake off. And then I pulverize them on the mixer with a robo coup until they're pretty finely ground. And then I massage that into the ground beef patty and I add a little bit of onion and garlic powders, some black pepper and salt. And then patty them out and then I'm pan frying them. So it gets really nice crust developing on the outside of the burger. And then I put caramelized onions on top of that, and then some cheddar cheese, melt that down. And then the bun has like a herb butter added onto both sides of them. And then it's just a Bluebeard, quote unquote special sauce. 

KAYTE YOUNG: And is your does your bun come from the bakery? 

ABBI MERRISS: Yeah. So Emily, as they're doing a brioche roll that has sesame seeds. So they do make it specially for us every day. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Do you normally have burgers on your menu? 

ABBI MERRISS: Yeah, I mean, at lunchtime, we typically have burgers and then Sunday, we call it Sunday Funday is the menu. So we'll put like meatloaf sandwiches or burgers or tacos on. But yeah, there's always a burger on the menu somewhere. And currently, it is on the menu for lunchtime only because it's been too successful. So they run out of the buns and the burger patties by the time dinner service starts so. 

KAYTE YOUNG: How do you think that this Blended Burger Project, especially if it became more widespread, could impact our food system in a positive way?

ABBI MERRISS: It's hard to say. Hopefully it does work and hopefully it does pick up. I don't know why people aren't doing it more often with even out the title of the Blended Burger Project. I would love to even just make an all mushroom patty sometime. I mean, I'm not a vegetarian by any means. If you knew me, I probably eat a cheeseburger once a day. I just had one of the burgers this morning for breakfast so, I'm very passionate with my burgers. But and it's a fun challenge for sure. 

I did recently try one of those Impossible Burgers and it just kind of strange, like with the soy protein but I mean, they're doing a good thing, obviously. And it is an interesting burger. 

KAYTE YOUNG: What my response to the impossible burger is like, psychologically, I'm not sure I'm gonna like it. 

ABBI MERRISS: Like I didn't know soy was supposed to bleed. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Well, thank you so much for meeting with me. I really appreciate it. 

ABBI MERRISS: Yeah, it's been lovely meet you.

Bluebeard is located in the Fountain Square district in Indianapolis. Their hours and menu may have changed since this segment first aired back in 2018, but they're still doing farm to table dining. And we have a link to their website at 

One question that occurred to me during this story is what about the mushrooms? We first aired this story back when Alex Chambers worked on our show and he did some research. It takes about 1.8 gallons of water to grow a pound of mushrooms. That's a 10th of a percent of what it takes for beef. And a pound of mushrooms only generates 0.7 pounds of greenhouse gases. For beef it's over 6000 pounds of gases. It takes a lot less land to produce mushrooms, and they can create their own nutrients from food waste. So the answer is yes, mushrooms are more sustainable than beef, a lot more sustainable. 

The Blended Burger Project continues today, though for the past two years. The mushroom Council has partnered with Bon Appetit and the Food Network for the Blended Burger Contest: Home Edition. In this version home cooks compete for cash prizes with their blended burger recipes. Find out more at 


(Accordion music)

At the first of this year I ran a story from 2018 about a plant eating challenge from healthy IU. I was thinking of it as an inspiration for those of us who make plans to get healthy at the start of a new year. I found out this week that Indiana University is bringing back their plant eating challenge this fall. And I couldn't resist airing this piece again, especially as we're talking about ways to reduce the amount of meat in our diets with the blended mushroom burger. The stories seem to pair well. 

COSMO YOUNG: Asparagus, bell pepper, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, green onion, and lettuce, mushroom, mapo cabbage, hazelnut, peanut, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds.

STEVEN LALEVICH: I'm Steven Lalevich I'm a registered dietician for the IU Health Center, and Healthy IU which is the university workplace wellness program. The Healthy IU serves all the IU campuses throughout the state and we provide a variety of programs and services all of which are free of charge to IU employees. 

Our most popular program is our health screening program where you get your height, weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol and glucose measured. We also offer one on one nutrition counseling. One of our best way to engage employees is through various challenges that we do. We've done sleep challenge, weight loss challenge, stair climbing challenge, and our most recent one that we just completed was a nutrition challenge called Back to Our Roots. 

The Back to Our Roots plant eating challenge was a three-week challenge and it encouraged employees to increase the variety of different plants that they consumed. So this would include vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds, beans, herbs and spices. Each week participants tracked how many different plant foods they ate and they set a goal each week and tried to achieve their goal.

COSMO YOUNG: Garlic, clove, nutmeg, oregano, pepper.

KAYTE YOUNG: I took the plant eating challenge and I kept a radio diary with my 12-year old's son Cosmo.

COSMO YOUNG: Hi my name is Cosmo Pearson Young, and I got to Temple Elementary.

KAYTE YOUNG: It has an online interface, a checklist of different plant foods.

COSMO YOUNG: Put in the plants that you've eaten today and then click "save" and continue.

STEVEN LALEVICH: The first version of the challenge that I created was just a bunch of blank spaces and I think that would not have gone as well as it did in its current format, where instead of just a bunch of blank spaces, it became more of a checklist and you click on things as you would eat them, and it's counting those as you clicked.

COSMO YOUNG: Click "save" and continue.

STEVEN LALEVICH: So yeah it was more interactive that way. It also helped to prompt you to see those things that were maybe opportunities to eat. So then you could then click on them after you ate them.

COSMO YOUNG: Click "save" and continue.


KAYTE YOUNG: Cardamom, cloves, nutmeg

COSMO YOUNG: Apple, banana [continues to list foods]

KAYTE YOUNG: I asked Steven about the thinking behind the challenge. Why is it a good idea to have a variety of plant foods in your diet?

STEVEN LALEVICH: One of the first times that I really considered doing a challenge like this was when I was preparing a presentation for employees about the gut microbiome and the benefits of the bacteria that we have in our digestive track. And one of the ways to promote a healthier digestive track and to promote a greater diversity of bacterial species, is to make sure that you're eating a diversity of different plant species. And also there are many different nutrients and phytonutrients found in different plants and it's not something that you can get from just one or two plants. And so by making sure that you're including a variety, through that variety there can be a lot of different health benefits.

KAYTE YOUNG [TO STEVEN]: That's really interesting to think about improving gut health through a variety of plants, because what you mostly hear these days is eating probiotics, eating fermented foods, and hearing that all these different kinds of plants carry these different kinds of microorganisms that improve health.

STEVEN LALEVICH: I guess it helps to distinguish between probiotics and prebiotics. So the probiotics would be those fermented foods or supplements that contain the actual live bacteria, whereas prebiotics are the food that the bacteria eat. And in the form of plant foods this would be primarily be fiber so there are different types of fiber found in different plants. And each different type of fiber feeds a different type of bacterial species so to promote that diversity it helps to make sure that you're eating different plants.

KAYTE YOUNG: So could you just tell us what phytonutrients are, what's the difference between a nutrient and a phytonutrient?

STEVEN LALEVICH: So generally when we think of nutrients we think of things like vitamins and minerals and fats, proteins, carbohydrates. Phytonutrients are other compounds that we find in plants, so "phyto" meaning plant, plant nutrients. And they're different types of phytonutrients, I think there are thousands of different types and these compounds have a lot of different health benefits associated with them, in particular many of them help to reduce inflammation in the body. A lot of chronic diseases have an inflammatory component so by eating more plants, by eating more of those different colors we can help to keep inflammation in check and maybe prevent a lot of those chronic diseases.

KAYTE YOUNG [NARRATING]: I filled out the tracker with my son and on the first day I said I had some chutney, and there was some peach in the chutney, but it wasn't a full serving of peach. I asked Cosmo what he thought about that.

COSMO YOUNG: I think you just have to eat the fruit raw because it's kind of like if you eat tortilla chips then you count it as corn. That's kind of what it's like but I don't think you should be able to do that.

KAYTE YOUNG [TO STEVEN]: So he was kind of surprised by that, he didn't think that any junk food should count.

STEVEN LALEVICH: Yeah we intentionally left the rules of the challenge more open ended so that people could interpret how they wanted to categorize things on a more personal level cause we're all coming from a different place in our lives. Some of us may want to focus more on strictly whole plant foods whereas others may be making a step in the right direction including some more of those processed plant foods that still might have some health benefits.


KAYTE YOUNG: And as the weeks of the challenge went on I found myself searching for new ways to add additional plants to the list. I was seeking out that variety instead of just sticking to my old favorites. And though I was the only one taking the challenge the whole family was in on it. Carl came home with a pineapple one day and he made a dish with pharaoh with the intention of adding a new grain for the week.

COSMO YOUNG: Garbanzo beans, kidney beans, lentils, peas, pinto beans, chamomile, cinnamon, clove, ginger,

KAYTE YOUNG: The whole time it felt like a game. I was competing with myself somehow and it never felt restrictive.

STEVEN LALEVICH: What we wanted through the challenge was for people to have a mindset of more rather than less. Often times when we think of eating or healthy eating we think it means restricting, but in the case of these plant foods they provide a lot of health benefits and by increasing the amount and eating more of them we can reap a lot of those benefits.

COSMO YOUNG: Tomato, coconut, peach...

KAYTE YOUNG: If you want to take a look at the Back to Our Roots plant eating challenge, you can go to the healthy IU website and we'll have a link for that on our website - Earth Eats dot org.

COSMO YOUNG: Great job you met your goal for week three. Your goal was 65 plants, you ate 69 plants. Congratulations.

KAYTE YOUNG [TO COSMO]: Thanks for your help.

COSMO YOUNG: No problem. Cranberry, pineapple, plantain, strawberry, pharaoh, oats, almond, and tangerine.


One of the ways that I push myself to eat more plants is by growing food at home, in my yard. When the green beans come on, or the cucumbers, or the tomatoes, or the blackberries, sometimes all at the same time, I find ways to work them into meals out of necessity. One food I have never had an abundance of in my garden is eggplant. A few years ago I consulted Candace Minster, at the White Violet Center for Ecojustice in Terra Haute. I knew she had great success with growing eggplant and I wanted to hear some of her secrets. 

Oh I remember coming out here a couple of years ago and you had the most beautiful eggplant I'd ever seen. 

CANDACE MINSTER: Oh thank you! Eggplant are near and dear to my heart, and they're a misunderstood vegetable I feel. Unfortunately I feel most people have encountered one too many soggy, oily, horrible eggplant parmesan dishes, and they therefore are not interested. But if you know how to treat the eggplant with respect, you know how to cook it, it doesn't take too much, just a couple extra steps, it can be just so delicious. 

KAYTE YOUNG: You don't have to convince me I'm a huge fan of eggplant. But I have not had success growing them, what is your secret? What do you think makes an eggplant happy? 

CANDACE MINSTER: So they like to have consistent water. Most of our vegetable crops are on drip irrigation, and I make sure that they get a nice through soaking at least once a week, but they usually will get a two waterings. And the heat is really helpful for them as well. I will grow them on plastic. A lot of the organic mulches, I love the organic mulches, and we use them all throughout the field, but they will keep the soil temperature cooler for the crops like the eggplant like the heat, they perform a little better with the warmth that the plastic can provide to them. 

And they need to have room so they can grow fairly close to each other, but you just have to be sure that they're not getting a lot of weed pressure, because they don't handle the weed pressure real well. So if they don't get a good amount of light and air moving through, then they can become stunted. The other thing that I do is I prune off the first fruit that form, because they tend to not be as big or as healthy as if the plant gets a little more time to get established, has a little more resources before they put out. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Are they heavy feeders, do they like a lot of fertilizer? 

CANDACE MINSTER: They do, yeah. They do. We treat all the fields with our compost each season. There's a variety of different cover crops that we will grow throughout the spring. And then we will also fertilize with, with use fish emulsion and some more general ones. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Okay so they like heat. So do you wait to plant them out until you're really sure it's gonna be nice warm for them? 

CANDACE MINSTER: Yes, what's tricky is that flea beetles really like them. 

KAYTE YOUNG: That's the other thing that I was gonna say, is how do you prevent the flea beetles? That's what seems to destroy most of the crops that I see. 

CANDACE MINSTER: Yes, what I like to be able to do is to have a good aged plant going into the field. If the little guy, little plant, is old enough and mature enough when the flea beetles emerge, they will generally get through it okay. 

KAYTE YOUNG: So don't be alarmed if the leaves get pocked from the flea beetle, as long as the plant is nice and sturdy and healthy. 

CANDACE MINSTER: Yes, yes. Typically 8-10 weeks is the age that you would want them to go into the field from the greenhouse, however I'd say the ones that we plant here tend to be more like 15 weeks along. So they're quite a bit older. 

KAYTE YOUNG: That was Candace Minster at the White Violet Center for Ecojustice at Saint Mary of the Woods at Terre Haute Indiana. She was sharing tips on growing eggplant, and that interview took place in 2018. We have several fabulous eggplant recipes on our website, including one for eggplant parmesan which is the exact opposite of soggy and boring. It will surprise you. Check it out at 


(Earth Eats Theme)

That's it for our show this week, thanks for listening, we'll see you next time. 

RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eobon Binder, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Abraham Hill, Payton Knobeloch, Josephine McRobbie, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed. 
KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Candance Minster, Ryan Nelson, Abbi Merriss, Amanda Matson, Elizabeth Weichel, and Cosmo Pearson Young.
RENEE REED: Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artist at Universal Productions Music. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.


Ryan Nelson with a burger on a plate with a knife in the top, restaurant kitchen in background

Ryan Nelson of Late Harvest Kitchen in Indianapolis puts the finishing touches on his Blended Burger. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

“I think chefs have a position where they can lead. And we eat every day, so why not eat a little better" 

This week on the show, we talk about sustainable eating strategies for a warming planet--from reducing the amount of beef in a burger to increasing the amount of plants we eat. 

And we share some tips on growing plants at home and finding edible plants in the wild, plus stories from Harvest Public Media


Today's show takes a look back at one of the ideas for reducing meat consumption in the US. It's called the Blended Burger Project, and it's sponsored by the James Beard Foundation and the Mushroom Council

The idea behind The Blended Burger Project is to encourage chefs and others in the food world to make burgers using a blend of meat and mushrooms, for a healthier, more sustainable burger that doesn't sacrifice on flavor.

I spoke with two of the chef's in Indianapolis participating in the project in 2018. Abbi Merriss, chef/co-owner of Bluebeard in Fountain Square offered her burger during lunch time only, and Ryan Nelson, chef/owner at Late Harvest Kitchen relied on word of mouth for his "secret bar burger." Both included sauteed or roasted mushrooms blended with locally-sourced beef, but each chef put a unique spin on their classic sandwich.

The Blended Burger project continues today, though for the past two years the mushroom council has partnered with Bon Appetit and the Food Network for the Blended Burger Contest--Home Edition.  In this version, home cooks compete for cash prizes with their blended burger recipes.

vegetables and fruits in bowls and a basket, overhead view, cucumbers, basil, blackberries, okra
With so many plants to choose from, there's something for everyone in the Plant Eating Challenge (Kayte Young/WFIU)

We also revisit the Back to Our Roots: Plant Eating Challenge from 2018, where we find out how many different plant foods we can squeeze into a week's worth of eating, and why we would want to do that in the first place.

Healthy IU, a wellness program for Indiana University employees, offers a Plant Eating Challenge to encourage participants to consume a greater variety of plants. We speak with the designer of the program, registered dietitian Steven Lalevich, about the choice to focus on additions to diet rather than restrictions.

Healthy IU is offering the Back to Our Roots: Plant Eating Challenge again this fall from Sept. 20 -October 11, 2021. 

At the end of the show, listen back to a visit with Candace Minster of The White Violet Center for Eco-Justice at Saint Mary of the Woods in Terre Haute. She offers us her expertise for raising your own eggplant. If you're looking for ideas for preparing eggplant, we have some here, here, and here and this is the extraordinary eggplant parmesan I mentioned in the show. 

Music on this episode

Ballad of Cable Hogue--Calexico

The Earth Eats' theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode comes to us from the artists at Universal Production Music.

Stories On This Episode

For The Love Of Farming

Denise O'Brien and Kate Edwards talk about how they met and the ways in which they inspire each other as farmers. (Photo Courtesy of StoryCorps)

Two women connect across generations, around their love of farming, and their commitment to helping farmers.

For A Truly Wild Pizza Party, Forage Your Toppings

People gathered around a woman outdoors on a snowy boardwalk with bare trees and blue skies in the background.

The Piedmont Picnic Project wants you to know your roots - both literally and figuratively. On their wild foods excursions, the group teaches both regional history and local foods skills. And sometimes the reward for all that learning is a truly wild pizza party.

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