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Natural Awakenings National

Sizzling on the Grill: Healthy, Sustainable Summer Fare

Jun 30, 2021 09:30AM ● By Laura Paisley Beck
Grilled zucchini, green pepper, cherry tomato on a skewer


For most Americans, summer smells like fresh-cut grass and barbecue sizzling in the backyard. Approximately 64 percent of U.S. adults own a grill or smoker, but common practices are bad for the environment. Fortunately, many great chefs have the problem covered with delicious alternatives to traditional, carbon-emitting methods.

The Downside of Grilling

Most charcoal and all lighter fluids contain chemicals that create air pollution when burned, harming our health and the environment. Better alternatives are sustainably sourced, organic and natural materials, such as charcoal made from bamboo or coconut shells

Entrepreneur Fred Grosse sought to solve another problem associated with conventional grilling materials: the taste of lighter fluid on barbecue foods. He invented Mojobricks, a carbon-neutral alternative to charcoal designed to impart a smoky flavor to grilled foods. “You’re breathing in 50 percent less particulate matter standing at the grill than if you grill with charcoal or wood,” he says about his bricks made with compressed sawdust from wood mills. “They heat food more efficiently, take up less storage space than bags of charcoal and keep trees growing in the forest.” 

What Gets Grilled Matters

Americans eat three times more meat than the global average. To meet the immense demand, mass-produced beef is trucked across the nation with dire environmental impacts including cow methane emissions, the burning of fossil fuels for transport and excessive land use. To curtail these impacts, Americans can choose to reduce or eliminate their beef consumption and when they do decide to grill a ribeye or New York strip, choose local, organic, grass-fed beef.

Eliminating meat is simple as vegetarian and vegan options are innumerable. “Question what a burger is, and off you go with legumes, root vegetables, mushrooms, cheese or whatever you happen to feel like,” says Martin Nordin, author of Green BurgersGenevieve Taylor’s new cookbook, Charred, features enticing meals to cook over a flame that include vegetables, spices, nuts, herbs and other inventive ingredients. 

Amy Lawrence and Justin Fox Burks, co-authors of Low-Carb Vegetarian, have had a dramatic increase in requests for grilled versions of vegetarian dishes, a sign of increasing outdoor cooking trends.

Presentation for the Planet

When hosting backyard dinner parties, consider that paper and plastic dinnerware will end up in the landfill. Ask guests to bring a plate and fork or mix and match whatever dish sets are on hand. Another suggestion is to go vintage. “There has already been so much manufactured of everything, we wouldn’t need to manufacture another plate, for example, for another generation or two,” says Morgan Miller, owner of Rewind Decor vintage store in Madison, Wisconsin.

With a few adjustments, eco-grilling is easy, delicious and much better for the planet. Marinate locally sourced ingredients, burn as carbon-neutral a fire as possible and serve up delicious food on real plates that friends and family will help wash. Guests will be inspired and follow suit in their own homes. As Grosse says, “Each small difference adds up to big change.”

Laura Paisley Beck is a freelance writer and self-proclaimed foodie in Madison, Wisconsin. Reach out at [email protected].

Great Grilling Recipes

image courtesy of Justin Fox Burks

BBQ Brussels Sprouts Sandwiches with Brussels Sprout Slaw

This tasty vegetarian recipe for barbecued Brussels sprouts is the perfect meat-free meal to grill up. Read More » 


julia volkPexelscom

The Chubby Vegetarian’s Memphis BBQ Dry Rub

Add flavor and spice to your favorite vegetarian grilling recipes with this mixture for Memphis BBQ Dry Rub. Read More » 


image courtesy of Genevieve Taylor

Grilled Cumin Carrots with Pecans, Ricotta and Herbs

Carrots seasoned in cumin and herbs with pecans and ricotta make for a delicious meat-free, vegetarian grilling recipe. Read More » 


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