Summer Backyard Taco Picnic: Zucchini Tacos
These zucchini tacos are a great way to celebrate the bounty of the season.
It’s summer! Abundance is everywhere! The markets are overflowing with seasonal delights from every corner of Kingdom Plantae. We’re up to our ears in corn, up to our knees in peas, and up to our heads in lettuce (I could go on, but don’t worry, I won’t). And not only are these botanical delicacies at their lowest prices of the year, they are also at peak deliciousness.
So why, when all of this amazing produce abounds, does our typical summer backyard picnic fare consist mainly of hamburgers and hot dogs—including the “fruits of the season” only as an afterthought, if at all?
The answer, counterintuitively, may be traced to the very abundance that we enjoy here in the U.S.
While we are home to only 4.5 percent of the world’s population, we have 11.5 percent of the world’s farmland—more than any other country. And while that hardly seems like a problem, it has enabled us to devote a staggering 67 percent of our arable land to crops—mainly soy and corn—that feed livestock, not people. This, along with the alarming rise of factory farming, has led to an incredible abundance of cheap meat. It has also contributed to the development of a cuisine that is among the least sustainable and, forgive me for saying, least interesting in the world.
Don’t get me wrong, some American food is great. I mean, southern barbecue has to rank up there with Beethoven’s Ninth as one of the supreme achievements of humankind. But, as renowned chef and farm-to-table pioneer Dan Barber points out in his terrific book, The Third Plate, most of the world’s great cuisines were born from hardship, not abundance.
The relative scarcity of farmland in countries like Mexico, Italy, and Thailand has required people there to grow a greater proportion of their crops for human consumption, which is a far more efficient method of extracting calories from the soil than raising livestock. It has also encouraged their much more varied, plant-heavy cuisines. And, let’s face it, if variety is the spice of life, then American life, at least culinarily speaking, is pretty bland in comparison.
So, if we want to develop a truly sustainable, world-class American cuisine, we need to start giving plants their day in the sun.