Consultant Laura Rubin on eating sustainably, plus an easy watermelon feta summer salad

by SARA on May 28, 2010

A notebook entry for the DBA auction from Outstanding in the Field founder Jim Denevan

So my brain’s still on all this food and altruism business. It keeps coming up. Case-in-point: A few nights ago, my friend Laura Rubin invited me to a beautiful launch event for a design company she’s been working with, called DBA. They’ve created a pen. But not just any pen. This one was 98% biodegradable, made of non-gmo potato compound with non-toxic ink that’s literally food grade. Impressive, right? Especially when you learn (as I did) that since 1950 nearly 100 billion non-biodegradable disposable pens have been sold (containing enough toxic ink to fill several Olympic-sized pools). What really struck me was how many of the party’s attendees were also people I knew to be really passionate about food causes. I decided to talk to Laura about the connection she sees between supporting green companies and eating well. Oh, and she let me in on a fantastic Memorial Day recipe, too…

How has working so closely with green companies and initiatives–knowing the harm we’re doing and simultaneously the positive change that’s possible–affected what you put in your mouth?

The work I’ve been fortunate to do has reinforced my belief that one needn’t have to choose between quality and sustainability. DBA, for example, applied tremendous ingenuity in remaking the seemingly innocuous disposable pen, which provided many creative and logistical challenges. The inventive end product is both utilitarian and beautifully designed. Living around projects like this enough and you see how the rewards from something like that really extends out and down, to every facet of life. Including food.

Eating seasonally–really thinking about what to buy when to stay synched to our environment–is both challenging and joyful. The bounty of the greenmarket in the full bloom of summer is inspiring, but the sparser selection during colder months also provides an opportunity to be inventive and adventurous. (I’ve become well acquainted with the humble rutabaga.)

Was there an early moment–anything from a delicious meal that you felt good about to a conversation–where things really clicked for you with healthy, conscious eating? Essentially a point where you went from knowing it to feeling it?

So many of the good habits I have now took root when I was young. I was raised at the table; cooking and eating meals was something we did (and still do) together as a family. It’s how we celebrate, communicate, mourn and heal. I can’t point to one specific moment because there have been so many, but as a child I was fortunate to have been sent to a rural camp in Vermont called Farm & Wilderness where each camper has their own garden plot. The first time I pulled a carrot I’d grown from seed out of the ground, rinsed it off in the garden spigot and had a snack was pretty profound. I still remember the taste and satisfaction.

The event was also an auction for notebooks with some words and drawings from celebrities. I noticed one was from Jim Denevan from Outstanding in the Field, what did his say? And did you get any other gems from him? (Note, the auction’s still happening online, proceeds benefit the Riverkeeper Foundation, a nonprofit that benefits New York’s waterways.)

Jim Denevan is one of my heroes. We were delighted when he agreed to participate in the auction. Jim customized the DBA Endless notebook by filling it with a charming illustrated short story called “Farm for Dinner.” It features line drawings of items such as mushrooms, sorrel and peas, and the reader follows the process from farm to table.

The Outstanding in the Field experience underscores so many core values that I hold dear. Jim brings people together in an unpretentious setting over simple, seasonal food and lets the farmers get the glory. I admire what he’s created and how it’s spawned so many other farm dinner series across the country. Being more aware of our food source is an inherently good thing and hopefully it leads to better consumer choices on many levels.

You’re always coming into contact with so much valuable information about what’s good for us and sustainable–what foods are you especially loving right now, both for their nutrient value and, well, just because they’re absolutely delicious?

I’m a tea drinker by default. Lately I’ve been kind of obsessed with drinking organic yerba mate with almond milk in the morning. It gives me a nice amount of the bright-eyed-and-busheytailed factor to get me going without those mean coffee jitters. The almond milk makes it rich and adds protein while the tea provides a generous dose of antioxidants.

And it’s strawberry season so that means berries for breakfast, lunch and dessert. These little guys pack a serious antioxidant whollop but it’s important to get them grown either locally or organically because they’re also one of the items that most readily absorbs pesticides. I make a mean strawberry and arugula salad with a hazelnut oil/shallot dressing. I serve it with sliced, grilled flank steak. As much as I respect vegetarianism, it’s not a lifestyle that suits me. There’s just too much good stuff to eat.

Laura’s Watermelon Feta Summer Salad

Says Laura:¬†This recipe was verbally conveyed to me by a friend with a great knowledge of and appreciation for food one summer night out in Montauk, where we were assembling a large group dinner. The salad was a hit though admittedly I polished off a large portion of it myself. I frequently make this on hot summer nights as an accompaniment to grilled fish or barbecued free range chicken. The sweet-salty combination is surprising, refreshing and delicious. And, it couldn’t be easier to prepare.

1/2 Watermelon (seedless or de-seeded), cut into approx 2-3 inch chunks
1/2 red onion, sliced razor thin
1 red bell bepper (or substitute an orange), julienned
bunch fresh mint, chopped
1 block feta cheese, crumbled

Combine all the elements in a large bowl by hand, adding the feta last. Serves about 6.

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Carla May 28, 2010 at 1:03 pm

This looks great. Thanks for sharing.

JKJV May 28, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Can’t wait to try this recipe at our BBQ this Monday!

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