Understand Ecosystems

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In this age of green, the term “ecosystem” gets tossed around quite a bit–from technology to tide pools. But it’s an important concept to grasp, as in really understand, when talking about creating a sustainable food system.

Traditionally, we’ve talked of the food chain. But an ecosystem is more like thousands of threads braided together than it is a neat series of links (plankton, small fish, big fish). Whether you’re talking about agriculture or aquaculture, wide open ocean or wild prairie plains, each has a unique set of environmental and biological factors that make it home to a specific mix of plants and animals that, when in balance, all thrive together.

Why is this important? Because trying to alter an end result—be it saving a vanishing species of fish or curtailing greenhouse gas—while ignoring the native ecosystem is like trying to light a candle while it’s underwater. Julie Packard of Monterey Bay Aquarium believes we need to evaluate aquatic ecosystems as a whole in order to save the oceans (and the life within them), rather than working on species-specific solutions. And many believe we need to shift toward more traditional, closed-system farming techniques (where, for instance, manure produced by cows is used to fertilize the land that grows their food) in agriculture.

It’s a little word, a big concept, and the foundation of talks to come.

This week, lock on to the meaning of ecosystem.

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Buffalo Blue Burgers with Celery Slaw

The inspiration for these buffalo burgers is somewhat obvious — the combo of hot sauce, blue cheese and celery is a buffalo wings classic — but the tie to sustainability and healthy ecosystems might not be as clear. I was turned into a buffalo (bison) lover by Dan O’Brien, of Wild Idea Buffalo, who talked about bringing back bison in order to save his beloved South Dakota plains. The two, it seems, are healthiest when living together … a perfect illustration of a thriving ecosystem. These flavorful burgers will be a hit at any summer barbecue.


Buffalo Blue Burgers with Celery Slaw

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Yield: Serves 4


  1. Hot sauce:
  2. 2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
  3. 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  4. 1 teaspoon cayenne
  5. Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  6. Burgers:
  7. 1 pound ground buffalo, formed into 4 (3/4-inch-thick) patties
  8. Blue cheese sauce:
  9. 2 ounces blue cheese
  10. 1 tablespoon sour cream
  11. 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
  12. 2 tablespoons buttermilk or low-fat milk
  13. 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  14. Celery slaw:
  15. 1 cup thinly sliced celery
  16. 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  17. 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  18. 1 teaspoon canola oil
  19. 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  20. 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  21. Remaining ingredient:
  22. 4 whole-grain hamburger buns, split


Heat grill to medium-high heat.

To prepare the hot sauce, combine Tabasco, butter, cayenne, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl. Generously brush both sides of burger patties with mixture and set aside.

To prepare the blue cheese sauce, combine blue cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, buttermilk, 1 teaspoon vinegar, and a generous grind of black pepper in another small bowl, whisking until smooth.

To prepare the slaw, toss celery with onion, parsley, oil, mustard, 2 teaspoons vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper in a medium bowl.

Season patties with salt and pepper, and place over direct heat on the grill. Brush with Tabasco mixture. Cook 2-3 minutes, basting once, and flip. Cook another 2 minutes, until medium rare. Place buns cut-side-down on grill and cook until toasted.

Place burgers on buns, top with celery slaw and drizzle with blue cheese mixture.