It’s April–the month that houses Earth Day. Which means that you might be experiencing a rush of media extolling the virtues of reusable shopping bags, the evils of single use water bottles, and the importance of organic food. And seasonal food. And local food. And so on. All important issues, but I’m guessing a lot of you know about these things by now. So may I interest you in some other ideas on how to make an impact with your food choices?
Don’t get me wrong. My closet’s packed with cheerleading outfits for the basic tenets of green eating: local, seasonal, organic. They are, in my opinion, vastly important. So I’ll pay tribute to them, quickly, in tip number one–and then cut to the chase with six other tips that see less of the spotlight.
Next: Eating from the Here and Now
1. Buy Local, Seasonal, Organic.
Shop locally to decrease the fuel consumption of transportation–shop at farmer’s markets, CSAs, food co-ops, and markets that sell local products. Even big box stores are hopping on the local food train. Eat seasonally, which essentially means that you are eating locally, which means that you are not supporting the fuel consumption of cross-country, cross-global transportation. This can be challenging for those of us living in, say, Brooklyn in the winter, but you’d be surprised by all the things you can do with dark greens and winter squash! Support organic agriculture. There, said. (For more on the health benefits of eating organic produce, read Michelle’s post Life Force Diet: Choose Organic.)
Next: Don’t Buy Organic!
2. Don’t Buy Organic.
What??? Organic should be first choice when it’s locally grown, but consider that shipping a pound of organic apples across the country increases fuel and greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent more than if they had been consumed at their point of harvest. And much of the organic produce on the market is now shipped across the planet. Meanwhile, many local farmers practice organic methods but don’t certify organic because it is expensive and labor-intensive administratively. Since each type of crop needs to be registered, for a smaller farm growing a variety of food it becomes a Herculean task. If you shop at a farmer’s market, talk to your vendors and see if they use eco-friendly agricultural methods–many of the farmers I have talked to do so because they recognize the importance of keeping their land healthy. Consider buying non-organic locally grown produce over non-local organic produce, if you can determine that it was grown conscientiously.
Next: Eat Your Weeds
3. Yes, Eat Your Weeds.
Dandelions, purslane, chickweed, stinging nettle, lamb’s quarter, burdock? Yum! Skip the herbicides, and celebrate your weeds instead with a hot pan and some olive oil. Many plants now maligned as bothersome invaders of the perfect lawn were long used as food greens. Just make sure that you identify the plant species correctly. I, for one, go absolutely shivery in the knees for dandelions–as you can see by these posts:
Next: Become a Lessmeatatarian
4. Minimize Your Meat.
Meat is the most resource-intensive food on the plate. It takes much more energy, water and resources to produce a pound of meat, than a pound of grain or produce. (A pound of beef can require about 12,000 gallons of water to produce, compared to 60 gallons for a pound of potatoes.) In addition, agricultural hormones and antibiotics lead to pollution of soil, air, and water.
If you eat meat, aim for meat from animals who were raised humanely; grass-fed, and without hormones or antibiotics. Try hard to avoid factory farmed meat which relies on large-scale industrialized and intensive agricultural practices that are focused on profit with animals kept indoors and restricted in mobility. Each industry has its own abusive practices, and some are much more cruel than others. For example, the chicken, egg, turkey, and pork industries tend to be far more abusive to animals than the beef industry. A growing number of producers are raising animals without intensive confinement. Refining your diet by choosing cage-free animal products, instead of the conventional factory farm products that fill most supermarket shelves, will help to reduce animal suffering. Happy animals are part of a happy planet.
Try slowly cutting out meat from your diet. Become the term that Mark Bittman of The New York Times has coined–a Lessmeatatarian! He is vegan daily until 6:00 PM.
Next: Respect Your Elders
5. Eat Antiques.
Grow and shop for heirloom vegetables–varieties that have been around for a long time–to help promote biodiversity. Heirloom varieties can be knobby, speckled, bursting with flavor and loaded with character–they’re not industrially-raised supermarket produce designed for life in a truck and a shelf. With big agriculture growing only a small variety of the same bio-engineered (often patented and sterile) seeds, we run the risk of letting thousands and thousands of generations-old fruits and vegetables become extinct. The same goes for grains and beans. Heirloom beans are awesome; their flavor and texture do justice to their poetic names such as Black Valentine or Butterscotch Calypso.
Learn about heirloom beans and how to cook them here.
Next: Cool Down, Heat Up
6. Mind Your Chills and Hot Flashes
Your refrigerator can be one of the biggest energy drains in your home. Here’s the cooling-efficiency cheat sheet cribbed from Sustainable Dave’s (much more comprehensive) post, Putting the Deep Freeze On Your Energy Loss: Do the dollar bill trick on the seal to check air-tightness; keep the fridge and freezer full; keep the fridge at 35 to 38F degrees, and the freezer around 0F; clean the coils; keep it in a cool place.
Meanwhile, keep the heat out of the kitchen by cooking outside–outdoor grills use less energy than your stove and keep heat out of the house, reducing energy needed to feed hungry air conditioners. And being outside is nice.
Next: The Importance of This Label
7. Love Your Coffee Farmer.
Lord knows I try to be good about my eating habits, but then, there’s coffee. I can manage to eat straight from my farmer’s market all winter long, but I can’t seem to shake the coffee. And until someone figures out a way to grow coffee beans in New York’s climate (which isn’t going to happen any time soon–fingers crossed), it’s a decidedly not-local item.
Especially with coffee, the consumer’s spending power can really make a difference. Coffee is the world’s second most valuable traded commodity, behind only petroleum. Second, isn’t that interesting? Imagine the impact of our shopping? According to Global Exchange, there are approximately 25 million farmers and coffee workers in over 50 countries involved in producing coffee around the world. Coffee producers are kept in a cycle of poverty and debt by the current global economy designed to exploit cheap labor and keep consumer prices low. Buying Fair Trade Certified coffee ensures a proper wage and working conditions for those who harvest and handle it, and has strong environmental standards built into its certification process that protect watersheds and virgin forests, help prevent erosion, promote natural soil fertility and water conservation, and prohibit GMOs and many synthetic chemicals. Look for the Fair Trade Certified label on your beans or in your coffee shop.
For more on the topic, see Fair Trade: It Just Makes Sense.