A Dozen Ways to Eat Green

By Analiese Paik

The following is a transcript of A Dozen Ways to Eat Green, a talk I was to deliver today at the Gathering of the Vibes as a guest speaker on the Green Vibes Stage at 1:30. Unfortunately, due to the heat advisory, I won’t be presenting today. A Dozen Ways to Eat Green is perfect for any eater – those just learning how unsustainable our food system is and are looking for ways to reduce their “foodprint” and those already making sustainable choices, yet are looking to do more. The choices we make three times a day have a profound impact on our health and the environment, so eat smart and eat green!

  • Reduce your food waste.

By some estimates 40 percent of the food grown in the country is wasted. That figure includes everything from food left to rot in farmers’ fields, to imperfect food throw out by stores and restaurants, to the leftovers you scrape into your garbage pail after dinner. Here are three ways to cut down on your food waste:

  1. Buy less to avoid buying more than you need.
  2. Make “Use it or Freeze It” your mantra and use your freezer to save food for another day.
  3. Declare “Clean Out the Refrigerator Night” once a week to eat all the leftovers before they go bad.
  • Compost your raw food waste.

Start a compost pile right in your backyard. When you throw food waste into the garbage, it winds up in a landfill where it cannot decompose. Instead, it emits methane gas, a greenhouse gas, which contributes to climate change. Collect your egg shells, coffee grinds, vegetable peels, corn cobs and husks in a kitchen composting pail and toss them in the compost pile with grass clippings and leaves. Over a few months’ time, they’ll decompose with the help of worms and turn into compost – gardener’s gold. You won’t need to buy compost when you start your organic garden! Visit Rodale’s web site for some expert composting advice.

  • Eat less meat.

Practice Meatless Mondays by eating no meat one day a week. The Environmental Working Group has just released The Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health, a handy online guide to improving your health and the health of the environment through sustainable meat choices. It includes a recommendation to practice Meatless Mondays, citing this quote from real food activist and author Michael Pollan.

“The single most important thing any of us can do to shrink the environmental footprint of our eating is to cut back on our meat eating — doing so has a bigger impact than eating local or organic.” -Michael Pollan, Author and food activist

When you do eat meat, avoid factory farmed beef, poultry, pork and dairy; choose grass-fed, pasture-raised, and organic meat and dairy instead. Approximately 99 percent of the meat sold in restaurants and grocers if from factory farms (CAFOs) where animals are raised in close confinement, fed an unnatural diet of genetically modified (GM) corn and soy, and are routinely treated with antibiotics to keep them from getting sick. Raising animals in this manner might produce cheap meat for the consumer, but what’s rung up at the register doesn’t factor in the true cost to the environment and human health. Don’t fall victim to the illusion of cheap food. The real cost of producing and eating food from the industrial food chain will have to be paid for by generations to come.

Many Connecticut farmers raise livestock on pasture and sell it at farmers’ markets throughout the state, plus a sustainable butcher shop will be opening in Westport soon.

Learn more by about the impact of factory farming on the climate and human health from EWG’s The Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health.

  • Choose organic food over conventionally grown.

Choose organic whenever possible to protect the environment and human health. Organic foods and wines are cultivated without the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides so they do not deplete the soil, damage the environment or pose threats to human health. CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) programs are the most economical way to buy fresh, local, organic produce. CSA programs offer consumers a seasonal share in a single farm’s harvest for a fixed price. Each season I publish a guide to CSAs offered by local farms, and each year the list grows.

Processed foods, even those labeled “natural”, commonly contain ingredients made from the “Big Four” genetically-modified (GM) food crops: soybeans, corn, canola and cottonseed, yet they carry no labels declaring “contains GMOs.” The bottle of canola oil innocently sitting in your pantry is likely GM, since eighty percent of the canola grown in the US is genetically modified. Many well-respected members of the sustainable food, agriculture, and science communities believe that GMOs pose threats to human and animal health, the environment, and biodiversity. Choose organic or Non-GMO Project Verified processed foods to avoid GMOs. To learn more about GMOs, please read While You Were Eating on this blog.

  • Eat locally with the seasons.

Fresh, local food is delicious, nutritious and in abundant supply at farm stands, farmers’ markets and through CSAs. Buy locally grown food in season to reduce the “food miles” your food has to travel to reach your plate and cut down on food packaging. Fewer food miles translate into reduced use of fossil fuels and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Less packaging means you create less waste. You’ll also be providing a living wage to our farmers, ensuring farmland preservation and our ability to feed ourselves, and encouraging the cultivation of a diversity of species, including heritage and heirloom varietals. Eating locally with the seasons is an investment in the future of our local foodshed.

  • Grow some of your own food.

Seeds are very inexpensive, and if you make your own compost, you’ll likely wind up saving money by growing your own. A fantastic source of inspiration and advice for home gardeners is Kitchen Gardeners International, the group behind the campaign to replant a kitchen garden at the White House. Look for gardening workshops and classes, includes those we post, to help you get started. Comstock Ferre & Co., a 200-year-old seed company in Wethersfield, CT, offers a wide variety of heirloom seeds via their catalog, online store, an retail location. Read more about Comstock here.

  • Choose organic, Fair Trade coffee, tea, chocolate and sugar.

Fair Trade means farmers are compensated fairly for their work, no child labor is used, and farms employ sustainable growing practices. Organic farming practices don’t rely on synthetic fertilizer and never use synthetic pesticides, herbicides and insecticides. When we choose organic, Fair Trade products, we are rewarding farmers for treating their workers fairly and using sustainable growing practices. These products may cost a little more, but the payoff is priceless.

  • Choose sustainable seafood.

Choose sustainable seafood. Download the Sustainable Seafood Guide or iphone app from Seafood Watch and consult it at the fish counter or when ordering in a restaurant. Commit to limiting your consumption to sustainable seafood choices under the Best Choices and Good Alternatives categories. Whenever you eat a sustainable seafood meal, enter it into the app to share your resources with other users.  Whole Foods Markets stores have started using a seafood labeling system for their wild caught products based on Seafood Watch’s ratings to help the consumer at point of purchase. You can learn all about sustainable seafood in an interactive exhibit called Go Fish! at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk.  It’s perfect for adults and children.

  • Stop buying disposable bottled water.

Disposable bottled water is one or the most unsustainable beverage choices you can make. Plastic water bottles are made from petroleum and are designed to be used once, resulting in a product that is thousands of times more expensive than tap water and no safer, according to a report by Food & Water Watch. Most of these bottles are not recycled and wind up in landfills and our oceans where they  leach harmful chemicals into the ground and water. There is a floating garbage patch twice the size of Texas in the North Atlantic that is poisoning sea life. Please carry a thermos filled with filtered tap water instead.

  • Learn to cook!

Cooking is becoming a lost art. Take some cooking classes and buy a cookbook that teaches you how to cook with the seasons including Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets, Emily Brooks’ Connecticut Farmer & Feast, Michel Nischan’s Sustainably Delicious: Making the World a Better Place One Recipe at a Time, and Harvest to Heat: Cooking with America’s Best Farmers, Chefs and Artisans by Darryl Estrine and Kelly Kochendorfer.

  • Start or volunteer at a school or community garden.

School and community gardens are thriving across the country including urban, rooftop, vertical, aquaponic, and hydroponic varieties. Public gardens are revitalizing urban communities and providing food deserts with a source of fresh local food. Creating community while helping to feed yourself and others more sustainably, especially children, is rewarding and laying the groundwork for a more sustainable food future.

  • Don’t wait for someone else to fix it.

The food choices you make all day, every day, have small but important impacts. Eat Smart, Eat Green.

Recommended Reading:

  • Tomatoland
  • Eating Animals
  • Righteous Pork Chop
  • Diet for a Hot Planet
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
  • Omnivore’s Dilemma (and young reader’s version)

Movies:

  • Food, Inc.
  • FRESH
  • Nourish
  • The Future of Food
  • The World According to Monsanto

Bonus Green Food Tips:

  • Bring your own bags wherever you shop. Try keeping a soft, collapsible bag in your pocketbook so you always have one handy.
  • Reuse grocery store vegetable bags as liners for your kitchen compost pail. You’ll save money on composting supplies and give the bags and second life.
  • Use recycled products. Choose from post-consumer recycled aluminum foil and paper products (napkins & paper towels), phosphate-free dish-washing liquid and dishwasher soap, and biodegradable garbage bags.
  • Recycle #5 containers and cork at Whole Foods Markets instead of throwing them in the garbage. Whole Foods collects #5s and cork for recycling (feel free to pop in just to drop off your recycling). Recycling costs you nothing but is a huge gift to the environment.
  • Use reusable bags instead of single use plastic lunch and snack bags. There are many on the market and they have become so mainstream that they are now available at Linens ‘n Things. Lunch Skins are eco-chic, reusable lunch and snack bags that are cute enough to give as a gift.
  • Choose organic and biodynamic wines. These so called “natural” wines rely on low impact methods for solving common problems that plague vineyards. For instance, birds of prey are brought in to control for varmints. Organic wines are cultivated without the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides so they do not deplete the soil, damage the environment or pose threats to human health.


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