Everyone can turn a deeper shade of green

This blog is dedicated to all those looking to deepen their green--whether you are making a commitment to a greener lifestyle and need help taking the first steps or whether you're already a practicing tree hugger who is looking for practical advice on what steps to take next. Over the years, I've heard all the good intentions and all the excuses. I've also seen my fellow environmentalists sabotage the good intentions of others. I am making a commitment to you, dear reader, wherever you fall on the spectrum, to help you take the next steps to fulfilling your commitment to the earth, to your health, and to your well-being. Stay tuned for articles and interviews.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Becoming a Green Foodie in Three Easy Steps

It’s harvest season and I have food on the brain. Well, I always have food on the brain, but last week was different. I was obsessively harvesting, planting, preparing, and thinking about food—CSAs, Farmers Markets, community gardens (pic is of Little Sugar Creek Community Garden), food deserts, raw food recipes, gleaning, pumpkin carving, food policy gatherings, sugar-free Halloween snacks, and trying to figure out what to do with all the jalapeños in my garden.  I even dreamt about a garden. 

I don’t expect other people to think about food as much as I do.  And no, I’m not assuming you know what CSAs or any of those other things are. I DO think that all of us have a lot to learn about food, though.

Food is one of those arenas where we can have a significant impact on the environment.  We make choices about what to eat several times a day, so unlike housing, where our choice locks us into a daily environmental impact level until the materials decay or we make a new choice, we have a lot more room to choose well AND choose poorly with food.  Despite all the grumbling I used to hear from students about how expensive or challenging it is to make “greener” food choices, eating really is one of the easiest ways to reduce our impact on the environment. Does that mean we all have to subscribe to the same diet or go back to hunting and gathering? Absolutely not.  Read on (and follow the links for more)

Step 1: Quit wasting food!!! Be honest, even the card carrying members of the clean plate club waste food. Americans pitch 96 billion pounds of food a year.  If that number is too hard to wrap your head around try this one: each household wastes 15% of what we buy. According to findings from the Garbage Project, the percentage is even higher during times of scarcity, often due to improper storage.  The answers are endless and I found a great website out of the UK that seems really well organized: lovefoodhatewaste
The solution is simple: buy what you’ll eat and eat what you buy. Compost the unavoidable kitchen waste or take up dumpster diving to reduce your neighborhood grocery’s waste, if you dare.

Step 2: Eat more veggies.  If you eat meat and you have friends who don’t eat meat, they’ve probably talked to you about the amount of grain and water it takes for you to have that burger with your fries.  And your friends are right. And you still eat meat. So, let’s try this a different way.  Could you cut back to meat at only two or one meal per day?  Would you consider a Meatless Monday?  Or Wednesday?  Maybe you cut your portion size in half or make the most of a smaller cut of meat with a little help from a celebrity chef.  However you do it, whatever your starting point, reducing the amount of meat you eat (and looking for hormone-free, grass or organic fed meat if it’s in your budget) reduce your impact. Don’t believe me? Go back to your footprint and plug in your new numbers.

Step 3: Go organic when it matters most. The first two steps are more or less cost neutral and may even save you some money.  Eating organic, on the other hand, can get a little pricey.  I have two strategies for you.  First, you can grow your own.  It’s amazing how many tomatoes you can get out of a container plant.  Second, you can save those organic dollars for buying foods off the “dirty dozen” list.  Each year, the Environmental Working Group creates a list based on laboratory tests of the 12 most toxic foods and the “clean fifteen”—the conventionally grown foods that are okay to buy. The list changes from year to year and I like to print it out and keep it in the kitchen. There’s a similar list for seafood.

 I’ll have a lot more to say about food, but if everyone out there can commit to making these three steps permanent lifestyle changes, we’re off to a good start!

[note: NYT ran an article on food waste on the Monday after I posted this.  Read it here.

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