Don’t you want the earth to be a nice place to live, at least for the rest of your life? Sure, we all do. Are you at least a little confused about what exactly you can do to help that effort along? Sure, we all are. There’s no denying that what we eat and how we come by it affects the world around us for better or for worse. There’s also no denying, however, that we gotta eat something.
Yesterday was Earth Day, that one day of the year when “It’s not easy being green,” takes on a whole new meaning. You can find any number of doomsayers in any number of sources telling you what you shouldn’t do, what you should give up, what you should boycott, and what you should write to your congressperson about. If you care at all, you can quickly feel like the weight of the world (or the fate of the world) is on your shoulders. At least I do. And depending on what kind of person you are, you will either go out and build a home-powered dugout with a composting toilet, or run around in a depressed panic, worrying whether you have enough reusable shopping bags, and wondering if it’s okay to use the car to pick up 20 pounds of flour, or if you should try to lug it home on foot. I tend to be in the latter, slightly frazzled camp, but I’ve recently learned to calm down a little bit, and try to see what I can do, rather than what I can’t or shouldn’t do.
Here are 5 things I think are good, affirmative starting points for improving our foodie footprint.
1. Use those reusable shopping bags I mentioned above for groceries, or bring out those tote bags you got “free with purchase” somewhere or as swag at a conference. If you can sew, make some, especially if you have some old clothes or something from which you can recycle the fabric. (Sewing tote bags out of recycled fabric is at about mile 20 on my to do list….some day!) I don’t have to tell you about the negative environmental effects of plastic bags. You’ve heard it all before. (I lived across from a Wal Mart in Kingsville, TX. It was windy there and the plastic bags were blown all over and everywhere. We called them “Kingsville Tumbleweeds.”)
2. Buy locally and seasonally when you can. Farmer’s markets are coming soon (or may have already landed in your area). Consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. To find a CSA, farmer's market or similar food sources in your area, try Local Harvest. Enjoy peak freshness, peak ripeness, and peak bounty. You may be surprised to find how good your favorite foods really can be when they’re ultra-fresh, and required less energy and fuel to get to you.
3. Eat more plants. The more fruits, vegetables, beans and grains we eat, the less room we have on our plates and in our stomachs for feedlot/factory meats, unpronounceable chemicals, and high fructose corn syrup. We’ve probably all heard of the benefits of a plant-rich diet and the health and environmental drawbacks of too much meat. I’m not saying go without meat (although I wish I could do so myself). Just try some more plants. Read some vegetarian cookbooks for inspiration. Here are my current favorites.
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison
World Vegetarian, by Madhur Jaffery
4. Keep your Whole Foods Quotient (WFQ) high. Whole foods have less packaging and involve less processing. Foods such as dried beans and grains are also good gateways for introducing more organically grown foods into your diet. While organic fruits, vegetables, and packaged foods, such as cereals and cake mixes, can be quite pricy, beans and grains, while more expensive than those that are conventionally grown, are usually still affordable. The same goes for Organic, Fair Trade bananas.
5. Appreciate your food. Know where it comes from, who grew it or raised it and how it was prepared. Get your apron messy. Cook your own food and grow some of it yourself if you can. I know everyone can't plant a garden. I can’t, since I live in an apartment, but I do plant pots with herbs and cherry tomatoes on our patio. My messy apron tends to go from kitchen to porch, pulling double duty protecting my clothing from spilled sauces and potting soil.
Earth Day can be like a New Year’s Day complete with resolutions for making ourselves better citizens of this planet. Too often, however, our New Year’s resolutions force denial and lack upon us, setting up a cycle of failure and resentment. How about for Earth Day, instead of resolutions that leave us crying in a bland organic-tofu-and-fair-trade-turnip stew, we make affirmations like “I shall rejoice in a perfect pint of ripe strawberries grown just down the road and carried home in the bag my grandma made from old blue jeans.” Sounds good to me…and green…and delicious!
Here are some suggestions for further reading.
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Food Matters by Mark Bittman (I haven’t read this one yet, but, hey, it’s Mark Bittman.)