Eating for the Earth

Today’s reading material at the gym was the current issue of Whole Living, a magazine that borders on too-hippie-dippie for me, but I appreciate their interest in all things environmental.

One particular article/list that caught my eye: “50 Ways to Eat Sustainably”. Since this (the earth) is the reason for my meat-free diet, I wanted to see what else is on their list. I’m going to give you all fifty ways. So bear with me :)

  1. Use the whole vegetable
  2. Forgo bagged/boxed salad mixes to limit packaging
  3. Be a Farmer’s Market regular
  4. Buy heirlooms
  5. Buy in bulk when produce is on season
  6. Ask farmers (at the market) for recipe suggestions
  7. Try to use only what’s at the market for your meals that week
  8. If you can’t buy local, buy organic
  9. Buy local eggs (I try but can’t find them!!)
  10. Store root vegetables in your basement
  11. Join a CSA
  12. Be package conscious
  13. Check your milk brand at sustainabletable.org (not all brands are what they claim to be)
  14. Use unprocessed grains
  15. Soak beans and grains overnight – cuts the cooking time and energy usage to half
  16. Read labels!
  17. Freeze fresh berries on a cookie sheet to use year-round
  18. Mix seltzer with fresh fruit syrup to make your own soft drinks
  19. Buy local bread
  20. Make your own breadcrumbs
  21. Check your PLU codes on produce (organic items always start with 9)
  22. Become friends with your local growers/fisherman
  23. Cut out processed corn ingredients (corn oil, cornstarch, HFCS)…
  24. and eat more fresh corn!
  25. Wash produce with minimal water (soak and dry rather than running water continuously)
  26. Save cooking water and reuse (in your garden, for example)
  27. Eat safer seafood, which includes:
  28. Most any fish from Alaska
  29. Anything in a shell (think mussels, oysters, clams)
  30. Wild American Shrimp
  31. Local varieties of seafood
  32. Make your own stock
  33. Buy (and use!) whole chickens
  34. Fill up the oven (may as well cook more than one thing if you’re going to heat it up!)
  35. Pick healthier pots and pans – avoid carcinogenic chemicals in traditional non-stick coatings
  36. Have a green BBQ, using carbon-neutral briquettes made of wood
  37. Buy antibiotic- and hormone-free meat
  38. Choose domestic meat
  39. Eating seasonally isn’t just for produce… choose seasonal meat as well
  40. Choose honey instead of table sugar (a more renewable source)
  41. Plant more than flowers (be a gardener and farmer!)
  42. Compost your waste/scraps
  43. Limit yourself to two kitchen appliances and use them
  44. Drink better coffee – look for “fair-trade certified” and “sustainable”
  45. Switch to organic olive oil
  46. Make your own vinaigrette
  47. Use natural wax paper
  48. Use glass containers (go pyrex!!) instead of plastic for your leftovers
  49. Store items in glass bottles and jars
  50. Wrap baked goods with cloth instead of plastic wrap

So there you have it. I don’t necessarily agree with all 50 of them, due to practicality, cost, or plain ole’ logic, but this is from Martha Stewart and her team. I put the ones that I follow in bold, which actually isn’t that many… I should pick a couple to work on.

Eating for the Earth

Many of you know about my “tree-hugging hippie” side of me, or as I like to think of it – someone who cares about their planet and tries to be responsible for their actions. This is why you won’t see me anytime soon driving an SUV or eating a hamburger.

The whole connection between meat-eating and the environment is hard for many people to understand. The easiest way I can explain it is to think of saving energy. We buy energy-saver appliances and, build energy-efficient buildings and cars, but no one thinks of saving energy when it comes to the food we eat. Probably because none of us want to think about our industrial food system (or perhaps aren’t very aware) and block out everything that happens before that food item appears on your grocery store shelf. There are many, many ways that energy is consumed in our food system. Here are the basic categories (taken from Kate Geagan’s book “Go Green Get Lean”):

  • Production – think of how much fossil fuel is required to make all those pesticides, fertilizers, as well as the energy used for farm equipment
  • Harvest – energy required for all the harvest  machinery on farms, feedlots, slaughterhouses, etc
  • Heating/Cooling – think of this is a big fridge to keep fresh produce cool after it’s picked
  • Processing – obviously the more highly processed a food product is, the more energy has been used
  • Transportation – this is the big area that locavores target. It’s crazy to think that we fly foods all over the world so we can have year-round access.
  • Storage – energy is spent storing the food in warehouses and trucks before it gets to your local market.

So, by taking a look at those above categories, you can see how many different paths you can take to lower the energy cost of your food choices. The great part is that in most cases, any decision you make to save the environment is better for you too! Greener diets tend to be lower in calories, higher in nutrition, and cheaper. So, a win-win for us all! :)

For example, eat organic, and you’re looking at the production side of things. One quick word about organics – yes, it is a better choice for the environment, growing things in a more sustainable manner to protect the soil/environment, but it does not automatically mean that organic food products are any less processed, traveled, or necessarily more nutritious (a highly debated topic I don’t want to get stuck in). Think of highly-processed snack foods that are full of added sugars and/or fats and trucked/flown in from around the world, that may happen to be “organic” – is this automatically the best choice?

Follow the local foods movement, and you’re tackling the energy cost of transporting foods around the country/world. I’ve been fortunate to have many local farmers markets here in East Tennessee, and try to support these local farms when I can. Of course, fresh produce are also minimally processed (if at all), so even better!

Now, where does meat fit into all of this? The production of animal products (and this includes eggs and dairy in addition to meat) uses huge amounts of energy as compared to plant products. Beef and dairy alone account for ~50% of all our food-related greenhouse gases. So…. If you’re want the biggest bang for your buck, switching to a more plant-based diet will have the most profound effect on the environment. I like to use the car analogy:

The energy from the average meat-eating American diet is the equivalent of driving an SUV

Switch to a plant-based diet (lacto-ovo vegetarian or flexitarian) and you’ve traded to a small car.

Get the guts to become a vegan (bravo!) and now you’re driving a super-efficient hybrid car.

So, for all of you who ask why I don’t eat meat, this post explains why. I hope my brief explanation makes sense. It’s a huge area to read more about (I’d recommend the above-mentioned book by Kate Geagan, MS, RD (!) “Go Green Get Lean” but also Mark Bittman’s book “Food Matters”). And as always, I welcome your questions or comments. I could talk about this topic for days, but I thought I’d be safer with a basic post to get started.

You can also read a post I wrote last year on the same topic “Save the World, Eat a PB&J Sandwich!

Spring is here!

So happy that spring is here. No more random beautiful days in the 70s, only to be exchanged for waking up to mid-30s. No, I think spring is finally here to stay. The flowers are out, my tree outside my bedroom is in full bloom, and it’s all lovely.

Other signs that spring is here?

  • The allergies have started and the Nasonex prescripion is waiting at my neighborhood CVS for me. I’ve been anxious about living through a Nashville spring, just as far as my head/breathing ability is concerned. But really, can it be any worse than Georgia? During my time down in Athens while in college, I went through years of allergy shots (8 a week!) and gradually built up immunity. It’s been quite amazing to only buy boxes of kleenex every few months instead of weeks. And yet, after my crazy hospital incident 2 summers ago that left me on a host of old-people heart medications, I haven’t been able to get the shots anymore. So… fingers are crossed that all the antibodies I finally made against my allergens are still floating around my body, ready to attack against the Nashville spring. What am I allergic to, you may ask? Don’t get me started. Almost every grass, weed, tree, flower that you can be tested for. Oh and a collection of animals too – dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs (but fortunately I’m fine with cattle?). Let’s just say there’s a reason I was getting 8 shots a week…
  • I finally washed and put away my flannel sheets. I have loved this new set – I got them dirt cheap at Kohl’s the day after thanksgiving, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my snowman sheets for the last 4 months. But now, it’s time to switch the soft cozy sheets for my crisp, white cotton. 
  • The little farmers markets across town are setting up!! yay yay yay yay local food!! While running errands in the Green Hills area this morning, I saw two of the mainstays already had their tents up, and were getting ready to open up shop. I’m so excited about this. I really feel like I wasn’t as good of a local foodie this past summer/fall after moving to Nashville; I didn’t frequent the farmers markets near as often as I had hoped to. But, times have changed and I’m ready. Probably even more passionate about local, sustainable food than I was 6 months ago! Of course, what I’d really love is to join a CSA for the upcoming season, but with not knowing for sure where I’ll be living, I’m not able to make that commitment yet. 
  • Spring thunderstorms have been making plenty of appearances. Today’s looks particular disturbing, with the potential for many a tornado and hail storm. Hopefully, it can hold out until I get back from my exciting Green Business and Living Expo over at Lipscomb – I’m pretty pumped about it today and hearing the keynote speaker, Gary Hirshberg! Gary is the CEO (or as he says, CE-Yo) of Stonyfield Farms, an organic yogurt producer, and wrote a brilliant book on how green/sustainable business practices is the best strategy for both making money and saving the planet – always what we want to hear! 

So, that’s my little shpiel on springtime. I’m going to reheat some of last night’s spaghetti for a quick lunch and then out for a beautiful walk before the storms set in!

Nothing like a hot oven to keep you warm…

This Nashville winter has been pretty darn cold. In fact, I would say it’s the coldest winter of my life – except I forget that I spent 5 years of my childhood in London. So while I don’t remember those winters, I’m sure they beat middle tennessee’s. 

Regardless, it’s cold, and I’m huddled in my miniscule 1960s kitchen right now, listening to Simon and Garfunkel, wrapped in a scarf, and baking my sister’s wonderful pumpkin chocolate-chip cookies, trying to ignore the fact that it’s snowing outside. Ovens really do a great job of keeping one warm when the 1960s building’s heating system leaves much to be desired. 

So, at 9:15pm, what are some things I’ve learned today?

  1. I’m quite the fan of earl grey tea. Maybe it was growing up in London… who knows. 
  2. I learned today that you can, in fact, bring your own mug to coffee shops! This has been my latest concern, the environmentalist waste-phobic person I am. I’m proud of my non-use of plastic bags now – even though the trunk of my car is now like a canvas/reusable bag cemetary. They’re everywhere! All shapes, sizes, materials. But that’s good! And with my reusable sandwich wrap (which gets compliments, thank you very much), I rarely use a plastic sandwich bag. Tupperware has eliminated the use for ziploc bags, my Klean Kanteen prevents me from ordering drinks in the cafeteria or having to throw away plastic cups. But the latest dilemma has been my frequent coffee stops, and the fact that I’m throwing away a cup everyday! And those little cardboard cup “belts” or whatever you call them. I actually found a pattern to make your own (which I have requested for my upcoming birthday). And websites do exist to promote the use of your own mug at coffee shops. So… I’ll give it a try and let you know how it goes!
  3. The news is just depressing. I actually sat down and watched over an hour of the news – both national and local. There’s nothing good out there to hear about. Everyone’s losing their jobs and Kentucky people still have no power. My black bean corn chips and salsa were good though. haha

I think 3 lessons for the day is sufficient. Tomorrow should be a fun day – below freezing all day, and we’re out driving to WIC offices and food banks. Lovely. Good thing I’m bringing along my pumpkin choc-chip cookies for us interns :)

Great ways to save the environment

A few days ago I stopped by the new gourmet food shop in my hometown, which to me seemed just like a baby Whole Foods. I picked up a packet of ladyfingers to make the Christmas tiramisu (which turned out to be a success, if you were wondering).stp82037

The amazing part from my trip was discovered later when I got home and pulled the receipt out of my bag. The receipt seemed unusually short. Upon further inspection I realized that it was printed double-sided, so as to reduce any unnessecary paper. How ingenious is that!?

I did a search and found that Sainsbury’s in England was the first European grocery store to install these double-sided printers in their stores, reducing their paper use by 40%. You can read more about the product and its use here.

In the mean time, I’m still doing what I can to reduce my own waste. No more bottled water and plastic bags have been the easiest changes to make. It’s been pretty cool to see that most every store has jumped on the reusable bag bandwagon, and that they’re reasonably priced now. The trunk of my car is stuffed with my collection of bags – from Whole Foods, Trader Joes, World Market, ADA, Beef lobbyists (I try not to use this one whenever possible), my favorite Australian bakery, and other bags I’ve picked up along the way.

So keep on doing your part people!

Keep up the good work people!

I’m glad that more of you are choosing tap water over bottled water. It seems that we are indeed making a difference. According to this report in the New York Times, Pepsi’s profits are down 10% due to the decreased sales of bottled water (and sodas too). Yay! 

 

My brita pitcher and Klean Kanteen are my best friends when it comes to water. I’ve also started the switch to soymilk, but that’s a whole other topic…

Save the world, eat a PB&J sandwich!

Isn’t this a great idea? I came across the PB&J Campaign yesterday and just want to spread the word. It’s for those of us who want to help the environment and are looking for easy changes we can slip into our everyday life without really feeling like a tree-hugger. By eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch instead of a hamburger or ham&cheese sandwich, you can help the world by saving 2.5 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions and 133 gallons of water! How amazing is that!?

Now, the good news is that it doesn’t have to be a PB&J; the benefit is from eating a plant-based meal instead of an animal-based meal (anything centered around meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs). And for those of you who have no idea how eating peanut butter instead of cheese in a sandwich saves water and energy, it’s all related to the efficiency of growing crops for food versus raising livestock. The amount of energy it takes to raise a cow is mind-bogglingly huge, let alone all the water that must be used for irrigating the fields, washing everything down, and what’s used in the processing. For the same amount of calories, and a lot less energy used, you could just eat plants :) If you want to know more about the environmental aspect to vegetarianism (since my one-sentence description was pretty basic!), PB&J’s campaign has a good explanation.

I think one of the great things about this campaign is that it’s showing people that they can help make a difference one meal at a time. So you don’t have to go vegetarian or vegan if you don’t want to give up your favorite animal products, but by eating more meatless meals you are helping out! In fact, just eating 5 more plant-based meals in a month saves more water than using one of those eco-friendly low-flow showerheads!

So… to do some number crunching: I’ve been vegetarian since January 1st, 2007. That’s approximately 555 days of meatless eating and 1668 meatless meals (minus my “lard” mishap in Switzerland last summer). To calculate my contribution, I need to figure out how many truly plant-based meals I’ve had. I may be a veggie, but I love my cheese. And I have eaten a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches in those last 555 days, let me tell you! So let’s say that out of my 1668 meatless meals, 70% did not have dairy/eggs as a key player. That would be… let’s round off… somewhere around 1100 plant-based meals I have eaten in the last year and a half. So how much have I saved?

2750 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and 146,300 gallons of water! That’s equivalent for me not driving my Matrix at all for the next 4 1/2 months! not bad at all. So now when people ask me why on earth I’m a vegetarian, how can I live like this, aren’t I just hungry all the time and crave bacon cheeseburgers, I can tell them this. :) And you can too by having a PB&J more often!

Leaving you with a video, RD2B :)