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!

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Weekend Good Eats and Cupcake Memorabilia!

Hi there!

I’m writing this post Sunday morning, but it probably won’t be posted until tomorrow, Monday, when I get to Charlotte and can find wireless for my laptop. I have some photos to share, and the dial-up connection here at the farm just won’t cut it for that.

I hope everyone has had a fun and relaxing weekend! We had some guests for the weekend – my mom’s best friend from college (and a Registered Dietitian!) and her teenage daughter (a vegetarian!). Not surprisingly, the weekend was full of good eats :)

My mother was inspired by a trip to a local bakery (Sweet Celebrations in Maryville, TN) to make a lemon chess pie for their arrival. It was pretty delicious. Apparently she was quite the pie baker back in her youth, but after one unfortunate dough incident, she never baked another pie. We’re glad this one was the return of Kitty’s pies!

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The weekend’s meals have been full of trusted, old favorites. Friday night I made my Faux Crab Cakes – a recipe that we’ve had at least once a week while we’ve been here. Great for those who are overwhelmed with a large summer supply of zucchini! As many of my friends know, crab cakes is one of the few items that I have dearly missed since becoming vegetarian. Luckily, these babies do the trick! The cakes are easy to put together:

  • 2 cups grated zucchini, pressed of excess water
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs (I use half panko, half italian seasoned)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp light mayo
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning (the secret ingredient!)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 green onions chopped
  • 1/4 cup diced bell pepper (color of your choosing, red looks pretty)

You just mix it all together, form 8 patties, then fry them up in a little canola oil, and voila! We serve them with homemade cocktail sauce, but you could use whatever you want. Sorry, no picture :(

After dinner, I was presented with a "Congratulations for passing the RD exam!” gift from our guests. It’s a beautiful cookbook charm – complete with a cupcake on the front, and my initials engraved on the back “ES, RD”. Glad the comma is there and people don’t think I proudly promote End Stage Renal Disease. hahahaha

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Isn’t it cute? Thanks guys!

We stopped at TJMaxx on our way to the movies Saturday afternoon (went to see Time Travelers Wife – a little confusing to follow, and could’ve been better with Bana’s aussie accent.. haha), where I picked up my latest happy bowl for hot breakfasts/beverages. Check it out!

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 I can’t wait to use it soon! This morning’s breakfast was a cup of earl grey tea, and the remnants of the delicious cinnamon raisin friendship bread that our weekend guests brought. In the words of my sister: om nom nom nom!

Speaking of my sister, she recently moved into her first apartment, and is about to start her second year of college next week. Word is that her and her roommates enjoy reading my blog – so a shout out to you girls! From what I’ve been hearing, there are going to be many good eats coming from that apartment this year. Maybe I can visit someday :)

Our post-movie dinner was at The Tomato Head, our favorite restaurant in town which has become a weekly event for us. I love their vegetarian friendly menu and haven’t had better tofu anywhere else! This time I left with one of their t-shirts. Maybe if I wear it during my next visit I can get a free dessert? Their vegan cookies have looked quite intriguing….

OK, the oven is calling my name. I’m baking my famous (well, in my family..) Black Bean & Sweet Potato Enchiladas for a nice hearty lunch before our guests hit the road. And then I’ll be busy this afternoon getting ready for my road trip and interview! Wish me luck in Winston-Salem!

T-2 days til Turkey Day!

Hope some of you appreciated my alliteration efforts for that title. Even as a vegetarian, I still refer to Thanksgiving as Turkey Day. This year will be my second turkey-free Thanksgiving, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be missing out on anything! In fact, 2008 saw the conversion of my mother to a meatless diet, so I won’t be so heavily outnumbered at the dining room table. This also means we’ve downsized from a whole turkey to just a breast for the few meat eaters left. Who knows, maybe in a few years’ time my whole family will have seen the light!? Yeah…. probably not. My dad has been losing weight this year without my mom cooking him meat every night, so I don’t think he’d ever go vegetarian on his own (he is not someone who NEEDS to lose weight!).

As the family’s RD2B and food nazi, I planned the menu and will do a lot of the cooking I’m sure. The main switch that I have forced since going vegetarian was to stop using chicken broth and switch to vegetable broth. I doubt anyone can tell the difference, but it amazes me how immediately my taste buds are alerted if I taste chicken broth now. It’s pretty scary. Like the other day in the hospital cafeteria, I had green beans for lunch, and as soon as they went into my mouth I knew they’d been cooked with bacon/ham….. bad idea.

So, here’s the menu for Thanksgiving this year:

  • Turkey Breast (for the others)
  • Vegetarian Entree: brown/wild rice pilaf with dried cranberries, walnuts, portabello mushrooms and the holy trinity of carrots/onions/celery. A new recipe for this year.
  • Stuffing – my personal favorite for Thanksgiving. If I was stranded on a desert island in November, this would be my #1 food choice. I have been known to eat cold slabs of leftover stuffing as a snack (or meal), and even to make “stuffing sandwiches”. And yes, I realize that is essential bread inside bread, but it’s darn good :)
  • Campbell’s classic Green Bean Casserole. I won’t comment on this, it’s not my idea.
  • My Mom’s Sweet Potato Casserole
  • Mashed Potatoes – this will be the first year I’m not making my usual potato dish with cheddar, sour cream and scallions. We’re just going with plain ole taters this year.
  • Corn Bread Pudding – a recipe my grandma wants to try out this year
  • Jell-O Salad: also not my idea, but my mom is excited about it. She saw it on Paula Deen’s show a few months ago. That could quite possibly be why I’m not excited about it.
  • Bread rolls – of course!
  • Dessert: My sister is making a pumpkin spice cake with cream cheese frosting, and I’m bringing a chocolate chess pie from Nashville

So as you can see, we’re not ones for tradition. Other than stuffing and sweet potatoes (and I suppose turkey), we change up the menu every year and try new recipes.

This is the first significant break that we’ve had thus far in the dietetic internship, and I know that all 16 of us are really read for some time off! We had our seminar presentations for the past 2 days and are also glad to have that over and done with! No more researching and talking about acute pancreatitis anymore :)

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoy spending time with friends and family!