Foraging for a Healthy and Sustainable Meal
I recently read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and then I finally got around to watching Food Inc. Now I have a serious case of supermarket paralysis. How do I choose food that is grown in an environmentally responsible way and delivered with minimal petroleum use that doesn't exploit the farmers, farm workers and food processors? Where do I find free-range, cage-free, grass-fed, humanely treated meat? Is it more important to choose organic or local and how exactly should I define local? I'm compiling a list to guide my shopping and eating. Consider this a work in progress.
- Purchase as much produce as you can when it's in season from a farmer's market or in the locally grown section of your supermarket. I like the Local Harvest website for finding farmer's markets, family farms and other sources for sustainable grown food in your area.
- Prepare your own food. Plan your meals for the season rather than starting with a recipe that requires out of season ingredients or things that aren't available locally.
- Buy organic -- at the farm market and in the grocery store. If cost forces you to prioritize, start with switching to organic when buying the "dirty dozen" -- peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes.
- Stop drinking sodas and other sweetened beverages.
- Keep in mind that refrigerated and frozen items use more energy to be moved and stored.
- Eat less meat and other animal-based foods. (I liked Graham Hill's approach in this Ted Talk.) Avoid products from the worst production systems by looking for free-range, cage-free, grass-fed etc...
- Eat fewer processed foods. Here's an explanation as to why from Steven Hopp in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle -- "Food processing uses energy in two main ways: (1) extracting, dicing, mixing, and cooking the ingredients; (2) transporting each individual ingredient. Products with fewer ingredients have probably burned less gas. For example, the oatmeal box on our pantry shelf lists one ingredient: rolled oats... By contrast, our Free-range Happy 75% Organic Cereal Chunks box lists seventeen ingredients, all of which had to be transported to the processing plant."
- And, if you're so inclined to do a little lobbying -- press for food safety, food labeling, and other issues identified in Food Inc.
These aren't all or nothing propositions. I love to eat and I'm not swearing off champagne mangos, Italian wines, or the occasional bag of salt and vinegar potato chips. However, I might join a CSA again. I believe that by making small changes, we can make a big difference. Ultimately our behavior as consumers will direct what happens in the food industry.