Al Gore's speech at this year's Academy Awards, a call to action in the global warming "emergency," illustrates a growing awareness and concern in the American public for environmental issues. In addition to pressing concerns about global warming, deforestation, and renewable energy, this political trend is also affecting the ways in which people approach food and eating. The term "sustainability" has been buzzing around for quite some time, but you may or may not know what it means. Basically, sustainable eating is eating and purchasing food in ways that help maintain and improve the environment, the food supply for the entire planet, and thus people themselves. While this may sound like a lofty feat, everyone can do their part and also enjoy better tasting food!
Sustainable eating supports sustainable agriculture, which promotes healthier practices for the environment, livestock, and consumers, while reducing petroleum usage and cutting carbon emissions. Both of these items are linked to global climate change and health issues for people. Overall though, the foundation of sustainable agriculture and in turn sustainable eating is support for local, smaller-scale farming. Smaller, sustainable farms practice biodiversity to conserve environmental health and enrich the soil, use chemicals and pesticides minimally if at all, raise animals in more natural conditions, and help strengthen local and rural economies.
Supporting sustainable agriculture does not mean simply buying organic food. Much of the organic food you see in your local supermarket actually comes from large, corporate-owned farms which use the same problematic production and transportation methods. While it is possible to buy organic food from across the country and even internationally, this is not sustainable practice. The most important thing in sustainable eating is to support smaller-scale, local farming.
What Can You Do?
1. Know the Growing Season- To practice sustainable eating; you should have an idea of what foods are in season in order to support these items with local farmers. For a more complete list of seasonal produce, check out Selecting and Storing Vegetables and Selecting and Storing Fruit.
Fall- apples, pears, pork, squash, pumpkins, garlic, grapes, mushrooms, pomegranates, sweet potatoes, oysters, figs, celery, cauliflower, grapes
Winter- chestnuts, meat roasts, crab, oranges, lemons, radishes, kale, turnips, beets, cabbage, turkey
Spring- fennel, asparagus, avocado, new potatoes, sugar snap peas, Vidalia onions, milk, butter, fresh cheeses, strawberries
Summer- roasting chickens, corn, blueberries, broccoli, honey, lavender, salmon, beef, watermelon, cucumber, eggplant, raspberries, tomatoes
2. Buy Locally- Whenever possible, support local farmers. You will be blown away by the taste of truly fresh food, and you will be helping a sustainable environment and economy. Use this resource to find farmer's markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainable food in your area: LocalHarvest.Org. Many farms have a simple application process to start having fresh food delivered to your home weekly for a very reasonable price.
3. Buy Organic- If you cannot buy locally, then at least buy organic. This promotes sustainability by helping to protect the environment and people from chemicals and hormones.
4. Keep a Garden- Plant a vegetable garden and perhaps even an herb garden. Strawberries, raspberries, and tomatoes are also great options. Sustainable Eating Magazine provides many helpful tips on when and how to plant many of your favorite foods.
5. Get Involved- Join grassroots efforts against industrial agriculture in your area and help build a community invested in sustainable eating. Join or donate to Farm Aid, which helps support family farms across America.
6. Other Things to Keep in Mind
Chocolate- All chocolate is grown within 20 degrees of the equator, meaning you will not be able to buy this item locally. Unfortunately, cocoa farmers receive very low wages for their harvests resulting in monoculture planting of the cacao trees (that produce chocolate) and the use of pesticides in mass production. Supported by fair-trade organizations, an organic, sustainable movement in chocolate has been growing to combat these trends. Whenever possible, buy Fair Trade, Certified Organic, and Rainforest Alliance chocolates to support sustainable practices.
Coffee- Like chocolate, buy beans from Fair Trade producers and from sources which roast the beans locally. Inquire with these questions in coffee shops in your area.
Tea- Incorporate more local, herbal varieties into your diet, such as peppermint and lemongrass. These are also quite good for you.
Sugar- Try using local harvested honey in and on many items.
Pasta- Buy or make pasta made from locally grown grains.
For more information, check out CulinaryForum.com's A Year for Sustainability.