Ever since I read Russ Parson’s “How to Eat a Peach,” and a slew of articles in magazines encouraging “green” eating, I have been thinking, and sometimes writing about ways to shop, cook and eat that will reduce our carbon footprint. True confessions: since my Earth Day post a year ago, I’ve done a pretty half-assed job. I have bought local produce when it was convenient, I grew nothing in my garden, I bought no locally raised protein, I canned and preserved nothing…my greatest effort was really switching to cloth grocery totes. There are also “green” choices that we made long ago, like cooking more often, buying fewer processed foods and choosing not to buy water in plastic bottles. There are reasons for all of these decisions and failure to decide, some good and some pathetic, but I’m ready to try again. That’s kind of the beauty of the whole “green” concept; it’s a good fit with the concepts of growth, and renewal, and cycling back to grow again another year.
This Earth Day, I am going to commit to do eight “green” things related to food, in the hopes that I can help to preserve our beautiful earth and set a good example for Sam. I have done a little research to get ideas about what these “Green Steps” should be, and have borrowed from here and here and here and here. This is not going to be an easy thing; the budget around here is tight, and I have learned that my family will graciously eat a vegetarian entree, but that it had better be ample and hearty, or they’ll be into the snacks in two hours because they didn’t get enough to eat. It also takes a lot (!) of hours to do a few of the things I am planning to do (gardening, canning), and I may have to make some tough choices about what I want to do with free time. (I am also hoping to blog, at least once a week, about how the Green Steps are progressing).
Finally, as I compiled this list I became aware of the fact that some of these steps will save money, some will be more expensive, and some will likely be a wash. That means I’ll need to watch that balance, too, and I’ve indicated for each item whether I think it will cost more than my previous practices, save money, or do neither.
Here’s my list
Eating Seasonally and Locally (Should Cost Neither More Nor Less)This is an easy, easy promise to make right now, and I can’t tell you that in the fall and winter I will not be buying any fruit or vegetables flown in from California or Florida. I can say that I am going to keep track of what’s in season here in Michigan right now, and to concentrate on buying those things from the most local sources possible. Consulting a couple of sites that lists local, seasonal produce, I have discovered that in April I should be concentrating on:
I like all of those things (although Sam hates mushrooms) and I think I can work with that list for the next week or so – May looks more promising in terms of local stuff. I will need not only to create menus starting tomorrow using these seasonal ingredients, but I’ll have to check at the store on shopping day to see if the Asparagus, Broccoli, etc. was grown in Michigan or flown or trucked in from elsewhere despite the fact that it is available locally. If it’s all “imported,” I may have to reconsider where I do my grocery shopping. This will all be infinitely easier when the Farmers Market opens…and harder again when it folds up in the fall.
Grow a Row (Should Be a Net Savings)I have already told you all that I have these fantasies about gardening; it’s time to get serious. I can’t promise a mini farm, but I can try to grow some “easy” things this summer, like cherry tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, strawberries and herbs. If I can really do this, it will involve O carbon footprint and save us money. It’s a big “if” though….
Save it For Later (Will Cost Money This Year Because I Need to Buy Equipment). If I can jar, can, bottle or freeze as much as possible when it’s fresh and in season, we can have at least a version of it when it isn’t without having it processed or transported. I am going to learn to do this. I am.
Less Red Meat/Make it Grass Fed (More Expensive) This is going to be VERY tough in the Nichols household, where both males are serious carnivores, and Sam’s favorite food is “steak – duh.” On the other hand, I think we need to be aware that meat comes from animals, and that as animal lovers we have some responsibility to think about where our beef comes from, and how the animals were treated during their lives, as well as how the cattle farming practices impact the environment.
In a perfect world, I would buy a side of locally raised, grass-fed beef and freeze it, but we have neither a large freezer nor the cash for both a side of beef and a large freezer in one fell swoop. Since the side of beef isn’t practical for now, my plan is to save for a freezer, and to plan that we will only eat red meat twice a week (if that) and that it will have to be grass fed/organic. It costs the earth to buy that kind of meat, and I’ll have to plan very carefully to be able to afford it, and to use it for maximum meat-ilicious impact. (In other words, if you really like meat, ground beef in a spaghetti sauce does not make your heart sing like a steak on the grill).
Choose Seafood Carefully (More Expensive) Rob and I tend to eat seafood once a week, when Sam is otherwise engaged. I’d like to bump it up to twice a week and let him eat cereal, if he insists. My sources tell me that it is environmentally unsound to buy or order: Chilean sea bass, swordfish, and ahi tuna. It’s okay to eat Tilapia, wild salmon (especially Alaskan), domestic mahi mahi, Pacific halibut, Pollock, white seabass and sardines, as well as oysters, clams, calamari, and American lobster. (I will NOT be eating any sardines, thank you very much).
Buy in Bulk (Should Save Money). Okay; this is an easy one. Anything scooped out of a bin bought in bulk uses less packaging, and I can get exactly as much as I need.
Join a CSA (More Expensive) Another no-brainer. I would love nothing more than to have a weekly assortment of locally grown CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) stuff to play with in the kitchen. There are several CSA options in our area, including one that is organized around the organic agriculture program at out outstanding local University, originally founded as “Michigan Agricultural College.” Doesn’t get much better than that.
Eat More Vegetarian Meals (Should Save Money). According to Bon Apetit: “Vegetables require less energy and water to grow and produce no greenhouse gases, so they’re a far more efficient food source than domesticated livestock.” If we can eat two vegetarian meals a week, I’ll call it a good start. Of course, Rob may call it a cold day in hell…..
As I said; I’ll keep you posted. I’m committed to trying, and I’ll make the menus, ask the questions, call the CSA, buy the seeds and canning jars as promised, but there will have to be a workable balance for the members of my family who are not making this commitment. You know, though, as long as we’re trying to make life cleaner and greener on this earth on which we hurtle through space, we might as well keep the ride interesting, too…..