5 Food Habits to Adopt this Earth Day and Daily

Happy Earth Day! Starting 35 years ago, April 22nd has been designated a day to celebrate our earth and recognize that it needs nurturing just like anything else we care about. Our earth supports us in so many ways, and of course, we need a happy and healthy planet to grow our food and nourish our bodies.

By 2050, our planet will be host to 9 billion humans. With hunger already prevalent, we need to feed all these mouths as sustainably as possible, which is especially important as our earth is challenged. Did you know that our food supply is a contributor to climate change, green house gas emissions, and waste?

whats-wrong-with-our-food-system

Add to this the deforestation and pressure on species as we clear more and more land to feed our demands.

Screen-Shot-2013-12-26-at-8_14_08-PM

But every little we do as consumers can help alleviate some of these challenges. Let’s consider the 5 R’s as good habits to start today and nurture for our future:

Reduce: It’s tempting to stock pile on food but what tends to happen is food expires or goes bad if we don’t get around to it quickly enough, and who wants to waste precious food? Reduce your dependence on highly processed and packaged food, because the processing and packaging requires massive energy inputs. And do you really need that mega meal? Cutting back on your portions size is great not only for your waist line, but also for the planet. The food that contributes the most to green house gas emissions tends to be livestock:

EWG-infographic

(Source: Environmental Work Group)

Today may be a good day to revisit how much meat you eat. You can reduce your meat intake, and add plant-based protein sources like beans, legumes and tofu. Start with one day a week – how about participating in Meatless Mondays? Also think about reducing your carbon footprint by selecting locally grown or produced foods from your nearest farmers market. On average, most conventionally grown and produced food travels 1,500 miles, which adds up to green house emissions. Supporting your local producers cuts this back, and adds to your local economy.

Reuse: Have you got some leftovers in your refrigerator? How about reusing these tonight? Maybe convert it into another meal? Yes, you can reuse food! Think about a whole chicken. Roast it, add some vegetable sides and you have one meal. Use the remaining meat the next day in a chicken salad. Left with the carcass? Make your own stock with this. Just one example of a food you can reuse a couple of times over!

Recycle: If you haven’t already, start recycling all the packaging for your food products.

imagesZL2M4RQV

(Source: Edinburgh University)

Recycle leftovers following ‘Reuse’ and take your own drinking containers for water and coffee drinking throughout the day or bring your reusable containers for leftovers when you eat out. Choose recyclable packaging by using paper disposable products versus foam products, the latter being awful on the environment. The more fresh food you buy, the less packaging you may need – take your favorite tote to the grocery store or farmers’ market.

Restore & Replenish: Another perk to supporting local farmers is that they tent to be more mindful of how they treat the land upon which they grow or rear food. Farmers who use organic materials and even make their own compost are using the ‘Reuse’ and ‘Recycle’ principles to turn food waste (cuttings, peels, eggs shells etc.) into nourishment for soil to restore and replenish nutrients, bacteria, fungi and other living organisms that contribute to the livelihood and vitality of soil. You can also do this and grow your own food in your backyard, maybe even restoring some balance to your back yard ecosystems and biodiversity. Also think about how buying fresh or whole food is great form of nourishment to your body, restoring an replenishing critical nutrients to keep you happy and healthy.

So this Earth Day, embrace these 5 habits and run with them. You really can make a big difference!

Yours in all things food,

Jess

Advertisements

Behind the Scenes of Atlanta’s Favorite Popsicle

A hot summer’s day in the south conjures up many images… homemade lemonade, chilled beer, sun-kissed freckles, the warm orange glow of dusk… and in Atlanta, little white carts with unmistakable rainbow-colored umbrellas. Yes, these umbrellas are not only shady relief from the relentless sun. They’re also landmark blessings to us overheated souls in Hot-lanta. King of Pops is a summer savior!

Every time I spot their little carts filled with popsicles, I spot a line, usually a long one. But the wait is always worth while because these chilly treats are just what you need when your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth and you are delirious with heat. Over three years, King Of Pops has become a sensation. The idea was the offspring of travels to Central America by three brothers. Heard of paletas? Well, I hadn’t until I did some research. They’re pure fruit or milk-based popsicles, found typically in Central America. However, similar versions are common in many hot, tropical climates around the world. Key to quality paletas is using fruit at its peak season, offering flavors to tantalize the taste buds.

King of Pops spins the flavor wheel to produce highly prized flavors like salted chocolate, pineapple cilantro and coconut lemongrass. They use locally sourced items whenever possible. The day I visited, peach popsicles were in full production. These peaches are from Pearson Peaches. Just peachy indeed!

With it being early in the peach season, the fruit has a hard time separating from the pip so it takes a little more manipulation and preparation. The sliced peaches are placed in a large container to be processed by an industrial size hand blender. Pretty powerful piece of equipment and with all the soups and smoothies I make, this would be an awesome addition to my kitchen!

One ingredient added to the peachy pulp is freshly squeezed lemon juice, and with the help of these juicers, the juicing is done quickly and efficiently to make the required volume.

Add a pinch of salt and viola! You have a mixture ready for popsicle setting. These chillers are incredible. They have the capacity for two hundred popsicles, which take about thirty minutes to set. You can only imagine how often these get filled during the day to meet the big demand in Atlanta.

Once packaged, they’re stored in freezers according to type with the milk blends separated from the fruit-only blends. I saw many flavors on the storage chart, and hope I’ll have a chance to eat my way through these over the course of the summer…

And the grand finale… loading into the infamous white carts that find their way to all corners of the city. Besides farmers markets and festivals, King of Pops caters at corporate events and even weddings. And if it’s your birthday and you’re having a big bash, they are happy to serve popsicles in your favorite flavors to your party guests. Please can I?

Did I mention that King of Pops is not exclusive to Atlanta? They are branching out. I guess us Atlantans have to learn to share! During my visit popsicles were being packaged to be sent Earth Fare stores in Augusta, Charleston and Athens. From a small, brother-run ‘dream come to true’ to a major artisan enterprise, King of Pops is certainly the king of all things popsicle.

Jess Avasthi, Real Time Farms Food Warrior Alum

Keeping Food Real

‘Tis the season to be at the market

Spring has swept in and Summer is knocking on our doors. The farmers’ market season has kicked off. It’s time to dust off your market basket and head to your nearest farmers’ market (go hungry, please!). Whether you’re a seasoned market shopper or a novice, it’s a good time to get the 411 on this. And yes, I know you’ve seen this kind of info before but guess what happens during the off-season (between fall and spring)? Holidays, new years, cold weather, busy households… So let’s fine tune our memories shall we?

1. Who are you buying the food from? You can always ask the vendor, but I know there are folks out there who are used to shopping for food no questions asked, so this is for you. Take a good look at the fresh produce vendors. Spot some gritty fingernails? How about their produce? Is most of this displayed loose and is it of varying shapes, sizes, varieties, and dusted here and there with a little soil? Consider the season. We’re in early spring, so if you spot lush leafy greens, radishes, carrots, and turnips, and you take all of the above into consideration, you’re bound to be buying from a local farmer. Now quit being shy and ask them about their farm. You’ll see their eyes light up. They’ll tell you what they grow, how they do it and what you can make tonight. Yay! You’ve met the face behind the food. A farmer! You go you…

Now, be mindful of other vendors. Do you see some tomatoes? Summer squash? For many parts of the country, these aren’t quite in season yet. Check how these are stored. If you spot a cardboard box that brags ‘California’ but you’re thousands of miles away from this sunshine state, know that you may be buying your goods from a produce wholesaler. Nothing wrong with this. They offer some produce at lower costs, but their produce may not be local and may have travelled the infamous 1500 miles to get to this market. I’m all for making healthy food accessible to all, but it’s just good for you to know what’s out there and to make some philosophical decisions. Supporting local farmers is a great investment in your local economy, and the wholesaler may very well have some items they source locally or regionally, so just ask them. Otherwise, learn what’s in season in your neck of the woods, and that way you’ll be able to discern the local ‘growers’ from the wholesalers.

It turns out buying from local farmers is pretty affordable. After all, you’re happy to spend three bucks on a beer, coffee, or dvd rental, so three bucks for a bag of locally grown greens is fair game to me.

Now, some farmers may not have the man power to be at the market, and this has created the ‘distributor‘ channel. Distributors are handy. They go from farm to farm to gather the goods and then sell these on behalf of the farmers. This enables farmers to keep their resources on the land, to maximize their growing, and be able to market and sell their products without having to spend hours attending to this. And some farmers will admit that they are not the most adept in marketing and distribution.

2. Plastic bags are at Farmers’ Markets too. Most of our farmers do a sterling job in following growing practices that are kinder to our planet. The only reason why they have plastic bags is because of you. So note to dear consumer… save them the hassle, and save the environment by bringing your market basket. We have to rely on each other to be more conscious of our environmental impact.

3. Which leads me to how your food is grown or raised (I call it ‘graised’). Most but certainly not all farmers are certified organic, and in a nutshell (I know… You don’t want to have to read a compendium) this means no synthetic fertilizers and chemicals, no hormones and antibiotics for livestock, and no genetically modified organisms (GMO) (and the latter takes a compendium to explain so click here to learn more). But it doesn’t stop there. These farmers follow diverse growing practices, including crop rotations, using cover crops during winter (which give the soil a great nutritional shot), and increasing the biodiversity of crops. This certification process is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). While very beneficial, some farmers opt out of this government regulation for Certified Naturally Grown, which is pretty much organic but farmers are accountable to each other rather than the USDA. So either way, you’re supporting growing practices that our grandparents and generations before applied to food production. It’s how food should be grown, and mother nature prefers it too.

4. Cash, credit, or debit? Some markets can facilitate all forms of payment, others are strictly cash, so check ahead and be prepared because you won’t be able to barter your car, children, or pets for yummy food. I have been to markets where you can pay credit and receive cash ‘discs’ at $2 each to go around and pay the vendors. I have paid vendors credit and cash directly. I like to carry both forms in case. In fact, some farmers’ markets are set up to accept Electronic Benefits Transactions (EBT), which is part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (commonly known as the Food Stamp program). My personal favorite is markets which double up SNAP dollars through programs like Wholesome Wave. So for every dollar, you get an extra dollar to spend! This is a super way to encourage all folks, regardless of socioeconomic status, to access and participate in their farmers’ markets. And the cherry on top? We all get to eat delicious and nutritious ware.

And last but not least…

5. Behind every great market is an equally great person. Every market has a manager. If it wasn’t for their year round efforts, there would be no market. They are the ones who plan the season, communicate market events, source and retain vendors, seek funding, coordinate the smooth operation… and the list goes on and on. So if you know your market manager, be sure to thank them and maybe offer to volunteer some time. If you don’t know your market manager, find them and give them a big thankful hug. They, and the farmers, artisans, artists… make your market happen.

Happy shopping, happy noshing, and happy season folks!

Jess Avasth  MS, RD, LS & Mindful Eater

Keeping Food Real and Lover of Farmers’ Markets

The Very Beautiful Planted Rock Farm

The weatherman had it wrong… again! What was meant to be a fine, sunny day turned out to be overcast and rainy. But thanks to two super farmers, plenty of conversation and laughter was shared, enough to brighten any grey day. And the beautiful surroundings of Planted Rock Farm in Palmetto, Georgia, was a wonderful escape from the city.

You can find produce from this farm at the Peachtree Farmers’ Market, certain restaurants’s menus, Empire State South being an avid supporter, and as the new season enters, the farmers plan to expand their CSA operation. Watch this space for more updates from this farm…

Jess Avasthi, Real Time Farms Food Warrior, Winter 2012

Keeping Food Real

Five Food Fundamentals to Thrive By

We consumers have plenty to juggle when we navigate the food-scape of the twenty first century, and with limited time, stretched paychecks, and other areas of life to manage, it’s invaluable to know how to source good food quick on our feet. ‘Should I get my produce from famers’ markets? Is all organic food healthier for you? How can I afford to eat good? How do I make time to eat good?’. These are just some of the many questions from consumers’ mouths.  And where do we source our food and nutrition information from? It appears that we rely on the internet. The sheer volume of information on the net is not necessarily a good thing. Not all sites are reliable, and often information is conflicting, leaving consumers befuddled or mislead. 

Being a registered dietitian, its important for me to communicate sound and evidence-based information on the health benefits of food to all consumers. But it in addition to this, it my responsibility to encourage consumers to consider important philosophies regarding the growing, raising and processing of food. Yesterday at the Georgia Organics Conference in Columbus, Georgia, myself and a fellow registered dietitian, Janice Giddens, had the opportunity to discuss all things food to a diverse audience of consumers, educators, and food entrepreneurs. Our overarching goal: Provide accurate and sound information, and let consumers make informed decisions parallel to their beliefs. Food is much deeper than just nourishment, so to make good food easier to understand and access, here are Five Food Fundamentals all consumers should know.

1. Know food terminologies and labels: See all those colorful labels on food? Spend some time examining these. What are they telling you? What does cage free really mean? You’ll be surprised to learn the hard facts. For example, ‘natural’ or ‘all natural’ sounds lovely, but it boils down to very little. It doesn’t concern how found is grown or raised, it mainly refers to how the final product comes to be. Buying natural beef? All this implies is that no colorants have been injected into the meat to make the red that much brighter. In contrast to this, ‘Certified Naturally Grown’ refers to produce grown following organic standards, but the growers have refrained from the often tedious and costly organic certification process. It can take hours to research all the labels and terminologies, but thanks to a smart phone app called Eco Label, some of these are demystified at the press of a button.

2. Plan: Armed with a plan takes the admin out of food. What are some of your favorite recipes? Get your week of meals planned, and schedule cooking days to cook a few meals in advance. This translates to not needing to cook daily. Once you have your week menu planned, take a look at the ingredients you need. Is everything is season? If not can you make substitutions? This is a where a good measure of creativity is employed. The beauty of cooking is that it’s not baking. You can experiment without the risk of a flopped cake. Thinking Italian? How about Bruschetta? No tomatoes, no problem! Radishes, turnips, beets and tender beet greens make a gorgeous bruschetta. Now for some pesto… no basil? Look around at the farmers’ market and what do you see? Kale, Swiss Chard, and Collard greens, longing to be substitutes! (Janice’s collard and pecan pesto is delish y’all!). Of course, we don’t expect you to do everything seasonal but give it a shot. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. So you have your menu, and a shopping list. Time to find some coupons for some of the products you need. One great resource is the Best Organic Coupons site. Every penny counts, especially when feeding a family. You never know… you may become the first ‘extreme organic couponer’…

3. Shop: We all depend on grcoery stores and supermarkets for the essentials. When shopping in the naturals foods section, there are a few money-saving strategies to keep your wallet afloat. Check use-by dates on products. Unlike sell-by dates, use-by refers to food quality and not food spoilage and safety. If you notice products close to their use-by date and you’re willing and able to scoop these up, you may be able to get these at a discounted rate. Store managers prefer the idea of selling, not chucking, food. And does all your food have to be organic? Not necessarily. Many consumers believe that organic food is healthier. A box of mac ‘n cheese, organic or not, is highly processed and tends to run high in sodium. Best not to spend to spend your money on something like this (go home and make mac ‘n cheese from scratch folks!). Now produce is a different ball game. If you want to eat meat from happily raised livestock, or you want to avoid pesticides, organic is the way to go. In the same breath, you can be selective in fruits and vegetables if you’re on a tighter budget. The Environmental Working Group has a great resource, the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen to help consumers determine what items can be organic or conventional, with the overall goal to minimize pesticide exposure.

There is life beyond the grocery store. Shop around a little. And shop local. How about joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share? This is a great time to sign up, just as the farmers start sowing the spring crops. If you’re on your own, or if you know your family is not enthused by idea of having green leafy vegetables three nights a week, split a CSA with friends or family. You can save (again) and avoid waste, awesome for your bottom line, health, and local economy. If you’re an online shopper, you can select products from multiple farmers and artisans and collect these from a designated market using a great online resource, Locally Grown. Then again, grab a shopping bag or basket, and step out the door. Farmers’ markets await! With spring just around the corner, the market season will be in full swing in a matter of weeks. Being outdoors and seeing the gorgeous produce and friendly farmers’ faces is a world apart from the supermarket aisles. Local is lovely indeed.

4. Cook: Delicious food is an easy feat! If you have fabulous ingredients, these will speak for themselves. Simplicity is a cherished friend to food integrity. Five fundamental ingredients to have on hand at all times: olive oil, garlic, fresh lemons, sea salt, and freshly crushed pepper… you’ll work wonders with these. Cook in bulk and freeze some leftovers for a rainy day. If you’re a meat eater, determine a couple of simple vegetable sides to complete your meat choice. Want a happy, meaty meal minus the drive through and acid reflux? Lemon basted chicken pairs beautifully with braised swiss chard and roasted root vegetables (it’s breakfast time right now but seriously, I could scoff this now!). If blueberries are in season, buy and freeze, repeat, and repeat some more, and in the winter you’ll be making blueberry compote full of the peak summer flavor. If you’re part of a family unit, recruit family members to gather and cook. And stressed out about planning a dinner party? Pot lucks aren’t tacky. Host a pot luck show casing local ingredients. This will be a great way for your guests to chime into the season. And if you have plenty of wine, they’ll come!

5. Advocate: I know what you’re thinking. ‘Wait a minute, here she was talking about all this good food stuff now she’s thrown in a spanner, politics!”. Well, sorry to say folks but if you truly care about what you eat, you need to speak up. Food is a BIG picture. It starts with soil health, and ends with our health. The journey in between is long and complex. Concerned about farmers’ rights, animal treatment, the environment, food access, small scale farmers, food corporatization… concerned about anything concerning food? Advocate. And this is the year to break ground on advocacy, if you haven’t already. Heard about the Farm Bill? Bet you have. This bill is a blueprint for our food system, and it’s far from perfect. Join advocacy groups. If you’re in the Georgia region, Georgia Organics is a super start. Nationally, the Food and Water Watch organization is also a great resource. It’s always a good idea to examine candidates before voting, but it’s equally important to examine the issues they are going to work on during their terms. You’ll never know everything, but knowing something is empowering, enabling you to truly ‘vote with your fork’.

These Five Food Fundamentals are what I try to apply, and what I believe we as consumers can all try and apply. Treat food as an investment to long term health for us and for our planet. And treat the current emerging reforms (more farmers’ markets, more small scale farmers, more local food, better food transparency etc.) not as ‘trends’ but rather as reforms that our generations to come will continue to support and thrive on.

Jess Avasthi MS, RD, LD

Keeping Food Real