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?

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

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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:

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(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.

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(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

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‘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