Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Evolving Eating Philosophy

Over the years, I've read several books that have focused on or touched on the topic of ethical eating. However, the book that impacted me the most and really made me think about practical ways to change my approach to sourcing my food was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. In this book, Kingsolver shares her family's journey of spending one year eating only locally-grown foods. This was obviously an extreme thing to do and required a lot of planning, research, and sacrifices. My takeaway from the book was that Kingsolver wasn't encouraging the reader to mimic her experiment; instead, she provided food for thought on how the reader can shift towards eating a more locally-grown diet.

Besides providing a month-by-month account of how her family ate locally for a year, she also includes essays from her daughter and husband. Her husband's first essay included this statistic which really stopped me in my tracks:

""if every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week (pg. 5)."

That's a pretty impressive statistic and goes to show how eating locally can cut down on our fuel consumption, and negative consequences of our food consumption, such as the pollution that results from all of those trucks that haul food across the U.S. (I'm looking at you, Mexican-grown tomatoes). 

Here are some of my takeaways and ways I've been trying to change the way I source our food.

1. Grow your own food and preserve it. This year I signed up for a local community garden and it has been such an awesome experience. It's been so fulfilling to eat meals made from fruits and vegetables that I grew organically with my own two hands. Besides growing my own food, I've also experimented with preserving it as I made salsa and marinara and have also frozen over a gallon of green beans. Preserving food is an important component of eating locally for those of us that live in the cold, northern regions as obviously there isn't fresh, locally grown produce available during the winter months. It's not practical for me to preserve all the fresh produce we'll need to eat during the winter, but I'm trying to preserve as much as I can to cut down on the purchase of things that have to travel so far to get to my grocery store.

2. Support local farmers.  It's not practical or possible for everyone to grow their own food, but it is possible for everyone to support their local farmers by purchasing produce, meat and eggs at the farmer's market. It's going to be more expensive than buying these items at the grocery store, but consider this statistic: according to Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, the average American spends about 9% of their income on food, which is half of what we spent in the 1950s and lower than any other country in the world. Cheaper food sounds better on the surface, but we are paying for it in terms of our health and the health of our planet. So yes, a dozen eggs is going to cost me $6 at the farmer's market compared to around $2 at the grocery store. But as Michael Pollan says, "we are what we eat eats." So I'd rather spend a bit more for eggs that come from chickens that were humanely raised and fed a healthy diet versus eggs that came from a factory farm where the chickens are crammed into a building and fed a diet of corn. Now, I recognize that not everyone is able to afford to purchase food from the farmer's market, but those of who can, should. Plus it helps us support our local farmers, which is important because we need them to be able to continue to grow food!

3. Eat what is in season. I will be the first to admit that I've made dishes with asparagus in the summer, winter and fall. I'm going to stop doing that going forward because asparagus only grows in the Midwest in the spring. Yes it is a bit of a sacrifice to avoid purchasing a vegetable I love but that means I will only be eating asparagus when it tastes its best because it will come from local farms instead of from a farm 1,000+ miles away! This also means that I am going to stop buying fresh  tomatoes in the winter and spring ((I use the word fresh loosely here because winter tomatoes from the grocery store taste pretty awful). Again, because I live in the north, I can't buy fresh, local produce year round, but I can cut back on buying things that aren't in season in the U.S. For example, this means buying asparagus and berries in the spring, melons in the summer, and apples in the fall.

4. There will be sacrifices. One fruit that the Kingsolver family completely stopped eating was bananas because bananas are NEVER in season where they lived (North Carolina). I'm not going to say that I will never eat another banana because that is not realistic. But do I need to buy them every week when there are other fruits in season? The answer is no. My usual breakfast is oatmeal with a banana on top, but starting this week, I'm shifted to eating this apple pie oatmeal recipe using locally grown apples. It doesn't feel like much of a sacrifice since it's delicious!! 

So those are some small adjustments I am making in how I source my food. I'm certainly far from perfect, but it feels good to make small changes that move the needle towards eating a more locally-grown diet!

What changes have you made or do you plan to make in the future to shift towards eating a more locally-grown diet? Is this something you give much thought to? Again I want to emphasize that I am FAR from perfect, but I'm really trying to be more mindful of where my food is coming from!


Charbelle said...

Wow... this is great food for thought! We've talked before about how my Grandaddy had the garden. For years we always had fresh vegetables. There is a local farmers market a few minutes from our house and my Mom goes on Saturdays. Because of where we live I think they are open for most of the year minus November/December/January. I get so spoiled living with my parents because I rarely grocery shop :)

Marlys said...

Very good food for thought! When your grandparents were young, their families raised everything and preserved it including meat, fruit & vegetables so they only had to buy flour, sugar and those type of staples. Of course they did a lot of preserving using salt, especially for meats, and kept them in the ground over the winter to keep them cold as they didn't have freezers. It's quite an interesting concept!

Jeanie said...

Very nice and thoughtful post, Lisa. Like you, I'm in a northern climate and there are things you just have to eat out of season or even out of country (like bananas!). But I agree in concept. I try my best to buy fruits and veggies at farmers' markets, grow herbs, buy Michigan sugar, all that sort of thing. But I am much further from perfect than you! Still, I do try to eat in season and as regional as possible -- and it feels good to know you are trying!

Carolina John said...

It's a lot easier to eat locally and seasonally when you're in the south, we have a longer summer growing season and can get some sub-tropical fruits. You know I shift my eating patterns all over the place.

All of that is still a shift away from processed foods, and that is really the most important part. The next most important part, in my perspective, is to get as close to vegan or vegetarian as possible. Animal agriculture, whether factory farmed or local small farms, is still having a tremendous environmental impact. I have met some people that only eat from their own 4-season gardens, just veggies and fruits that they grow themselves. That is certainly an extreme version that most of us don't want to aspire to, but it does illustrate the point. Any trend that moves us away from the mass produced factory "food" which is mostly chemicals is great.

One more suggestion: check out The Omnivore's Dilemna by Michael Pollan. Fantastic book on the same general area.

San said...

I loved this post, Lisa, and I will definitely check out the book.

I do many of the things that you mentioned already - like trying to grow my food (with mediocre success so far - LOL) and shopping at the Farmers Market (although I have to be more consistent with that again). I also try to eat what's in season (the Farmers market helps with that, because you won't find bananas there ;)). I think everyone can do a little to live a bit more sustainable.

Jolene - EverydayFoodie said...

Christopher and I try to buy local as much as possible. We shop at the farmers' market and try to find local products in the grocery stores, or products grown in our province, and at the very least, Canadian products.

Amber said...

I love this post! That book is next on my to-read list, or rather to-listen list as I plan on listening to it on Audible. Tsh Oxenreider shared a similar statistic about how Americans spend less on food than any other country in the world. She said that it's something like 6% of their annual income where in Italy it's more like 19% of annual income goes towards food! So interesting! That was one statistic that really stuck with me and even though I already try to shop at the Farmer's Market I am going to make a bigger effort to buy ONLY ethically and locally raised meats. The expense of it is the only thing that will make it hard but that's why I plan to only eat meat in one meal per day so it won't feel as bad. There is a similar statistic out there about if all Americans ate vegetarian ONE day per week it would make such a difference for global warming as a lot of our climate change problems are due to factory farming and livestock waste - it's just crazy!

Gracie said...

This is something I would love to do, but it would be terribly difficult in our subtropic weather. Nearly all of our food is brought from far: at least middle to northern Louisiana, or maybe Alabama. But practically nothing grows well here (although some poor souls are really pushing the whole schoolyard garden, which I think is such a beneficial thing for our culture, if the lettuce wouldn't all get scorched!).

katielookingforward said...

next summer i'm getting a csa. for real. but this year it just didn't happen. i need a mid-week pick up to assure i actually get it.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

We have gotten much better at utilizing our garden stuff. We live on 2.5 acres and have a huge garden. We used our tomatoes this year to make 3 batches of that marinara sauce!!! Yummmm. THANK YOU! We froze a lot of green peppers. Not sure how I'm gonna like that this winter but we couldn't eat it all freesh. We have canned and picked jalapenos and yellow peppers. We have 7 apple trees so we can applesauce and make our own apple cider and apple crisp. We have peach trees and we ate them all fresh this year. We hope to make peach jam with our own next year and hopefully peach wine. We have grapes and make grape jelly and juice. We have made wine. We've made pickles from cucumbers. We froze zucchini. I know I am forgetting things. We are horrible about local meat and eggs. We occasionally eat local but it's not constant.

Abby said...

Great post, Lisa! We have definitely made a shift towards eating more in season and local. Gardening is so hard to do in the summer here. You literally can't do it if you ever want to leave for a few days (unless you have a neighbor who will tend to your stuff). But we are working on getting the set up for rain water harvesting to get through our drought seasons, Ryan is going to build a small greenhouse for seedlings, and we are going to get a desert garden going within the next year! I also change my fruits to what is in season at that time (except bananas - I supplement them year round). And AZ is very close to Mexico and CA which produce good stuff year round !

We have thought about doing chickens - since we are on so much land and they actually aren't that difficult to maintain. We have several friends that raise chickens. And with how many eggs we go through - it would be so worth it!