if you care about food

i talked to my coworker about a chest freezer she might have to sell/loan me. i’m excited because a chest freezer means that it’s time for a quarter cow (local, of course) and hopefully some local pork, too! i’m really excited to start eating happy animals as opposed to walmart animals. 

here is an excerpt from my “a little more whole” devil’s syrup chapter. if ever i were to become a vegetarian, it would be based on environmental factors. 

PS- i recommend everyone read the book “Just Food.”

However, there are some things to consider when buying local. The first thing is that what you do buy is in-season – the vegetables and fruits on the tables are what normally grows right now. To go truly local is to make sure everything you eat is from a local source, meaning no more bananas, oranges, or mangos for those of us in the Midwest. It also means eating and saving what you can while it’s in season, which is why canning is a huge saving grace to those who do go local. Barbara Kingsolver in her book “Animal Vegetable Miracle” embarks on a year-long quest to get almost all of her family’s food from within a hundred mile radius of her home with very few exceptions (like olive oil). This included planting ninety tomato plants and spending days canning them. Reading the book, you realize what a large task this actually is.

Another thing to consider is the energy used to get the food to your table. There is a lot of concern about food miles and how far a vegetable has to travel to get to your plate, but there is a lot more to consider than just the miles – one needs to take into account all the steps along the growing process. Life-cycle assessments do just this.

James McWilliams in his book “Just Food” discusses the LCA and how buying local is not necessarily always greener. For instance, he gives the examples of winter tomatoes that are imported from Spain to England that cover a lot more miles than the local tomatoes that are grown in England. But those tomatoes that are grown locally are done so in hothouses, which use a lot more energy than that consumed by the miles traveled by the Spanish tomatoes. It’s also important to take into account that a single tomato may have traveled 1500 miles, but it’s also traveling with how many other tomatoes? Its per-tomato fuel usage may be so minimal that it would make more sense to buy that tomato when taking other energy processes into account. This is also an important thing to keep in mind when deciding to buy something that isn’t in season in your area. Californians have the luxury of fresh tomatoes year round, but for most of us in the US, is that mealy, artificially ripened tomato really worth it in the middle of January?

And what if you live in an area that isn’t hospitable to any kind of natural growing? The earth’s population keeps growing, and these people need food, no matter where they live. If you’re like me and live in an area that allows for seasonal growing (and storage), that’s all well and good, but my aunt who lives in Arizona doesn’t have that luxury without expending a lot of water usage and unnatural means. In her case, local is not necessarily the answer. What we do need is a smart, environmentally healthy way to produce and transport food to areas that need to import. Yes, you can eat local, but think in a global way as well.

Surprisingly, McWilliams writes that a lot of energy usage goes toward home preparation, second only to the actual growth of the food.

“…how much energy could be saved if we threw out less food, cooked smaller amounts, ate less in general, used energy-efficient ovens and refrigerators, composted all organic matter not eaten, and developed more energy-efficient menus (say, by eating more meals that did not require extensive and prolonged applications of heat).”

Is this a point for the raw food movement? I can see how it would be more environmentally friendly, but I’m not heading down that path anytime soon. I’m not even giving up meat anytime soon, as I said before. McWilliams does mention that in doing the research for his book, he did decide to become a vegetarian (much to his wife’s chagrin). On the meat production issue, he says that if you aren’t going to stop eating meat, at least make it grass-fed and for special occasions; in short, eat less meat.

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