Sunday, March 18, 2007

You Are What You Eat

I'm not sure how true that post title is, but most people who have known me throughout my life would assume I should now look like a Value Meal. I'm not the best eater in the world when it comes to healthy choices. But our family has spent the last year or so thinking more carefully about what we eat. Not just for dietary reasons, but also for the impact our food choices have on the food system and the environment as a whole. And those choices aren't always easy to make. I finally got around to reading the recent article in Time magazine on organic food versus local food, and the author did a pretty nice job of laying out the pros and cons of attempting to make these choices.

Why do we sometimes eat organic? The obvious answer would be to avoid ingesting all those pesticides sprayed on crops to get rid of those pesky bugs. There is still much debate about whether those small amounts really harm us. Some scientists say we are over-reacting. Others say the pesticides do horrible things to us from cancer to hair loss to shrunken testicles. I think one scientist has identified the "Spears Syndrome"...brief bouts of irrational behavior and head shaving from eating that stuff.

But our choice also deals with the food system. When the bugs do eat the poison, and then are eaten by birds, the bird population suffers. The poisons drain into the dirt and eventually into the water table...killing small animals in streams and rivers that larger fish need as a food source. So eating organic seems like a good choice.

But have you tried? Our local, giant supermarket only offers a handful of organic produce. And the price is much higher than the rest of the produce. So it is hard to find and hard to afford. And it may have traveled from far away to get here. Good to avoid the toxins...but the benefit is almost eliminated by the fuel used and the pollution created in shipping the food around the world.

Which bring me to locally grown foods. "Bioregionalism" is the fancy term for it. Eating foods grown in your local area. This has been an easier shift for our family. Oh, don't get me wrong, we eat plenty of stuff grown around the world. But throughout the summer we visit the local farmer's markets for some of our groceries. And last summer we joined a CSA - Community Supported Agriculture. If you've not heard of these, this is the system where each member pays the farmer in advance. In our case, we pay $325 in March. Then for the entire summer, we drop by the farm once a week and we get an equal share of all that was harvested that week. Fresh herbs, salad greens, strawberries, boxes of tomatoes for making and freezing sauce, melons. squash, beans, fresh garlic, zucchini, peppers, etc, etc, etc. We got way more than $325 worth of produce and ate fresh vegetables every day during the summer (and had plenty to blend with fall foliage for our Mabon centerpiece to celebrate the harvest). We also filled our freezer with frozen veggies fresh from the field and home-made spaghetti sauces and breaded zucchini slices and more. And to really make this a good thing, our local farmer is certified organic! The best of both worlds!! So we've been lucky there.

Our latest effort - and this is no picnic for Mr Value Meal here, is we are trying to go one day a week without eating meat. Trust me, I'll never be a vegetarian. Not that there is anything wrong with it. I'm sure it is a healthy choice. But I love meat. Love burgers and steak and pork chops. But one day a week...okay, I can do that. But why would we? Well we learned that if each family went meatless just one day a week, by the end of the year several million barrels of fuel oil would have been saved without trucking all that meat around. Thousands of acres of rain forest would be saved without the need to for so much grazing land for cattle. Greenhouse gases would be significantly reduced without the pollution associated with the additional ranching and transportation. But it isn't easy.

None of this is easy. Especially in a region of the country with long winters and short growing seasons. And I'm not writing this as a lecture to try to encourage folks to do the same. I'm just sharing.

But do I like it? Yes. I realized when we got a new roof, we interviewed four different contractors, asked for references, and picked a local guy with a good history. I knew more about my roofer than I did the guy who grew the food for my family. Now, I like knowing George, the guy who owns the local farm we joined. I like chatting with him every week about the heritage produce and the hybrid stuff and tasting things he just pulled from the field.

And eating that way makes me feel a little more connected to the earth. We are more likely to eat what is in season...and not choose that six-dollar, baseball-sized cantaloupe at the market this month that came from the other side of the world. As a pagan, I like being more connected to the cycles of nature. And I like making choices that are good for not just me, not just my family, but for the earth.


Beth said...

Em, you're so very lucky to have a local farm where you can do in advance and get fresh stuff all summer. We have lots of farmer's markets around here, but I don't think any of them are certified organic.

And the organic stuff at the store? Forget it! I can't afford it!

so we always like to plant a garden in the summer...tomatoes, cukes, hot peppers, herbs(which I grow year round in the house) all kinds of stuff. that way, we can just go pick supper....with a little meat thrown in.

I too am a meat lover. Couldn't go vegie if I wanted to, which I don't.

Anonymous said...

Eating local food has so many benefits like you mentioned but I would also have to add that by eating locally grown food you are supporting your own metabolism for the climate that you live in. I know people that won't eat tropical fruit because they don't live in a tropical climate. It gets me to thinking about it anyways...but I don't think I could live without mangos, possibly the most perfect fruit on the planet.

As for organic...I like to buy it when I can because it supports a healthy way of farming. Good for the planet and good for my body.

Marie said...

Good for you, Em! We buy quite a bit of organics & locally-grown produce in the summer. Our grocery bills are definitely high... but we cut back in other areas, which helps. (My son pretty much doesn't wear new clothes, and we don't have cable tv)

I like the flavor of the organics better, and I like that we're not putting man-made chemicals into our little boy's body.

We've talked about joining a CSA too... I know many people involved with them. It would be a bit of a drive for us to pick up, but it is something to consider!

Good for you Em & family!

ramblingwoman said...

Hi Em,

Thanks for commenting on my blog.

I agree with you about the food thing. We have just started having an organic box delivery scheme here. It's great and no packaging either!I was vegetarian for 15 years and we regularly have non meat meals such as veggie lasagne or bolognaise - it's just as nice honest! And nut burgers/roasts/rissoles are great - as are stir fries! Much healthier for your colon too. I can't imagine eating meat every day! (lecture over! - sorry, and we've only just met!)

Chicky Pea said...

I actually eat alot of pasta. I don't have a problem at all going meat free. I probably do that two or three times a week, perhaps more.

Kati said...

All fantastic reasons for eatting locally. I had a sticker-shock moment the other day when I stopped at the grocery to pick up some ingredients for my Creamy White Chicken Chili. I was looking for a pound of chicken. Well, the closest to my hand also happened to be organic. It was $9.99 per pound. I can't tell you how quickly I put that back in the bin! I wound up buying 6lbs bulk chicken at 3.29 a pound. Not organic, but definitely within our budget.

That's gotta be the hardest part of living in Alaska. It's hell to try to afford organic! But, Oooooh, how I love the farmer's market in the summer! (Unfortunately it's almost 30 miles away, so I don't go very often for THAT reason.)

I've made my moves to reusable in other ways, net bags for shopping (when I remember to take them along), reusable feminine items, cast-iron cookware instead of teflon. I'm trying to make the move to reusing more glass jars instead of plastic for food storage. Doing what little gardening I can in the summer (mainly with FIL & Dh's help). I'm trying to talk DH & FIL into giving composting a try. Buying other locally made products (soap, jams & jellies, clothes). And not shopping at the big W if I can help it.

Did you know about covenspace, by any chance?? Like Myspace, but for those of the pagan persuasion. Check it out, if you haven't heard of it before:

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

I am lucky enough to live in a place where I can find plenty of organic and fresh food. I think it tastes much better than the non-organic stuff.

There are also a lot of farms around here (big and small), so the Farmer's Market always has a great selection, there are several tailgate markets held throughout the area on the weekend, and most of the grocery stores do their best to carry foods from the local growers.

Bardouble29 said...

I can't believe how expensive it is to eat healthy. When I go to the store for a few items of fresh produce, it costs just as much as when I buy a whole basket of groceries!

Star said...

I work in a supermarket and am definately seeing a trend toward environmentally friendly food choices. Not a big surge, but a little shift.Mostly by peple my age and older. Not hy younger shoppers.

Teena said...

I either eat really really well or really really bad! There is no in between for me.

I too love meat. But during the week, I eat a lot of veggie chilli (it's fast and easy to open a can!) so don't have any meat from Monday to Thursday.

Jill said...

The best reason (for me) to eat locally grown produce is that it usually tastes much better than anything you can get that's been shipped across the country. It's a selfish reason, I admit. :)

Dirk_Star said...

Organic veggies?

Not eating meat for a whole day?

Are you insane?

I ran to the kitchen and ate an entire jar of marshmallow topping after reading this article.

Are you trying to destroy the last decent job source remaining in America?

Consume burgers and fries! Eat your happy Meal with pride! Our country has one remaining strong industry.

Fast food is freedom food.

Don't let the enemy win.


Jocelyn said...

I am SO with you, Em. We made the comittment to organic food (with the occasional Value Meal thrown in) a couple years ago. We raise a lot of produce in our short growing season, but also do a CSA, like you. And we started buying our meat from a local farm, too; you wouldn't believe the difference in taste! Now *that's* bacon.

CSL said...

Few people can eat completely organically because of the cost and lack of avaiability, but for ecological reasons it's a good thing to ry when you can. I read that somethings make more sense than otehrs, if youo need to make decisions based on cost - so I buy organic milk and skip the organic pastas. Organice fresh veggies and fruits when I can. I stopped eating meat other than seafood about 6 years ago, and found it a surprisingly easy transition to make - I don't even miss it. Meat production uses far more resources than planst and the wordl could not support the entire population on the typical American diet. SO any changes you can make, including not eating meat once a week, are to the good.

Jenster said...

I love that local farm idea. I wonder if they do that around here? There's lots of farm country so I bet they do.

I prefer to buy my produce from a farmer's market, but I found that doesn't always mean locally grown food or organic. And after dealing with breast cancer I much prefer organic.

Thanks for sharing! I feel better informed now. :o)

Wizened Wizard said...

Hooray!!! So good to read a rational tale of making positive food choices!!! (Of course, this is being written by a person who ENJOYS tofu...)

We have a Food Co-op not too far away that offers whole, organic, ethnic and special diet foods, and wood-hearth baked breads. It's a great little store.

You're right about the price of organic foods being high, but perhaps they lower the eventual medical costs incurred by a body that stores up too many toxins, not to mention the environmental costs you outline.

Love the CSA information. This has started in my region as well (although I grow many of my own veggies).

Good luck with your resolve to skip the meat one day a week. There are many good vegetarian cookbooks that can help: the Moosewood books are pretty basic and always tasty stuff. Also Anna Thomas' The Vegetarian Epicure is always delicious. Look in your local library.

Nothing less than survival on earth is at stake here. We must begin respecting all life and nature's processes. What is more basic than eating wisely and with respect for that which we eat?

MarmiteToasty said...

Wow - how good that you can do that with the farm..... cripes....... we can get fresh organic veggie boxes delivered once a week...... I often get them, but not all the time, I love to buy at the farmers markets here....... the farm malarkie sounds wonderful though......

Gotta love a nice fresh veggie....... now ya need to get yaself a chicken like Janet LOL


Rene said...

I'm a little spoiled in the veggie and fruit department since this is California.

I'm a skeptic on the whole organic thing. The definition of "organic" isn't always what people assume it is. We do go to the farmer's market and buy organic...Because that's what they sell.

If I had my way, I'd eat chicken fried steak everyday. But as it is, I'm limiting beef to one night a week now and will be combing the Internet for vegetarian dishes. I'm allergic to poultry and hubby is allergic to fish.

Jazz said...

We've begun eating more organic and local food since we bought our cottage actually. There are lots of farms in the Laurentians and we've discovered places to get organic produce at reasonable prices, as well as local free range chickens (whose meat is so much tastier!) among other things.

As for eating vegetarian, we usually eat a few meat free meals a week. We're not vegetarians (I cannot give up my chicken) but we try to be more concious of what we're putting inside ourselves.

I'm definitely seeing a swing in that direction among the people I know.

radioactive girl said...

I love the idea with the local farm. We tired to do that a few years ago, but the family went through some health problems and couldn't add us on. Life got away from us, and we forgot all about it. I am going to call right now and try to get back on the list. Thanks for the reminder.

My kids school recently had a "go green for lunch" day where everyone was encouraged to bring nothing in disposable containers for the day. My kids were mad that they didn't "get to" change anything. I almost never send anything disposable with them for lunch so for us it wasn't so hard. If every school did this even just once a month, think of all we would save.

Wendz said...

I didn't realise you were a pagan - when you did that post on your church I just assumed it was a christian-based church - sorry about that.

tkkerouac said...

I'm thinking of trying a quick slim fast!
what do you think of rude, anon commenters?

Em said...

Wow...a bunch of healthy, environment loving folks here! I love it! Well, okay, so Dirk was eating a Big Mac while he read blogs...but we still love him! LOL

Wendz, no need to apologize. I don't usually wear my spirituality on my sleeve, but I surely don't take offense easily either. :)