Monthly Archives: November 2012

5 Tips to Make Your Turkey Day More Sustainable

The holiday season is upon us! Now there’s an extra five-day weekend putting some much needed space between you and your next exam. Even better? The weekend is filled with a regular smorgasbord of savory snacks and delectable dishes. Suffice to say that Thanksgiving is a holiday a lot of college students look forward to.

Freshmen and seniors alike are returning home to see friends and family, and to maybe impart a little of the knowledge they’re picking up back in Gainesville. So how about coming home this year with some knowledge that will actually make a difference? Here are five tips to help you make your family’s feast a little more sustainable.

  1. Go local. By now you’ve realized that I’m all about the local food. It has so many benefits, the least of which is the opportunity to connect with your agricultural community. Since you’ve been informed about how great farmers’ markets are and visited the Gainesville one (right?) why not make a fun family event out of it and check out your local farmers’ market? Check online listings for the one nearest you.
  2. Go organic. Again, I believe I’ve made my point about how organic is a good choice for you and your family. Check out my earlier post about which produce is better organic for the most budget friendly choices.
  3. Go meatless. I know, I know, what blasphemy on the most hallowed of meat-eating days! But seriously, meat production makes a big impact on our planet (greater than transportation) and by eating a little less, you can lighten your impact. But coincidentally, turkeys are one of the most sustainable livestock to farm and produce. Try sticking with just the turkey, and keep the rest of your sides carb and veggie focused.
  4. Watch your waste. Americans waste a tremendous amount of food (40% of what we make annually, to be exact). Save your leftovers by giving them to friends and relatives or taking them back to school with you. Give away extra canned and pre-packaged food to nearby shelters, or maybe prepared food if they allow it. And if at all possible, compost what’s left. A more realistic method to reduce waste, however, is to use cloth napkins and actually use plates and silverware at your event. Washing dishes later is worth it compared to having needless plastic sit in a landfill for a few thousand years.
  5. Recycle. All those bottles, cans and boxes that went into preparing and serving your food have to go somewhere. Why not the recycling bin? Making an effort to save the recyclables is a great step to reducing waste as well, and saves overall time and energy to create new products further down the line.

This info-graphic is a great resource for checking to see what you can do to follow these tips, and more. Have a happy, fun and sustainable holiday!

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What’s Wrong With What We Eat?

TED talks are awesome. If you’ve never heard of them, TED is a non-profit with the motto of “ideas worth spreading”. It gets its name from the original conference in 1984 that brought together talented people from three disciplines: technology, entertainment and design. They host a variety of conferences around the world and post the best videos on their site. If you have time to kill and want to find all sorts of fascinating stuff, check their website out.

I’m talking about TED because today I wanted to share a bit of a long post. This video, clocking in at just over twenty minutes, is a concise summary of many of the challenges facing America today in the culinary world. Mark Bittman, a renowned New York Times food writer and bestselling author, explains in a simple and entertaining way the issues with our diets.

He speaks from a position most of us can relate to, a meat lover who also cares about the planet. Without being pretentious or preachy, he explains the argument against meat. He relays the astonishing fact that livestock production generates over 1/5 the greenhouse gasses on our planet, even more than transportation, and follows it up by promising he’s not “anti-cow”.

Most of the time, bringing up topics like this causes people to scoff. What could be healthier than a thick-cut steak and a cold glass of whole milk? Unfortunately, almost anything else.

Bittman doesn’t advocate that everyone on the planet should become tempeh-chomping, kombucha-swilling vegans, but he does advocate a more responsible food production system. Considering that the United States consumes ten billion animals per year (enough to string from here to the moon and back six times), Bittman does not live in an idealistic world where animal consumption will ever stop completely. But neither does he deny that livestock production is seriously harming our environment. A happy medium does exist, however. Eating more vegetable and less meat and dairy is a budget friendly way to make a difference in the world, and to be more sustainable.

This video is entertaining and informative, if you have free time, I highly recommend it.

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Seasonal Food

What does it mean to be seasonal?

When you walk into the produce section of your local grocery store, chances are that it looks the same as it did yesterday. And the same as it did last week, last month, last year – you get the idea. The produce display at major grocery stores is static. It doesn’t really change all that much throughout the year. The most “seasonal” a store ever gets is offering pumpkins in October and November. So what’s wrong with that?

It’s simple – it doesn’t reflect the natural world. In today’s society, modern technology has made it possible for us to have any type of produce at any time, from anywhere in the world. This is a fantastic step in globalization and international trade, but it isn’t very sustainable. The natural world has a rhythm, and every fruit and vegetable has a certain time when it should be planted and harvested, depending on the weather and time of year. However, technology has enabled us to take produce that might have originally only been available in the summer, grow it halfway across the globe and ship it back to our stores in the middle of winter. Other tactics include genetically modifying a plant to lengthen its growing season.

Certainly this is a great thing for keeping up a varied diet and for the ability to make your favorite dish at any time of the year. Though the costs of producing food outside of this cycle are not immediately visible, they are significant. Produce not grown in season just doesn’t taste as good as naturally in-season food does. Tomatoes become watery red globes devoid of flavor, apples become mealy and bland ,and we lose the opportunity to enjoy our food at its peak of freshness and flavor.

But if flavor alone doesn’t sell you, take into account that produce grown halfway around the globe has quite a journey ahead of it. This journey requires produce to be harvested way in advance, pumped with preservatives and then artificially ripened when they finally arrive. Choosing foods in-season minimizes your exposure to pesticides and allows your food to spend more time ripening naturally.

Last but not least, eating food along with their seasonal rhythms affords us a connection to our natural world that can be difficult to find today. We experience the seasons and the flavors to which they are intrinsically linked. Spring has the most mouthwatering strawberries. In summer, sweet corn is king. Fall brings hearty pumpkins and squashes, and of course, winter is when Florida’s famous citrus ripens to perfection.

For more information about seasonal food in Florida, this chart is a great resource.

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The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen

Fresh, local produce at a farmers’ market in Orlando, Fla.

Other than sounding like the tagline for a cheesy superhero B-movie, these silly-sounding terms actually have meaning in the green community. The “Dirty Dozen” are so named because they represent the foods that are most affected by pesticide use. If you’re going to buy anything organic, this is the produce on which you should splurge.

The reason they’re more “worth it” to buy organic than other products is that these fruits and vegetables are more affected by pesticides used in production than other types of produce. The list includes produce that were tested and shown to have high pesticide residue, or found to have multiple types of residue – in some cases greater than 80 types of pesticides were discovered on a single sample!

It’s understood that the higher prices of organic produce can often drive consumers away, especially college students on a budget. The general consensus is that it is better to eat non-organic fresh fruits and vegetables than to simply skip them altogether. However, if you make a habit of eating fresh produce, it is suggested you trade in for organic for at least these twelve products.

In an effort to educate the public on the importance of organic food and to make it more budget friendly, the non-profit Environmental Working Group analyzes the Department of Agriculture’s data about pesticide use and puts together these lists every year. They estimate that by switching to organic for just these dozen products, you can reduce your exposure to pesticides by 80%.

The Dirty Dozen are listed in order of most pesticides present in the sample. Take a look!

The Dirty Dozen

1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Sweet Bell Peppers
4. Peaches
5. Strawberries
6. Nectarines (imported)
7. Grapes
8. Spinach
9. Lettuce
10. Cucumbers
11. Blueberries
12. Potatoes

Now, on the other end of the spectrum we have “The Clean Fifteen”. This is the produce with the lowest amounts of pesticide traces found.

The Clean Fifteen

1. Onions
2. Sweet Corn
3. Pineapple
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mango
8. Eggplant
9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
10. Kiwi
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet Potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

I hope that the information provided in lists like these will help you make better, healthier and more sustainable decisions in the grocery store. Keeping informed is a simple way to make smarter decisions for the earth and you.

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Ward’s Independent Grocery Store

Ward’s offers a myriad of grains and dried goods for sale.

The only independent grocery store in Gainesville, Ward’s is a mecca for all the local and organic goodies this community has to offer. They’ve been in business for over 60 years and have become a fixture in the community due to their dedication to quality products and services.

Walking in the door is like entering a foodie’s wonderland. The produce section is expansive and well stocked – I counted at least four different types of sweet potatoes! Juxtaposed to this vegetarian paradise is a butcher section with excellent prices and an array of delectable looking meats that would warm any carnivore’s heart.

My favorite part of the store, however, is the row of grains and other dried goods. Offering products like quinoa at the astonishing price of $3.99 a pound, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the many healthy, inexpensive choices. I suggest trying a tiny bit of anything that looks good. Who knows, you may discover a delicious and healthy new addiction.

The store is stocked with a variety of brand name goods in addition to their own brand. I have found that the Ward’s brand is usually cheaper and fresher than the competitors. One of their more popular products, the honey roasted peanut butter, has quickly become a must on my grocery list. My roommates and I love Ward’s for its low prices and wide selection of local produce and meats; we try to shop there as often as possible.

Ward’s is a great way to stay sustainable because they go to great lengths to stock their store with the most local products possible. Supporting a local business like Ward’s keeps the money within the community, thus nurturing a community of small businesses dedicated to high quality goods and services.

Become a part of your local community and help your planet at the same time with Ward’s Supermarket. You can visit them at their location at 515 NW 23rd Ave. Gainesville, FL or check out their website.

Categories: Local food | 1 Comment

First Stop: The Farmers Market

Where in Gainesville can you find fresh, local produce, mouth-watering empanadas, gorgeous orchids and live entertainment – all at the same time? The Farmers Market of course! Every Wednesday retailers meet at the Bo Diddley Plaza to show off their goods.

Not only is the Farmers Market a generally fun place to hang out on a weekday afternoon, it offers a variety of products. I’ve heard rave reviews of the salsa stand, and can personally attest to how awesome both the boiled peanuts (Cajun, of course) and the lemonade infusions are.

The market offers a medley of produce stands from all over Gainesville. They are an excellent resource for fresh, local and organic produce. Local is the number one way to stay sustainable. Locally produced food travels short distances, using significantly less energy to transport the produce and can generally be harvested later, making sure your food is at its peak ripeness and freshness.

One such stand belongs to Sasabrill Nursery, a regular at the market with a farm located at 5801 SW 53rd Place Gainesville, FL. They grow and sell fresh produce, fruit trees and native plants. I talked to Daniel Freed, the proprietor of Sasabrill Nursery, about his farm and the importance of local and organic farming practices.

“My farm is certified naturally grown, and we grow a lot of stuff. There’s all sorts of fruit trees: fig, peach, plum and pear. The figs are popular,” Freed said. He sets up his stand at the Bo Diddley Plaza farmers market every Wednesday and at the Alachua County Farmers Market every Saturday.

“I think it’s important to use local and organic growing practices; your food is just better,” Freed said. And it absolutely is. I was able to take home some of the hot peppers he had for sale, and they were absolutely fantastic!

Freed talked about how supporting your local farmers allows them to continue to provide the highest quality products for the lowest prices. Local farmers are an integral part of Gainesville’s economy and a simple way to get the kinds of food you need to be healthy and sustainable. So check out the market, there’s something there for everyone!

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More information about Sasabrill Nursery, including their selection of fruit trees and schedule, can be found at their website.

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