Unity Charter School Community Coffee: Sustainable Eating

Written by Peter. Posted in Health and Nutrition, Sustainability

Mindy Quirk and I were honored to present this month’s Community Coffee on “Sustainable Eating.”  The American Public Health Association (APHA) defines “sustainable food” as healthy food [that] meets current food needs while maintaining healthy ecosystems that can also provide food for generations to come with minimal negative impact to the environment.  Of course, that’s just fancy talk for a food system that provides healthy food to people today and for generations to come while protecting our planet and the people who live on it. Following are some easy tips we can all follow to eat more sustainably. 1.  Go Vegetarian Vegetables require less energy and water to grow, and, since they produce no greenhouse gases, they’re a far more efficient food source than domesticated livestock. If the average meat-eater were to become vegetarian, they would reduce more CO2 per year than if they traded in their average vehicle for a hybrid. According to the United Nations, raising animals for food is one of the most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale, from local to global. Bonus: Studies show that vegetarians live longer! 2.  Eat Real Food By real food, we mean whole foods.  Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, before being consumed. Many people think they eat real food, and some do.  For fun, let’s take a look at an American staple… breakfast cereal. A typical breakfast cereal may have the following ingredients (and this is one without the intoxicatingly colored marshmallows):
  • rice
  • sugar
  • hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • salt
  • red 40
  • yellow 6
  • blue 1
  • yellow 5
  • blue 2
  • BHA (preservative)
“HEY!” You might be thinking, “Isn’t rice real food?” There may be a couple of “real” ingredients in there, but I can guarantee that even those real ingredients look nothing like they look in nature. The rice and sugar are stripped of their fiber and most of their nutritional value so they hardly even resemble their former selves. Who knew neither sugar nor rice are actually white in nature? And when was the last time you went to the farm to go red 40-picking? If you’re like me, you’re incredibly busy, and preparing real food for you, your spouse and/or your very hungry growing children seems more daunting than climbing Mt. Everest. After all, you only have to climb Mt. Everest ONCE… you have to prepare three meals a day every day for the rest of your life, for crying out loud. No worries, my dazzling diners. It’s not as hard as you think. There are a ton of websites, books, and recipes out there to make eating real food realistic (links below). Those of you who know me well know that I am a kitchen klutz.  Yes, it’s true… I once almost burned the house down trying to boil water. Okay, more than once. If you’re unsure about whether to eat a certain food, follow the simple yet genius advice of author and food journalist Michael Pollan, and you’ll be on the road to healthy and sustainable eating. – Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. – Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting. – If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t. We provided some delicious whole food treats at the Community Coffee, including a Potato Tofu Curry dish, and fruit smoothies.  Look for those recipes, and other whole-food yumminess, below! 3.  Learn to Cook Eating real food becomes easier if you know how to cook it! There’s no way around this, my culinary cohorts… cooking is imperative for sustainable (and healthy) eating. If you don’t know how to cook, take a class, check out a few good cookbooks (I recommend Forks Over Knives for quick, healthy, sustainable recipes that your kids will even like!), or turn on the Cooking Channel. There are countless resources out there these days to turn you into a champion chef.

Photo of homemade bean salad

  4.  Buy in Bulk and Purchase Less Packaging Not only is buying in bulk cheaper, but you can stock up on seasonal produce and freeze them for the future. The production of packaging wastes resources, and, if that’s not enough, ponder your pocketbook. Buying in bulk costs you less at the grocery store. When given the choice, buy produce in bunches instead of in bags, and remember your cloth bags when shopping. 5.  Buy Organic There are so many reasons to buy organic, but here’s the best one: Buying organic food promotes a less toxic environment for all living things. And you’re a living thing. So this is good. 6.  Buy Local Food grown close to home requires less fuel and other resources to get to your grocery store. Eating local is also a good way to support your local economy because you buy products produced by farmers who live in your community. Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), shop at a Farmer’s Market, and support family-owned farms, ranches, and businesses. 7.  Grow Your Own You cant get much more local than that! Pass on the pesticides and you’re guaranteed an organic outcome.  If you’re not quite ready to commit to a full garden, start with container gardening.  You can grow edible herbs like cilantro and basil, and you’ll be very impressed with yourself when you are able to use your home-grown goodies in your own cooking!
Image of child holding freshly harvested carrots

Growing your own garden is a delicious way to practice sustainable eating.

8.   Look for Fair-Trade Products Fair trade honors producers, communities, consumers, and the environment. Buying fair-trade products helps promote sustainability… for both the planet and the people on it. 9.  Compost What You Don’t Use The Natural Resources Defense Council recently found that 40% of food is wasted each year in the United States.  That equates to $165 billion dollars (gulp!) a year in waste.  If you compost, you can turn your food waste into a valuable resource! Compost turns food scraps into gardening gold, so it can go back into the soil and nourish new plants.  The Sustainability Committee is planning a Composting Workshop for a Saturday or Sunday in the spring.  Here, you’ll have the opportunity to learn how to compost (it’s really not as scary as you may think!), and you’ll feel instantly more sustainable.  Look for more information in upcoming Weekly Digests. Resources If you haven’t already, you may want to sign up for Door to Door Organics.  Not only will you receive organic, healthy food, but a percentage of profits will go to Unity Charter School.  Contact the PA for more details! [The URLs below are excellent resources for sustainable eating.  Please stay tuned for a follow up post with  recipes from Ronni and Mindy’s presentation: to be published next week.  – Ed.] www.michaelpollan.com http://www.sustainabletable.org www.localharvest.org www.eatwellguide.org www.markbittman.com Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Books Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe Diet for a New America by John Robbins The Food Revolution by John Robbins Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser Diet for a Hot Planet by Anna Lappe Food Matters by Mark Bittman Movies Dive: Living Off America’s Waste Food Inc. Planeat Forks Over Knives SuperSize Me Cookbooks Forks Over Knives Unprocessed The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant Based Nutrition