Here’s an abbreviated primer to help you become a smart, sustainable shopper and restaurant-goer to contribute to the health of the planet, your family and future generations:
Buy localInstead of succumbing to the lure of exotic imported foods, choose locally grown farm products. Most foods are jet-lagged or carsick by the time they reach the produce aisle, while suffering from withdrawal symptoms to their fossil-fuel addiction. But by buying foods produced locally and in-season, you are mitigating environmental damage caused by transporting foods thousands of miles. This savings is then passed on directly to your local farmer while you enjoy fresher, unprocessed foods. And buying in-season allows you to explore new and exciting foods using creative seasonal recipes.
In Southern California in early September, you can enjoy fresh, locally grown beauties from guavas, artichokes and corn to kale, heirloom tomatoes and figs.
Become an organic fanaticOrganic foods are certified by the USDA, the watchdog that provides strict guidelines before granting the green (sometimes black) label of organic approval. Organic foods cannot be grown with synthetic fertilizers, chemicals or sewage sludge, or be genetically modified or irradiated. When buying fruits and veggies, look for the “9" at the beginning of the five-digit label tattoo that indicates organic status. You should try to buy both locally grown and organic, but if there’s a choice, better to buy conventionally grown local garlic than organic bulbs shipped from Argentina.
Animals dine on a pristine diet of organically grown feed without any contaminated animal by-products. They must have outdoor privileges as they are allowed to perform their normal behaviors of grazing and pecking. As well, they cannot be injected with growth hormones (rbST’s) to hasten their growth and increase milk production or antibiotics, which are routinely doled out on factory farms where crowded and unsavory conditions put them at risk for contracting diseases. Studies have shown a link between eating hormone-laced meat and dairy products to breast and other hormone-sensitive cancers, while antibiotics in the food supply contribute to lethal antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Read your eco-labelsThis is a means of identifying products that are environmentally friendly. Look for such buzzwords as “Fair Trade,” “Organic,” “Raised without Antibiotics,” “Cage Free,” “Pasture-raised” or “Grass Fed” and “Free of rBGH or rbST hormones.”
The world is your oyster, especially if it’s wild-caughtWhere possible, eat domestic fish and wild-caught (not antibiotic and fungicide-laced farm raised fish). Chilean sea bass, snapper, orange roughy and shark have been overfished and are branded unsustainable, so stick to the good and plenty salmon, herring, mahi mahi and trout.
The ABC’s on GMO’sGenetically Engineered organisms, infamously known as Frankenstein crops, are the product of gene or DNA transference from one plant to another in the hopes of creating a genetically perfect food. These controversial crops are believed to be unsafe to eat and harmful to the environment. Although it is legal for farmers in this country to produce and sell GMO foods for human consumption, Europe and Japan have banned these foods until testing proves them to be safe. Look for labels with “GMO-Free” or “No GMO’s.”
Make friends with Old MacDonaldTo really be intimately acquainted with the foods on your dinner plate, make friends with the person who grew them. Even city folks can buy direct from local agricultural co-ops, farmers or farmers’ markets.
Hurry, become part of the slow food movement
Grow an organic herb box on your window ledge. Have neighborhood potlucks using sustainable foods. Compile an organic cookbook as a group project and use it as a community fundraiser.
Sustainable restaurant rowFind stores, bed and breakfasts, online retailers and restaurants in your city or town that serve sustainable meat and dairy and organic fruits and vegetables. When you need a night off from cooking, you’ll know where to dine out guiltlessly and healthfully.
Here’s a versatile roasted corn and red pepper salad that makes a great side dish or relish. And if you’re growing your own herb garden, feel free to toss in some fresh, sustainable sprigs.
California Roasted Corn and Red Pepper Salad(Where possible, use locally grown organics)
- 4 ears of corn (yellow, white or hybrid)
- 1/2 small red onion, diced
- 1/2 sweet red pepper, diced
- 4 sprigs of fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 heirloom tomato, diced
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- Juice from one lime
- Sea salt and cayenne pepper to taste
Boil the corn for 4 minutes, cut the kernels from the cob and set aside.
In a skillet, heat the oil on medium and saute the peppers and onions until tender. Add the juice, seasonings, cilantro and corn and blend well. Toss in the tomatoes. Serve warm or chill for one hour.