Eating sustainably: Just one of many “green” topics at the 2016 GastroFest

It’s almost GastroFest time again, Adventurers! The annual celebration of the food and food culture of Northeast Florida will take place in Jacksonville’s Hemming Park and at surrounding venues on March 19 starting at 11 a.m. This year’s Fest has much to offer the locavore, the plant-based and the environmentally conscious.

GastroFest March 19

A few events we have our eye on are some of the free talks at MOCA, right beside Hemming Park. At 11:00, Dr. Jon Repole of Jacksonville Health and Wellness presents “Debunking Vegetarian Myths.” Definitely check that out to get all your how-to questions answered. You can’t get any more local than your backyard so at 12:00, Tim Armstrong of Eat Your Yard Jax helps us all out with some tips on how to “Grow Your Own.” At 1:00, yours truly delves into “Eating Locally and Sustainably in Jacksonville.” There’s a panel on farmers markets later in the day. Then enjoy a vegan wine and charcuterie ticketed tasting event hosted by FreshJax in the special events tent. There are interesting and fun things going on all day, and you can find all these events, the link to tickets for that wine tasting and more on the Venue Schedule page.

Meanwhile, how about a little preview of “Eating Locally and Sustainably” that applies no matter where you live?

“Sustainable food” is really about sustainable agriculture, food distribution and food choices that let us produce healthful food while preserving future generations’ ability to do the same. Sustainable food may seem like an abstract concept, but there are some concrete actions that each and every one of us can easily take.

Support a Local Food System

Farmers Market

Many issues we face regarding uneven food distribution, food waste and less-than-optimal food production have to do with our current global food system, wherein food travels an average of 1,500 miles to get from where it’s produced to our plates!

However, we have a lot of choice, via our wallets and habits, in the kind of food system we encourage. We can shop for locally sourced food at markets, farmers markets, local farms and community supported agriculture operations, and co-ops. We can also use some of our 40.5 million acres of inedible, resource-guzzling lawn for food production. Sourcing and buying choices that encourage the development of a local foodshed go a long way toward getting healthful food into food deserts, reducing food waste and growing crops that make sense in places that have the natural resources to support them.

Eat Regionally and In Season

Food miles

Part of supporting a local food system is eating regionally and in season. That means eating the food that grows where you live, when it grows there. For Floridians, that might mean getting blueberries from the local farm in May or June, rather than in a plastic container from Chile in the grocery store in January. Again, it’s a matter of using our wallets and habits to cut down on fossil fuel food miles and, by the way, to stimulate our local economies. But that means knowing what grows in your area and when. There is some guidance at, for example, Pick Your Own and your local and/or state extension, but my favorite way is to join a local CSA or shop the local farmers at farmers markets. When you see what they’re growing and when, you get a sense of what grows well in your area and when it’s at the peak of freshness.

Seasonal produce

Ditch Meat

Cute pigs

Friends, not food.

In 2011, a global consortium of scientists published a study aimed at determining whether or not we could feed the world’s population without destroying the environment (and, thus, ourselves) in the process. We could, they say, but only if we change five things in combination. One of those is shifting our dietary habits. “Growing animal feed or biofuels on top croplands, no matter how efficiently, is a drain on human food supply. Dedicating croplands to direct human food production could boost calories produced per person by nearly 50 percent. Even shifting non-food uses such as animal feed or biofuel production away from prime cropland could make a big difference.” In other words, instead of using all our resources to feed animals that we then eat, we should cut out the “middlecow” and eat the grains and cereals directly.

Cattle Land Use

And, really, this is the easiest of changes that we could all implement in our lives immediately. At our next meal, we could leave the ground beef out of the pasta, say “no thanks” to the sausage gravy, enjoy the salad without topping it with calorie-dense chicken and cholesterol-laden cheese. Not only would it benefit the planet, we would be far healthier for it. You can get more information at websites like The Vegan Society, but also look for local Meet-Up groups, plant-based health and lifestyle coaches, green living consultants, and plant-based integrative medicine practitioners.

Plant-based wellness

Florida Coastal Cooking offers an online program that encourages healthy, plant-based habits.

Eat Non-GMO Food Grown Organically, Biodynamically and Sustainably

GMO

This is a huge topic—probably one reason why people are so easily misled about it. The way the chemicals that genetically modified organisms were developed to sell work is complex, but once you take the time to understand it, the disastrous health, environmental, ecological and economic implications will become clear. That’s why I recommend this video featuring biologist and genetic engineer Dr. Thierry Vrain. At its core, these chemicals are poisons that disrupt the ability of organisms to function. The delicate soil micro-organisms (and macro-organisms, for that matter) upon which the long-term success of agriculture depends are not immune. In other words, we’re killing our soil with these chemicals. Dead soil equals no food. This is obviously not sustainable.

Soil depletion

So it’s up to us to insist that our government agencies stop approving new GMOs and to refuse to buy products that contain GMOs. Instead, we should use our dollars to support those who work with nature to produce our food. This means purchasing from farmers who use sustainable techniques like cover-cropping, crop rotation, catch crops, water catchment for irrigation and so on. In the global market, it means looking for labels like “Organic,” “Non-GMO Project Verified,” and “Biodynamically Grown.”

Eliminate Waste

Compostable

One third of the food farms produce is discarded. Americans throw away 35 million tons of food a year. Ninety-seven percent of discarded food goes to landfills. We waste a lot of food. We waste so much food that if we eliminated food waste in this country and got that previously wasted food to hungry people, we could completely end hunger in this country.

Here are a few ideas for how you can stop contributing to food waste:

• Make a grocery list and stick to it. Planning meals can keep you from buying excess and from creating leftovers that may not get eaten.

• Buy locally! Fresh-picked produce lasts much, much longer in your fridge. The stuff in the grocery store is already up to two weeks old and is going to turn to mush much faster.

• Learn how to store, prepare and preserve your food. Are you guilty of buying carrots with beautiful, sweeping green tops, and then sweeping those tops into the trash can? Learn how to use every part of the food you buy rather than wasting it, and learn how to preserve food so you can extend your in-season eating.

• Patronize restaurants that source food locally and serve reasonable portions. Bring your reusable leftover container and take home (and eat) anything you don’t finish. And while you’re at it, help create a market for farmers’ cover crops by asking those restaurants to look into serving them.

• If you do shop in the grocery store, take “best by” dates with a grain of salt. There are no standards for manufacturers in applying these dates, and they’re often overly conservative. Do pay attention to how long you’ve had a product though. Use it before it becomes a science experiment that you have to throw away.

• Turn the food waste you do produce into a resource by composting. Even if you only have houseplants to use it on, do it!

• Support “outside-the-box” initiatives like having groceries and restaurants donate excess food rather than trashing it, municipal compost, urban co-op farming, and support businesses that are already trying to do these things.

Locally sourcing restaurant

Oh, Adventurers, there’s SO much more we can do to eat sustainably and green up our food and agricultural system. I guess you’ll just have to come out to GastroFest on March 19 to hear the rest of it! And post your questions or comments below. What’s your favorite way to eat sustainably? Want to learn more about keeping GMOs out of your diet? Want some help with eating out? With eating locally? With growing food? Contact us for a consultation today.

Veganuary: Starting the new year off right

Happy New Year, Adventurers! Wow, 2016 sure is getting off to a great start. There was finally an agreement out of that big climate summit in Paris. Okay, so that was technically in December, but close enough! Besides, lots of exciting developments came out of that summit regarding food, agriculture and related topics. But we’ll get to all that later. And, of course, it’s Veganuary.

Veganuary (vee-gan-you-airy) is an effort, started in the U.K. in 2014, to get people to try ditching animal products for the month of January. It’s since become a worldwide campaign. If you’ve lived in Northeast Florida for a while, you might be familiar with the No Meat March campaign that’s gone on for many years—same concept.

Anyhoo, Veganuary has had Adventurers asking LOTS of questions about eating a plant-based diet. One in particular hit upon several popular topics such as How do I handle eating on the go? Will I be able to stay healthy and get all the nutrition I need? What about snacking? and Can I do this on a tight budget? So I thought I would share because…

Adventurer Tania has been trying to eat a plant-based diet for a while now, but finds it tough sometimes. She’s crazy-busy. In fact with her physically demanding job, I’m not sure she ever stops moving! She also has a really fast metabolism and has a hard time keeping her weight up. Plus, her budget’s so tight, you could feed it coal and it’d squeeze out diamonds. (Boy, that would help, right?!) So she wanted to know what a good portable, high-calorie (yet healthy) plant-based snack that’s budget-friendly would be.

Short answer

Nuts, seeds and fruit, my friend! They’re all healthy, portable and more budget-friendly than packaged junk food. The nuts and seeds are the high-calorie part (Hey, there’s a reason squirrels stock up for winter!) and the fruit is the quick-energy part.

Health first

Another Adventurer (Hi, Julia!) was asking about a particular packaged cookie. It was free of animal products, which is a good thing, and the name included the word “complete,” which gives you the impression that it’s healthy, as in “complete nutrition.” Here’s where you have to resist convenience and read the label. This particular product is just a cookie, folks: flour, oil, sugar and a bunch of other processed crap. It might be okay as an occasional indulgence, but not a daily, healthy snack. Such is the case with pretty much all packaged, processed “food.”

Nuts and seeds, on the other hand, provide unprocessed, nutrient-rich calories and are a great source of things we don’t get enough of in the Standard American Diet (which is why it’s SAD) like omega-3s. Plus, the fat and fiber in them fill you up quickly and keep you feeling full much longer than any refined-flour and simple-carb cookie ever could. (P.S. We’re not talking about the super-salty canned nuts or seeds in pouches that have added oil and fake, processed flavorings. We’re talking raw, unsalted nuts and seeds.)

But isn’t fruit carbs? Yes, but it’s complex carbs and delivers a dose of fiber with the carbs. That’s why fruit is such a great pick-me-up, but won’t leave you feeling queasy and drained an hour later like that cookie. Extra fruit bonus: What do we forget to do when imitating the Roadrunner all day long? Drink water! Fruit’s high moisture content means that it’s hydrating. And since dehydration can make you feel hungry (tricky, that brain of yours) fruit can help. But, of course, nothing can replace drinking lots of water, so bottom’s up!

Show me the money

A lot of people think whole, real food is more expensive than cheap food-like substances. Not so! The cheapest snack/junk food I could think of is a candy bar that happens to have some peanuts in it. Remember their marketing campaign about it being filling for busy, hard-working people? That candy bar is 35 cents per ounce. An ounce of walnuts is 30 cents. Fruit is a lot harder to compare, but an ounce of apple is around 25-35 cents (all prices compared through Amazon). Candy bar loses. The cookie from earlier is 62 cents an ounce. Major loser!

Snack smorgasbord!

Snack smorgasbord!

But there are other costs to consider when comparing packaged, mass-marketed “food” to whole, real food. First, you’re going to be a lot hungrier, a lot faster after eating that candy bar or cookie than you would be after eating those nuts, seeds or fruit. So you’re going to have to eat…what? Another candy bar? Maybe then, just because of the sheer number of calories, you’re not hungry anymore, but you’ve spent twice as much as you would have on real food. But wait! There’s more! Let’s say you eat those candy bars and cookies (and chips, soda, etc.) for a number of years. There’s going to be a high health price to pay. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes costs a person almost $8,000 PER YEAR! I don’t know about you, but that’d sure leave me wishing I’d made different choices with my food budget.

Port-A-Snack

Nuts, seeds and fruit are the original fast foods: individually wrapped in edible or compostable wrappers, relatively light weight, last a long time from harvest, and don’t require refrigeration. If the fruit is dried, it lasts even longer. Go easy on the dried fruit though—the (natural) sugars are concentrated in the drying process, and you can get more than you think you’re getting.

A TOA fav. for on-the-go snacking: walnuts, pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) and dried cherries.

A TOA fav. for on-the-go snacking: walnuts, pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) and dried cherries.

Bonus money-saving tips

Bonus recipes

Aside from whole nuts, seeds, fruit, mixes and the standard PB&J, here are a few of my favorite super-fast or portable recipes that fit today’s criteria.

My favorite speedy breakfast: Creamy Avocado (yep, it’s a fruit with a nutty nutrition profile!) and Sea Salt Toast. I spread hummus on the toast too and add a dash of turmeric and black pepper.

A couple of snack bars that actually are healthy: Gingery Pepita Energy Bars, Samoa No-Bake Energy Bites.

Your turn

What are your Veganuary (or just general going-plant-based) questions? What tips do you have for portable, healthy, plant-based snacks? For making it easy on the wallet? Leave your comments below!