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.
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
Many issues we face regarding uneven food distribution, food waste and inefficient 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 in places that have the natural resources to support them.
Eat Regionally and In Season
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 online at, for example, Pick Your Own and at 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.
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. 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 use the land to feed ourselves directly.
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.
Eat Non-GMO Food Grown Organically, Biodynamically and Sustainably
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 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.
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.”
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.
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.