Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Day 96 – Onions

Onions

Green onions…well, not green onions per se, but eco friendly ones.  Ha-ha!  I made a joke.  Well, at least you aren’t crying over your onions…yet.

This is the time of year to stock up on root vegetables.  Onions fall into this category.  Last fall, I bought a 10 lb. bag of onions at our local farmer’s market, and it lasted me all winter.  Now, before you go saying “eeewww” on me, let me ask you this: What do you think the onion growers and stores do?  Tomatoes have to be eaten fresh or canned for storage.  Onions are dried.  When kept in a cool, dry place, they’ll last for months and be as “fresh” as if you bought one from the store.

Ideally, onions are kept in root cellars, but I keep mine in the bottom of my cool, dry pantry with the door closed.  Root vegetables, like onions, actually continue to grow in their storage place albeit very slowly.  That’s why they stay “fresh,” but the key is to keep them from growing too quickly and sprouting before you use them.  Oh, and don’t worry about bacteria or mold.  Onions have natural antibiotic properties that repel bacteria.  That’s also why they shouldn’t be used in your compost pile.

Day 89 – Go Apple Picking

Freshly Picked Apples

Thanks to my friend for providing me with this photo showing the bounty of her apple-picking excursion!  Picking your own fruit is a fun outing for family and friends.  Apples are in season now, and you’ll want to stock up on them.  They’ll last for a few months in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. 

You can assemble raw apple pies and freeze them, taking them out when you’re ready to bake them for the holidays.  Make yourself a salad with apple slices, golden raisins, and walnuts for a healthy and delicious lunch.  If you’re slicing apples for your child’s lunch, dip them in real lemon juice to keep them from browning before meal time.

Eco benefits of apple picking include the fact that they’re locally grown, so carbon emissions will be at a minimum.  My personal favorite fact about fresh, locally grown apples that you pick yourself is that they are not coated with wax like the ones at the store.  I’m willing to give up shinyness for being able to eat the peeling!  One more thing…choose organic apples whenever possible so that you know that chemical pesticides were not used.  Pesticide residue is not easily washed off the skin.

Day 84 – Learn to Preserve Food

Homemade Canned Goods

Preserving food is a great way to be in touch with your food source.  I believe that when we are in touch with our food sources, we are more apt to care about how we use food to feed ourselves while decreasing waste.  More and more people I know are learning to preserve food.  This summer, recipes from my friends have floated around social media sites being shared from person to person.  It is an exciting time to learn about preserving food.

If you have produce from your own garden, that is great!  Instead of piling up the counters and having so much that you consider paying people to take it, instead try preserving some of it.  If you’re not a gardener, then go to the local farm stand or farmer’s market and stock up on produce.  In season produce is delicious and inexpensive and better for the environment because it’s usually locally grown. 

To help you get started, here is a link to a great site with step by step instructions for beginners!  http://www.freshpreserving.com/  Plus, here is a recipe courtesy of my friends at the Knauff Farm in Indiana:

Zucchini Pear Marmalade

5 cups zucchini, shredded and peeled
2 lemons
2 oranges
1 pear cored and grated
4 cups (1L) sugar

-Fill boiling water canner with water. Place 4 clean half pint (250 ml) mason jars in canner. Cover, bring water to a boil;boil at least 10 minutes to sterilize jars.
-Wash and peel zucchini. Slice zucchini fairly thin to yield 5 cups (1.25 L) Place in large stainless steel or enamel saucepan.
-Using a zester, zest oranges;add zest to zucchini. Peel oranges and lemons; tie in a large square of cheesecloth making a spice bag. Tie ginger in a separate square of cheesecloth. Add spice bags to zucchini.
-In food processor or by hand, finely chop oranges, lemons and pear; add to zucchini,
-Place saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves and mixture is boiling. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes or until marmalade reaches the gel stage. Discard spice bags.
-Boil snap lids 5 minutes to soften compound.
-Ladle marmalade into a hot sterilized jar to within 1/4 inch (0.5 cm) of top rim (head space). Remove air bubbles by sliding rubber spatula between glass and food; readjust head space to 1/4 inch. Wipe jar rim to remove any stickiness. Center snap lid on jar; apply screw band just until fingertip tight. Place jar in canner, repeat for remaining marmalade.
-Cover canner; return water to boil;process 10 minutes. Remove lid wait 5 min. Then cool and store

Day 81 – Green Your Packed Lunch

Lunch Box

Are you in the habit of scarfing, wolfing, mowing down – whatever you may call it – a fast-food lunch?  not only is most fast food loaded with extra calories and fat, but it also creates an inordinate amount of packaging waste.  For food that you may stuff in your mouth for 15 minutes, does it make sense that the paper and plastic packaging may spend eternity in a landfill?

Green your lunch!  First, buy a sturdy lunch box.  Hard-cased lunch boxes are generally more sturdy and will last longer.  This one is metal and can be recycled at the end of its usefulness.  Second, find reusable containers for your food.  Do you like sandwiches?  Find a resealable plastic container that will fit a sandwich.  How about a salad?  Find a reusable bowl with a lid and a small container for dressing.  Are snacks your thing?  Consider natural snacks with little packaging, or make your own snacks.

In other posts, I focus on specific food choices that are healthier for you and for the planet.  That is important!  However, I also want you to consider the packaging of the foods you eat every day.  A granola bar may be packaged in an envelope, inside a decorative box, and may come to the store in a larger cardboard box.  Considering what you eat for lunch is a great way to drill down on the details of the reality of all of the packaging.  You may be buying more than for what you’ve bargained.

Day 67 – Raise Chickens

Raise Free Range Chickens

Raise your own chickens.  Why not?  My friends at the Knauff Farm are slowly transforming an old, empty farm to a working one.  They grow crops and raise animals adding more to their farm each year.

Chickens, even free-range ones, don’t need a lot of space.  You can gather eggs for consumption, let some eggs hatch into chicks, grow your flock, and eventually have some chicken on the dinner table.  Two books that I’ve mentioned in this blog talk about raising poultry: A Slice of Organic Life and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  Click on the links for more information about each book.

If this whole idea bothers you, let me assure you that commercially raised chickens probably aren’t treated better than the home-grown ones.  If getting in touch with your food to this degree has you feeling ill, consider becoming a vegetarian!  (More information on becoming a vegetarian in an upcoming post.)

Day 66 – Become a Locavore

Cherry Tomatoes

 

This summer, I’ve noticed a couple of restaurants using their sidewalk areas to grow food.  I think it is more common than I realized.  This is the ultimate in locally grown food.  However, it is not always practical.  Nonetheless, more and more restaurants are turning to local sources for food and advertising it on their websites and on their menus. 

So, what is a “locavore?”  A locavore is someone who chooses to eat locally grown foods whenever possible.  In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Barbara Kingsolver talks about what eating locally means.  Part of eating locally means eating foods that are in season.  

While at the grocery store this week, I considered buying some apples.  I grabbed for the prettiest ones.  Hmmm…they were grown in Chile!  For me and where I live, that means that these apples were probably harvested about 5 months ago when it was autumn in Chile.  These apples had to be transported all the way here to the Northern Hemisphere and somehow preserved.  This often means coating fruits and vegetables with a wax to keep oxygen from getting to their skin.  Ewww! 

I’ll wait for local apples to come to the farmer’s market.  Last year, we bought a whole bushel of apples, stored them in the crisper in our refrigerator, and ran out of them before Thanksgiving!  They’re not as shiny and pretty because there’s no wax on them, but oh, they taste so good! 

The point here is to eat locally grown foods.  Check out labels at the store and look at menus carefully.  Ask questions.  Where was your food grown?

Day 59 – Drinking Water

Glass of Water

 

 Drinking water is more popular now than I can recall from when I was a child.  Perhaps it is because it is a healthier option than sugary or caffeinated beverages.  However, I think a lot of water’s resurgence in popularity is due to convenience.  You now have water as an option for an on-the-go beverage.  From convenience stores to vending machines to family picnics, bottled water is everywhere! 

Bottled water is not cheap.  In fact, a glance at a local restaurant’s beverage choices showed me that bottled water was the same price as a fountain drink.  This is simply for the convenience of water in a plastic bottle.  Sometimes this water comes straight out of city taps!  (Read the label!) 

There are other hidden costs to bottled water, too.  For instance, water is heavy and costly to transport.  How far away was this water bottled?  Plus, there are health concerns about the toxins in the plastic that can leach into the water if the bottle is left, for instance, in a hot car or placed in a freezer both of which compromise the plastic. 

What should you be drinking then?  Tap water in the USA is considered safe.  Our water provider gives us a report each year of the amount of chemicals and minerals and other things found in our water supply.  If you have well water, it is a good idea to have it tested periodically.  Some minerals and toxins can be filtered out using a tap water filter or a water filtering pitcher.  One well-known brand is Brita whose filters are now recycled by Recycline, Inc. who makes Preserve Products: http://www.preserveproducts.com/recycling/britafilters.html  Another new alternative in the water filtration world is Get Clean Water which you can buy here: http://greendesign.myshaklee.com/public/us/en/category.php?main_cat=HomeCare&sub_cat=water.  This system allows you to reuse the plastic filter housing over and over again while just changing the filter cartridge.  This is one step closer to getting pure water right at home while lessening the overall environmental impact.  

If you do drink bottled water, then by all means recycle the bottle – even if it means recycling it at home.  To properly recycle a plastic bottle, remove the label if it is paper, crush it down by setting it on a countertop with the lid off and pressing down on the top of the neck of the bottle, put the lid back on, and toss it in the recycling bin!  Metal canteens or reusable plastic bottles both which you can buy at major stores are another alternative for portable water albeit less accessible sometimes.  These increasingly popular containers are not always recyclable themselves and are often made far away, so be aware! 

Finally, if you are going through all of this effort to become more green, then while at home do yourself and the environment a favor and drink your water in a good old-fashioned reusable glass.  It really only takes a few seconds to wash one, and you will feel better about reducing your trash, too! 

Photo courtesy of Ali G. Photography.

Day 56 – Plant Two Fruit Trees

Pear Tree

This is a picture of my friend Carla’s pear tree.  She and her family own a small, growing farm in North Central Indiana.  This tree’s juicy fruit is about ready for harvest.  Throughout the late summer, my friend is busy canning pickle relish and zucchini relish, and shortly it will be time for making jelly with her pears and zucchini.  She recently learned this skill passed down from her grandmother.  While relaying this story to my mom, she said, “I am surprised at how many young people are canning these days.”  Personally, my observation is that people are becoming more in touch with their food sources and therefore becoming more interested in being a part of this once again growing trend of canning.

Carla is no different.  She stays home with her children, a full-time job in itself, but also is learning new skills like canning considered nearly extinct by many.  This saves money, is a fulfilling activity, and an educational opportunity for her children.  Long into the winter, she and her family and friends will be enjoying her delicious homemade zucchini and pear jelly.

So plant two fruit trees.  If you currently only have one and it is not bearing fruit, plant a second one.  In order to allow for your fruit trees to pollinate, you’ll need at least two of each for most types, according to Purdue Extension.  Check out this link from Purdue Extension for more information on pollination information for home orchards:  http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/pollination.html

Day 49 – Go Green with Bananas

Banana

 

Bananas are delicious and nutritious.  However, if you don’t live where they grow, then they are not green (even when they are not ripe.)  Bananas grow in tropical areas and have to be transported long distances to reach me in the Midwestern United States.  Any time you purchase food, ask yourself whether the food had to travel a long distance to reach you.  You may be surprised to know that your food comes from different parts of the world depending on the season, too. 

Although their thick, easy to peel skin offers protection from chemicals like pesticides, I choose organic bananas whenever possible anyway.  It’s not all about you.  It’s also about the farmers being exposed to the pesticides, the pesticides running off into rivers, and even the manufacturing process of the pesticide chemicals themselves that concern me. 

If you’ve ever had a vegetable garden, then you realize the care and effort it takes to grow even a single plant.  Transfer your knowledge of that to also apply to grocery store foods like bananas.  When they sit on your counter and go bad, that is not good.  Try freezing bananas to prolong their life.  When bananas get too dark to eat, then peel them and smash them into predetermined quantities for recipes like banana bread or smoothies.  Put the measured quantities into plastic freezer bags and freeze! 

In summary, think twice about purchasing bananas, if you purchase bananas then choose organic, and don’t let bananas go to waste: freeze them to prolong their usefulness.

Day 45 – Chicken

Grilled Chicken

 

Chicken.  We sure do eat a lot of it!  But, what are the best choices for chicken? 

First, choose organic.  The chicken that I purchase is USDA Organic and Certified Organic by Quality Assurance International.  This means that the chickens have eaten organic feed their entire lives.  

Next, look to see if the label says, “Raised without antibiotics.”  Antibiotics are not good for the environment.  Sure, we need them, but healthy farm animals raised sustainably do not.  If the animals are given antibiotics, the waste gets washed into rivers and streams multiplying the havoc on wildlife that the antibiotics humans take to get well already wreak.  Why do animals need antibiotics?  When animals are raised in an enclosed environment that can become filthy like a bad slum, well, let’s just say they get sick more often than they should.  If they are raised in an open, free, healthy environment, they really don’t need them.  We don’t know the full extent of the dangers of antibiotics in chicken (or any meat for that matter), but we also don’t know the exact antibiotics given to the animals especially if they come from other countries where regulations are not as stringent. 

That brings me to my next point.  Buy chicken that is sustainably raised.  This alone does not really mean much as the term can mean a lot of different things and itself is not regulated.  However, my chicken label also says, “They’re free range, raised in spacious, naturally lit houses and large, fenced outdoor pens, where they are free to roam.”  The specific details here are important because “free range” can mean that they have access to the outdoors, but the chickens could be so stuffed indoors that they are not really free to roam.  P.S. Ideally the chickens would actually be able to walk outside and have a normal animal life experience and not have to be artificially reproduced being selected for the amount of white meat they’ll provide and not for their parenting skills. 

Finally, as with any meat products, eat the right portion size.  The size and thickness of the palm of your hand without your fingers is, on average, 3 ounces which is one full serving.  I say this not only for your health, because we all need to continually work on that, but also because raising meat in general is a high cost to the environment – much higher than growing corn which by the way the chickens eat in order to grow and become your dinner, and you don’t want it to go to waste.Read labels!  Ask questions!  Only then will you know the truth about your food instead of just imagining the pretty picture in your head of visits to small family farms 30 years ago!