Eating Ecology; Daily Decisions Make a Difference

Consuming food has such an enormous ripple effect that making small changes, one meal at a time, can reap big benefits. How we choose, prepare, cook, serve and preserve our food can improve nutrition, weight loss, cost savings and the environment.

Decide What to Eat

Choosing what we eat is critical. New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman believes

that no food is absolutely off limits because, “It’s all in the way we use these things.” Yet, he adds, “The evidence is clear. Plants promote health.”

For the past few years, Bittman has experimented with eating vegan for breakfast and lunch, and then indulging at dinner. “It’s just one model of a new way of eating,” he says, “but it makes sense on many levels. By eating more plants, fewer animals and less processed food, I’ve lost 30 pounds and my cholesterol and blood sugar levels are normal again.”

When a friend sent him a 21stcentury United Nations study on how intensive livestock production causes more greenhouse gas emissions than driving a car, Bittman realized how a change of diet is a win-win for him and the environment.

For a wake-up call on how our food choices affect the planet, the Center for Science in the Public Interest offers a short quiz at Tinyurl.com/EatingGreenCalculator.

Identify Good Sources

“One of the most ecologically conscious things you can do to make a great meal is prepare it with food that you grew yourself,” says New York-based lifestyle writer Jen Laskey, who blogs at Frugaltopia.com. “Plant a small vegetable garden and a few fruit trees in your yard or join a local community garden. Even sprouting an herb garden on a windowsill will make a difference; plus, everyone in your household will appreciate the choice in fresh seasonings.”

Kansas City Star journalist Cindy Hoedel suggests planting parsley, basil, dill and other herbs every three to six weeks in eggshells in a sunny window after the outdoor growing season for a year-round tasty harvest.

When shopping, renowned activist, author and eco-stylist Danny Seo, of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, suggests bringing along reusable shopping bags and choosing local foods when possible, plus sustainable seafood and free trade, organic and hormonefree foods. The Socially Responsible Agricultural Project offers more ecoshopping tips, such as carpooling grocery trips and avoiding products with more than five ingredients, at Tinyurl.com/ShopHealthier.

Prepare and Serve Righteously

“On average, each person throws about $600 worth of food into the trash every year because of spoilage,” says Seo. Instead of rinsing food before storing, which causes more spoilage, he recommends cleaning it right before meal preparation.

Buying what’s in season (and thus less expensive) makes sense, advises Hoedel. “When you find fresh produce on sale, buy it in large quantities and boil it (one to five minutes, depending on how long the regular cooking time is), and then freeze it in glass containers. This saves money and plastic packaging waste.” Hoedel also likes to store lemon wedges, chopped onions and other left-overs in small glass jars instead of plastic bags. Seo suggests using real dinnerware, glasses and utensils instead of disposable products. For a touch of  elegance, take the advice of travel expert Kathy Denis, of Leawood, Kansas. “Adopt the traditional French practice of using—and reusing—a cloth napkin all week, or until it is too soiled to use,” she recommends. “Family members like to have a personal napkin ring. Each  napkin gets shaken out and then rolled up in the ring for use at another meal.”

“Saving leftovers in the freezer helps keep it full (which helps it run more efficiently) and ensures future meals that require minimal energy to prepare,” advises Seo.

Hoedel’s zero-waste tips, shared via Twitter, include making and freezing lots of end-of-season pasta sauce with tomatoes, peppers and basil.

Food can also be canned or pickled. Seattle cookbook author Kim O’Donnel, who founded Canning Across America and is known for her meatless recipes, says, “My only regret about canning is that I waited so long. Learning how to extend the season of my favorite fruits and vegetables in a jar is one of the most gratifying and useful skills I’ve acquired as an adult.”

As green eating habits add up, Bittman says he enjoys… “a bit of selfsatisfaction knowing that, by an infinitesimal amount, I’m reducing the pace of global warming. And I’m saving money by buying more ‘real’ food and less meat and packaged junk.”

Award-winning cookbook author Judith Fertig blogs at AlfrescoFoodAndLifestyle.blogspot.com.

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