Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Day 4 - Food

This week I'm experimenting with No Impact Week, exploring some of my past successes at decreasing my carbon footprint and generating even better ideas for the future. My goal is to challenge myself to redo the week later this year when it will have the greatest impact on my day-to-day life. Click here for a review of Day 1 - Consumption, Day 2 - Trash, and Day 3 - Transportation.

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Day 4 - Food

This could be a very long post. When it comes to environmental issues, problems with the way we grow, process, market, consume, and waste food pretty much top the list for me. So instead of writing until 2012, I'll keep things brief by giving you a bullet-point list of the things I do to lower my food-related carbon footprint. Get comfy, this will still be long.

A selection of produce from my CSA share, late July 2010.

  • I'm a big fan of eating locally and seasonally, and I held true to my values over the summer by participating in Young Urban Farmers CSA. In the fall, I went to my local farmers' market as often as I could, but since it's open on Saturdays and the past two fell on holidays... let's say my fridge doesn't have a lot of Ontario-grown produce in it right now.
  • I'm happy to state that I've made big strides in the direction of vegetarianism! My general rules are to avoid meat altogether when I'm dining out, unless the restaurant uses a local, hormone- and antibiotic-free, non-factory farm source for their meat. I try to keep to the same criteria when I find myself in front of a butcher counter, and when I can afford it, I cross town to visit butchers who sell organic meat from farmers they actually know. Raising cows is one of the most resource-intensive and polluting agricultural activities, so I have almost completely cut beef out of my diet - and between you and me (and the entire internet, haha) I find Betsy kinda boring, with the exception of using slices of flank steak for a stir-fry. Will I eventually become a vegetarian? It's quite likely.
  • I carry a pocket guide that indicates which fish have been caught/raised in environmentally sustainable ways and have a low mercury content (three cheers for Toronto Public Health) to make smart decisions. Goodbye salmon, shrimp, red snapper, and tuna. Those are the losses I feel most acutely. Sea urchin, on the other hand - my brother can attest to this - I am not sad to see in the "bad choice" column.
  • The bad news? Off the top of my head, these are some of the foods from outside of Ontario that I currently can't bring myself to give up: avocados, bananas, citrus (lemons, oranges, and clementines), mangoes, olives and olive oil, pineapples, rice, salt, and wheat (bread). The good news? I don't have to feel too guilty about my consumption of chocolate if I switch from a fancy Swiss brand to Chocosol, purveyors of artisanal chocolate made from cacao beans that have been fairly traded for in a socially just way, plus other ingredients that are grown locally. And the real kicker is that the final product is delivered to your door by bike! Be still my beating heart...
  • The big dilemma: what to do about coffee and tea. I mostly quit coffee in 2006 for health reasons (consuming either too much or too little caffeine in coffee format was causing migraines as a withdrawal/overdose symptom) and I continue to avoid it most days of the week - not an easy feat considering I'm tempted every day, living in a neighbourhood with some of the best espresso outside of Italy. But what about tea, that warming, soothing, nourishing beverage that I can't go without for more than a few hours at a time? Does it help that half of what I own is organic? Does it matter that I sometimes drink a tisane made entirely from Ontario-grown herbs (thank you for cluing me in on this blend, Karen at Stratford Tea Leaves)? Am I making a noticeable difference by drinking loose leaf teas rather than using tea bags, which require extra resources and much more processing? What about the fact that unlike coffee, I don't add any milk or sugar to tea? Or, consider this: isn't tea responsible for lower transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions than coffee (on a cup for cup basis, due to how much less tea you need, and how much less it weighs than coffee)? I'll need some time to better research this topic!
  • Let's not forget alcoholic beverages. I buy local wines from Niagara and ├╝ber-local beer from downtown (Steam Whistle, Mill St., and Amsterdam). Enough said.
  • For the most part, I don't buy a lot of processed foods; I ate my last McMeal over ten years ago and will never go back; I cook at home rather than order in; I brown-bag my lunch instead of heading to the food court; I occasionally bake my own bread and pizza dough (like today!); and when I dine out, I prefer restaurants that respect the slow food approach and I'm always on lookout for restaurants that serve Local Food Plus certified food.


I couldn't write this post without talking about the importance of developing local food systems. In fact, besides trying to cut out more meat, dairy, and non-local, unseasonal produce from my diet, working to change our food system can have a big impact on my carbon footprint, and yours, too. To that effect, check out these eleven great ideas for contributing to the good food movement, brought to you by Food Forward. You don't have to make eleven changes; just choose the ones that are practical and achievable for you, and pass on the list to your family, friends, and colleagues. We're all in this together.

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When it comes to our impact on the planet, despite the bad news and warnings that we've passed the point where we can fix this mess we're in, I remain inspired, heartened, motivated, grateful for, and deeply happy that we live in an age where it is possible to make the kinds of choices I've been talking about all week. Thank you, humanity.

Photo credits: Tsukiji tuna market; coffee/tea/sugar containers.

6 comments:

  1. will be good to see your research on teas vs coffees. I did not know that on a pound per pound basis tea is more sustainable - but it makes total sense. great info!

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  2. Haha, thanks for the reminder. I totally forgot that I was going to dig deeper and find out how they compare, officially. Please bug me about this if I haven't posted on it within the next few months!

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  3. I am local food obsessed right now. I read 100-mile diet and was hooked... I scour farmer's markets, I want to start a garden, I want to research local food in my area, I want to preserve food this summer... I even went so far as to list every single food I purchase, and then check off how many I could get locally. Not many (only 38 out of about 140 items). More research is required. However! We have local flour here (Alberta). Bonus.

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  4. That's so inspirational! I definitely encourage you to dig deeper and find more of those 140 items that can be sourced locally. Last week I found Ontario grown peanuts! Who knew?

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  5. Wow, you're doing a lot of wonderful things to reduce your impact and support local agriculture. I may list my actions out myself- I think it could give me a better idea of how I could improve my actions/lifestyle. I like One Earth to Live's idea of counting out the local food items. I know that my percentage is higher in the summer when local produce is in season. I think 38/140 is actually pretty good! Probably most North Americans have 0/140.

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  6. Yes, probably!

    Since writing this post I have begun to shop quite regularly at Toronto's largest independent grocery store, Fiesta Farms. They carry lots of Local Food Plus certified products, which makes it really easy to buy locally and sustainably grown food. Can't wait until my CSA's first harvest though! Nothing is more local than urban agriculture. :)

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