Saturday, August 28, 2010

Eat in season

Would you like to save money, lose weight, and eat fresh, delicious food?  If so, all you have to do is learn to shop for your produce in season.  

However, just because the produce is in the grocery store doesn't mean it's in season.  Have you noticed how the price of produce, such as strawberries, fluctuate from one season to the next?  If you buy foods that are in season, they will cost much less.  If you're buying fresh produce, you will be eating the nutrients and vitamins you need in order to maintain a healthy diet.  And in-season food always tastes better.  

You can eliminate the guess work of what's in season by shopping at your local farmer's market, which will offer local goods and reduce the resources needed to transport them to the grocery store from, say, California or Canada.  If you don't buy locally, it not only takes a lot of fuel to transport, but these products are usually picked early and don't always arrive in the best shape.

Another way to get your produce locally and seasonally is by joining your local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) at your local farm.  Your local farms can either deliver their crops to your door, you can go pick it up at the farm, or you can pick it yourself.  If you don't grow it yourself, this is the cheapest way to get your produce fresh.  

Of course, if you'd like a strawberry pie in the middle of winter, you can always go to the store and get what you need for that, but it won't taste as good as it does in the summer.  Or you could stock up on all of the seasonal produce and freeze it or can it so you can enjoy it all year long.  

Here's a link to an interactive map of the food in your season and region (with recipes too!):

From the website of the World's Healthiest Foods (, here is a list of the food you should eat according to season (and if you click on each vegetable it'll give you the scoop on what it is and why it's good for you):

Yummy eating, happy planet!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

don't believe the hype

Being an environmentalist can be a challenge.  Going to the market to buy food is a dilemma for me because I have too many choices:
Local or organic?  Free-range eggs in the styrofoam packaging or the store-brand cardboard carton?  Healthy snacks in individual plastic packaging or somewhat-healthy snacks in the bulk 5 lb box?  I'll be honest that I don't make the same decisions every time.  It really just depends on the mood I'm in or the cause I want to support that particular day.  It's too much guilt on my conscious for one person to handle so I tell myself I'm doing the best I can.  As long as I use my reusable grocery bags and don't buy junk "food" with tons of ingredients that I can't pronounce, I figure I'm being a good eco-mami.

However, after recently talking to a local farmer, I'm more confused than ever about these environmentally friendly labels you see at the grocery store.  For years I've been buying into the hype that free-range and organic are actually going to benefit the lives and health of the animals which become our food.  Not true, he said.  Free-range labels (which are regulated by the government) means that the animal is only required 5 minutes outside, or to just have open windows in their pens.  Organic beef or meat means that the animal needs to eat organic grain/feed.  The animals won't produce tastier meat but it will be healthier since it won't have hormones or antibiotics.  

So what to choose? Local and/or grass fed meat is tastier and requires less fuel to transport, and will be healthier in the long-run for people and for the planet.  My family is from Argentina, where they produce the best tasting beef in the world! The difference?  The cows eat grass.  Worth the extra cost in my opinion.  Grain-fed cattle have more risk of e. coli infection because it increases the acidity in the stomachs which e. coli needs to survive.  Free-range cows eat grass and get less sick which means they don't need hormones & antibiotics.  And from my own taste test, it seems that locally grown produce (such as in my own container garden) is much tastier than store-bought.  If you can buy local AND organic, that would be the best for the environment.

I'll visit the local farmer's market and buy their local products and I'll occasionally buy meat and cheeses from the local farm as well.  If I can see for myself that the chickens and cows are free range, then I'll spend my money on that.  I have noticed that I spend far less at the grocery store by not buying processed foods, which I can then spend a little more in local or organic.  Also, at least once a week our meals are vegetarian, and we only eat red meat once a week.  This saves me money, is healthier for my family, and healthier for the environment.

There are many choices, and you should make the best one for your family.  Eating organic, local, and grass-fed doesn't fit every family's budget, but it will taste better.  And who knows, maybe then your little ones will actually eat their vegetables.

Here are a few definitions that I found on these terms:

According to the Organic Trade Association:
Organic production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. Organically produced foods also must be produced without the use of antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering and other excluded practices, sewage sludge, or irradiation. Organic foods are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation to maintain the integrity of the food.

Wikipedia: free range
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) requires that chickens raised for their meat have access to the outside in order to receive the free-range certification. There is no requirement for access to pasture, and there may be access to only dirt or gravel . Free-range chicken eggs, however, have no legal definition in the United States. Likewise, free-range egg producers have no common standard on what the term means. Many egg farmers sell their eggs as free range merely because their cages are two or three inches above average size, or because there is a window in the shed.

USDA's definition of free range is:
Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside. 
USDA's definition of organic:
"Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled "organic," a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too." [What is organic food? (USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service, National Organic Program (NOP)).]

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Back to school eco-tips: lunches/snacks

Here are a few tips on how to get your kids off to school without making a negative impact on the environment.  This week I'll focus on their lunches and snacks:

Make your own:
Think Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution:  granola bars, sandwiches, pita chips, wraps, or make your own lunchables with crackers, deli meat and cheese.  Try wrapping a banana in a tortilla spread with PB&J and roll it up.  (My kids love that one!).  If your kids have peanut allergies, try Sun Butter, which is made from sunflower seeds and tastes very similar to peanut butter.  Start building your recipe collection for creative lunches and test them out on your kids before school starts.

Use reusable things to pack those lunches:
Try reusable lunch bags, bento boxes, reusable sandwich/snack bag or tupperware instead of plastic baggies.  Use reusable water bottles, which sometimes come in packs of 5 in kid sizes to store in the fridge to make it easier to throw in the lunch box.  Get big jugs of juice & put in those reusable bottles rather than buying juice boxes, (think of how many boxes & little straws, not to mention the plastic that packages the groups of juice boxes, is thrown away each day in your school).

Buy in bulk:
Things like pretzels, raisins, chips, or granola bars.  Try to avoid single serving containers.  Yes, it saves time to just grab a snack pack from the pantry, but if you have an extra 60 seconds, put it in a tupperware.

Here is a recipe for Chewy Granola bars, but there are hundreds out there on the internet:
Here are a few links for kid-friendly school lunches:;jsessionid=CUFRUNSAHOSBACQCEARR42Q?page=2

Hope this helps you save some money and that your kids enjoy their lunches.  This will be a major lesson they can learn on how to help the environment.  Happy kids, happy parents, happy planet!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

back to school eco tips

The summer is almost over and a lot of you will be preparing for your children to go back to school, especially this weekend being tax-free for many states. How to do this in an environmental way?

Reduce & Reuse
You don't need to buy new supplies every year. Reuse backpacks, pencils, pens, rulers, scissors, etc.

Recycled products
Paper products: Buy recycled paper, journals, notebooks, etc. Get crayons made out of beeswax or soy rather than petroleum based. There are new office/school supplies coming out all the time that are made out of recycled products, or reduce waste in some way. Look for the new recycled pens, or the recycled pencils made from denim. There are so many companies looking to do better in their impact on the environment. Support them if you can!

And if you have the will and the means, why not supply some of these environmental supplies to the teachers or for those students less fortunate.

Not only will you be helping the planet, but you'll pass on these lessons to your children. It's a win-win, don't you think?