Happy Earth Day!
April 22nd is designated as Earth Day, a day that was established to celebrate our planet and for us to pause and consider environmental issues affecting us. With the environment now making headlines on a daily basis, it’s not the novel idea it was 20 or 30 years ago but it’s still a great opportunity to take part in community events to mark the occasion.
As I state in my philosophy, it is not my goal to be preachy or political. However, as we take time to reflect on issues affecting our planet, here are a few things you can do to become ‘greener’ while shopping for dinner:
Choose Reusable Bags for Shopping
Most grocery stores are now discouraging customers from using plastic bags by charging for bags or even eliminating plastic altogether in favour of paper. Luckily, there are stylish options that work even better than plastic. Most stores sell re-usable bags for about $1 and they usually hold a lot more than a plastic bag. There are also stylish designs ranging from the famous “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” totes to French market baskets woven from straw. I purchased a Moroccan-made straw basket a couple of years ago and it’s fantastic. It can withstand heavy loads and the long handles allow me to carry it over my shoulder. It holds about as much as three standard plastic bags and is wide enough to fit a baguette without it falling out. It was fairly expensive (around $35) but I use it almost everyday so it was a worthwhile investment. If you’re looking to purchase a straw bag, make sure it has a tight weave with no loose or fraying straw. Ensure that the handles are well anchored and sturdy so you’ll be able to carry heavy loads.
Cooking with fresh produce means using fewer processed ingredients which results in less packaging and waste. I’m always amazed at the amount of packaging involved with take out and delivery. Many restaurants use styrofoam or plastic packaging which cannot always be recycled. By cooking more meals at home, we cut down on this waste. The good news is that some restaurants, such as the Toronto chain Fresh, are using take-out packaging that breaks down very quickly. They also encourage diners to be eco-conscious by offering a 15% discount on take-out orders if you bring your own containers .
Choose Local Seasonal Produce (organic, when possible)
By choosing local and seasonal produce over items transported over thousands of miles means less fuel used, fewer emissions and a smaller carbon footprint. If you can find locally grown organic items, that’s even better. As I’ve discussed on many occasions, seasonal food that is freshly picked tastes better than fruit and vegetables that have been transported hundreds of miles and forced to ripen after picking. Plus, it supports local farmers and the economy. While I find the current ‘locavore‘ movement a bit extreme, choosing a local producer when possible will usually mean a tastier product.
Grow Your Own (or support someone who does)
In an ideal world, we would all have a patch of land we could use to grow all of our own fruits and vegetables (and the time to do so, of course). For many of us this isn’t realistic but there are options. Even growing a small pot of herbs or couple of tomatoes in an apartment is a start. In many areas, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is growing in popularity. With CSAs, you buy a share in a farm and in return receive a portion of the harvest throughout the growing season. Usually this means a box of produce is delivered weekly to your home or a drop-off depot. The contents of each box will vary from week to week, depending on what is in season.
To locate CSA farms in Canada, visit www.biodynamics.com/csacanada
To find a CSA farm in the United States, check out www.localharvest.org
Unfortunately, the issues surrounding food and the environment are complex and at times, seemingly contradictory. Adding to the confusion, every region has different standards and practices, not to mention climates. If you are interested in learning more about where your food comes from, read as much as you can and begin a dialogue with local growers and producers. Ask questions about growing practices and where your food is coming from. A top authority on the subject of sustainable eating is Michael Pollan , author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. His website provides a link to a number of resources for sustainable eating.
Remember, every little bit we can do helps. Have a great Earth Day 2009!