Day 58–Small Shrimp, Big Footprint

Shrimp Boat

I love good shrimp, especially over grits or in pasta. Living in a state that produces shrimp for the rest of the country, I used to think that most of my shrimp was caught within a two-hour drive from my home. Checking grocery store sourcing, though, I found that most of it is imported. Imported!! Shrimp comes from 120 miles away, but it’s imported from Asia??? Now we get all our seafood local, thanks to Locals Seafood and Earp’s Seafood Market. I recently read a report that has me even more convinced that local shrimp is the way to go.

The article is from Mother Jones Online and it proclaims that “Shrimp’s Carbon Footprint is 10 Times Greater Than Beef’s”. Say what??? I thought grain fed South American beef was the worst food in regards to carbon footprints, but apparently not. Highlighting Taco Bell’s $2.79 shrimp taco and Red Lobster’s “Endless Shrimp” feasts, the article focuses on America’s love of cheap, plentiful food and the practice of farm raising shrimp in Asia. Twenty years ago, 80% of the shrimp Americans consumed came from wild domestic fisheries, with an additional 20% imported. Today those percentages are flipped, with more than 90% of the shrimp we consume coming from outside the U.S. and mostly from shrimp farms throughout Asia.

Why is that bad? Well, to read about it, apparently these foreign shrimp farms are increasingly built on former mangrove forests across Asia. The devastation of the mangroves is huge. Mangrove forests are biodiverse fisheries, where many species lay their eggs and where young fish can develop in clean waters. The cutting down of these mangrove forests results in “fetid dead zones” that are devoid of life except for what is farmed there. Mangroves are also rich in carbon. When the mangroves are destroyed, that carbon is released into the atmosphere as global warming gas. And since the farms can only be used for about 5 years until the water is too toxic and laden with pesticides, viruses and antibiotics, these shrimp factories are not at all sustainable.

So, what is a shrimp lover to do? Well, first, back away from the shrimp taco and all-you-can-eat shrimp buffet, because the odds are good that those shrimp came from someplace pretty gross. And then buy U.S. shrimp, which are plentiful and which will support jobs in fisheries here. Domestic shrimp may be more expensive when measuring by the dollar, but they are less costly in terms of the environment and your own health. Now I just need to find a good recipe for shrimp tacos!

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Day 54–The Carbon Footprint of Food

The older I get, the more I appreciate the aspects of strength and balance in my life. If I live to be 90, then I officially reached the mid-point in my life this month, which is cause for some introspection. While there are some issues (and my patient husband sees this more than anyone else) where I still have strength of conviction along with hair-trigger emotional responses, I also have a greater ability to step back from life, watch what is happening, and be more balanced and patient in my reactions.

So it is with the choices we make about how we live. I have the strength of conviction that I want a healthier, less toxic life for my family (and your family, too), but I also realize that we have to make balanced choices and sometimes those choices involve tradeoffs. It would be nice if we could have zero impact on the earth and the environment, but I’ve read stories of people who have tried and it nearly drove them mad. Maybe the goal should be to make the choices necessary to have the least impact while maintaining a healthy personal life.

Here is a link to a great resource on understanding the carbon footprint of the food we eat. This tool is helpful (and especially fun  if you have children) in understanding how the choices we make about food have an impact on the health of the world. Just one more resource to bring informed decision-making and, hopefully, greater balance to our lives.

http://eatlowcarbon.org

But sometimes food options that have a low carbon footprint are not necessarily the best foods for you. Homemade cookies, for example, have a fairly low carbon footprint, but that doesn’t mean you should eat them at every meal. And eggs have a low carbon footprint, but factory chicken farms are notoriously inhumane.

So it all becomes a balancing act. Maybe you have a steak one night, but balance the impact of that with lower impact dishes during the week. Or maybe you switch to chicken. Or buy only pasture raised eggs. Or maybe you decide meat isn’t important enough and go vegetarian altogether. Whatever you decide is right for you, it’s good to have the tools needed to make strong and balanced decisions about your life and your body.

This website isn’t a cure-all, but it is fun, engaging and informative. I hope you enjoy it and learn something new, as I have! Now, maybe I’ll go have a cookie 🙂

 

Day 27–What Is Sustainability?

Agriculture

The word “sustainability” is probably this year’s most overused buzzword. It must be the trendy replacement for “green”. Everyone from businesses to teachers are trying to be “sustainable” in what they do and how they do it. Or, at least, they say they are. Who knows what they are doing in practice.

And the same is true for farming and ranching. More farmers are using the “sustainable agriculture” term, but what exactly does that mean? And how will I know if they are really “sustainable” or just using the jargon as a marketing tool? I found myself getting a little muddled on the subject, so I started doing some research to clarify the issues for myself. And here is what I found.

Sustainable agriculture is “farming that provides a secure living for farm families; maintains the natural environment and resources; supports the rural community; and offers respect and fair treatment to all involved, from farm workers to consumers to the animals raised for food.” (www.sustainabletable.org)

While sustainable agriculture includes organic food production, it is a larger philosophy that promotes living wages for farmers and farm workers, healthy environments for humans and animals on the farm, caring for the land so it is not depleted of its richness and fertility, and reducing the carbon foot print of our food by encouraging consumers to buy as local as possible. Unlike the term “organic,” there is no certification for a farmer to be “sustainable.”

So, how do I know if a farmer is using sustainable agricultural practices or not? The Sustainable Table initiative offers loads of resources to help consumers, including lists of questions to ask farmers, produce managers, even grocery store workers. This is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about sustainable agriculture. It is offered by the Grace Communications Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to highlighting the connections between food, water and energy. Here is the link to their question sheets: http://www.sustainabletable.org/shop/questions/ 

Would a farmer lie about being sustainable? I can’t say “no”, but my guess is that the vast majority of farmers will be pretty upfront about how they grow their crops or raise their animals. The questions certainly help since they are very specific. If you get wishy-washy answers or defensive responses, keep moving!

I’m planning to take some of these questions to the farmer’s market tomorrow and see how it goes. I know this information has helped clarify things for me. I hope you find it useful as well!

Day 24–“Wildly Affordable Organic”

English: A hand reaching for organic tomatoes ...

I recently came across a great resource for staying on a budget while eating organic and thought I would share it. Although our goal isn’t specifically to eat “organic,” it is a part of our overall goal to eat sustainably and to reduce our household toxin load, and organic foods are a big part of that.

The resource is a book, website and blog titled “Wildly Affordable Organic” (www.cookforgood.com). Author Linda Watson (of Raleigh!) claims to have the secrets to living on $5 a day or less while eating organic (and vegetarian). In flipping through a borrowed copy of the book, there are some good tips for frugal living and some good tips for eating organic. The vegetarian and vegan recipes online look good enough that I might go ahead and purchase the book.

While the frugal tips are good, eating “organic” and eating “sustainably” are not necessarily the same thing. Buying organic produce does lessen the world’s pesticide load, but buying organic tomatoes from Mexico when you live in Maine does little to alleviate the carbon footprint of your food–especially if you can get minimally treated tomatoes or organic tomatoes locally at a slightly higher price. And are organic tomatoes from another country sustainable if the “farm” is a large agribusiness and laborers are not paid a fair wage? And are “organic” canned beans packaged in a can with a liner that uses BPA really worth the price if you’re getting a packaging toxin along with your healthy beans? You can only imagine the dilemmas swirling around my mind…

At some point, though, you have to stop and actually eat. Philosophical foodway issues aside, this seems like a good reference book for beginners on how to purchase organic foods without breaking your budget and how to make low cost, vegetarian dishes. Check out the website and see for yourself. Any day I can learn a few new tricks is a good day!

Day 5–No Local Veggies at the Local Grocery

Example of an American grocery store aisle.

Although the area of North Carolina where we live is primarily high-tech and business/government oriented, most of our state remains agricultural. It makes me happy that I can drive 20 minutes outside of Cary and find family run farms that still produce vegetables and livestock. In fact, North Carolina is a primary regional producer of sweet potatoes, strawberries, peaches, corn and tomatoes. North Carolina is also home to two regional grocery store chains–Lowe’s Foods and Harris Teeter. It’s not a huge leap to think that our NC grocery stores would carry NC products, right?  

With our new dietary challenges in mind, I recently visited our local Lowe’s Foods grocery store to see if in fact I could find locally produced vegetables, meat and agricultural products. I was hoping to find that I could purchase at least some local food products at my local grocery.

As I wandered through the produce section I wondered why Lowes sells collard greens from South Carolina when we produce them here? Same for sweet potatoes. In the produce aisle, I did not find one item produced in our state, but I found several produced in Mexico or Peru. I gave up on the meat section, which has no source information at all. I did find some agricultural products (grits, corn meal) and processed food products (barbecue sauce, hot sauce), but other than that, I came up empty-handed.

So, I asked a Lowes employee who looked official (wearing a tie and carrying a clipboard), why that is. He explained that the company as a whole has contracts with specific producers that ensure they have a “good selection at an affordable price.” So where do all the products we produce go? He also mentioned that some stores, including one in a nearby town, have displays of locally produced products, but that the manager of my particular Lowes had not chosen to do that. Then, very interestingly, he also mentioned that his family doesn’t buy their vegetables at Lowes or any other grocery store. They use a produce co-op hybrid called The Produce Box, which sources only from NC farms that use sustainable and/or organic farming practices. Hmmmm. Curious.

My plan this week is to write to Lowes and ask them to consider contracting with local, sustainable farms or to at least put a state symbol or some other marking so consumers can find what local products there are more easily. For a grocery chain that plays up its home town roots in advertising, this shouldn’t be a huge stretch. We’ll see…

A Year of Healthier Living on a Budget. Is it possible?

We try to live a clean and sustainable life. Really. Well, not so really. We recycle, we try not to overconsume, my husband takes the bus to work, we belong to a CSA. But there’s a lot we’re not doing–getting rid of chemicals and toxins in our house, eating locally grown produce and meat all year, walking instead of driving, and eliminating severe toxins in our food supply (I’m talking to you, Mr. Diet Soda…).

So this is our year-long journey to see how a family of 3 (+dog +cat) can make a shift in living a healthier life without blowing our budget in one trip to Whole Foods. Because, let’s face it, our commerce system makes it challenging and expensive to live healthy.

Can we do it? It will be an interesting journey and I’ll share with you our triumphs and pitfalls along the way. Here is to ending 2012 feeling good, living healthy and with money in the bank. Let’s begin!