Friday, August 14, 2009

A sustainable diet and asteya

The key reason why I eat locally is because it is a giant step towards sustainability. Sustainability is when your way of living can go on indefinitely within the bounds of asteya. I believe that at the root of asteya lies a prerequisite that requires us to be honest about our true needs and intentions. How much food can I consume without going over my allotment? The numbers are in: each person is allotted 1 ton of CO2 output, needs to survive on 1.16 acres, and not increase the world population. (Meaning a one child per person limit should be respected; that's two kids for two parents.) A ton of CO2 isn't all that tangible, but an acre is. One acre is 43560 square feet. This amount of space includes not only your living space, but also the amount of land needed to produce everything that you eat, wear, or otherwise consume. I can have more to eat when farmers plant diverse crops rather than monoculture and when I choose to eat more plants than animal products. If it takes too much CO2 output for the food to get to me, I'll be pushed over the 1 ton limit. If you need more land or CO2 output than this for you and everything you consume, you need to be mindful of the fact that you are A) pushing environmental crisis on us and future generations and B) stealing someone else's food. Yes, all of the hungry in this world are suffering because the lucky ones are using up their portion of farmland for housing developments and our "need" to eat from the large-scale food system. Those that somehow achieve living within their means, CO2 output and land-use included, will reap the benefits. Yoga Sutra II.37 says, "When abstention from stealing is firmly established, precious jewels come."

Friday, August 7, 2009

To eat organic or not to eat organic?

So you've heard that organic food is good for you. It's true. Organic food has higher levels of anti-oxidants, flavonoids, vitamins, and other nutrients (Pollan, 2008). And I agree with Rachel Carson that "no poison is safe or desirable on food: and a large-scale conversion to chemical-free agricultural methods is needed to stop these intolerable practices" (1962). However, I would argue that organic is not the be-all, end-all of food decisions. First, if you can't get organic, eat produce anyway. The conventional tomato is better for you and the environment than the organic processed food. Secondly, after a few days of transport, the nutritional edge that organic produce has deteriorates and is no better than the conventional, so organic AND fresh is important. The environmental value of organic produce decreases with transport as well. If organic produce travels 250 miles by truck or 3.5 miles by plane all of the CO2 savings of growing that produce is now equal to that of its conventional counterpart (Pearce 2008). Lastly, let me point out that many local farmers do not have organic certification (it's an expensive process), but are using organic methods regardless. Sam at the farmer's market never labels produce organic, but he will mark it 'chemical-free' and that's good enough for me. So next time you're faced with the decision about organic or not, let that not only be the ONLY requirement in you mind.
Carson, R. 1962. Silent spring. Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, NY, 368pp.
Pearce, F. 2008. Confessions of an eco-sinner: tracking down the sources of my stuff. Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 276 pp.
Pollan, M. 2008. In defense of food: an eater's manifesto. Penguin Group, New York, NY, 244 pp.

This is what non-local looks like

I know where much of my food comes from. I either buy directly from farmers, or they are dropping it off where I shop. This fosters a certain amount of trust and familiarity. Many farms open up for farm tours too. But what's the deal with the non-local items we get? I'm reading a fantastic book about just that, which devotes a whole section to food items. It's made me really think about those farmers and other producers of things like gold so far-away living a completely different life than me. I'll fill you in on what I've learned about our food supply. Fair-trade coffee isn't so great after-all, but it's better than the big companies. Those farmers are only getting a few cents more than the bigger companies pay them, luckily they supplement with community improvement projects. They are not even making $1.50 for every $300 that Starbucks charges us. These farmers support their families for an entire week off of the price of a one pound bag of coffee. Wild fish and herbs are basically becoming extinct every day due to over-harvest. Vanilla is mostly grown in Africa, but outside of its native environment (Latin America, so why are we getting it from Madagascar?) it doesn't have its natural pollinator around and must be hand-pollinated daily. Shrimp, just buy it farmed in the US if you are going to, because abroad this is a scary business. Think a country over-run by the mafia, with musclemen threatening small farmers and taking almost all of their profits so they can't pay back the loan sharks. People are destroying the natural environment because shrimp is more profitable than rice paddies. Palm oil is becoming big business's in everything from Girl Scout cookies to soap, to my new sleeping pad for camping, even Ben & Jerry's is involved. But it's not all that pretty of a thing. It is marketed as a great sustainable product, but what they aren't telling you is that they replace rain forest with palm oil plantations, increasing the rate of climate change and driving the orangutan closer to extinction. I guess there goes the Cherry Garcia! I'm really sorry to continue to pick on the poor banana, but it's going extinct. It's still a cloned sterile freak that humans have been cultivating since the Stone Age and evolution has finally caught up with it. Evolution of soil fungus that is, since the banana has little to no genetic diversity of its own there is little hope for it. The banana is already the most heavily sprayed food crop in the world, leading to leukemia, birth-defects, and male sterility in countries that produce them. And the newest fungus is untreatable. All that it will take to wipe out this fruit is someone who picked up some dirt on their shoes in the eastern hemisphere to fly to Central America for vacation and then it's over for the banana. After all this bad news, the good news is that chocolate might actually be saving rain forest ecosystems in Africa. It can be better for the environment if you look for 70% or more cocoa, fair-trade, organic chocolate made in small batches...and then treat it as a special thing, not your typical mid-day snack. But it is sad that the kids living on cocoa farms have never tasted the product of their family labor. Reference: Pearce, F. 2008. Confessions of an eco-sinner: tracking down the sources of my stuff. Beacon press, Boston, MA, 276 pp.

The Power of Ten

Fact 1: If all Californians were to buy 10% of their food locally, an extra $848 million would go to California farmers, and extra $1.38 billion would go to the California economy, $188 million in tax revenue would be created, and 5,565 jobs would be created in that state (Jones 2008).
Fact 2: If 10% of each of America's trips were taken on public transportation instead of in a car, we could eliminate 40% of our oil consumption, the same amount that we import from Saudi Arabia each year (Jones 2008).
Fact 3: If the average weight of a US citizen dropped 10 pounds, the airline industry would burn 350 million gallons less fuel per year (Jones 2008).
Maybe buying local could solve our economic crisis. I am sure that the effects of buying local food from California would be similar throughout the country. That's a huge impact! And if you buy as much of your food as possible from local sources, the impact could be even greater. Here in Philly, I think it is entirely possible for us to get at least 80% of our food from local sources, the variety is that great. You can even get local popcorn and butter here. Some areas of the country aren't this lucky, but if those in less diverse markets started shopping for what they could and getting to know their farmers, my guess is that those markets would start to expand. A good place to start buying locally is starting with buying things that are grown here instead of elsewhere, e.g. while you can't get a local banana; you certainly CAN get a local potato or why are you buying the potato from Idaho and the tomato from Mexico? Start eating seasonally so you can work in more local foods, e.g. make strawberries a special treat for June and enjoy acorn squash and apples in the fall.
And take the bus to the market! If only 10% of our trips is all that it takes to cut our oil consumption nearly in half, we should do it. Imagine what could happen if we walked or rode our bikes, or increased that public transportation percentage. There are some places where public transportation just isn't available; I've lived in some of them. But the good news is that these are smaller towns, where you can take a bike easily. Further, it is likely that you could eliminate 10% or more of your car trips by planning ahead and carpooling. Buying local can reduce fuel consumption further because the food is taking a shorter trip.
If you buy local produce, and subsist primarily on that, overweight people are bound to drop a few pounds, reducing our country's overall weight. If obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and other diet related health problems were to decrease, imagine the decreased medical costs in our nation. That wouldn't be bad for the economy!
I hope that you reflect on your own potential to reduce your fuel consumption boost the local economy, and improve your own health. The impact of one person making small steps really CAN make a huge difference.
Reference: Jones, V. 2008. The green collar economy: how one solution can fix our two biggest problems. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, 237 pp.

Farmers' Market Loot, August 6, 2009 and Yogic Diet

It has been coming for some time; here is my first 'controversial' post. First I'll give you today's tally: 2 flat-breads from Wild Flour Bakery 1 honeydew melon, 1 cantaloupe, 1 pint blueberries, 1 quart green beans, and 1 quart tomatoes from the fruit farmer 1 dozen eggs and 1 pound of bacon from the local meat producer. The cash total was $29, $9 of that was the bacon. Yes, that's right, I bought bacon. The traditional Ayurvedic diet is ovo-, lacto-vegetarian, and Ayurveda is closely tied with yoga. I do consider myself a serious yogini...but I am not a vegetarian. I continue to eat all types of meat from pigs and cows to fish. To me the yogic diet is not strictly vegetarian, but is rather to eat mindfully, keeping ahimsa clearly on the mind while choosing our food and consuming it. Ahimsa is the practice of non-harming in thought, word, or deed; expressing love and compassion for yourself, others, and the world around you. Of course, this is an impossible goal. B.K.S. Iyengar points out in Light on Life (2005) that even Gandhi, a great example of ahimsa, was in violation when he went on long fasts, harming himself in order to prove his point. Many yogis practice ahimsa of diet via vegetarianism or even veganism. I applaud all of you, but this diet is just not for me. I do not eat a lot of meat, in fact the last time I ate meat was last Saturday where burgers were the only main course available. The fact is I love the taste and texture of meat. I realize that consuming it is harming not only the animal that needs to die, but also damaging the environment. American beef farms alone have a larger carbon footprint than America's cars. Further, the large-scale meat industry typically treats its animals cruelly and feeds them monotonous diets leading to the need to pump in the antibiotics...which can lead to resistant microbes. Our health is another consideration. Consuming a lot of meat and animal products can lead to so many poor health conditions like hear disease, cancer, and diabetes. It's a bad situation. All of this so I can have cheap meat on my plate? That is not necessary. On the other hand, tofu makes me sick to the stomach; I can only eat so many bean dishes. In my everyday life, about 10-15% of my diet is meat. If I don't eat meat once in a while, I begin to feel a little off and then get sick. I come from a very meat-based culture; there is typically meat for every dinner back home. However, if I were to go home as a vegetarian, I would be hungry and make my mom upset that I didn't even try the ham, turkey, or baked beans she lovingly cooked. My personal perspective on this is that I don't buy cheap, industrial meat. I buy local, pastured animals that aren't unnecessarily pumped full of medicines. If available, I will always choose a wild animal harvested by my relative or boyfriend. I choose my fish according to A) what is likely to be harvested near me and B) choose carefully along the lines of sustainable and mercury-level charts for fish. Buying these meats is more expensive and takes more thought. The trade-off is worth it for more nutritious and flavorful meat. Because its more expensive, I take care to use all of what I get. I boil bones to make homemade broth and I save my bacon drippings in the fridge for cooking. The higher price also encourages me to eat less, having a smaller environmental and karmic impact. When it comes down to the choice of eat meat, or eat very little or nothing at all, I will choose to eat the meat every time. These are mindful choices, and I think that they are in line with mindful eating...what I consider to be the 'meat' of the yogic diet. Reference: Iyengar, B.K.S. 2005. Light on life: the yoga journey to wholeness, inner peace, and ultimate freedom. Rodale, Inc., U.S.A., 282 pp.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Get the real dirt...

This past Sunday I watched a movie, The Real Dirt on Farmer John. It is about an eccentric farmer, who is certainly open-minded about the future of farming. Although John is a bit strange, and seems to have a thing for dating much younger women, the overall story is good. If you are looking for something different for your Netflix queue, order it! John's story is like many a modern farmer, watching farmland being eaten up by housing developments, not being able to make ends meet, and struggling with emotional as well as financial burdens from all of it. But open-minded John turns to organic and diversified farming for something new...and a whole new future opens up. Today John runs one of the largest CSAs in the country, serving the Chicago area. I found this film a little less than polished, but truly reflective of the situation that so many small farms find themselves in today. John's mother is like every strong woman from my grandmothers' generation. She continues to have faith in the future, no matter what. She is by far my favorite cast member; an inspiration for all of a younger generation.

Local Food Shopping, 7/30-7/31

On Thursday I went to the Farmers' Market. I purchased a quart of blueberries, a quart of mini eggplants, a quart of peaches, two cucumbers, 3 big squash (1 yellow and 2 zucchini), and a dozen eggs. The total was $17.00 My boyfriend and I went camping this past weekend and I was responsible for breakfast I needed honey so I went to Reading Terminal Market on Friday. There I picked up 2 pounds of local honey, a pound of locally made granola, a quart of vanilla yogurt, and a quart of peaches. The total was $25.10. The honey was $10 and will last a while. I returned with three peaches a bunch of granola and half the quart of yogurt. Total for the week: $42.10. Total for the month: $106.35. Percentage of my salary: $4.25% Can you afford to eat local? The question actually is, how can you afford not to eat local?

Eat Less

The main point of this excellent chapter of Michael Pollan's book hits at the essence of yoga--mindfulness. Shopping, cooking, and eating mindfully is the way to eat less. If you are buying nutritious, local delights, you are likely not going to need as much to eat because these foods are, to quote my boyfriend, "more filling...not in a bloated, stuffed way, but a really satisfying full. If you cook mindfully, you're likely to enjoy the process instead of viewing your cooking/clean-up duties as an inconvenience and heading out for pizza. When you eat mindfully, aka not plopped in front of the TV, you actually taste your food. When you taste and enjoy your food, you are tuned into your body and know when to stop eating.