October 17, 2012

Going Even Greener: Five Ways to Be a Sustainable Foodie

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What turns you on? The first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t a thick, fleshy carrot pulled straight from a bed of moist, loose soil (unless you’re really freaky). I, on the other hand, I have long been in bed with sustainability.  My hope is to seduce you into a relationship of your own with my recommendations on how you can eat and live more sustainably.

Disclaimer: I am by all means not a vegetarian nor an extreme tree-hugger.  I don’t even own a pair of Birkenstocks.  What I am is an aspiring chef and student of agriculture greatly concerned by the health of our nation and food system.  I live to cook and feed people healthy, sexy and delicious food.  Sustainability holds promise that others and I can keep doing this into my future.

Go Naked

That is, strive to eat and cook as much produce that is locally sourced and grown environmentally responsible as possible. What does that mean? Well it doesn’t always mean Certified Organic.  Organic certification is expensive for farmers (and in turn for consumers). The reality is that there is a variety of responsible pest and soil management practices that do not necessarily have a negative impact on our environment and health but that are prohibited in organic production. The best tasting ingredients are locally sourced and come from healthy soils. The Ithaca Farmers Market and the Farmers Market at Cornell on the Ag Quad every Thursday are my some of my favorite places to go naked. Test this for yourself, the next time you have the chance to taste a locally and environmentally responsible grown tomato (you’ll have to wait a few seasons now) compare it to the taste of a conventional tomato off the grocery store shelf, picked green, and ripened on its trek to you. I promise an epiphany.

Open Up

That is, educate yourself on the subject so that you can make smart and sustainable dining decisions. So much of the opposition to sustainability comes from a lack of understanding and education on the subject. Those who just see the bottom line are often turned off by the idea and shun it as just a trend. Don’t be one of those people. There are a variety of resources out there; tons of books, publications and research that can help you get head. Some I personally recommend are  What to Eat by Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, Food Matters by Mark Bittman, the acclaimed journalist and true expert on the topic and Food, Farming, and Faith written by Cornell’s very own professor Gary Fick.

Masticate in Public

And support your communities’ sustainable food service establishments! Restaurants and food service operations across the nation have made sustainability one of their core values. This is especially prevalent in Ithaca’s dining scene. From Cornell Dining to Stella’s in Collegetown, there is a vast range of eateries that source sustainably. Caveat emptor, however.  Because “farm-to-table” food is such a trend, many restaurants use it as a marketing tool to attract conscious consumers and charge a premium when they may not be upholding the value and truly sourcing local, environmentally responsible grown ingredients. My trick to filtering through this farce is by making sure the menu indicates the exact farm source of each locally ingredient. For example, I was at Trillium getting a black bean quesadilla the other day and noticed that Cornell Dining had posted a sign right on the menu board indicating which specific ingredients and farms they sourced locally.

Take Care of Your Junk

My grandmother used to scorn at the dinner table shrieking “Waste not, want not!” I still hear her voice in the back of my head anytime I go to throw away food left on my plate. The average American wastes about 500 pounds of food a year. With our ever-growing population, the concern is whether or not we will be able to produce enough food to sustain into the future. Do your part and at every meal make sure your eyes aren’t bigger than your stomach. Think about all the energy and effort that goes into every bite, throwing it away puts all this to waste. Yes, you can compost your scraps but we can’t necessarily feed that to starving populations.

Spread the Love

I like to think of sustainability as a religion: There are believers, nonbelievers and those who don’t care. But there is only one solution to this: Spread the word and strive to make a difference. I know you may think to yourself, “I am one person; I am not going to single-handedly make a change.”  You are wrong. Think of brilliant and inspiring people such as Alice Waters, the New Jersey native who pioneered California cuisine and The Slow Food movement in Berkley, California and across the United States or J.I. Rodale, the New York City native who, with incredible foresight, left the city for the farm land of Pennsylvania and founded the Rodale Institute in 1947, one of today’s leading organization in sustainability research and education.

Original Author: Austin Buben