Eat well and responsibly during the winter
BY JENNIFER MOTL
Even when frost glitters on farm fields, it’s still possible to eat healthy, environmentally sustainable foods.
In the last few years, more and more people are seeking locally grown foods and organic foods. These foods are better for the environment because they use less gasoline to truck them to market or use fewer chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Below, I share eight tricks that are as friendly to your wallet as they are to the environment. Find out what foods are tastiest this season, how to save energy and how to prepare now for next summer’s harvest.
No one is perfect, yet making even one or two small changes can help.
Eat fewer animals and more plants. By eating vegetarian foods more often, we could cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 36 percent without spending more on groceries, according to a study in the United Kingdom.
Beef, fish and dairy products produce the most greenhouse gases, according to data from Brighter Planet.com. “Poultry, eggs, and vegetables emit approximately half as much carbon per calorie as red meat, while cereals and grains, oils and sugars, and nuts produce roughly a quarter as much.”
Put another way, the energy used to produce a half-pound of beef is equivalent to driving a car almost 10 miles. That’s about 36 times more than producing a half-pound of asparagus, which is like driving one-quarter mile, according to an article in Scientific American.
Eat local, seasonal foods. Seasonal foods are fresher, more flavorful and tend to be grown closer to home, thus reducing gasoline usage. They also tend to cost less.
If you’re not sure what to prepare, try a seasonal cookbook. I love “Simply in Season” by Cathleen Hockman–Wert and Mary Beth Lind.
And although it’s a little meat-heavy, Diana Henry’s “Roast Figs Sugar Snow: Winter Food to Warm the Soul,” has plenty of mouthwatering veggie recipes, too. Salivate over potato pierogi with wild mushroom sauce, or homey favorites like seasoned collard greens with cornbread and baked beans.
Easy desserts would be apples roasted with honey and cinnamon.
What winter veggies and fruits should you consider eating this time of year? Southern staples such as kale, collard greens, cabbage, along with leeks are fairly cold-tolerant plants, and are still grown in some parts of Virginia even in the cold.
Some farms grow mushrooms indoors all winter. And many locally grown vegetables can be stored for a long time. These include butternut squash, spaghetti squash and root veggies like beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, celeriac, onions, garlic, potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes.
Dozens of varieties of apples and pears keep well. Wild rice, Lima beans, peas and dried legumes have a long storage life, too, and they’re great sources of fiber and protein.
Buy fresh foods with less packaging. Aluminum cans, foil and cardboard cartons are the worst types of packaging for the environment, according to Brighter Planet.com.
Plastic milk bottles are more benign in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. But the greenest choices are to buy fresh, whole, bulk foods with little or no packaging. Recycle the packaging whenever possible. Consider reusable cloth shopping bags, too.
Eat in. Driving to restaurants and grocery stores also releases greenhouse gases. So consider cooking at home more often.
Cook smarter. While you’re in your kitchen, consider updating any old refrigerators and freezers, since they consume more energy than other appliances—you could save more than $300 a year in electric bills.
Also, microwaves are the most energy-efficient way to cook, according to Brighter Planet.com. Stoves come in second place, ovens third.
Dishwashers tend to be more efficient than washing by hand, to my great joy.
Compost leftovers. Composting food scraps rather than trashing them can reduce climate gases. When you compost foods, they do release some carbon dioxide. But in the landfill, foods release methane, “which is 25 times as potent in its global warming potential.”
“A report out of the U.K. estimates that if food scraps were removed from landfills there, the level of greenhouse gas abatement would be equivalent to removing one-fifth of all the cars in the country from the road,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
You can find tips on composting in wintertime at organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/cold-weather-compost?page=0,2
Make a plan. Consider how you might eat closer to home next year, whether you map the route to nearby farmers markets, consider buying a share in a community-supported agriculture (CSA) project or even plan your own garden.
Learn to preserve foods.
Plan how you might store some of that local harvest. I bought a food dehydrator a few years back and found it was easy to dry blueberries, sliced strawberries and apples and even pitted cherries. Dried fruit takes up far less space and does not require energy-intense refrigeration. It tastes great on oatmeal and added to pancake and muffin batter.
There are lots of ways our eating habits affect the planet. None of us are perfect. Yet making even one small change can help the world.
Jennifer Motl is a registered dietitian. Formerly of Fredericksburg, she now lives in Wisconsin. She welcomes reader questions via her website, brighteating.com, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.