Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Making sustainable food choices

Determining what is sustainable is a matter of personal preferences - What can you live without? What are willing to pay for quality or safety? How much are you willing to give to ensure environmental health? Those are personal decisions we face every day.

Speaking of personal decisions, what could be more personal than food? Beside nutrition, mealtime provides many other human comforts, such as intimate conversations, emotional support, regular routine, and memorable family gatherings. We all are attached to what we know, like familiar tastes, colors, shapes, textures, smells, bowls, and spoons. Add warmth, loved ones, holidays, laughs, and shared stories, and you have the makings of a real addiction. Most people do not distinguish their emotional attachment to a meal from their memory of its actual taste. Maybe that is one of the reasons why most people have such a hard time changing their food lifestyle (notice i didn't use the hated "d" word - diet).

After a near death experience with food allergies two years ago, I was given a rather long list of common foods that I could not eat. Changing my food lifestyle was difficult, but very rewarding.  It has changed my life, so I understand the challenges of detaching from the sentimental side of food. Practically overnight, I went from a "food is an adventure" type of person to a "you are what you eat" type. Since then, I have been on a research journey to understand food. What is it, how is it made, how is it grown, where does it originate, what people/organizations are involved, how is it processed, what makes it taste good, what happens to it when goes in the body, and what food does the body need?

The initial quest was to find tasty alternatives to dishes I previously enjoyed, but over time I found myself looking for food that gave me more than just taste. I want food that will fuel my body with efficiency. Instead of treating illnesses, I want foods that naturally provide my body with a variety of benefits that will prevent illness and eliminate the need for medication. Understanding how to select, purchase and prepare these foods has opened my eyes to a different kind of health. Not just physical and spiritual health of the body, but the health of our community, economy, and environment.

 Here's one example. No matter where you live in North America, there are types of apples that grow well in your climate. However, did you know that most apples eaten in the US travel over 1500 miles to reach your fridge? That's because large producers with many thousands of acres of apple trees usually do not farm in or near cities. To cut costs, trees are grown in masses, sprayed with pesticides, apples are treated with color additives, picked before fully ripe, polished with waxes, boxes by the hundreds, loaded into pallets, and shipped to grocery stores all over the world where they are off-loaded and stocked on shelves. Those are the apples available to most people in local grocery stores - weeks after being picked. And you pay for all that in the cost and taste of the apple. I would rather buy apples grown locally or least within the state. When we buy items produced locally, we can cut out a lot of the waste. The apples can be picked when ripe (meaning they taste better and have more nutrients), and instead of supporting large companies, middle-men distributors, and transportation companies, you could be supporting your own local economy. I would really prefer to buy apples that are grown sustainably, organically, and at a fair market value.

As most of my friends and family know, when it comes to food, I have a lot to say. So for the next few posts, I'll be sharing more sustainable food topics with you. I would love to hear your comments.