Sustainable Cuisine: Concious Consumption
By Lindsey Mann
Three times a day we commit one of the most intimate acts we can perform in our lives -- we eat. Imbibing in something that literally becomes us makes palpable the gravity of our food choices, one expression of how we literally create our lives. But eating is not only intimate, influencing our bodies, minds, emotions; it has profound global consequences. The choices we make selecting food affect politics, environmental health and safety, and social welfare.
A fundamental piece to the sustainability puzzle is awareness-- becoming conscious of the impacts of our lifestyles, within and around us. We look at our attitudes and beliefs, but also the life cycle of the products we use. The power of consumer choice is mighty, and one we wield on a daily basis, whether or not it is recognized. And we often find our schedules over-full: job to work, household to tend, family to feed. We may not find the energy to make that extra effort towards sustainable living. We can, though, begin to focus small change in our everyday lives, through our consumer choices, especially in how we eat.
Sustainable cuisine is local, seasonal, fresh- and perhaps not having everything available all the time. Limits to our choices can actually be freeing; minding seasonal availability in our rich climate helps us fall into the ease of natural rhythms and live healthfully. Summer is my favorite season with varieties of melons, tomatoes, okra and lettuces in abundance in Georgia, while winter offers onions and robust greens to balance the hearty grains and root vegetables abundant during the cold seasons. Organic produce aims towards sustainable in spirit, with reductions in harmful chemical inputs, but has become another facet of energy-intensive industrial agriculture.
The hot issue of food security often raises the pertinent point that most of our produce in Georgia is trucked in from California. A transportation dilemma in itself- not to mention energy and water intensive agricultural practices that convert deserts to acres of spinach monocultures; the story of how industrial agriculture became "Organic."
An obvious solution is to grow our own food. Growing our own food is not only rewarding and enjoyable, but one of the most impactful decisions we can make for the environment. It is also a significant connection for us to make. We begin to realize we are our environment. Typical landscape chemicals with brand names like "Three-way" that give our lawn that uniform, anywhere USA look eventually end up in our tap water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. These are chemicals that, among other negatives, cause nerve damage in humans (EPA Toxic Release Inventory). Understanding connections to our water, our earth, our food, our bodies is an essential part of the mission towards sustainability. Community farms and gardens are on-target, co-creating a healthy existence. In residences, vegetable plots can replace lawns, fruit trees and shrubs can be integrated into almost any landscape design. Tomatoes, lettuce and herbs can be grown in pots on decks, sprouts in kitchen windows.
Vegetarian diets versus carnivorous consumption is an uncomfortable subject, culturally taboo, but impossible to avoid when considering the realities of our diets in relationship to the environment. The amount of pollution produced by factory farms contributes to high levels of methane, a greenhouse gas, and to nation-wide water pollution problems. Worldwatch sites one calorie of beef takes 33 percent more fossil fuel energy to produce than one calorie of potatoes. As well, livestock receive 70 percent of all antibiotics in the US. All this- not to mention the treatment of the animals from birth to slaughter. If the aim is consciousness, it is hard in good conscience to support: here the reader is left to his or her own to research the reality of factory animal farms. A good beginning is "This Steer’s Life", by Michael Pollan. New York Times Magazine, March 01.
Real nurturance from food comes from how well connections are made with what we eat. Opportunities for connections abound. As communities, we connect more often than not around food. As we prepare food, we can enjoy the aromas of roasting spices. Cutting vegetables, we can consider their lifelines and qualities of water, sun, earth, air. And give ourselves pause while we eat, actually enjoying the food. We eat and consider the food’s origins, appreciate flavor, texture, color. How often do we really pay attention? Perhaps nutrition is not only what we eat but how.
Ecologically, we consider ways to "close the loop" by reducing waste and recycling. In unadulterated natural systems, the concept of waste does not exist and all energy comes from the sun. We might mimic living systems in our lives and work for efficiency and safe, sound livelihood. Perhaps the most fundamental loop to close is the cycle of our own food. We sow, grow, harvest, share, enjoy and return back to the earth as compost: food.
Lindsey Mann, MLA, LEED AP, is a sustainable systems consultant and ecological landscape architect focused on local food and urban renewal. firstname.lastname@example.org