Food Thoughts: Local and Sustainable, Beyond the Greens

Reader Contribution by Lauren Holt
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There’s a lot of focus these days on growing your own food and buying local fruits and vegetables in season as a way to eat healthier and more sustainably at the same time. I’m a fan of this particular movement myself and plan to grow my own vegetables and culinary herbs in a tiny container garden (more on that later).

Connected to this home-grown or locavore approach comes an increased focus on vegetarian meals and vegan lifestyles that extends from what people eat to the products they buy and the food they give their dogs. And I support this trend, too–Most of us could benefit from eating more plants, more fruits and vegetables (humans, at least–I haven’t decided on the dog thing). The new USDA Dietary Guidelines are just one source telling Americans that our diets are too heavy on salts, meats and highly-processed foods. Chowing down on more fruits and vegetables is a healthy change that can lead to increased energy, better immune function and fortification against chronic and degenerative diseases. (For more information about the benefits of eating plant-based foods check out the links at the end of this blog and read the “Plate Full of Veggies” article of our May issue, in stores and online next week!)

Farmer’s markets can be a great source of locally grown produce–but that doesn’t mean the food is sustainable or organic.
Photo by WBUR/Courtesy

So, cutting out meat and other animal products can be a healthy choice, and it’s certainly easy to make it more sustainable and green/earth-friendly than a meat-heavy diet in terms of resources and energy spent. But personally? I like eating meat, even if I’m consuming less of it. I like my cheese, milk and yogurt, too. And that preference can be a problem when I line it up with the sustainable, eco-friendly, no-animal-cruelty values I’m trying to live by. Because buying organic, humane or otherwise sustainable animal products can be tricky.

There are lots of reasons for that. It can be significantly more expensive, especially since the percentage of farmers who can afford to practice more sustainable, healthier methods is on the small side. And that’s not the farmers’ fault–my own grandparents run a small cattle ranch, and their efforts to raise purely grass-fed cows without growth hormones resulted in little interest when it came time to sell. Lack of interested buyers can be discouraging, especially when the public consumer mindset seems to be trending in a more positive direction. But there are some tools to help farmers reach the public, and to help consumers be more conscious of the animal products they buy.

Buying local or sustainable meat and dairy products can be harder than finding fresh local and organic produce.
Photo by Jamie Gordon. Courtesy

For some products, you may be able to take advantage of the American Humane Society’s Certified program (formerly the Free Farmed program), which aims to provide consumers with access to readily identifiable choices for humanely raised beef, pork, poultry and dairy products. The full listing can be found here, but a few brands include Red Barn Family Farms, Heartland Meats, Inc., Cal-Maine Foods and (newly) Brown Cow.

Another label to look for is Certified Humane Raised and Handled, from Humane Farm Animal Care, which focuses on farm animal welfare from birth to death. Check out their facts sheet for consumers and search for certified products by state or zipcode.

For the option of local, small scale farm products, try using Local Harvest, a website that makes it easy to search for products by either category or location. Many of the listed farms and organizations focus on organic or sustainable practices for plant produce, animal products, crafts, gifts and herbal tinctures.

It is important to note, however, that local doesn’t necessitate sustainable or humane practices. Be aware that the buzzwords are not synonyms: organic, sustainable, humane and local are not necessarily mutually inclusive terms, and it’s important to know what you’re buying and why it’s important to you before you make a purchase. Don’t jump on a product just because it’s local–ask questions to make sure it is something you want to spend your money supporting.

Read More:Shop Sustainable–Sustainable Table
Reconnect with Food and Grow Your Own – Mother Earth News
How Did America Lose Its Connection with Food? – Mother Earth News
Fresh Clips: The Future of Wild Herbs – The Herb Companion
Opinion: Sustainable Herbalism – The Herb Companion
Herbs for Life, Essential Herbs for Every Age – The Herb Companion
Weed Eater: Edible Weeds – The Herb Companion
Health Goals: Improved Eating Habits – Herbal Living

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