Gastronomy

Environmentally Friendly Eating

by Robyn Fadden
The debate over the health and environmental properties of organic and conventional foods rages on in the media, while we’re left to decide what foods fit our personal ethics, dietary needs, and budgets. In much of North America, our grocery-shopping reality comes down to balancing locally grown foods with imported foods to get the most nutrients and flavour along with bang for our buck.

One advantage of having global media at our online fingertips is that we can find out how our food is grown, raised, and processed – and choose what methods and companies to support. With the environment in mind, we can examine the carbon footprint of fruits, vegetables, and packaged goods grown in far-off countries, along with the ethics of harvest practices and what pesticides and processing methods are used.

Taking all that into consideration, the picture of our daily eating habits becomes far more complex than a quick trip down the aisles of a grocery store. How much can we really know about each and every food we eat? The research and information overload might stop our best intentions in their tracks, yet some facts can simplify the process.

Start with the specifics of where you shop. If the store carries a variety of fresh and unprocessed food from local and nearby North American suppliers, it’s on the environmentally friendly track. Pre-packaged items, such as pasta, crackers, and cereals, are difficult to give up but their effects can be offset when balanced with local or organic foods. Now-common dietary wisdom suggests sticking to the outer aisles of the grocery store to find locally grown deals and avoid foods packed with preservatives and lacking in high nutritional content.

More common wisdom advises buying in-season foods. Often easier said than done in colder North American climates, but local greenhouse-grown fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, kale, and spinach are available year-round, as are staple foods such as onions, garlic, potatoes, squashes, and even apples, stockpiled by local farms and for sale in markets throughout the winter months. Tropical fruits and berries in February might seem too good to be true, usually shipped by truck and boat from South America, but some are better than others – when in doubt, check labels and quickly search the company name by smartphone while shopping.

Growing food at home may be an option too. Herbs such as basil, thyme, lemon balm, and oregano grow quickly in patio flowerpots, as do lettuce and tomatoes. Herbs can be frozen in ice cube trays for individual use, and if you’ve got some extra time and a large freezer or a flare for canning, buy in-season fruits and vegetables (berries and tomatoes are popular picks) in bulk during the summer months when they’re inexpensive and abundant, and reap the flavourful rewards all year.

Even with so many options, from big changes to small-scale personal actions, environmentally friendly eating doesn’t have to be daunting – changing habits doesn’t happen overnight and it all begins with awareness of the choices we make and why.