Green Food 101: An Introduction

Food is undoubtedly the best thing about life. Let’s be real - we all follow our stomachs more than our hearts or brains. It’s literally the elixir of life (next to water of course)! Maybe you’ve heard about the effect agriculture has on the planet, and that what you put in your reusable grocery bag (that you totally don’t forget all the time) makes a difference. So you’ve decided to update your grocery list to be easier on the environment. But...how does anyone do that?

We wanna start with answering the question...what the hell is green food anyway? Or maybe we should call it "sustainable food", but isn't it basically the same thing (feel free to fight about it in the comments)? Well, green food can be a lot of things. You’ve probably heard all about why buying organic is important, and we’ve talked a lot about how and why shopping local reduces your individual environmental impact. But a few other things that define green food are:

1) Cutting back on packaging to lower the amount of waste from food

2) Protecting biodiverstiy during farming

3) Protecting the farmers who actually grow the damn food

4) Not treating the animals we eat like shit before we eat them

5) Trying not to suck all of the water out of the planet while farming

Okay, so these are some of the major issues in food production. But now what can one person do about it? Sustainable food isn’t defined by any government label or anything, so it’s up to us to try to green the contents of our fridge. Sound a little stressful? Don’t worry - we’ve got 3 solutions for the 3 problems we just gave you.

Cut Back On Those Drunken Taco Bell Trips

There’s technically 2 waste issues with food: actual food waste, and waste from packaging. We’ve already talked about food waste before, and how you can address it, so right now let’s just focus on the packaging.

As a consumer, the biggest way you can reduce the amount of packaging waste from food is to try to avoid fast food...in all its forms. Micky D’s, convenience stores, pre-packaged food from your regular supermarket...it’s sad but true that these are all quite shitty for our health and our home planet. Health aside, all of these types of foods tend to have a shitload of packaging, and this packaging can be quite hard to dispose of sustainably.

Without even bringing up recycling systems (or lack thereof) in a many towns, and the willingness (also or lack thereof) to recycle, most packaging at the moment is a combination of plastic and paper/cardboard so it’s difficult to recycle or compost. Obviously it doesn’t biodegrade (within a reasonable amount of time anyway), meaning it ends up in a landfill or in the stomach of a fish. So what do we do? Until recyclable/compostable/biodegradable packaging becomes mainstream, we go for the less packaged foods in supermarkets.

Finally Hit Up That Farmer’s Market

Who doesn’t like sharing the planet with cute fuzzy animals? And maybe we don’t like the scarier types of creatures out there, but they’re also are important for genetic diversity. Why is overall genetic diversity important for sustainability?

Okay, science lesson alert: Turns out diverse genes within a single species lets it have badass defenses against all sorts of things, from diseases to predators. And when one species starts to lose genetic diversity (e.g. from losing too many numbers), it has a snowball effect. Does this mean different species start getting into snowball fights? No, it means that the thing your 8th grade science teacher said about Earth’s ecosystem being interdependent is true. So when one species starts to lost diversity, so do other species over time.

Now with THAT eco nerd session over, what does this have to do with food and farming? Huge ass monoculture farms require clearing a TON of land to grow the same things, getting rid of plant, soil, wildlife diversity in the process. So what should consumers do? Finding a farmer’s market to shop from (at least sometimes) is a way to support several small farms rather than the huge ones, which is more plausible for biodiversity.

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Protecting Farmers

Farmers aren’t doing so hot. They experience high rates of poverty and suicide in the U.S. alone. Globally, they tend to experience labor rights violations like mad overwork and low pay. But we all like farmers, right? Don’t bite the hand that (literally) feeds you and all that.

For local and/or national farmers, farmer’s markets (shocker) are also a really a good way to contribute to their livelihood. Since it also helps maintain biodiversity, it’s a double whammy! You can also Google co-ops, CSAs, farm stands, and all that in your area. While I’d love to give you the full list of local shit, that would obviously take up not on this entire blog post, but the entire internet.

If we’re talking about international food, that’s a little different and a little trickier. You may have heard about the Fairtrade eco-label, and even seen it on something like coffee before. Basically it’s a label that sets a standard payment for farmers around the globe, so it’s a good label to look for when you’re shopping at a supermarket.

  1. Animal ethics

So maybe you don’t want to be one of those angry vegans you always hear about, and maybe you can’t stand to give up meat entirely. But you don’t have to give up meat entirely, and you don’t have to join PETA either.

So the first tip, which tends to piss people off, is to cut back on your meat consumption. DON’T FREAK OUT! I said (or typed…cut back not eliminate. In case you haven't heard about the issues of industrial farming, the short version is this: hardcore air and water pollution, human and animal abuses, and shitty soil at the end of it all. SO! The benefits of cutting back on meat actually extends beyond our health and ethical conscience.

Besides eating from local farms, then, what's another awesome place to buy ethical meat though?

Your Local Butcher Oh the friendly local butcher...we all have one, but maybe we’ve never paid them a visit. Why? Probably because we’re used to buying meat from supermarkets. But after the number of controversies about how “free range” meats aren’t actually free range at all, we should all probably rethink our regular shopping tendencies.

So enter the unsung hero of ethical meat: your butcher! Are all butcher shops ethical? Sadly, no. Will it be more expensive? Yes (well, probably.) But thegreen premium is a trade for more ethically raised livestock (and according to some arguments better for your health too). Also, as previously mentioned, if you cut back on the amount of meat you eat, the expense ain’t so bad.

Not sure where to find a good butcher in your area? Humaneitarian has an awesome map of the U.S. to help you find one by state. As a side note, they also have lists of store and alternative options for all your ethical meat needs.

Save Dat Water

We once did a blog post about how to get plastered sustainably, and talked about how dry farming is becoming a pretty popular way to grow grapes for wine. But since we can’t survive off the spiked purple juice (sadly), we have to consider how other stuff we eat is being grown.

Getting around excessive water use can be a tricky thing, but farmers are managing to do it (e.g. this badass farmer in the driest state: Arizona.) Since I'm assuming you aren't a farmer, what can non-farmers do about it? Supporting farms that use sustainable water techniques is the most obvious option. Since this isn’t mainstream practice, and there aren’t really eco-labels for this sort of thing (yet), we recommend checking into how your local farms handle water. Yes, it’s more work than just going to the grocery store, but once you’ve tackled this step you can make a routine out of buying from the same farm(s).

So what should you look for in your local farms?

Aquaponics This is all the rage in farming right now - but why? Well, it uses minimal water and tons of shit...err, I mean manure. Basically, you’ve got a fish tank. Obviously in that fish tank are fish swimming around, eating, and shitting. Turns out fish poop has a lot of awesome bacteria for healthy plants, so this water is connected to some weird-ass pipe system that leads to crops and voila! We have a sustainable loop of resources being used for all sorts of life forms.

Aeroponics Okay so farmers may or may not have a thing for weird names. But that aside, aeroponics is another new method of farming while using as few natural resources as humanly possible. Seriously - this type of farming doesn’t even use freakin soil or sunlight. They’re grown under artificial light (energy issue tho???) in plant beds. It’s kinda like a futuristic plant settlement. Don’t believe me? Google it.

As (another) side note, Cuesa has a list of 10 other things you can look for in this area. But since we don’t want to make your brain explode from water conservation techniques, we aren’t gonna list them all.

Well my friends, this is just an introduction to SOME of the issues with current agriculture. BUT! These tips are a good start to greening your kitchen so you can #protectyourwild.

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By Darian Williams, ALDA's Blog and Digital Marketing Specialist Intern 

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