Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Week 19: Veg Out!

Week 19:

Veg Out!

You knew it was going to happen sometime. This week, we’re talking about vegetarianism. Hold on, I know some of you are rolling your eyes and tuning out already. Some of you are challenging the whole concept of whether vegetarian is better anyway. So, let’s all agree that changing your diet is a spectrum, and you can land anywhere on the spectrum that you like. There are ways to do better, even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore, and you’d rather eat meat than anything else. Trust me, there are steps we can all take, regardless of what we choose to eat, that can help the planet when it comes to food. Don’t believe me? Challenge accepted.

Modern, conventional farmers will argue that technology and science provide innovation that improve agriculture and support climate initiatives. That is absolutely true. Non-traditional farmers argue that organic, small-scale, holistic farming significantly mitigates climate change. They’re right too. So, the answer will come from both arenas, with both ends of the spectrum contributing in specific ways, and working together. But, the point is that something’s gotta give. Our current methods are unsustainable for humans, for the planet, and for agriculture itself. We have to take serious action on this at all levels, worldwide. Many organizations are already doing this. Consider Farmers for Climate Solutions Canada, which is an alliance of farmer organizations and supporters nationwide. There are tons of resources there, if you’re interested in the nitty gritty of how farming can help solve the climate crisis.

Currently about 40% of methane emissions worldwide are from agriculture. 30% is from natural sources, and 30% is “human” made, through fossil-fuel burning, etc. As the Western diet permeates other parts of the world, and other countries become wealthier, the demand for meat, dairy, eggs and other animal products has risen. This fuels deforestation, as more land is required worldwide for crops to feed the animals. 

National Geographic produced an amazing series called Feeding 9 Billion, which links climate mitigation to our food habits, and the necessity of feeding a planet of 9 billion people by 2050. We definitely do live in interesting times! It cited agriculture as one of the biggest contributors to global warming, and also one of the biggest consumers of the world’s fresh water. The question they addressed was “how can the world double the availability of food while simultaneously cutting the environmental harm caused by agriculture?” They came up with 5 steps. Freeze the agricultural footprint. Grow more on existing farms. Use resources more efficiently. Reduce waste. And, shift diets.

Only 55% of the world’s cropland is used to feed humans directly. 36% is used to feed animals, and 9% is for biofuel. In Canada, 10% of our gHg emissions are directly from producing crops and livestock.

Eating lower on the “food chain” means that your food requires less energy to produce. If you’re eating that corn directly from the field, instead of using it to raise and feed another lifeform before you eat that, you’re using less energy.

Challenge 19: Try eating vegetarian

A plant based diet is not just good for your health, it is also a good way to reduce your carbon footprint. Eat one fully vegetarian dinner (Good); Eat several vegetarian dinners (Better); Eat vegetarian dinners for a full week (Best).

There is a long history of the health benefits from eating a vegetarian diet. Take a look around the world, and compare those statistics to a western diet. We’ll explore this in more detail in later challenges. However, the reality is, you can be unhealthy on a vegetarian diet just as easily as you can on a traditional diet. Sugar and salt are vegetarian. Eating a whole bag of potato chips is still bad for you. And there are questionable health benefits to highly processed, plant-based fast food. Again, the point is balance, consciousness and integrity when it comes to what you do, and what you eat. Eating whole foods, in as close to their natural form as possible, is a good guideline. 

Full disclosure - I’m not vegetarian, nor is my family. We are conscious of what meat/dairy we buy and where it's from. We've replaced some sources of protein with plant-based options, and we eat vegetarian meals frequently. Laurel is a vegetarian, and moving towards veganism. My son’s girlfriend is vegetarian, for planetary reasons. It is a lifestyle choice, a journey of what works for you, and a decision to make improvements where you can. 

If you’re not sure what a vegetarian meal even looks like, or how to prepare one, then start small. Start with breakfast. A boiled egg with toast works. Cereal. Yogurt & granola. A smoothie. Bagel and peanut butter. See? You’re already on the right track. Lunch is also pretty easy. Salad. Grilled cheese. Pizza. Veggie soup. Dinner is harder, because it’s usually our biggest meal, and the one we’re used to pairing with protein, starch and veg. But, you can reduce the size of your protein, and put more starch and veg on your plate. You can switch out that steak with fish, or even chicken, which has less of a footprint. Portabella mushrooms with goat cheese roasted on the BBQ is totally delicious. 

If you want support along the way, Laurel’s adult daughter has been trying out a food delivery box called Cook It. It’s not quite local (it’s from Montreal), and everything is sourced as local to Montreal as possible. They attempt to minimize waste and they are planning to launch a reusable box delivered by bike. They aim for less than 4 percent food waste, and the box is teaching Laurel’s daughter how to eat Vegetarian. For someone who is very busy and has no idea how to get started, it is actually a pretty good option. The meals come with cards to show you how to shop and replicate the meals locally, and it has been working really well for Laurel’s daughter. She’s adopting a vegetarian lifestyle, has reduced her food budget, and it has reduced their weekly compost by a full bag.

If you treat the experience with curiosity instead of animosity, you’ll be more successful. The term “flexitarian” is gaining traction, which really just means, eat meat in moderation, choose plant-based options when you can, and cut out processed junk. If you don’t like what you try, then switch it up next time. The point is, find what you like, that not only supports your well-being, but supports the planet. You will be healthier, and you will feel better. Bon appetit!

Yours in sustainability,
Sherri Jackson & Laurel Hood


52 Weeks of Climate Action was created by Sherri Jackson and Laurel Hood. Sherri is a writer, speaker and musician. She is the candidate of record and communications coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Laurel Hood, is a retired secondary teacher, transportation lead for the Collingwood Climate Action Team, and volunteer coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Visit our blog or sign up at www.52weeksofclimateaction.com.

 

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Week 18: A Life Well Lived

 

Week 18:

A Life Well Lived

If I had a different life, I’d want to live in Italy. Or France. Somewhere where people still browse daily for the food they’ll eat that day, the buildings are all ancient and crumbling (that’s charm,  not deterioration), and everything is freshly grown and made in that village. Where everything closes down for siestas, and people come home for a homemade lunch (with wine), and then a nap. Where organic, local food is normal (not political), and anything that comes out of a box is suspect. This lifestyle appeals to me so deeply, that usually somewhere in the middle of winter, I drag out Under the Tuscan Sun and A Good Year, and then I look for rentals abroad (and not go, because, well, my life!). 

I love this romanticized scenario because it feels slower, and more connected. Noticing the little things. The luxury of time. Appreciating what you have. A quality of life that often comes second place to whatever needs doing. After 18 weeks of these articles, you’ve gotten the gist that living more sustainably means looking at things from a different angle, and often, slowing down so you can enjoy the new scenery. This week is no exception. Eating local is on our menu, and to do it well, you’ll have to slow down a little (you’re welcome).

Eating local presents some challenges if you are usually racing from task to task, with your hair on fire. That crazy, unconscious, rat in a maze lifestyle isn’t doing you, or the planet any good. You know it too. Something’s gotta give, and hopefully, it’s letting go of behaviours that don’t serve you, and adopting new habits that do. 

If you want to eat better, and eat local, you will have to adjust your once a week, one stop shopping patterns. We’ve all been there. Thirty minutes between this thing and that; grab a cart, put as much quasi-relevant, food-like stuff in it before the buzzer goes. Hand over your debit card. Block out the total. Race to your car. Victory! Your family will eat for another week. And you were only a few minutes late to the game.

Eating local requires attention. You’ll have to read your labels. Probably stop at a few places to get everything you need. It means dropping in at A&D Bird Seed in Stayner for eggs. Rural Roots, or Theo’s food stand on Airport Road for produce and flowers. Foodland, for some Miller’s Dairy. 100 Mile Store for organic meat. The Refillery in Creemore for your household and hygiene products. You can also hit the farmers’ market to pick up your orders (thanks, COVID). You may see a roadside stand with sunflowers along the way. You can’t do it in half an hour between gigs. You’ll have to know what you need, and where you need to go to get it. And you have to be flexible enough to stop when you need to, and eat based on what’s fresh, and available then and there. That’s the fun part.

Maybe that sounds horrible to you. After all, life is full. No room for more things to do. But is that really true? Do you really have no time to do the things you want, because it’s all taken up by things you don’t want? Are you mortgaging what you care about for things you don’t? We all do it. But, knowing it, and changing it are two different things. One leads to depression. The other, leads to freedom.

Here we go again. You’re right, this isn’t a philosophy blog. However, a sustainable lifestyle means more than living environmentally consciously. It means living Consciously. Period. 

It means “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level”, so you have enough in the tank for another day, and don’t collapse at the end of it, exhausted. Living sustainably means living holistically, so all of you, and the environment, and your family, and your job, and your community, and your well-being, and your finances are healthy, and can carry on, without a mental health, relationship, or medical crisis. Everything’s connected.

All that to say, Week 18’s challenge is to eat as locally as you can! Why does it matter? First, it reduces your food miles. That’s how far your food travels to get to your plate. So, the carbon footprint of that carrot out of your garden is virtually zero. But, if it was flown in from California, then trucked to your store, then driven home by you, well, it’s had more travel than you probably have in the past six months. 

Second, it eliminates the need for extended refrigeration, packing facilities or packaging, which increase your food’s carbon footprint.

Third, it produces less food waste, because local food is picked in real time. A local farmer doesn’t need to pick a whole field of cauliflower at once. Did you know, 58% of the food picked in Canada is wasted? That’s 35.5 million tons annually. 4.82 million tons ($21mil) are lost just through processing and manufacturing. The annual cost of food waste per year, per family, is $1,766, and if that doesn’t strike you, get this: $49 billion in food is lost or wasted each year. That’s enough to feed every Canadian for five months. 

Food waste is an environmental problem, because when it is not disposed of properly, it produces methane, and toxic soup in landfills. Methane is 25 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide.

Challenge 18: Eat as locally as you can!

How close can you get to creating an entire meal from only local ingredients?   Ontario (Good), Georgian Triangle (Better) Your own garden (Best).

One great way to eat locally is to know your farmer. Building a relationship with the people who grow your food gives you more control over what you’re eating. At the grocery store, you can’t ask what was sprayed on your celery, who picked it, or whether they were paid fairly. But, when the farmer’s also your vendor, you can always shoot the breeze, and learn about what inspires them. Maybe their produce isn’t certified “organic”, but they’re a no-spray, or no-till farm, using sustainable practices. Bingo. 

Of course, nothing beats walking out to your garden and picking tonight’s dinner. It’s still a thrill for me to see the tomatoes I grew from seed this year, mostly because I am notoriously bad at keeping indoor plants alive. The fact they even made it past my kitchen counter is almost a miracle. Eating fresh pasta, made with eggs from my chickens, with my tomatoes and basil, local garlic and cheese, is as close to living in Italy as I’m going to get any time soon. 


Yours in sustainability,
Sherri Jackson & Laurel Hood


52 Weeks of Climate Action was created by Sherri Jackson and Laurel Hood. Sherri is a writer, speaker and musician. She is the candidate of record and communications coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Laurel Hood, is a retired secondary teacher, transportation lead for the Collingwood Climate Action Team, and volunteer coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Visit our blog or sign up at www.52weeksofclimateaction.com.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Week 17: Our Grandparents Called It "Food"

 

Week 17:

Our Grandparents Called It "Food"

Not that long ago, the trend toward “organic” food became a thing. Now, we assume that our food is not “organic”, if it isn’t labelled as such. And, the hoops farmers must jump through to have their produce carry that label is quite astounding. I have a farmer friend who once was told he couldn’t use the word “natural” on his own honey, because technically, it was processed. At some point in time, we decided that chemicals on and in our food wasn’t such a big deal. Now, we realize that not only are they bad for our bodies, they’re bad for our planet.

Challenge 17: This week  buy organic produce where possible.

Agriculture is the world’s largest industry, generating over $1.3 trillion annually, and employing over a billion people. Cropland occupies over 50% of the earth’s habitable land. Sustainable farming protects watersheds, improves biodiversity, improves soil and water quality, preserves habitats, and maximizes the amount of food produced per acre. There is an increasingly urgent need for farming practices to become more sustainable worldwide.

Many farmers operate small or generational farms, so their interest in the well-being of their soil and ecosystem is both economic and environmental. Today’s farmers face one of the biggest challenges in history: building sustainable food systems to feed 7.5 billion people, and solving climate change. In the face of climate change, arguably no other profession faces as direct a threat to its livelihood as agriculture does. And if farmers are unable to farm, our future is bleak.

Soil is a natural carbon sink. And disturbing soil releases the carbon it naturally stores.
The use of gas-powered equipment, controlled burns, the trend toward industrial animal farming practices, and the heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers contribute significantly to greenhouse gases. Clearing land for agricultural use removes old-growth forests, and is one of the major reasons for the devastation of rainforests. It’s estimated that 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions is from food production. 

The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action have launched a campaign called 30 Harvests, which bluntly states that if we continue with business as usual, we have only 30 more harvests before irreversible climate catastrophe changes the face of farming. You read that right: thirty. It’s a sobering thought when looked at through that lens.

Farmers are the unsung heroes of our food supply system, and are major players in the carbon conversation. Farmers have a passion for the land, and a connection to the environment that puts them in a unique position to be game changers when it comes to sustainability, and carbon reduction. Because agriculture plays such a huge role in the carbon conversation, it often gets a bad rap for being on the wrong end of the sustainability scale. That does all our hard working farmers a disservice. Farmers are poised to be the heroes, not the villains in this story. 

Progress is the willingness to look at newer and better solutions to old problems. So it stands to reason that when we know better, we do better. And farming is no exception. There is a strong movement toward sustainable, ecological, organic, ethical farming. There is even a local organization called Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, which supports farmers in building ecologically resilient farms, and operates as a community of information sharing farmers who help and support each other on this path. Building sustainable farms means that future generations are food secure, our ecosystems are healthy, and our climate is stable. Farmers can turn this whole thing around.

Organic farming seeks to improve soil and the ecosystem so that it works in harmony with nature. It builds up the soil through composting, crop rotation, and cover cropping, which reduces the need for chemical pesticides and fertilizers. It often uses animals to fertilize soil, through free-range pasturing. All of these practices improve the soil’s ability to sequester carbon.

When you buy organic, you’re voting with your dollars. You’re saying that you choose to support sustainable farming practices that have an eye on the future. You’re saying that you care about how your food is produced, and where it comes from. When you support sustainable farmers and you choose not to support industrial, factory conglomerates, you’re giving more power back to the family farm to compete in a very competitive market. And you’re doing good for the planet.

Yours in sustainability,
Sherri Jackson & Laurel Hood


52 Weeks of Climate Action was created by Sherri Jackson and Laurel Hood. Sherri is a writer, speaker and musician. She is the candidate of record and communications coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Laurel Hood, is a retired secondary teacher, transportation lead for the Collingwood Climate Action Team, and volunteer coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Visit our blog or sign up at www.52weeksofclimateaction.com.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Week 16: Good things Grow-oh, in Ontario!

Week 16:

Good Things Grow-oh 
in Ontario

Does anyone else remember that cheesy 80s commercial, where a bunch of happy folks holding produce sing “good things grow-oh-oh, in Ontario”? Well, if you don’t, check it out here. Despite it’s datedness, it has a great message, and catchy hook that often runs through my head while I’m picking vegetables. At this time of year, how can you question how lucky we are to live here.

We are in the height of summer, where everything around us is in full swing. Corn is high, farmers are working crazy hours, and the garden is a bountiful harvest. It’s easy to forget that in a few short months, everything will be asleep and covered in snow. That’s why this week, we’ll make hay while the sun shines, as the saying goes. We’re going to buy local.

Buying local is a double whammy in the carbon conversation. We reduce our food and consumption footprint, and also our transportation footprint. 

Buying local is a small thing that has a huge impact. We don’t think about it much, but food is energy. It powers us, and it also comes from burning energy. Plants get energy from the sun. Animals get energy from plants. We get energy from all three! At each step in the food chain, about 90% of the energy produced is wasted. So eating lower on the food chain, and as local and seasonal as possible, wastes less energy. 

Transportation increases the carbon footprint of the food you eat. The farther your food has to travel, the more energy it consumes. In the name of freshness, your food may even travel by air to get to your store. Lettuce from your backyard requires less energy to get to your table than lettuce from California (and tastes better). So, with every romaine head from your backyard, you’re helping to save the planet!

Challenge 16: Buy food in season and local.

Go to farmers’ markets, or look for the grown in Ontario label at the grocery store. If you have one, eat as much as you can from your own garden, or from a neighbour (giant zucchini, going once). If you have more than you can use, freeze or can the extras, or give them away (giant zucchini, going twice).

Buying local isn’t just altruistic. You can feel really good about it for a number of reasons. If the carbon argument just isn’t enough, then consider this. Food that is fresher has more nutritional content. Studies show that 50 years ago, our produce had a much higher content of vitamins and minerals, because our soil was healthier. Good soil produces good food. Over decades our soil has become more and more stressed, due to some farming practises and environmental factors. So, the faster food gets to your table, the more nutrients it maintains. And if your child is only willing to eat, say, one carrot, you want that carrot to have as much impact as possible!

August in Ontario means we have access to just about anything our hearts’ desire. There is almost nothing we can’t grow here, besides bananas and citrus. But, with the abundant choice we have, who needs them now anyway. Forget 100 miles, we could easily get away with a 10 mile diet at this time of year. Fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, grains, honey, even beer, wine and spirits are all easily obtained within a few short miles, and the freshness is unbeatable. There is no comparison between a tomato grown in a greenhouse thousands of miles away and one picked fresh, and eaten in the same motion. 

Beyond that, we all know agriculture is a major sector in our local economy. A significant number of people earn a living directly or indirectly from working this land. When you buy local, you support these people. You keep your dollars circulating in our local economy, and that helps each of us. Building back stronger, and smarter as our economy recovers requires rethinking everything, and finding ways to do things better. This is one quick and easy way to have a huge impact.

This past spring gave us a glimpse of how dependent we are on our food supply chain, and how fragile it is. We need to be looking past a summer’s bounty to more sustainable practices and ways to lengthen our growing season. Take a look at Iceland for example. An island, covered in lichen, with few hours of sunlight for much of the year. It has to be self-sufficient for its food supply, because there are few other options. Iceland grows much of its produce in greenhouses, powered by geothermal energy. This provides the country with strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, cut flowers, potted plants and forest plants. They even use CO2 produced in the process to mitigate their emissions.

We can learn from Iceland. Currently, Canada has over 3 million square feet of unused greenhouse space, due to the cannabis crash. To become more self-sufficient, and ensure our own food security, we could expand our growing season, and our food independence by growing more food here at home, year round, with a few tweaks to our system, and some innovation. 

So while the sun is shining, take advantage of the glorious abundance available right here. Pick your own. Visit a farm stand. Support local growers. Look for the “grown in Ontario” label at the grocery store. And, most of all, while you’re driving behind a tractor, be thankful that person is working from sunup to sundown to supply your family with the food we all need to thrive. Buy local, and build back smarter.
 

Yours in sustainability,
Sherri Jackson & Laurel Hood


52 Weeks of Climate Action was created by Sherri Jackson and Laurel Hood. Sherri is a writer, speaker and musician. She is the candidate of record and communications coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Laurel Hood, is a retired secondary teacher, transportation lead for the Collingwood Climate Action Team, and volunteer coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Visit our blog or sign up at www.52weeksofclimateaction.com.

Week 32: Flexitarians Unite!

  Week 32: Flexitarians Unite! I know you eagerly invested some time last week into researching vegetarian meals you might want to spring on...