What does it mean to eat responsibly? 10 ways you can do it!

In this day and in age, we are blessed that in the dead of winter we can still buy fruit and vegetables for our meals. Meat is abundant and varied. If you want to have a cheese from France while sipping a California white wine with grapes from Spain, that is possible. We have it all right there at the grocery store for the taking and oh boy, do we take. Yet some of us are uncomfortable with this bounty and the toll it takes not only on our bodies, but on the environment. So rather than telling you what you are doing wrong, here are some ways you can do a little right when you fill your fridge.

  1. Eat Local: That might sound difficult especially as we head into the chillier months, but there are farmer’s markets that run year round so you can get some hearty winter vegetables along with bread, meat, and dairy. (If you are in CT, check out Farm Fresh Express) If you are lucky and have freezer space, you can plan ahead and do some canning and freezing of local food so you can have a summer feast in January.

Ideally your consumables should come from within 100 miles of you to greatly reduce your carbon foot print AND increase the potency of your produce since it starts loosing nutritional value the minute it is picked. Fuel and car emissions are not great for the environment.

By eating locally, you are encouraging and supporting your farmers to increase their production safe in the knowledge that they have a consumer market for their goods. More money in their pockets gets funneled right back into other parts of the local economy.

2. Seasonal: I don’t know about you, but around June I start craving strawberries, August for tomatoes, and the minute the air gets the crisp whiff of autumn, I want all things pumpkin. This is because even as far as humans have removed themselves from the job of finding food, our bodies remember thousands of years of evolution when certain foods came at certain times of year. They still gear up for the seasonal harvest.

Also getting seasonal food means that you are getting food that it is at its ideal ripeness and perfection. There is a reason that a tomatoes purchased in February are mealy and mushy… it is not the time for tomatoes.

3. Organic: We would all love to eat more organic food, but some times the cost is just a little too much for most food budgets. I understand that, but what a lot of people miss are the hidden costs to their bodies and their environment. The USDA guidelines stipulate that organic plants be raised without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. For animals this means no hormones or antibiotics AND that the animals have to be raised on feed that is certified as organic. The fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, and constant use of antibiotics have longer term effects causing things like birth defects, antibiotic resistant bacteria, and dead spots in the Gulf of Mexico.

I know… but how do you eat your daily recommended amount of fruit and veggies when you do not have an organic alternative? There is a list commonly referred to as the “Dirty Dozen” which are the fruits and vegetables that require the greatest amount of both fertilizer and pesticides. Of course some of my favorite foods to eat are the biggest culprits; strawberries, grapes, spinach, and cherry tomatoes. However, there is another list known as the “Clean Fifteen” which list things like avocados and mango as good choices.

4. More Fruit and Veg: This should be a no brainer given the food pyramid that we learned in grade school, but most of us (I am guilty of this) do not even come close to eating our recommended daily allowance. We save our selves for steak and eclairs. Not only do we do damage to our bodies, but we are creating a greater drain on our natural resources.

We at Firefly Farms are obviously hoping that the world doesn’t all go vegetarian because then we and our animals would be out of a job. However, we do think that HOW the animals are raised and what they eat has a huge impact overall. Animals raised on the correct diet and on rotational grazing add nutrients back into the soil. Our pigs have been helping remove all the scrub bush that has been choking out native species and leading to a stunted forest. Cows and goats have been used restore areas destroyed by desertification.

The same cannot be said of animals raised in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) which are fed corn and soy so emit a ton of gas while consuming feed that is terrible agriculturally. (Read on…)

5. Eat Grass Fed Beef: Once upon a time in the US, we had HUGE herds of grazing animals. The bison and elk (to name two) covered the grasslands and migrated to where the grass was greenest. Along the way they would break up sod, ingest the seeds, defecate, and reintroduce the seeds back into the turned ground. It was a well organized system of destruction, rejuvenation, and growth. We wiped out those herds and introduced cattle, but instead of allowing them to roam, they are fenced in, and in some case not even allowed on grass.

In the CAFOs, cows are kept in HUGE sheds on concrete slabs. They are fed a mixture of corn and soy to maximize their growth to market weight without consideration that no wild bovine ever ate those foods. Since the cows are feeling rotten most of the time, they are pumped full of preventative antibiotics so they will not sick.

Even if you are not one to worry about the plight of the cattle (you should, really you should) it comes down to the simple matter of taste and looks. What do you want to eat? Most people immediately choose the grass fed when given the option.

The difference in the meats

6. Eat Less Fish: Our poor oceans have been pillaged to the point where whole types of fish have been nearly wiped out  and limits have been set in an attempt to keep enough breeding stock for fisherman. So again, limit your intake, purchase wild, and locally caught fish. The fish farms sound like a great idea, but they are notorious for adding pollutants into the water.

Another word of caution is that most fish are concentrators and do not eliminate heavy metals from their bodies. This means that when they eat other fish, they store the metals in their bodies right up the food chain. In Japan back in the 90s, they started to notice a greater number of people suffering from mercury poisoning and it was because the heavily fish oriented diet of the Japanese was literally poisoning them. In the dark meat of the fish are huge number of poisons.

7. Eat unprocessed foods: Each step that is added between the start of your food and it eventually finding its way into your stomach is opportunity to lose nutrients and add waste. If you look a the packaging and cannot pronounce or identify half the ingredients on the label, put it back and find some thing else to eat. Your body will thank you!

Also be aware of how much packaging comes with processed foods. I have had packages where there was an outer box, sleeves of 25, and then the individual item was wrapped. It is nuts! Once you have all your groceries and head to the check out, more packaging is added in the form of paper or plastic bags. You can further help out by bringing your own reusable cloth bags.

8. Waste: We mostly notice this when we are lugging our garbage out to the curb. I know that in our household most of what you find in our garbage is plastic. This is because no matter how much we try, we just can’t eliminate it all. This is in a house where we have old coffee canisters labeled with “Chickens”, “Pigs”, “Worms” and “Compost” and we put our scraps in accordingly. Even our occasional water/Gatorade bottle has a second step as dog toy before being retired to the recycling bin. Recycling happens weekly.

Part of our problem is purchasing more food that can get consumed prior to expiration. At least we have back up consumers, but the average American household throws away 14% of their purchased food. Not only are the nutrients less likely to find their way back into the ecosystem, but there is the wasted fuel, packaging, water, energy, etc that went into the making of the food. It is a huge chain effect with the end result that we have ever increasing landfills. As the food breaks down you get methane entering the atmosphere and adding to climate change.

9. Grow your own! Even if you have a postage stamp of a yard or balcony as your sole outdoor space, it is amazing what you can do with concentrated growing or planters. Not only are your producing the most local food available, there is some thing incredibly gratifying about saying, “I grew that!”

I recommend that in planning your garden, you consider your growing season, veggie preferences, and how much time you can devote to your garden (plants need watering!). Once you have that figured out, your best bet for healthy veggies is to grow them from heirloom seeds. These are the non GMO/hybridized seeds that can date back centuries and have their own unique flavors.

If you are lucky enough to have a large backyard, you can get a little more adventurous in your planting. We have a fairly large garden which benefits greatly from the fact that my husband also raises bees. Those little gals make sure that every thing is properly pollinated. So much so that we have been canning and freezing since August!

10. Finally…. Purchase meat that is; organic, humane certified, heritage breed, locally raised, and from farms where the animals lives are held precious and not just a commodity to be bought and sold. We feel incredibly strongly that animals should have a life before they come to our plates and thoroughly committed ourselves to that ideal. Do not support the CAFOs by buying the cheapest meat available. Even just switching to organic means improvements in animals lives. If you are lucky enough to live near a farm that is Humane Certified, you can feel good knowing that you are supporting farms that make sure their animals have great lives. Even if your meat isn’t all these things… just buying local gives you a chance to see if the animals see the sun. Small changes and including just one of these adjectives can make a huge long term impact.

No worries if you cannot rearrange your lifestyle with a wave of a wand (wouldn’t that be nice?), but even if you adopt only a few of these you will be helping out greatly. So give yourself a huge pat on the back if you are already doing these things too!