Thanks so much to DG for suggesting this as our next topic! The good news is that it's super simple and not complex in any respect.

Oh, wait.

After spending the last week avoiding writing this post and finally deciding that the best approach would be to start by deriding DG, I finally did a little research*. Not too much, though, because one of my big frustrations with trying to make environmentally-friendly choices is that if you research long enough, the less clear everything becomes.

So here are some of the key tips and resources I found that all seem to make sense.

How You Shop
Remember last month's topic? It's back! That's because bringing reusable bags to the grocery store is a great idea. At first, this was hard to remember, but once it's a habit, it becomes automatic.

Recommendations include to eat local, organic, and in season. Sounds easy enough, but what's local and in season in Minnesota in early February? Our family shops primarily at a co-op, and a certain amount of the produce is local, even in the winter. But with kids in the house, buying things they'll probably actually eat is just as much as a consideration as what's local.

How do you balance a desire to eat flavors from around the globe with the desire to eat foods grown close to home?

Meat and Dairy
Eating local and buying organic both come up in this category as well. But along with that, eating less is also recommended. I'm vegetarian and the family eats vegetarian at home, though the boys choose to eat meat pretty regularly at school lunch. When the boys were a little younger, I worried that they just wouldn't like most of the vegetarian dinners we made, but it turns out that if you expose them to things enough times (just like the advice books all recommend), kids really do start to eat more things! That's not to say they don't have their moments, and the peperoncino still ends up having a quesadilla once or twice a week when he won't eat what the rest of us are having for dinner.

Our oceans are in trouble, as are many fish populations. The good news is that if you eat fish, there are a couple of great resources to help you make more environmentally friendly choices. There's the Marine Stewardship Council and the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch.

Eat them!

Okay, yes, there's a bit more to it than that. And one of my ongoing frustrations in my household is seeing how much food is uneaten any given week. I try to at least talk to the boys off and on about the concept of wasting something and what we can do to not waste so much (this applies to much more than just food).

As I mentioned last month, we do have a great composting program in our community, so at the very least I can take a little comfort in knowing that what's not eaten isn't going into a landfill.

Things I'd Like to Change in My Own Home

  • Consider cutting back on dairy. We do eat some vegan meals already (which are in the repertoire because we like them, not specifically because they're vegan), but I like the idea of being on the lookout for some additional recipes to try. I had to give up dairy for a time when the peperoncino was young (because it was linked to his reflux), and I found that the best vegan dishes are really well seasoned so that they still have a lot of flavor.
  • Get some cloth napkins for everyday use. We don't use napkins at all of our meals, but some of the time they're essential, and I'd like to stop just giving everyone paper towels when that happens.
  • For cleaning up spills, use cleaning rags more often instead of paper towels. I cut up a pair of very old flannel pajamas recently, and I've been working on reaching for one of those rags rather than automatically grabbing a paper towel. Of course not having any toddlers in the house also helps when it comes to cutting down on spills...

So what about you? What are you doing well when it comes to food and would you like to do differently?

*Here's the main article I used for reference when writing this post if you'd like to peruse the full list of tips.

30 thoughts on “Food”

      1. Ha! I hereby promise not to deride anyone else who has the gumption to suggest a future topic for this series. Even if I come up with an appealingly alliterative way to phrase it.

  1. One thought that did come to mind while I was writing this (well, apart from deriding DG) is that last month's topic of reusing things is both good for the Earth and good for saving money. But it's a little more complicated when it comes to food--while certain choices can save money, other choices cost more.

  2. Is this the post where we extol the virtues of the Instant Pot? 😀

    Over the past 10-12 years, I have cut way back on how much and how often I cook meat-centric meals. Most of that was because The Girl went veggie, then vegan. It is really hard cooking two different dinners for the family.

    When she left for college, we became empty nesters. I could have back-slid. But by then I had a good repertoire of Indian dishes. The IP is great for making dals, some curries, quick biryani, etc.

    So, I continue to use it a lot, even if the batches are smaller.

    Also, we are eating more light dinners -- soups or salads. I don't really subscribe to the "eat local or you are a bad person" ethos (the most extreme version, to be sure). But that doesn't mean I don't like fresh, local produce. Living in California, EVERYTHING is local. 😀

    1. apropos, in this week's Economist (Feb 8-14) is a brief article titled "Brain v prawn," which notes:

      They may seem, well, shrimpy when compared with cows, but it turns out the tasty decapods are just as big an environmental problem. ... shrimp farms tend to occupy coastal land that used to be covered in mangroves. ... A study conducted in 2017 by CIFOR, a research institute, found that ... a kilo of farmed shrimp was responsible for almost four times the greenhouse-gas emissions of a kilo of beef.

      1. Meanwhile the chart above has farmed prawns at a fifth the CO2-equivalent as beef. But, that chart has prawns at nearly zero emissions from land use changes, so perhaps this study revises that. They could be fine if you don't convert already important land to farming.

        1. They could be fine if you don't convert already important land to farming.

          Yeah, that data seems descriptive rather than prescriptive. Good for looking at what has happened, but not necessarily the best for determining how to move forward.

  3. I know y'all all like (and think about) food way more than this discussion would suggest! Anyone have any delicious recipes to share that also happen to be, say, vegan?

    I recently discovered this Garlic Siracha Tofu Yakisoba recipe, and 3/4 of the family likes it, so I'm calling it a win! (We leave the Siracha out of the sauce and each add it to our own servings to make it a little more kid-friendly.)

    1. We are serving a New York Strip steak right now at the joint and we drizzle balsamic glaze over the steak and top with a Blue Cheese compound butter. Balsamic Glaze - reduce balsamic vinegar (1 cup down to 1/3 cup) over medium heat. Sweet goodness.
      Blue Cheese compound butter - room temp butter whipped with blue cheese crumbles and a few herbs.
      We are also putting the compound butter on a special burger (Steakhouse Burger - ground sirloin)

      1. I'm curious about zooom's vegan NY strip steak recipe...

        Actually, on your Japanese theme (well, kind of), I saw this recipe and was very curious about it. Jane was less so. I'll try it out one of these days.

        1. Yum, I would try it! The best mapo tofu I've ever had was at this place in Chinatown in Chicago. It nearly burned my tongue off, but it was sooooo good.

  4. For a couple years Mrs. Hayes & I participated in a couple of CSAs. Eating seasonally is a laudable goal, but in practice was rather difficult — even considering the growing season issues at this latitude — given the pressures & demands of modern life. If we really committed to that as a cornerstone of our lifestyle, we could probably weather the weeks of greens, kohlrabi, and zucchini. (Well, not the zucchini.) Relying on a CSA as the primary source of vegetables can press you to expand your horizons & get more creative in the kitchen, but it can also feel very restrictive: I don’t work in a kitchen anymore, so why am I letting my produce guy dictate the majority of my menu or make meal-planning a part-time job in itself? The time & effort demanded to prepare some of the meals that best utilize these ingredients is often incompatible with the socio-economic pressures that force families to wedge meals into the space between both parents arriving home from the evening commute and weeknight activities for older children, or reasonable bedtimes for the small fry.

    That said, the goat cheese CSA we participated in was amazing. I would do that all over again, and would consider expanding to eggs, and possibly meat. In fact, I could see doing a meat CSA as a way of more deliberately managing our diets and our environmental footprint. Growing up, my family would chip in to buy portions of a steer or hog from a farmer friend. A meat CSA wouldn’t be that different, and we could probably afford it at this point. (Cost was why we never gave it a try in the past.)

    1. I've considered trying out a produce CSA for some of the reasons you've mentioned. Haven't quite pulled the trigger, also for some of the reasons that you mentioned.

    2. We've been doing every other week with another family. The problem is the CSA assumed that this wasn't done so went every other week with their vegetables. We'd end up with a crapload of the same vegetables and miss out on others.

      They switched delivery locations for this summer so we're going to have to find a new one.

      As someone who gets in a rut with food and isn't real picky, the CSA works great.

  5. On a separate point, if I were to start up a local food service business, it would be a lunch subscription service modeled on the dabbawala/tiffin wala system, but managed out of a central kitchen instead of collecting tiffins from residential cooks. Subscribers could choose a two, three, or five day/week lunch subscription, and could exercise some degree of control over their weekly menu selection — say, a choice between two or three entrées each day, selected up to a day in advance.

    Thanks to the University, the People’s Republic has enough young folks with flexible time during the day that I think I could find a pretty steady pool of delivery staff, particularly if I could use free family meal lunches on work days as a recruitment incentive.

  6. So last time after Pepper's planet post, I complained about companies with which I have auto-pay are still sending me envelopes for payment (with plastic windows).
    Since then, I have been cutting/taping squares of paper over the plastic windows, and re-using the envelopes, blacking out any bar codes, etc.

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