Doing Good While Eating Good
The why and how of cooking sustainably
Why support sustainable cuisine?
• It tastes better!
Large agribusinesses choose produce varieties for durability during harvesting and shipping rather than flavor, and pick long before ripeness. Most locally grown fruits and vegetables are picked at the peak of ripeness, handled gently, and sold quickly, ensuring maximum flavor.
Meat and dairy from animals that are raised humanely and fed natural foods are generally of higher quality. Ditto wild seafood caught responsibly.
• It's good for you.
Eating whole, natural foods with less pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics is better for your health. Buying from local farmers or businesses committed to sustainability makes it easier to get information on the provenance of your food.
• It's better for people.
Buying locally grown food supports family farms. "In the past 40 years, agriculture has changed more than it did in the previous 400 years," says chef Dan Barber, of Blue Hill at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. "If we don't act now, small farmers will not be around in a generation."
• It's better for the earth.
Many modern farming and fishing practices put the dollar first, polluting and destroying the environment. Buying sustainable meat, produce, and seafood helps protect the land and sea for future generations.
OK, how do I do it?
• Buy locally:
Try to buy as much of your meat, dairy, produce, and seafood as you can from local farmers' markets or farm stands. Or, join a Community-Supported Agriculture group.
• For items that can't be bought locally (for instance, coffee, chocolate, bananas), look for products that are Fair Trade Certified™:
This organization works with local farmers in foreign countries to raise the price they are paid by importers for their products and guarantee better working conditions. Fair Trade Certified™ products are grown by farmer-controlled cooperatives in an environmentally sound manner.
• Ask about the handling of the products:
Organic is one measure, but it's not the only thing to consider. Says Savoy chef Peter Hoffman, "The organic standards set forth by the USDA are limited. For instance, cattle cannot be given antibiotics, but they can be fed grain in feed lots rather than being raised free-range in pastures (eating only grass as they naturally would). By contrast, if a farm raises its cattle free-range, exclusively on grass, but treats them with antibiotics when sick, they would not be considered organic." Hoffman recommends getting to know the farmers at your local market — they should be glad to answer questions. His advice: "Try to focus on humane, environmentally-friendly processes, rather than specific labels."
• For seafood, bring our handy chart to your local fishmonger.
Does this all sound a bit overwhelming? "Start with one type of product," recommends Hoffman. "Ask your local farmers or purveyors, and learn about what to look for in that item, whether it's beef, or a type of fish. Then, you can expand from there." And remember, every step you take will make a difference.