Edible Institute, Or What I Did Last Weekend

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Do you know about your local Edible magazine? I have always valued the Edible publications for uncovering local food stories without the typical magazine advertising noise. Highly respected writers report on food issues for less money than they’re used to because they support the mission. The restaurants and organizations that care most about local, organic, and sustainable food congregate on Edible’s pages, creating supply chains when the typical ones just won’t do, and holding events to bring the community around the campfire. It is in turn our job as concerned consumers—tired of cheap, frozen, unhealthy commodity food found in most eateries—to support and promote them, be it dining in their establishments or passing on what we’ve learned to friends at a backyard barbecue. This past weekend I attended the Edible Institute annual conference, and was inspired by all the work people are doing to create positive change. Here, some highlights.

Wasting Our Food

“Every day we waste 1/4 to 1/2 of our food, enough to fill the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.” — Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland

If we have enough wasted food to fill the Rose Bowl every day, then we shouldn’t have a country in food crisis. Yes, we need better distribution methods, but food is also priced so cheaply that it’s easily rationalized as expendable. If it’s made in more responsible ways that truly reflects its value—yes, with a higher cost (i.e. not made in a lab or genetically modified to create cheap synthetic food)—people wouldn’t be so quick to waste it.

To those resistant to higher-priced food, consider this: the true cost of food is not the price at the grocery store, but what your health insurance cost will be in the long run. Drinking soda and eating potato chips every day? Don’t think it won’t take its toll. The data is everywhere.

Take a look at what you throw out every day. Could you do better? What about the packaging your food comes in? Could you find ways to use less plastic? Do you buy in bulk? Could you share food with others instead of throwing it out?

One thing I do to avoid wasting food is I base my idea for dinner around what I have in my refrigerator. If an item is nearing expiration, I search for recipes that use it as an ingredient, even something as simple as green onion. Use up what you have before buying more.

Some good news: Food often goes to waste when grocery stores reject deliveries of produce for aesthetic reasons (we like pretty food). A new app is being developed that allows truckers with rejected food to donate it to a nearby food pantry. What change can you inspire in your community?

The Art of Eating In

Based in Brooklyn, Cathy Erway encourages people to cook more often. When I lived in Manhattan, I had friends who never cooked a meal at home and used their ovens as storage. I wouldn’t be surprised if take-out were the city’s third biggest cash cow after Wall Street and fashion. The rest of the country is no better: 40 percent of our diet is made up of food prepared outside the home.

What’s stopping you from cooking? Lack of time? I know people are insanely busy, but I also know you can make the time if you want. If you simply can’t cook on a weeknight, make a few dishes on Sunday and portion it out for the rest of the week. I don’t cook every day – I’d go crazy. But I make extra when I do so that we can continue to enjoy it over the next few days (and it often tastes better after the flavors have marinated).

Perhaps the best thing about cooking for yourself is that you control the ingredients. Restaurants don’t care that you’re trying to lose five pounds. They’re going for flavor with butter, oil, and salt. And who knows if that chicken you’re eating sat in a crate all its life eating genetically modified feed? (Chances are it did.)

Do you lack confidence in the kitchen, or feel intimidated by recipes? Simply knowing how to use a knife correctly made me feel much more empowered, and willing to cook something new. Just get in the kitchen already! Once you pull off one meal, my bet is you’ll want to try a few more.

Fishy Business

Most people have heard about the differences in meat quality (grass-fed v. corn-fed, fast food horror stories of hamburger meat additives), but do you ever think about fish? Four types of fish dominate our menu: salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna and all of their stocks are compromised.

Helene York of Bon Appétit Management Company oversees the use of sustainable seafood in its 400 food service locations through the country. York offers three solutions:

  • Consume smaller or less frequent portions of the four compromised species
  • Work on ways to make other species more prevalent in recipes
  • Perhaps most important, make less utilized seafood taste good in recipes. If it tastes good, people won’t need much more convincing to seek out those alternatives.

Some good news: The CSA (community-supported agriculture) model has come to seafood. SirenSeaSA connects young fishermen in California’s Bay Area directly to a customer base that encourages them to choose sustainable fishing methods (harvesting seafood that can continue to thrive in numbers without damaging the ecosystem). If you live near water, do you have a dock-to-consumer model? Are you inspired to help create one if not?

Final Thoughts

One overriding theme I loved hearing from various people at the conference is that we need to stop preaching to the choir—that is, patting each other on the back with what we already know as we nod our heads. As Naomi Starkman of Civil Eats said on her panel, “How many legislative wins has that really gotten us?” Or as Nichol Nelson of Take Part put it: “We’re not going to get anywhere without bringing more people onto the boat.” We need to reach out to those who don’t agree or don’t know yet, and have those uncomfortable conversations to change hearts and minds, and make mini-advocates of our friends and family.

Does someone in your family have diabetes or hypertension? Could their eating habits be improved to help their predicaments? In that vein, I highly recommend watching Forks Over Knives. Not only does it illustrate a direct link between consuming meat and dairy and turning “on” cancer, it also shows how people can reverse medical conditions (like diabetes and more) simply by eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Medicate with food, not pharmaceuticals.

As always, make an effort to get to know the people in your community who are trying to improve your local food options. For the most part, there isn’t a lot of money in it for them. In fact, they often lose money trying to establish new channels of production. They’re doing it out of passion and a belief that real food needs to win out in this marathon against engineered junk. Don’t you agree? Commit to inspire those around you—even if it’s just one person—and let’s work to make responsibly-sourced food the norm, not the rarity.

Mar. 15 2012 |
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