Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thrift Week Day Two: Eat Sustainably Day

Today's blog entry poses a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, it's day two of Thrift Week, but on the other hand, this is also the day when sites all over the Web are going dark as a protest against two pending pieces of legislation, SOPA and PIPA, that could be used to censor pretty much anything on the Internet. As best I can tell, these are well-intentioned bills meant to stop Internet piracy and copyright violation, which are legitimate problems—but they've been crafted by people who don't really understand how the Internet works. I don't really understand it either, but I've been reading what the folks who do have to say on the subject, and they claim that these bills won't succeed in stopping piracy but will impose massive, costly restrictions on content providers everywhere. So I'd like to show solidarity with the folks opposing the bill...but this is still Thrift Week, and that isn't an event that can just be postponed. So I'm compromising by writing this entry today, but scheduling it to post at midnight, on the 19th instead of the 18th. The seven days of Thrift Week will still be covered, but two of them will be lumped together on one day.

So with that out of the way, let's talk about today's event, which I'm calling Eat Sustainably Day. Sustainable eating, as I see it, takes several forms, most of which I've discussed on this blog before. Sustainable food can be any of the following:
  • Seasonal, because food that's in season doesn't have to be shipped long distances, or grown in hothouses, or kept in cold storage, all of which require energy.
  • Locally grown, because fewer "miles to market" means less fuel burned, less CO2 emitted, and fresher food, to boot.
  • Organic, because using fewer chemical inputs (fertilizers and pesticides) means less pollution and healthier soil.
  • Fair-Trade, because a truly sustainable food system has to protect the interests of those who grow the food.
  • Low on the food chain, because plants produce less waste and greenhouse gases than animals, and small animals produce less than big ones.
  • Humane, because the animals we eat (or eat the products of) are part of our food system too.
I tried to come up with a nifty mnemonic for all that, but I couldn't seem to spell anything with the letters SLOFLH.

I'm observing Eat Sustainably Day in several ways. The main course of tonight's dinner will be a free-range chicken from Whole Foods (given to me by my best friend as what was, I must say, the single most practical birthday present I've ever received). It receives a score of 2 on the 5-point Animal Welfare Rating scale used by Whole Foods, which means that the animals can be kept indoors as long as they are "provided with enrichments that encourage behavior that's natural to them." (This isn't quite up there with living on pasture year-round, but it's a darn sight better than what your typical supermarket chicken has been subjected to.) This will be accompanied by a salad of organic greens, which, remarkably enough, were priced exactly the same at the supermarket as the conventional ones—and when Brian got to the checkout with them, actually rang up for less than the price marked, making them even cheaper. (Is it possible that organic farming is actually turning out to be more cost-effective for some products than the "traditional" methods that came into fashion in the last century?)

But the real pièce de résistance of tonight's frugal menu will be my after-dinner activity: planning my vegetable garden for next year. After all, you can't get more local than your own back yard, and now is the time to choose my crops and get my seed order in if I want to be able to start my seedlings in February. I know I'll definitely want some sugar snap peas, lots of tomatoes, and two—but no more than two—zucchini plants, but beyond that I'm uncertain. I'd love to grow some winter squash, but all my previous attempts to plant it in the actual garden (as opposed to letting it run wild in the side yard next to the compost bin) have been abysmal failures. I've had good luck with arugula, mixed results with lettuce, and no success at all with spinach; my green beans produced only a small crop, even when I managed to keep the groundhog from getting at them; and my cucumbers did great the first year and were anemic the next. So I'm at a bit of a loss. Maybe I need to try new varieties...or maybe I should consider other crops I haven't grown before. Any suggestions?
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