Posted by: Hil | August 28, 2009

Sustainability v. Health


Back in June, I set out to challenge myself to eat as locally as I could for thirty days.  The thirty days came and went, and I pretty much kept going as I had been, with the addition of occasional non-local treats.  I loved all of the fresh, colorful food I was eating, and I liked doing my part to support the environment and my local economy.  In some ways, I think that my diet became a lot healthier after my local eating experiment.  Most importantly, the Lemonator and I ate much more (and more varied) produce during and after our experiment. 


With such beautiful produce in season, we really started to plan our meals around the vegetables rather than trying to squeeze them in.


We also started to find sources of delicious and sustainably raised fish and meat at our local farmers markets.


These proteins were, however, very expensive.  Accordingly, we would splurge once a week or so and make do without for the rest of the week.  Many nights, we would have dinners based around whole grains and vegetables.  These were delicious, but I have never been the kind of person who could feel satiated without a good dose of protein and fat in my food.


So what did we do?  Add mouthwatering farmers market cheese to everything, of course!

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I love cheese, and I’m very happy to have discovered such great sources for it, but I really don’t think that full fat cheese and eggs should be the primary sources of protein in my diet.  I know from a lot of experimentation that my body feels best with a low-GI diet with significantly more lean protein and significantly less saturated fat than I was getting during the challenge. 

Finding more varied protein sources locally has been hard.  I couldn’t find a local source of tofu or pork, and the few semi-local yogurts that I found were mostly either full-fat or tasted terrible.  While I do have access to semi-local poultry, it is conventionally raised.  Legumes help, but I already eat beans almost every day for lunch, and I start to get bored when I eat them much more often than that.

Another big challenge for me has been the convenience factor.  I am a big fan of cooking from scratch with foods that are as minimally processed as possible.  I don’t mind washing and chopping my own vegetables…for the most part I rather enjoy it.  But sometimes a bag of frozen peas or prewashed baby spinach is really a lifesaver.  I went without those things for a month, but when I finally caved and bought some, I remembered why I love them so much: they make it possible to have a vegetable on the table in less than a minute and with no creative energy required.  Sometimes, they are the difference between eating a vegetable at a given meal and not.  Similarly, while I don’t like relying on prepackaged food, every now and then a Dr. McDougall’s soup or a pouch of Trader Joe Indian food keeps me from skipping meals or eating out.  I’m wrestling the extent to which I should allow myself a “safety net” for the occasional days when I genuinely do not have time to prep vegetables.

At the moment, I feel very up in the air.  I know after the challenge that supporting my local farmers markets is very important to me, but I’m still experimenting with how much non-local food feels right to me.  Have any of you struggled with the balance between health and ethical or environmental concerns?



  1. It’s definitely a tough balancing act. We try to buy as much local, organic, non processed food as possible, but we’re not made of money or time so there are lots of compromises. I feel pretty good about how we’re doing though now that we’ve joined a meat CSA. Hormones and antibiotics freak me out more than chemical pesticides and fertilizers (though those freak me out too).

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