Posted by: Hil | August 28, 2009

Sustainability v. Health

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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. 

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

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

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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.

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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?

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Responses

  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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