As holiday feasting transitions into New Year resolutions, it’s not just calories on some people’s minds. A sustainable food future is right up there, too.
Analiese Paik of Fairfield, a sustainable food advocate and founder and editor of the Fairfield Green Food Guide, started the multiple-award-winning website as a way to give people a go-to resource for food sustainability.
Make good fish choices
Paik has seen a lot of people give up meat but thinks that people can make food choices with an eye toward saving the inhabitants of the seas.
“Let the oceans restore themselves,” Paik said.
Whole Foods markets have ratings on the fresh seafood they sell that state the level of peril for each fish. And some frozen and canned fish labels in supermarkets will say if it is brought to consumers in a sustainable way.
But according to Paik, there are also mobile apps that people may download, including one called “Seafood Watch” by Monterey Bay Aquarium, which also rates fish sustainability at its website, seafoodwatch.org.
She thinks people can learn a lot with a simple app or website.
“We shouldn’t be waiting for someone else to fix this,” Paik said. “We’re smart people.”
Ask at restaurants
Paik believes that the more people express to restaurants that they care where their food is sourced, the more likely it is that restaurants will be concerned as well.
“Don’t be shy about asking a waiter to go to the kitchen and ask where the food is coming from,” she said.
And all it takes is a little research to be empowered, according to Paik.
Reduce your food waste
When Paik talks to people about food sustainability, the No. 1 recommendation she makes is to reduce food waste.
“Forty percent of food grown goes to waste,” Paik said.
She points to waste in growing fields, food that gets thrown away because it doesn’t look perfect, and bulk going bad in the refrigerator.
“Use it or freeze it,” Paik said, suggesting that food can stay fresh in the freezer for up to six months.
Her family has a clean-out-the-refrigerator night.
“We clean off the counter, put food out and everyone chooses,” she said. “It’s OK to choose four different things.”
Other suggestions from Paik include starting a compost pile, saying no to bottled water, and eating locally, seasonally and organically, avoiding pesticides and GMOs.
“Your choices every day make a huge impact over time,” Paik said.
Start small, stay long
Kenneth Hacker of Fairfield graduated this past spring from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a bachelor of science degree in sustainable food and farming.
He has studied food systems and how to create more robust ones. He has also come up with ideas of his own for a healthy future for food. At the heart though, when offering advice, he leads with the basics.
Hacker said that knowing what the word “sustainable” means helps.
“The key is looking at the word sustainable … with a New Year’s Eve frame of mind,” he said.
In other words, you should be able to keep at your resolutions for a long period of time.
“Pick something small that you can do and stick with it,” Hacker said.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs are abundant in the Fairfield region. And this, according to Hacker, is a great way to encourage sustainability in the area’s food system.
In a traditional CSA model, local residents pay a farmer ahead of time for a share in the coming season’s food bounty at the farm. In the Fairfield area, a resident would typically pay during the winter to reserve a share for the upcoming spring-summer-fall season.
People pick up their weekly share of whatever is in season.
Hacker likes that this brings food directly from the farmer to the table.
“That can help the state of farming as a profession in America,” he said.
It is also a way to know that you are keeping in tune with the seasons when you eat.
“It’s a great way to eat seasonally without doing the work yourself,” Hacker said.
The best part, according to Hacker? Shareholders get seasonal food effortlessly and the farmers have a guaranteed income.
“It’s mutually beneficial,” Hacker said.
Cook from scratch
Hacker says a good way to keep in touch with what you eat is by cooking from scratch, adding all the ingredients yourself.
“Try to make as much from scratch as possible,” Hacker said.
Also, it encourages people to explore stores that carry ingredients instead of finished products and to buy, say, tomatoes and basil instead of tomato sauce.
“When you look for the ingredients, you will start to support local producers,” he said.
Hacker suggests looking at what you’re eating and asking yourself if you can get that locally.
“It’s not that you have to know what every ingredient means, you just have to look,” Hacker said.
Become a teacher
Amie Guyette Hall of Fairfield is a certified holistic health coach and Square Foot Gardener-certified instructor as well as a radio host at The Green Gate.
She teaches children and adults about nutrition, growing food and sustainability. She contends that anyone with knowledge of a healthy food system can help create a sustainable food future just by sharing his or her know-how.
“It’s a mind-set of giving back,” Hall said.
All it takes is asking yourself a few questions about what you know and what you can share.
“What do you know about greener living, about giving back?” Hall asked.
This ability to share is within everyone, according to Hall.
“Everyone’s a teacher, no matter what age,” she said. “Even children.”
And they are carrying their information into a healthier tomorrow.
“The future is our children,” Hall said.
Hall teaches Square Foot Gardening, which is a way of growing food in a contained area and makes growing food accessible, even on a deck or patio.
She said that growing food helps sustain healthy food, bodies and the planet.
“A lot of our ailments and chronic conditions go away,” Hall said of growing your own food, including nutrient-rich greens.
“It’s a place to start … how can we get greens every day,” Hall said.
She would also like to see more food grown at area schools.
“If we’re growing food in our school gardens, what changes?” Hall asked.
“Food doesn’t come from Argentine, Chile and Mexico,” Hall said.
She also said that it is important to, in effect, rotate your crops at home, to switch what you grow in a patch of soil.
“Planting different crops uses different nutrients [in the soil],” Hall said. “When you don’t rotate, the nutrients get depleted and you need to put in artificial stuff.”
At the end of the day, growing food is about being witness to miracles.
“Every time I plant a seed, I’m floored,” Hall said of how the seed grows into food.
Hall said an important part of a sustainable food system is to raise awareness. For instance, meat comes from animals and people should try to connect with that.
“Most people don’t think about it and that [meat] came from a real, living, breathing creature,” Hall said. “[Raising your awareness] is a stepping-stone.”
“I believe everyone can make stepping-stones,” Hall said.
She believes it is consumers’ responsibility to ask where their food comes from each day.
“Does [the food] come from a place of education, awareness and caring?” she said.
It is also knowing your reasons for eating.
“For a lot of people, it’s numbing,” Hall said of motivations for what people put in their mouth.
She contends that making good food choices extends to other areas of a person’s life.
“If we want meaningful [food choices], we should be meaningful in other areas,” Hall said.
She feels there are a lot of good reasons to eat.
“Eat for mental, emotional and spiritual health,” Hall said.
She said that children live — and eat — in accordance with their own nature.
“[We should] allow children to stay connected to the way they intuitively know how to eat,” she said.
To Hall, resolutions and food go hand in hand because one’s direction over the coming 12 months is intertwined with food choices.
“If we can start the year with the mind-set how can we live in a more meaningful way,” it would help, Hall said.
Analiese Paik’s website is fairfieldgreenfoodguide.com. Look there for her winter CSA guide and winter farmers’ markets. Sign up for the free newsletter.
Amie Guyette Hall’s website is fromyourinsideout.com. Look there for more information about Hall’s many projects.