Q&A: How to have a sustainable Thanksgiving

  • November 14, 2012 9:31 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

How do you make your Thanksgiving as sustainable as possible? Are there certain ways that you make your holiday eco-friendly?

Thanks,

Mike

Answer:

Mike,

Thanks for your question. There are ways to make any celebration or holiday, including Thanksgiving, eco-friendlier. Here is a post I wrote last year on the Top 10 Ways to Have a Conscious Thanksgiving. That should give you some good ideas. Hint: it’s not only about the food.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Best,

Alexandra

What You Don’t Know: Top 10 Ways To Have A Conscious Thanksgiving

  • November 14, 2011 12:46 pm

Thinking about Thanksgiving. If you’re on Twitter and available 11/15 at 10 p.m. EST, join me, Jessica Applestone of Fleisher’s and The Holistic Moms Network for a holiday meal Twitter party. Follow @alexandrazissu and @fleishers and the hashtag #HolisticMoms.

1. Know where your turkey is from — local/pastured is great.
2. Choose fresh food over canned to minimize exposure to the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA.

3. Shopping at your farmers’ market will help you with #1 and #2, support local farmers, minimize packaging waste, and will make everything taste fantastic.

4. Ditch your non-stick cookware! Choose cast iron, enamel covered cast iron, and stainless steel instead.

5. Don’t forget your beverages — filtered tap water and sustainably produced wine are two fantastic options.

6. Reduce waste by serving on reusable–not disposable–plates and drink out of reusable glasses. Use silverware, not plastic.

7. Make stock with vegetable scraps and turkey bones. Recycle and compost what you can.

8. Store leftovers in glass, not plastic.

9. Clean with natural cleaning products.

10. Enjoy!

What You Don’t Know: Beer

  • August 10, 2011 12:41 pm

I’m a wine drinker through and through. But I must admit that come August with the summer heat far from abating, an ice cold white beer is a welcome evening beverage.  (My apologies to my summer sidekick, Glass Of Rose.) Before popping that bottle cap, take a few minutes to make sure that what you’re going to be drinking is the best brew for the environment and your health.  Ok, ok, I know some people will say there’s no such thing as a healthy beer, but it will be better for you without pesticide residue.

As always, buying organic and local is the number one choice, not only to avoid unwanted additives (check out Food Democracy’s post on this), but also to reduce the carbon footprint of your happy hour.  Unfortunately, buying completely organic and local beer is a challenge, as I explain in The Conscious Kitchen:

Even if you could find beer’s ingredients – water, yeast, malt, and hops – in your area (and that’s a huge if), if doesn’t mean they’re processed locally.  In fact, according to Max Oswald, director of sales and marketing at the Otter Creak Brewing Company in Middlebury, Vermont, the grain used for the malt in their Wolaver’s organic beer must be shipped to the Midwest to be processed.  Why?  Because that is where malt processing is done in this country.  “It’s a conundrum.  We do the best we can,” says Oswald.

HOPS

Organic hops tend to be grown in the Pacific Northwest, Europe, and New Zealand.  Vermont-based Wolaver’s uses New Zealand organic hops and works with a contract grower in Oregon.  The goal is to rely solely on Oregon.  This is as local as it will get.  The Northeast used to produce tons of hops, but the crops were wiped out by fungus.  Other organic brewers are also taking this route of contracting small organic farmers.  Meanwhile, the USDA, in response to a hops shortage in 2008, has put hops on their exemption list, meaning beer made with nonorganic hops but that is otherwise organic can still be labeled USDA organic – music to Big Beer’s ears, and not exactly motivating to any farmers attempting to grow the vines the way they should be grown.  (The amount of hops in any beer, it should be noted, is pretty minimal.  But still.)

AT THE BREWERY

Though it is difficult for any brewer to source all-organic, all-local ingredients, there are other environmentally friendly steps they can take with their brewery.  Otter Creek, according to Oswald, has redone their lighting, runs a boiler system on biodiesel, tries to reuse heat and water, and recycles their grain by giving it to farmers for feed…This is an expensive and lofty goal for the smallish brewery -  in 2008 they were doing about thirty-three thousand barrels, one-third of which was organic – but it will make quite a difference.  Many other breweries are also working to reduce their energy consumption.  Some have green roofs, others are using solar power.  Still others make sure their used equipment is made only in the United States.

Here are a few solid organic (or eco-friendly) brewers:

Peak Organic is very committed to local purveyors.

Brooklyn Brewery isn’t all organic, but is the first company in New York City to be run by entirely by wind power!

Great Lakes Brewing Company‘s trucks are all run on vegetable oil and they promote their closed loop recycling system. Everything that would be considered waste is reused at the brewery or in the surrounding community.

Otter Creek Brewery (Wolaver’s) Wolavers is 100% organic hops and malt–the nation’s first organic brewers.

Cheers!

What You Don’t Know: Kitchen Cleaners And Your Food

  • June 28, 2011 1:21 pm

Many people will spend the extra dollar or two on buying organic, especially when it comes to poultry.  Unfortunately, many are still using an army of questionable chemicals to clean their kitchen counters, cutting boards, and knives.  Here is an excerpt from Planet Home about kitchen systems and keeping your free range, organic, local, delicious chicken as chemical-free as you intended.

One of the many hot-button topics when it comes to chicken – conventional vs. local/pastured vs. free range organic (local or not) – is how the birds are disinfected post-slaughter.  Conventional chickens in the United States tend to be disinfected in chlorine baths, a procedure that has long been banned by the European Union.  It’s also banned by USDA organic rules.  There are other ways of decontaminating poultry: ozone baths, eco-water baths, or air chilling.  If you’ve sought out and spent good money on a chlorine-free chicken, be careful where you put it.  Cutting it on a counter or board that has been cleaned with chlorine or any other disinfectants and retains its residue undermines your choice.  Think it through.  If you clean with conventional cleaners in a kitchen, you’re applying them to your meals, adding toxic chemicals you were trying to avoid by buying organic or low-sprayed local food.  Shift your mind-set to consider your kitchen in a holistic, systemic fashion.  Don’t compartmentalize the food from counter cleaners or even pots and pans.  If you don’t want your chicken to be contaminated with chlorine, don’t contaminate your kitchen-or any room in your home-with it, either.

So what is the takeaway here?  Think big picture. It’s never a good idea to chlorinate your unchlorinated chicken. So do buy local pastured organic poultry. And do be mindful of how you’re cleaning those much used surfaces in your kitchen.  Whatever you clean with will get into your food and your body.  Buy natural plant-based cleaners or make your own. You can just use vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. If you want something a little fancier for surfaces other than cutting boards, here’s a DIY all purpose cleaner, also from Planet Home:

Combine 2 tsp washing soda, 2 tsp borax, 1/2 tsp plant-based liquid soap, and 1 cup water in a spray bottle and shake well.  Lemon juice or essential oils can also be added for fragrance.  (Washing soda may leave harmless white reside on a surface if not wiped well.)

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat on The Passionate Foodie

  • June 7, 2011 9:12 am

Thanks to The Passionate Foodie for a thoughtful review! Here’s a small excerpt:

It was a real pleasure to have read this book and I highly recommend it. It is well written, fascinating, passionate and educational. Though it has a clear and compelling philosophy, it is not preachy, and thus may be even more convincing because of that. It will also help you appreciate the art of butchery, giving you a better sense of where your food actually comes from. This is a reference guide that belongs with your cookbooks, and one which will help you best choose and prepare the meats you eat.

What You Don’t Know: Methyl Iodide And Your Strawberries

  • April 26, 2011 8:25 am

I’ve decided to morph my Tuesday posts into a compendium of facts I find totally outrageous. These are things most of us know nothing about and yet they’re hiding in plain sight.

It’s about to be strawberry season so I’ll start my What You Don’t Know posts with methyl iodide, a soil fumigant pesticide used in the farming of these juicy red treats that just so happen to be my favorite fruit. This known carcinogen and neurotoxin, which causes late-term miscarriages (according to the Pesticide Action Network of North America), is approved for use in California, which is where most of the strawberries in the U.S. are grown. I’m no strawberry farmer, but I know this stuff is bad news for farmers, the groundwater, and eaters. So much so that I got several emails last week from environmental groups and other organizations (including FoodDemocracyNow.org, Center For Environmental Health, and Change.org) pushing to have it banned.

To put this all into perspective: last week Environmental Health Perspectives announced a study showing that children exposed to pesticides in the womb are more likely to have lower IQs.  From their press release: “…it makes sense that pregnant women should limit their pesticide exposure. They should use the smallest amount possible, have others place it, and just do what they can to minimize contact.” Uh huh. I prefer none.

Guess who doesn’t permit these sort of chemical pesticides on strawberries? USDA certified organic. And, to answer a question I get all of the time: No, washing and/or peeling conventionally grown fruit doesn’t get all of the pesticide residue off. Sorry; some of it is internal.

Fortunately methyl iodide isn’t what’s being used on my local strawberries (but that doesn’t mean I’m not signing petitions left and right and hoping you will, too). Unfortunately, I’m left trying to decide if I prefer local lightly sprayed to USDA organic but not-local-to-me strawberries, when all I want to be deciding is how many cartons to buy and how best to eat them–by the handful or in jams and pies.

In The Conscious Kitchen I discuss the difficulties of this local vs. organic push-pull, using strawberries as my  example. Here’s an excerpt:

Unless you’re 100 percent organic or 100 percent local (most interested eaters fall somewhere in between), it’s hard to figure out how, when, and why to choose local over organic, and vice versa.  Amy Topel, an educator and former food columnist for the now defunct Green Guide – the publication that existed before National Geographic bought the property – refers to this experience as “flummoxing.”  That’s about right.  “In Whole Foods they have local strawberries and organic ones,” Topel says.  The locals aren’t organic, and the organic ones are grown halfway across the country.  “I’m feeding my baby and I want him to eat organic; he should not be taking in those pesticides.  For ten minutes I walked back and forth – Do I care more about my baby?  Or everybody else?  I ended up deciding I didn’t want him to have the pesticides.”  This is just one instance of choosing organic over nonorganic local.  This mental tug-of-war is a familiar process for those of us trying to decide what the ratio of organic to local should be in our diets, especially where kids are concerned.  Pound for pound, developing little ones take in more of the harmful chemical spray residues than adults do, which is why organic is so crucial for them and for pregnant moms.

The trick to coming to peace with this local versus organic dance is to educate yourself on the concerns.  If health is your main concern, then you might decide that you always want to avoid ingesting sprays that have been linked to cancer, no matter how small the amount.  You’ll mainly choose organic.  If you decide local strawberries are the most delicious things on earth and you prefer to risk pesticide residue for a short season once a year and support small farms nearby, you’re going local, especially when you can locate low-sprayed local.  Soon you will arrive at your working ratio of organic to local.  One suggestion: If you’re feeding kids, choose organic over local but lightly sprayed when buying what the Environmental Working Group refers to as “The Dirty Dozen” – the twelve most contaminated conventional fruits and vegetables.

Buy these organic:

Peach, Apple, Bell Pepper, Celery, Nectarine, Strawberry, Cherry, Kale, Lettuce, Grapes, Carrot, Pear.”


Once you’ve decided about if you’re going local or organic (or both), indulge and enjoy. Ultimately the point of all of this fretting is flavor. And nothing tastes better than strawberries in season.

Now you know.

The Conscious Kitchen At The Books For A Better Life Awards Ceremony

  • March 7, 2011 9:48 am

You’re supposed to love all of your children the same. Right? Well I feel the same way about my books. They’re all so personal, such labors of love. I adore them all. That said, The Conscious Kitchen is the only one I have written (so far) that I didn’t co-author. It’s mine all mine. And it’s truly a description of how I approach food and everything in my kitchen (cleaning products, safe cookware and food storage, composting, not really following recipes, and so much more). It comes right from me to you in an effort to help people figure out how to navigate having and maintaining a green(er) kitchen, all while loving food. I think it’s a really helpful guide.

So I was understandably overwhelmed/touched/thrilled when my labor of kitchen love was named a finalist for a Books For A Better Life award. I found out many months ago about the nomination. And the ceremony is at long last happening this Monday, March 7th. My competition is truly fierce. I’m only expecting to show up at the Millenium Broadway Hotel in midtown and have a lovely glass of wine with my editor in a room filled with authors. But just in case for some reason I do win, I have the two minute speech they asked me to prepare. My hopes aren’t up but, um, it was really fun coming up with it.