|Cherry Street Farmers Market by OakleyOriginals|
Being an environmentally conscious eater is a strange concept for some people to grasp. Here in the land of Walmarts, Sam's Club, and Warehouse Markets, people tend to look at you funny when you mention your "alternative" shopping habits. Vegans and vegetarians they kind of get, even if they don't necessarily approve, because those diets have been around for awhile and everyone basically knows what they consist of. But you...
you eat meat, but you say you don't get it from regular grocery stores, because it's so hard to find pastured meats from those sources and you want to know your farmer so you can be sure the animals are raised humanely and fed the most natural (to them) diet possible. You know, grass fed cows, not corn (but what's wrong with corn?). You buy organic produce (how can you possibly afford it?!) but, not only that, you buy it local (but how do you get local tomatoes in winter?). And then, of course, if they dare to ask, you might even get into the fact that not everything you buy is certified organic, because of the burden the certification process places on small local farmers, so if you know the farmer and know their practices, that's good enough for you. Again, the look of utter bafflement and comments about how complicated it all sounds. How truly a pain in the butt feeding yourself (oh, and your poor family, being subjected to all that) must be.
The worst, and this is where my vegan brothers and sisters and I can commiserate, is being considered a food snob.
This brings me to my disclaimer. I am not perfect and will never claim to be. I break down and hit the Taco Bueno some nights when I don't want to cook. My significant other and I do occasionally go out to eat, and while we patronize locally owned restaurants 90% of the time, I don't go out of my way every time to make us eat at one of the only two or three restaurants in town which serve locally sourced foods. There just aren't enough choices like that in our price range.
So, okay, it is a little tricky to get a hang of this "eco-eating" at first, but it does get manageable. You have to change the way you approach food, to a large degree. You start reading books with titles like Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto , Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life , and Nina Planck's Real Food: What to Eat and Why . You get out of the big box stores and learn to eat with the seasons (so, no, I typically don't eat tomatoes in winter, unless they've been canned or frozen from the summer before). And then you start to realize that this whole thing is a journey, and you start to get excited.
Our Food Awakening
There is a renaissance happening in the western world today, a grand movement of which I am proud to say I am a part. You see, so many of us are reclaiming our kitchens and our growing spaces. We are relearning some of the culinary practices of our great-great grandparents and beyond. Some of us were lucky to have "hippy parents," and some of us were hippies ourselves--we are the fortunate ones who are no strangers to co-ops (even if they are shrouded in the mists of childhood memory), strange grains (millet, anyone?), or food from the garden. And some of us have a longer, harder row to hoe, coming from a fast food world of convenience and subsistence from a box or whatever we could pop in the microwave. But even these brave soldiers, fighting every ingrained impulse they have to just drive thru McDonald's, have come to their new awareness at an auspicious time. For now, my friends, we have the internet. And we have each other. And as we awake from the collective nightmare that is a food system responsible for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and a massive uptick in food allergies like the world has never seen, we are finding our way back to true survival on a planet who wants her estranged human children back.
How do we do it in the Heartland? There is one quick rule which will be your guiding light to make the best choices for your planet and pocketbook. Happily, this rule applies no matter where you live.
Know your source. This means finding where, locally, to buy the bulk of your food. All those signs you see around about "buy local?" Yeah, do that. Because it's the best answer to your eco-eating problem. I mean, you can buy all your produce organic from Whole Foods, but it's going to be expensive, and most of it will come from California or other far off lands. For my local readers, you'll be happy to know there is fresh, pesticide free produce grown right here in town. Why, oh why, would you waste the fossil fuels and increase your carbon footprint to get the stuff from Cali? And, when you know where your food comes from, you can decide whether it meets your standards for health and sustainability. If it doesn't, walk on. If it does, then price comes into play. We'll talk more--a lot more--about how to keep your food budget down while eating sustainably in the future. For now, here are a few local resources to get you started:
In Tulsa, the biggest market is Cherry Street: http://www.cherrystreetfarmersmarket.com/
Oklahoma is lucky to have a huge co-op network called the Oklahoma Food Coop.
If you live in Tulsa and want to get involved in something even more local, we have Natural Farms, a small local co-op and natural foods store here in town. (Hey look, Natural Farms even has a Groupon right now! How's that for saving money?)
If you have even a tiny plot of land, consider growing your own food. If you live in an apartment and don't have access to your own dirt, you can grow many things in pots. Or, consider joining a community garden.
As always, I'm open to questions. Even if your neighbors and coworkers look at you weird, eating to keep yourself and your planet alive and healthy is doable. Even if you can't cook (so you think), work full time, live below the poverty line, have picky kids, or have a bajillion allergies. Yes, my dear guardians, no matter who you are or what your circumstances, this is possible. Even for you.