Before attending the NYC Wine & Food Festival's "Dining Sustainably" panel last Saturday, I was sure I had the eco-chick shtick down pat. Before hearing what four smart, successful, and environmentally enlightened women had to say, I would have expected Al Gore and Ed Begley Jr. to praise my super light carbon footprint with a You Go Girl slap on my derrière. Ten minutes into the event, I realized: Who was I kidding?
In just over an hour, the speakers--Mary Cleaver, president and founder of The Cleaver Co., Jen Small of Flying Pigs Farm, Elizabeth Meltz, director of food safety and sustainability for Batali/Bastianich Hospitality Group, and moderator Diane Hatz, co-founder and director of The Glynwood Institute for Sustainable Food and Farming--had left a small but engaged audience feeling empowered.
Meltz said, "Don't ask why organic is so expensive, ask why the other stuff is so cheap."
Cleaver said, "Think beyond you. Think about your children. Look at the bigger picture. What about the seventh generation?"
Small said, "Public policy is frustrating, but the consumer has a lot of political power. You can make a great impact on how things change."
I thought to raise my hand to tell them I use biodegradable poop bags for my dog.
After all the questions from Hatz and attendees had yielded feisty, inspiring responses and revealed a spine-tinglingly scary reality of our dilapidated food system, I knew that my light carbon footprint wasn't nearly light enough. My actions--recycling, turning off unused lights, eschewing plastic bottles and bags, biking, buying local, planting trees--were just the tip of the melting iceberg.
Maybe it will come from a friend, a spouse, a parent, or Leonardo DiCaprio, but here's all you need to know to get a well-deserved slap on your green ass. (And if you can't find someone, this author would be happy to oblige.)
So pass this on. Or don't.
Mas Farmhouse Hazelnut Milk Chocolate Mousse with Cocoa Streusel, Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Chocolate Ganache, $12 Back Forty "It's the best grass-fed burger ($12) in the city." —Elizabeth Meltz Rose Water Some seasonal specials. The Green Table Housemade ice cream, $8. Telepan Tomato concoctions left and right. Lartusi The restaurant's interior at center. Grammercy Tavern "The soup and sandwich lunch special for $14 is always delicious." —Jen Small Applewood Laura and Chef David Shea with their children outside the restaurant. Roberta's – Axl Rosenberg pizza, $16.
Panelist Elizabeth Meltz said she uses the Environmental Working Group as a reliable resource. The site offers consumers "The Dirty Dozen" list, which includes the 12 most important fruits and vegetables to buy organic: Peaches, Apples, Sweet bell peppers, Celery, Nectarines, Strawberries, Cherries, Pears, Grapes, Spinach, Lettuce, Potatoes. If the product has no label or it isn't clear, be sure to ask your farmer or grocery store manager for more information. There are also those foods that are not really worth buying organic, especially if they are more expensive. "Either they aren't sprayed as much or they don't absorb chemicals as easily," said ABC News medical editor Dr. David Katz. The items he includes are seafood, processed foods, cauliflower, sweet corn, broccoli, mangoes, and sweet peas.
1. Composting and Minimizing Waste Before the "Dining Sustainably" panel, I knew to throw my used coffee grounds in the trash rather than down the sink. Then Cleaver reminded everyone that "Soil is the most important component of growing food." Meltz scrunched her eyebrows and looked right at me, "Wasting food also wastes the water and energy that went in to making that food. We don't value our food anymore. Just read American Wasteland." So this week, after brewing my morning cup, the grounds go into a tightly sealed container, along with other waste that's too valuable to put in the garbage, like banana peels, orange rinds, old pasta, and egg shells. On account of the LES Ecology Center, the Union Square Farmers Market will collect my compost every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday between 8:00am and 5:00pm at the northeast corner of Union Square, at Park Ave & 17th Street. Taking out the trash never felt so good. To find out more about what, why, and how to compost, visit grownyc.org If you're looking for a posh pail for composting, check out this sleek stainless steel one from Green Depot. Photo: Courtesy of cogdog
2. Shop at the Farmers Market "There are 36,000 farms in New York State," said Jen Small, who you can always meet at her Flying Pigs Farm stand in Union Square. "We only get to enjoy a fraction of what these farms produce because the distribution system is broken." Though this may be true, there are 51 greenmarkets you can support throughout NYC, brimming with delicious, locally-sourced foods that have not been shellacked with synthesized fertilizers or pesticides. "It's great now. In the 1970s, you couldn't get an organic apple in August," said Mary Cleaver. "Learn to cook!" said Meltz. "I go to the farmers market with $11-$20 in my wallet, and I make a great dinner, mashed potatoes, broccoli, a protein. It feels good!” The audience smiled and nodded in unison. "Actually use the reusable bags—and don't worry about putting potatoes and vegetables in a plastic bag while you shop. Why?" Meltz had one last thing to add, "Become serious conservationists from the start." Then Small chimed in. "Vote with your dollar. Shop at the farmers markets, sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). There are more and more young people interested in farming. I think this movement is the biggest thing we've seen since civil rights." Mark Bittman would likely agree we need this movement. He writes in the New York Times Magazine’s current food and drink issue, "As well as you might feed yourself and your kids, the food “system” is still out there, stuffing some people and starving others, poisoning the earth and the air, destroying cultures everywhere.” Photo: Courtesy of Crystal
3. You have a voice, use it. The three panelists made it clear that we are all shareholders in the food supply, and that it is incredibly important to understand where food comes from. Jen Small said to call your state senators, because they won't take a farmer's call, but they will listen to their constituents. If you don't want to lobby a politician, moderator Hatz suggested asking a grocery store's manager for locally-sourced food. But she warned, make sure you follow through and buy it. Start a small chain reaction, said Meltz. Ask the waiters to find out where the food is coming from, and if they don't know, you won't be dining there again... and the restaurant will wonder if there's something wrong that they don't know the answer to your question. For more eco tips and car-free travel ideas, visit offManhattan.com or follow oM on Twitter: @offManhattan
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