The end of April means a couple things: first and foremost, it means the school year is less than one month to completion; second, it means that the April showers we have experiencing will soon give way to May flowers; and third, it means we get to celebrate Earth Day. This past Saturday, April 22, was a day devoted to sustainability and caring for the Earth. So, in light of this important annual event, this week’s health article combines both our health and the health of the Earth that we live on.
One big environmental concern right now is agricultural sustainability. Most of the corn and soy crops that you see while driving through Iowa actually represent a huge agricultural crisis. States such as Iowa are considered to grow “monocultures” of corn and soy, meaning these crops are grown in excess. There is only so much room for these products in the food market, and so all the excess food is given to livestock. This, in turn, leads to another problem America currently is facing: the overconsumption of meat. A common food production theme is that as a country’s wealth increases, its meat consumption also does. America is no exception to this trend, and our carbon footprint has suffered because of it. The amount of energy wasted on food transportation and raising livestock has risen exponentially within the last fifty years. As consumers, we may feel trapped in a system of food production that is highly unsustainable, with no way to fix the situation. Fortunately, there are a few easy ways for consumers to combat these major agricultural crises.
The best way to be agriculturally sustainable is to buy locally-produced food. But how can we, as college students, possibly seek out locally produced foods, especially when many of us eat in the Loras café? It’s pretty unrealistic for all of us to find foods that are certifiably “local,” but one thing we can do is eat foods that are “in season”—AKA, seasonal eating.
easonal eating is exactly what it sounds like: choosing foods that are currently being harvested or produced. Being mindful of what you’re eating at different times of the year is important for environmental as well as health consciousness. Since most seasonal produce are basic, natural foods, it’s easier to be health-conscious when you’re choosing from a variety of fruits and vegetables.
As the summer gets closer, look out for more and more produce becoming seasonally available. Some summertime favorites include fruits like strawberries, apples, pears, and plums; vegetables like summer squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and corn; and spices and seasonings like peppermint and cilantro. But summer is just one season; let’s look at some of the seasonal favorites that you can choose from:
Fall: Carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, and spices such as ginger, peppercorns, and mustard seeds.
Winter: Meats such as fish, chicken, beef, and lamb, and root vegetables such as carrot, potato, onions, and garlic. This category also includes eggs, corn, and nuts.
Spring: Tender, leafy vegetables like Swiss chard, spinach romaine lettuce, fresh parsley, and basil.
Obviously these lists are incomplete, because these foods alone are not sufficient for a balanced diet. But by increasing your consumption of these foods during their designated seasons, you are doing your part to help the sustainability of the agricultural industry. Additionally, there are plenty of benefits to be had for you as a consumer. Not only do these foods taste better because they are fresher, but in-season produce is also better for your wallet. When farmers are producing a large abundance of a crop, they will sell it at a cheaper price. Production and shipping costs are also dramatically reduced when produce is locally available, so the grocery store prices are cheaper for us consumers. It’s a win-win-win situation: save the environment, save your health, and save money all at the same time!
Consumers have more power than they think. We vote with our wallets; if we choose to buy and eat seasonally produced foods rather than the highly processed or exotic foods in grocery stores, we are sending a message to the people who produce our food. We are calling for change in the current agricultural process. Although Earth Day is already past us, we can be mindful consumers and return to our roots with these seasonally grown, sustainable foods.