Pastured chickens, food shed, and food print. All new terms to me, all in one week. What a great way to start the year!
My husband and I made the trek down to the Farmers' Market on Saturday morning to buy some winter greens from our one local farmer who has committed to being there every Saturday during the winter with a variety of greens grown in one of his fabulous hoop houses (www.brines.org). Much to my surprise (and delight, really), he was sold out by the time we showed up at 10:30. So, since I am very slowly starting to add back a little bit of locally-raised meat and poultry into my diet, we made good use of the gasoline we used to get down to the Farmers Market to stop in at a nearby meat market to purchase a locally-raised chicken to cook for supper. While looking at what was available at the poultry section, all I saw was a little sign that said "pasture-raised" in front of the chickens. I asked what that term meant. Is the same or different from free-range? and few other things. Maybe too many questions tumbled out of my mouth; in any case the young man working behind the counter simply smiled and said he did not know the answers to my questions. :-) As we were waiting in line to pay, my husband commented on the price (~$10 for the whole chicken). The woman in front of us turned around to smile and tell us it was worth every penny and was the very best tasting chicken available.
We came home to google the term pastured chickens (what would we do without this instant source of info??) Lo and behold, now we know (and knew all along) what pastured chickens are. My husband has been reading about various ways of raising chickens and had run across a method developed by Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm (www.polyfacefarms.com)in Virginia. Basically, chickens have fresh pasture to forage in almost daily as they are moved around the farm in small portable chicken houses. This method optimizes the best of all possible worlds, resulting in a roasted chicken that was yes, worth every penny as taste just exploded in our mouth that evening.
I began reading yet another book about the advantages of eating locally grown food entitled Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket by Brian Halweil. As I started it, I wondered if there could possibly be any new ideas in it that I had not already been exposed to in other books I have read over the last year. Well, ask and ye shall receive (or be hit on the head). Right on page 12 was the term "foodshed", which I do not remember seeing in all these other books. I LOVE it! Foodshed, like watershed, is perfectly understandable to me - that sphere of land, people, and businesses that provides a community or region with its food. Just as we take care of our watershed, we need to understand and take care of our local foodshed in order to keep it viable and healthy. I'm re-reading Eat Here; maybe there are other new concepts I'll catch on the next time through as I continue to look for ways to both shrink and take care of my own personal foodshed!
Think "footprint" and then take that image and now visualize "foodprint", a new term developed by some Cornell University researchers. "Foodprint" is a way of thinking about how much land is required to produce the food you consume in your diet on an annual basis. With the world's population continually increasing, understanding how to produce the food required for this ever increasing population for optimal nutrition from the most efficient use of both limited space and natural resources is critical when thinking about sustainability for our planet's future. Interestingly, this study found that the smallest foodprint was used to produce optimal nutrition with a plant-based diet that included small amounts of animal protein (2 ounces) daily compared to a completely vegetarian diet. That amount of animal protein is a fraction of what most people eat on a daily basis in a Westernize diet. Examples of typical foods and amounts that could be eaten to meet this optimal type of diet would be 2 ounces of cheese, OR ~2 cups of milk, OR 2 eggs, OR roughly 1/2 of a typical quarter-pound beef patty, OR 1/2 of one chicken breast. I know many people would not even think twice about eating all of the above food items on any one day, and even more would be very common! A plant-based diet with small amounts of animal protein is easy to do and is also very delicious without any feeling or sense of deprivation. As I begin adding back very small amounts of meat or poultry to my diet, this is essentially the type of diet that I am following at the current time.
Here's a cheer for the New Year, for health and happiness but also for learning new words, increasing the consumption of and enjoying new local foods, and meeting new friends and farmers!
"May the food we are eating make us aware of the interconnections between the universe and us, the earth and us, and all other living species and us. Because each bite contains in itself the life of the sun and the earth, may we see the meaning and value of life from these precious morsels of food."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh
Diana Dyer, MS, RD