A love affair with leafy greens (i)

In which I wax loquacious on attempts to eat local, be a vegetarian, and discovery of things leafy and green.

It started in September 2010. Having flown across the ocean in an aeroplane to live a privileged student life at a posh old institution of higher learning in Britain and spend lots of time thinking about big problems like degrading ecosystems and unsustainable consumption and collapsing economies – and other things related to too much flying across oceans in aeroplanes and posh old institutions, I thought I’d try to compensate by otherwise being as low impact as possible. One way to do this was to make smart decisions about food, so I became a compulsive label-reader, and quickly realised that ‘low impact’ is really difficult to do: food is mass produced, grows in places it probably isn’t meant to grow (from, say, a climatic, soil chemistry, or pre-existing ecosystems perspective), it is sprayed, spliced, has strange things added to it, is over-packaged, and is flown/shipped/trucked in from thousands of miles away. Food lifecycles are so huge and complex that trying to achieve a perfectly environmentally and socially conscious diet is a decidedly Sisyphean endeavour. It seems you can never win.

So I decided I’d try to do two things in the spirit of a ‘low impact diet’:

(1) Eat as little meat as possible. 

This worked out to me becoming a capital ‘V’ vegetarian, with the notable exception of the occasional fish supper at the local chippy, because I was living in absurd proximity to the Best Fish & Chips in the World*. Outrageous hypocrisy aside, why eat as little meat as possible? It’s all about energy: you can get more energy from eating things lower down the food chain. The logic goes: why eat a cow, which has to be watered and fed grain and sustained for a number of years before I can eat it, when I could just skip all the effort/energy consumed in feeding and watering the cow and eat the grain myself? At the moment, I’m not really capable of providing a more elaborate answer than that, but I hope we can draw this out in future posts. Amy knows worlds more about biology & ecosystems than I and is thus substantially more qualified to talk about this type of thing. Also, she recommended a book to me: Diet for a Small Planet, which I acquired at a lovely bookstore in town (which sadly no longer exists), and expect will be very enlightening.

The other thing I tried to do was:

(2) Eat things that grow in the ground nearby at the time of year when they ought to grow there. 

This is kind of how I justified (*ahem* tried to resolve my own cognitive dissonance regarding) the fish & chips. The fish, you see, were coming in on little boats from the sea, which was literally right there. We’ve already seen that there is doubt about the idea that eating local is be-all-end-all of environmentally conscious diets <link to Amy’s post> and we’ve seen that, at least in Canada, food waste <link> has a much greater environmental impact than food miles. That said, eating local can have social benefits. For example, keeping your neighbours in business is probably good for your community. I also tried to eat seasonally, tried to eat things that could be grown in the climate in which I was living without too much extra energy input. That said, sometimes I just really wanted a glass of orange juice, and god knows oranges do not grow in Scotland. Not yet, at least.

So I went hunting in Tesco (not exactly a saintly food store, but it was in walking distance of my flat). That is when I found kale. Hey look! It grows in England, it’s £1 for a half kilogram bag, and it’s GREEN. That’s important, right? Eat your colours! and all that. Green = vitamin C and iron. Iron is a thing I am concerned about if I’m no longer enjoying the weekly Alberta beef of my upbringing. (I’m not going to lie: it’s good stuff, and my father is a barbequing professional.) But, yes, iron.

I tried kale and I tried cabbage and I after I went a bit overboard one time with brussel sprouts (which aren’t really a green, but look! 1 kg of Scottish brussel sprouts for 50p!!) I tried swiss chard. You can do LOTS of different things with greens. I’m slowly building my repertoire and I intend to share some of my “findings” and am excited to hear about other folks’ adventures in cooking/raw un-cooking with greens.

Greens 

Taste and versatility aside, cooking with greens can be a lovely aesthetic experience. Swiss chard, for example, is a really beautiful thing! It is lovely and leafy and green, and some varieties have the most beautiful rainbow-coloured stems: crimson red and vibrant yellow.

rainbow chard!

rainbow chard!

* The Best Fish & Chips in the World are in the East Neuk of Fife:

+ The Wee Chippy in Anstruther**

+ The Anstruther Fish Bar

+ The Tail End in St Andrews

** ‘EN-ster’ to locals

See my next post for my favourite greens recipe.

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