The True Cost of Food

I recently ran across this video on the Sierra Club website called "The True Cost of Food." The film was designed to raise awareness of the foods we eat and the real cost of that food in terms of money and environmental impact. Although I believe there may be an over-exaggeration in the "check-out price" (you’ll see what I mean), overall I think it’s a good educational film. The picture quality isn’t the best, but the sound is good and I think you will be able to get gist of it. Runtime: 15 min.

**EDIT**-  Google took the video down, I will see if I can find it somewhere else.  Ok, the best way to see this is to click this link and save it to your computer.  You will need to have Quicktime installed to view it.


Farmer’s Market Shopping Tips

What better way to spend part of your Saturday or Sunday (or Mon-Fri) than paying a visit to your local farmer’s market? Going to the market is a mix of culture, community and of course, free tastings. One of the huge advantages to shopping at the farmer’s market is being able to ask the farmer questions about the food that he or she is selling. Another major benefit is knowing that the food you are about to buy is fresh, humane, and locally grown (as opposed to being shipped 1,800 miles). These are important things for our environment, and they are important for our farmers and our local economy.

Listed below are some tips to help you make the most out of the food you buy and the experience you enjoy, (they are not in any particular order). If you have any more to add, please let us know.

  • When was this picked?- Usually farmers pick their produce the day before or the morning of the farmer’s market. Knowing when it was picked will give you an idea of how ripe it is. Generally speaking, farmers want to harvest produce when it’s perfectly ripe, so you shouldn’t have to wait very long before you can eat it. It’s not a bad idea to ask. Also here is a guide on how to choose perfectly ripe fruits and veggies.
  • Where’s the farm?- This is another important question to ask. Our assumption is that all the food at the farmers market was grown locally. This is not always the case. If the food was trucked in from hundreds of miles away, then shopping at the farmers market will be no better than shopping at the supermarket.
  • Organic- Not all the foods at the farmers market are organic. The best practice is to ask. Many times, local farm representatives will tell you that their food is “organic,” despite the fact that they do not carry a “certified organic” label. The reason behind this is that for some small farms these certifications cost a lot of money that can prove financially prohibitive. In general I trust the farmers at the market, and in most cases, I think their hearts and practices are in the right place. If they say their produce is organic, I believe them. However, even if the food is not organic and was grown conventionally (using pesticides and fertilizers) and locally, this is still a good thing and definitely the next best choice in environmentally friendly agriculture. You may just want to subtly ask your farmer if they have plans to go organic in the future.
  • Sustainable- If you’re interested, you can ask your farmer if they perform crop rotations and employ bio-diversity on their farm. These practices usually help the farm become a closed loop where the plants, animals and soil all benefit from each other.
  • Are those free range eggs- There is a stand at our farmers market that sells eggs. If yours has one also, it may not be a bad idea to ask all of the above plus whether the chickens are allowed to roam about freely. I noticed the last time we were at the market the egg stand put up a sign that listed all of these answers, so they must get these questions frequently.
  • Is it in season- Because most food at the farmers market is grown locally, generally it’s in season. Just in case you are curious, here is a link to check what’s in season in your area.
  • Recipes and Storage- Who better to ask how to prepare and store the food than the person that grew it? Farmers usually enjoy the produce they grow and have some good tips and tricks on cooking it and making it keep for awhile. Who knows, you may even walk away with an old family recipe.
  • Create a list, and get those items first- Sometimes the excitement of the farmers market can send us into a buying frenzy…I think cheap, fresh food has that effect. However, stick to the list. If you’ve got your meals planned out for the week, get those necessary ingredients first. After that, you can check out some other treats. The key is not to buy so much food that it spoils before you can eat it. Since most of the produce is ripe when you buy it, it’s shelf life is probably only a few days.
  • Give the kids a couple bucks- Let them choose and purchase some fruits and veggies on their own. You never know, they may be more inclined to actually eat the healthy items that they picked it out and paid for.
  • Bring your own bags- Globally, we use 1 million plastic bags per minute. They fill up our landfills, open spaces and oceans. If you take one thing away from this post, let it be this, please use reusable bags to help reduce this number.

Overall, these tips should help you make an educated decision on the food you are about to buy. You’ll probably only need to ask them once, as you’ll purchase from the same farmers from week-to-week. After awhile, you will get to know them and they will usually take special care of you in pointing out the best produce and give you more tips and suggestions.

Happy shopping!

Three out of the top five "commodity" crops produced in the U.S. make up the main ingredients of a Twinkie (wheat, corn and soybeans).  Not surprisingly, these three commodity crops along with rice and cotton are heavily subsidized by the US government ($25 billion a year).  So let’s say I am conglomerate food manufacturer and I want the cheapest raw ingredients I can get my hands on to produce some funky product, like the Twinkie.  These are the exactly the types of ingredients I would start with.  They are cheap (the government subsidizes them) and they are plentiful (farmers grow more because they want the subsidy).  Not even Mexico can produce corn this cheaply.  American farmers are putting Mexican farmers out of business, artificially of course.

So you ask….what about the dozens of other fruits, vegetables and grains?  How are they being subsidized?  Well in short….they’re not.  And we as consumers spend more to purchase these crops.  We pay closer to what it actually costs to produce these foods.  As opposed to paying less at checkout and more at tax time. 

Of course, government subsidies are needed to help farmers.  I am not saying we should eliminate them.  There are bad years and small crops.  Farmers that supply our food chain should be able to weather bad years.  The money just needs to be divided up more.  Sure the five commodity crops would still get money, but so would smaller family farms that grow other varieties of produce.  It’s time that we as EATERS told our government what types of food we want our money spent on!  Vote with your dollars!   Check out this article on the 2007 Farm Bill.

read Michael Pollen’s article "You Are What You Grow" in the NYtimes


The Third Reason to GoVeg

One of the single most convincing reasons to adopt a vegetarian diet has just recently popped up.  Now, obviously this reason has been around for awhile, but it is just now being publicized.  What I‘m talking about is the environmental impact of an animal-based diet.   The first time I heard the connection between animal agriculture and global warming was in the report issued by the UN called "Livestock’s Long Shadow."  This one report sent the blogosphere (myself included) and news agencies into a writing fury about the environmental benefits of going veg.  Its message is extremely simple.  Going veg can help save the planet. 

When I decided to become a vegetarian in 1995, there were really only two widely stated reasons people chose this diet.  There was the animal welfare reason and the health reason, and it pretty much stopped there.  I imagine that there were more, but when people would ask why I went veg, they would only cover those two, and I didn’t really stop to investigate or explain any further. 

Things have changed. Today, with the global warming frenzy in full swing (it’s for good reason, but still a frenzy) the animal-based diet has come under scrutiny by many, including a number of environmentalists.  Now, there is a widely recognized third reason to go vegbecause you care about the environment.  The first two reasons alone are a compelling enough to make the change, but in the "Global Warming Age," vegetarianism has become much more socially accepted and encouraged, and just as importantly, its benefits are measurable on the local and global scale.

Each time we choose to go veg, we consciously make the decision to eat lower on the food chain, and therefore, more environmentally friendly, so going veg, mostly veg, partly veg or even one day a week can help.  Preserving the environment and the world we live in is not about deprivation.  It is about moderation and cutting back where we can instead of consuming where we shouldn’t.  It is about raising awareness as to how our behaviors impact the world around us and how simple actions can and do have major results. So tell your friends, spread the word…host a vegetarian dinner at your home.  In most cases, no one will miss the meat, and the impact of your action will be part of the solution instead of a contribution to part of the problem.


Ocean Contrails

image: QuickBird satellite via Google Earth

Contrails left by airplanes are believed to be a cause for global warming.   But when boats leave contrails it’s a different story.  The NYTimes recently ran an article on shrimp boats that trawl the ocean floor.  These boat drag nets across the sea floof, killing everything in their wake and stirring up mud that kills everything else by suffocation.  These boats and the destruction they perform are photographed from space and can be seen on google earth.  As you can see, these images are pretty disturbing. 

Read the whole story at the NYTimes  (via Ethicurean)


National Vegetarian Week

Our friends across the big pond are celebrating their 15th annual National Vegetarian Week, next week, May 21-27th.  The event is organized by The Vegetarian Society, the world’s oldest vegetarian society, formed in 1847.  The goal of National Vegetarian Week is to raise awareness to the food, lifestyle and health benefits of the vegetarian diet. 

This year the event will also focus on the environmental benefits to going vegetarian.  This is a hot topic right now and it’s clear that a veg diet significantly reduces our impact on the planet. 

Local events are scheduled throughout the UK next week, be sure to check out the website to find things going on in your area.  For us here in the U.S. I’m not aware of any organized events, but what better time to give vegetarianism a try on your own?  Theoretically, you could consolidate the next seven weeks of veg-one-day-a-week into one week.  Just an idea! ;)


Veg Travel

So you’ve put in your time at the workplace and the boss man (or woman) is going to let you take some of that well earned vacation you have been saving.  You pack your bags, book a flight, buy some sunscreen and you’re outta there.  But…what are you going to do about your veg day once you arrive at your destination?  I’ve compiled a list of links that will help you find many of the resources you may need during your travels.  I will add these to the page.

Vegetarian Phrases-  These are some common phrases in over 60 languages to help you communicate that you’re a vegetarian.

Restaurant and Health Food-  Our friends at have an excellent resource for vegetarians on the move.  The restaurant locater also allows people to post reviews and recommendations.   I have personally used this site for my travels in the U.S. and Western/Central Europe.  It is an indispensable tool.

Airline Food- This site has tons of information on vegetarian food in-flight.  It also has detailed information on each airline’s policies and guidelines.  As a personal tip, it’s usually best to bring your own, especially for short trips.

Hotel Chains-  A list of hotel chains that "get it."

Veg Guide-  This is a guide to help you plan your travels.  For example, be flexible…if you’re a strict vegan, Mongolia will be more difficult for you than London.

Veg Database- This site covers accommodations, shopping, people and everything in between.

Carbon Offsets-  That flight you just took across the U.S. dumped 1,900lbs of CO2 and used 100 gallons of fuel.  That’s for your seat alone!  You can buy alternative energy credits to offset your travels.

Do you have any more?  Let us know about them and I will add them to the list.

It’s not far from the truth!  Researchers predict that if poor countries switched to organic farming methods, they may be able to produce as much or more food than they do currently.  The benefit really shows when the farmers no longer need to depend on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified seeds, thus making it cheaper to farm.   Additionally, farmers would be able to have their crops organically certified, and that would demand a premium on the export market. 

Of course one of the other key benefits to organic farming is its reduced footprint on the environment.  With all kinds of studies showing that the poor will be hardest hit by climate change, it makes sense for poor nations to adopt a more natural way of growing food.  Although, we in industrialized nations need to get with the program faster than poor countries (we produce way more nasty stuff than they do). 

Read the story at the Yahoo News

image credit:


Diabetes Diet

After spending a combined total of 20 of the last 72 hours on an airplane (or at the airport), I’ve had some time to catch up on some reading.  While not all of it was veg related, I was able to pick out a few good topics to write about this week for the site.  A couple of stories on Type-2 diabetes and how vegetarian and vegan diets can help reduce this disease caught my attention for a couple of reasons…. With such an epidemic of obesity and diet related problems occurring in adults and children throughout the Western world, I thought this topic would be good to focus on this week.  In addition, diabetes personally hits close to home for me, as my father was diagnosed with it about two years ago, and I believe, he is starting to feel its effects.  Simple colds and ‘bugs’ are hanging around a lot longer than they did before he was diagnosed, and I fear that the symptoms are only going to get worse if he doesn’t change the way he eats and starts an exercise program. 

Reliance on diabetes medication is widespread and unfortunately, it seems that many people use the medication as a substitute for changing their lives with a good diet and proper exercise.  The ‘magic’ pills initially helps to stabilize blood sugar, but diabetics quickly become dependent on it, and the pills eventually loses their effect.  These pills are essentially the gateway drugs into more potent concoctions of medicines and insulin, but, in many cases, type-2 Diabetes is preventable and manageable if current and potential patients will turn over a new leaf and modify their diets and lifestyle.    

Recently, a study was done that demonstrated that a low-fat vegan diet based on ADA guidelines improved glycemic and lipid controls in patients with Type-2 diabetes. from WebMD

Researchers have found that a low-fat vegan diet may help type 2 diabetes patients to better manage their disease. In a study published in DiabetesCare, 43% of people with type 2 diabetes who followed a low-fat vegan diet for 22 weeks reduced the need to take diabetes medications. That’s compared to only 26% who adhered to the diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association.

On average, the vegan group also lost more weight and lowered levels of bad cholesterol. Because people with diabetes are more prone to heart disease, eating with heart health in mind matters as much as blood sugar control.

So…why don’t people diagnosed with Type-2 Diabetes immediately change their lifestyles after leaving their doctor’s office?  Whether it is going vegetarian one day a week or full-time or cutting out the fast food, it seems like a lifestyle change should be the real “silver bullet” first step for anyone diagnosed.  But as we know, the answer is never that simple, and change takes education, dedication and vigilance.  I also think that things like initial denial and an unwillingness to break old habits leads to a complacency that is satisfied by the medicine alone.  In truth, it is more than likely a healthy combination of diet, exercise and medical care are needed to manage this disease. 

To bring this back to wannaveg and the mission I have set out to accomplish, I believe that vegetarian lifestyles (even once or twice a week) may still be viewed by some as a counterculture lifestyle (e.g. dirty hippies) instead of what we are- a group of people interested in healthy living that also appreciate the many peripherally benefits to the diet.  From global warming to diabetes, heart disease and weight management, it is my hope that studies like this, recent articles and more websites like wannaveg will bring to light that change is not impossible and that the benefits can be dramatic and life changing! 

It is refreshing to see studies being performed on ethical consumerism.  Having this information shows us how effective we are at getting the word out and getting us to think about what we’re buying…food or product.  This report is a little dated as it refers to 2005 numbers, but I am confident that the trend has continued upward.  A few figures that had a significant upswing were Organics at 30.5%, Fair Trade at 38.3% and Sustainable Fish at a huge 54.5%.  Another interesting note was that Food Boycotts increased by 17.7%

The value of UK ethical consumerism last year exceeded the sales of ‘over-the-counter’ beer and cigarettes, according to the Co-operative Bank’s annual Ethical Consumerism Report.

The Report, which acts as a barometer of ethical spending in the UK, shows that in 2005 UK ethical consumerism was worth £29.3 billion, for the first time overtaking the retail market for tobacco and alcohol which stood at £28.0 billion.

…Spending on ethical food which includes organic products, Fairtrade goods and free-range eggs was up 18 per cent from £4.6 billion to £5.4 billion. Green home expenditure, which incorporates energy-efficient electrical appliances, green mortgage repayments, small renewables (such as micro-wind turbines) and green energy was up from £3.8 billion to £4.1 billion.

read the whole report here

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