Friendly Food

5 Earth-friendly ways to eat better in Austin

5 Earth-friendly ways to eat better in Austin

SFC Farmers Market
These tips will help you eat more sustainably.  Photo courtesy of Sustainable Food Center

You can make your dining more earth-friendly without turning into a forager, giving up meat or doing anything else drastic. A few small changes here and there are all it takes. Here are five Earth-friendly dining habits.

1. Eat less beef
A recent study found that emissions of greenhouse gasses from livestock are rising and that beef cattle account for far more than other types of animals. Methane and nitrous oxide account for about 28 percent of greenhouse gas totals. Methane is released as a byproduct of animal digestion, and nitrous oxide enters the atmosphere from decomposing manure. When other researchers looked at the environmental costs per nutritional unit produced, eating beef is on average about 10 times more costly than other animal-derived foods, including pork and poultry. Crossing beef off your menu would help keep our planet healthier.

Can't imagine a summer without red meat? There are alternatives that taste just as good and are easier on the Earth. Longhorn meat doesn’t create the same amount of emissions; locally, Boggy Creek Farm sells meat from Dear Run Land & Cattle Co. near Buda. Sheep is also a better choice, representing 9 percent of livestock emissions versus the 54 percent that come from beef cattle, as is goat (4 percent).

You have options when dining out, too. Jacoby’s Restaurant, open now, serves goat and lamb. The menu at Swift’s Attic lists braised Windy Hill goat shoulder.

2. Choose sustainable seafood
According to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, nearly 85 percent of the world's fisheries are at capacity or overfished. You have the power to make this situation better or worse based on your choices at the supermarket or restaurant. The Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program ranks best choice, good alternatives and avoid for seafood based on the fishery, habitat, species, management and other factors. Carry one of its wallet-sized cards to help you make sustainable choices.

Seafood Watch also includes a list of restaurants that have pledged to follow its guidelines. Currently no restaurants in Texas have done so (the closest is in New Orleans), but if enough diners ask, chances are restaurants will consider it.

3. Get out of the kitchen
Grill outdoors or whip up cold foods to save energy on hot days. You'll not only save the energy needed for cooking, you won't be adding heat to your kitchen and load to your air conditioner. Try cold soups and smoothies and get creative with salads, adding cold chicken or beef, cheese and hard-boiled eggs to make them more hearty. Set up an awesome sandwich buffet with several types of bread, cold cuts, cheeses and vegetables to make everyone happy.

Dining out? Order something that doesn’t require cooking so you won’t be adding heat to the restaurant, either. Pleasant Storage Room combines a few quality ingredients for a light, refreshing Papa Shrimp ceviche, made with grilled pineapple, pique, corn, avocado and tamari. No cooking required for this or its three other ceviche appetizers.

4. Carry your own to-go container
You’ve probably heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but all of the world’s oceans have been polluted by plastic, which ultimately breaks down into tiny particles. In some parts of the ocean, these plastic particles are more numerous than plankton, the tiny plants and animals that make up the base of the marine food chain. That means animals that eat plankton are consuming significant quantities of plastic, as are that animals that eat them — with the plastic ultimately ending up in our diets.

You can help by reducing your use of single-use plastics such as disposable bottles, utensils and containers. At restaurants, avoid taking to-go food or leftovers home in plastic or Styrofoam by carrying your own, reusable container or seek out establishments that use sustainable and biodegradable paper containers — or, at the very least, plastic containers that can be washed and re-used. Say "no thanks" to that plastic straw while you're at it!

5. Eat invasive species
We humans often introduce plants and animals to places they otherwise never would have ended up. This can lead to disaster — without the natural checks and balances that keep the natives from getting out of hand, these foreigners can take over and generally prove impossible to get rid of. But it is possible to keep invasive species in check so that at least native species aren’t wiped out. One way to do this is by eating them!

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists urge divers and fishermen to target lionfish, for example, a reef fish native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Introduced into waters off the coast of Florida in the late 1980s from private aquariums, lionfish have since spread throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Voracious eaters (probably the reason those aquarium owners dumped the fish in the first place) and impressive reproducers, lionfish wreak havoc on coral reef habitat. Studies have shown that regular removal makes a difference, though, and efforts are afoot to establish a commercial fishery.

Divers can take part in lionfish derbies sponsored by the Reef Environmental and Education Foundation, which also publishes a cookbook that includes instructions on catching and handling the fish. Easier and closer to home, diners can order prepared-at-the-bar lionfish delicacies at Haven Restaurant’s Cove Cold Bar. A number of restaurants in Florida and dozens throughout the Caribbean serve lionfish as well.

Feral hogs, initially released by the hunting industry, cause millions of dollars of damage to property, habitat and agricultural fields every year. They can be taken by any means at any time and hunted year-round with no limit, although a license is required. 

Invasive plants such as garlic mustard, watercress, and wild fennel can be used in a variety of recipes. Get creative — you’ll not only enjoy delicious food but will be doing your part to keep the Earth healthy as well.

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