The Locavore Myth

I read this article on Forbes today for the second time. Someone on twitter linked to it and I thought I would post it here because there has been a lot of discussion lately about eating locally vs eating vegan. In my opinion it is pretty easy to do both. Unlike our Northern neighbors we can grow food outside all year. Texas is one of the biggest producers of cabbage, onions, pecans, and peanuts in the country. We grow almost every kind of vegetable and lots of fruit too. Our grapefruit is famous but we have grapes and make our own wine as well.

In Austin local company White Mountain makes all sorts of vegan products like the tofu that you can buy in bulk at the co-op and no-egg salad and bbq tofu.

Just outside of Austin in Wimberley Texas they are growing olive trees and making olive oil. It is actually really good. The Texas Olive Ranch makes local oil and balsamic vinegar too.

Another great source of local protein are black-eyed peas which are grown throughout the state because they are so drought tolerant.

Our rice is famous all over the world too, in fact, the local company got into a big argument with India a while back when they tried to trademark basmati rice and so we have texamati now since the people in India called us on our bull shit. Lately the farmer’s market has even started carrying whole wheat which you could easily make your own seitan from.

Of course soy beans and corn grow in Texas as well but they say the average vegan who eats whole foods gets less soy and corn in their diet than the average omnivore if you consider all the corn and soy that the average farm animals eat and all that is put in processed food.

One of the best parts about being vegan is knowing where your food comes from. Lately we have picking our own vegetables at local farm Johnson’s Backyard Garden doing a co-op workshare. They are expanding their farm’s offerings and if you are interested in local food and in Austin I highly recommend going or joining their CSA.Joining a CSA, though, and eating local produce isn’t enough to save the world. The worst environmental damage is caused by people eating meat and I don’t mean people in other countries . I am talking about Americans. We created this problem with industrialized farming and until that comes to an end you can’t eat animal products and say you are doing everything you can to help the environment.

Here is the article from Texas State Professor James E. McWilliams

Why buying from nearby farmers won’t save the planet.

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Buy local, shrink the distance food travels, save the planet. The locavore movement has captured a lot of fans. To their credit, they are highlighting the problems with industrialized food. But a lot of them are making a big mistake. By focusing on transportation, they overlook other energy-hogging factors in food production.

Take lamb. A 2006 academic study (funded by the New Zealand government) discovered that it made more environmental sense for a Londoner to buy lamb shipped from New Zealand than to buy lamb raised in the U.K. This finding is counterintuitive–if you’re only counting food miles. But New Zealand lamb is raised on pastures with a small carbon footprint, whereas most English lamb is produced under intensive factory-like conditions with a big carbon footprint. This disparity overwhelms domestic lamb’s advantage in transportation energy.

New Zealand lamb is not exceptional. Take a close look at water usage, fertilizer types, processing methods and packaging techniques and you discover that factors other than shipping far outweigh the energy it takes to transport food. One analysis, by Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, showed that transportation accounts for only 11% of food’s carbon footprint. A fourth of the energy required to produce food is expended in the consumer’s kitchen. Still more energy is consumed per meal in a restaurant, since restaurants throw away most of their leftovers.

Locavores argue that buying local food supports an area’s farmers and, in turn, strengthens the community. Fair enough. Left unacknowledged, however, is the fact that it also hurts farmers in other parts of the world. The U.K. buys most of its green beans from Kenya. While it’s true that the beans almost always arrive in airplanes–the form of transportation that consumes the most energy–it’s also true that a campaign to shame English consumers with small airplane stickers affixed to flown-in produce threatens the livelihood of 1.5 million sub-Saharan farmers.

Another chink in the locavores‘ armor involves the way food miles are calculated. To choose a locally grown apple over an apple trucked in from across the country might seem easy. But this decision ignores economies of scale. To take an extreme example, a shipper sending a truck with 2,000 apples over 2,000 miles would consume the same amount of fuel per apple as a local farmer who takes a pickup 50 miles to sell 50 apples at his stall at the green market. The critical measure here is not food miles but apples per gallon.

The one big problem with thinking beyond food miles is that it’s hard to get the information you need. Ethically concerned consumers know very little about processing practices, water availability, packaging waste and fertilizer application. This is an opportunity for watchdog groups. They should make life-cycle carbon counts available to shoppers.

Until our food system becomes more transparent, there is one thing you can do to shrink the carbon footprint of your dinner: Take the meat off your plate. No matter how you slice it, it takes more energy to bring meat, as opposed to plants, to the table. It takes 6 pounds of grain to make a pound of chicken and 10 to 16 pounds to make a pound of beef. That difference translates into big differences in inputs. It requires 2,400 liters of water to make a burger and only 13 liters to grow a tomato. A majority of the water in the American West goes toward the production of pigs, chickens and cattle.

The average American eats 273 pounds of meat a year. Give up red meat once a week and you’ll save as much energy as if the only food miles in your diet were the distance to the nearest truck farmer.

If you want to make a statement, ride your bike to the farmer’s market. If you want to reduce greenhouse gases, become a vegetarian.

So long Stella…

It was nice reading your posts here, but since you’ve decided to eat animals and animal products again, I suppose you won’t be blogging here anymore. (You do know, there are delicious ways to eat a vegan diet without having food trucked in from across the country… Just look at how the folks at Casa de Luz serve food… LOCAL, ORGANIC, MACRO…. and no animals had to die, whether “painlessly” or not. )

In any case, I know your decision must have been a difficult one. As was my decision to become vegan more than a decade ago, against the wishes of my parents and friends. You will run into some flack for this, and you know that already. But I want you to know, that the vegans of Tejas will be waiting here with open arms, if and when you decide that you CAN have a sustainable diet without eating animals.
Good luck, and we are truly sorry to see you go.

Stella’s Stuffed Baked Potatoes

Stella's Stuffed Baked Potatoes

I have been craving potatoes all week. In addition, I knew I had a whole package of LightLife Fakin’ Bacon in the fridge, taunting me. All day I struggled to decide between potato soup and baked potatoes on this cold, cold Central Texas night.

I decided on baked potatoes. Now, I always thought I hated skin on potatoes. Sometimes I leave them in when making mashed potatoes, because I know there are a lot of nutrients near the skin and because, frankly, I am lazy (you didn’t know?). Tonight I decided to try a new method I’d heard about, and I now love potato skins! The key is to bathe them in olive oil and bake them right on the oven rack. The result is puffy, crispy, tasty potato skins and light, fluffy, warm potatoes. Delicious. Yes, it took a while, but it was totally worth it.

Stella’s Stuffed Baked Potatoes

potatoes*
olive oil
vegan margarine
Sour Supreme
tempeh bacon
cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced or diced
white or yellow onion
minced garlic

The amount of ingredients you use will just depend on the number of potatoes and how much of the topping you want on them.

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Cut sprouts and dark spots from potatoes. Scour them thoroughly under cold running water, either with a scouring brush or the abrasive side of a clean, unused sponge.

3. Poke about 6-8 holes in each potato with a fork.

4. In a small dish, roll each potato in a thin layer of olive oil.

5. Place each potato directly onto the oven rack, placing a cookie sheet on the shelf below to catch any drippings. Bake for at least an hour, perhaps longer for large potatoes or a large batch.

6. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, sauté onions and garlic in a little olive oil over medium heat until fragrant, about three minutes. Add bacon and cook until it begins to get crispy. Add mushrooms and continue to cook until they are well done. Remove from heat and set aside.

7. When potatoes are done (check my sticking a fork in one), carefully remove them from the oven using a large spoon, spatula, or tongs. Using your fork, perforate one side straight down the side horizontally, forming a line to break open. Push on the ends of the potato with your fingers, using the fork in the center if necessary, to pry open the potatoes. If they are done, this will be easy.

8. Spoon a dollop of margarine into each potato. Top with mushroom and bacon mixture and sour cream to taste. Serve immediately.

*Russet potatoes are best, but any will do in a pinch!

Cross posted from stellatex.

Promise Pizza; Vegan Pizza in Round Rock

Before I was vegan the lure of free food enticed me at every turn. In my line of work there are always a lot of events with free food and I always helped myself to whatever looked best. Mostly it is really nice to be vegan and have an iron clad excuse to not eat a bunch of junk food but every now and then it is a little sad to pass up on homemade cookies or holiday party food. My inner need for free food is so strong that on a dark and stormy night we drove all the way from South Austin to Round Rock, a northern suburb of Austin, to try a newer restaurant Promise Pizza. Full Disclosure, it was an Austin blogger event so all of my food was free. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try another vegan friendly restaurant that promised organic and locally sourced vegetables and daiya cheese.

We got there a little late and everyone was eating. I was so happy that the tiny place was so bright and warm and it was filled with people. The staff was really friendly. There was one vegan pizza out there already but they made a special pizza with no peppers (I don’t like them on pizza!) just for me.

My only quibble with the pizza was that it didn’t have enough olives but that is my personal obsession and a normal person would be quite happy with the “sane” amount of olives on the pizza, they were good olives too. Red onions, Portabello mushrooms, tomatoes, and basil were all present on the pizza along with the vegan cheese and red sauce. The crust was good and all the toppings seemed right on. The cheese wasn’t all I had hoped but I am pretty used to that now with vegan dairy food. It was really fun to watch all the other food bloggers poke at the vegan cheese but it seemed like for the most part they liked it enough. The owner talked for a while about how hard they are trying to source everything locally. They make the dough at the shop and he promised me that everything was truly vegan and that there is no chance of cross contamination. When they do the vegan and gluten free crusts they use separate cutting boards and even run them through the oven separately. It was really nice to hear someone being so thoughtful of people with special requests. Everything at the place was organic and they even had soda sans high fructose corn syrup. The rest of the table was raving about the pepperoni pizza and the owner said he was working on finding a vegan sausage that he liked as much as the meat version so that he could start offering that as well and they also had vegan gluten fee cookies.

All in all it was shocking (to me) that such a place exists in Round Rock. I think vegans are going to be really happy to have a place that they can go where someone really understands how important it is to know where our food comes from. It gives me hope that places like this are popping up more and more around the country. He said that people in town were nervous to try the pizza because it was organic and they didn’t think that hippie shit would taste as good (my words not his) so they would go to the Dunkin Donuts next door and ask them what they thought of the pizza! That reminded me of my home town where every local business failed because people preferred to go to chains because they were deemed more trustworthy. What a world. I think these types of people are going to be pleasantly surprised by how much better something local and organic is than Pizza Hut.

cross posted at Lazy Smurf’s Guide to Life