Composting in the City!

Composting in the City!
By Laura Cipullo and the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team

Composting and CITY living don’t seem like they should go together but let’s make it work in spite of their differences.

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Before we approach the difficult nature of composting in our city, let’s first address why composting is something to get into in the first place. There are two major reasons; 1) it’s a great way to use and decrease waste which is a big help to our environment and 2) you can grow your own food—which comes with a series of great benefits including cost efficiency and access to healthy/organic foods. When we see the advantages, it’s hard to wonder why everyone doesn’t compost! Except for that one major reason—it’s kind of gross, isn’t it?

 

Composting is the breakdown of organic material-waste. Organic waste that we breakdown comes in two different forms—dry material and wet material. Dry materials are generally referred to as “recyclable” and they include newspaper, cardboard, certain plastics etc. Wet material-waste includes fruits and vegetables, eggshells, coffee grinds, tea bags, etc. We use both to compost, but the wet material is the most crucial.

 

Now, lets get into the dirt:

Step 1: Find a space to compost. It can either be a pile in your backyard or a terracotta pot (with a lid) on your balcony. Either way, you want a controlled space.

Step 2: Separate your organic waste into dry and wet. Collect leaves, twigs, weeds and garden waste—or get some dry organic fertilizer from your local hardware store—and combine the waste in your compost pile or pot.

Step 3: The process happens naturally but to help it move along, you can add lime-juice or yogurt to assist the initiation of decomposition.

Step 4: Continue to add to the top of the pile and wait it out. The soil will become dark and rich at the bottom—that’s the good stuff! Even if you don’t use it, you have already done something great for the environment by reducing your waste.

Step 5: Use it! The dark, rich soil is great to sprinkle over your garden to help enhance its growth and fill your produce and plants with an incredible healthy dose of vitamins and minerals. It will give them great color, taste, and nutrient density.

I pride myself on my cleanliness so I really needed to research the health and safety benefits of composting in my tiny New York City apartment. I was very curious about the smell. While it would seem that composting would generate quite the stench, if appropriately assembled, there should be no smell at all. Another worry of mine was my lack of outdoor space, which I’m sure rings true to many other city dwellers. Because composting is the chemical breakdown of organic waste and it requires live cultures to properly biodegrade, access to outdoor space—even just a fire escape—is important. This brings us to our first set of tips!

 

Tip 1: If you don’t have outdoor space—like me—get creative! All buildings have a roof. Rally some of your neighbors to talk to building management about starting an urban garden. They may be more receptive to the idea then you think!

Tip 2: If composting doesn’t seem realistic for you, check out local Farm Shares (you can do this through a google search) to support your regional farmers and seasonal produce. This is also cost effective and environmentally friendly.

 

Now, what’s the point of composting? The product of breaking down this wet organic-waste is compost, or soil. We can use this soil to then grow our own fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. The nutrition community is always talking about eating clean and buying local and organic in an attempt to better understand where our food is coming from. What better way to do this then growing food yourself? You can’t get more local then that! This brings us to our next tip.

 

Tip 3: Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty! Even though the idea of using waste to generate compost to then grow more food seems dirty—it is actually the greatest example of clean eating out there!

 

Composting and growing food allows you to know exactly where your produce is coming from. It is a great money saver and an even better gift to the environment. It is a wonderful activity for children—especially the picker eaters out there. Research shows that if kids know where their food comes from and play a role in preparing their meals, they will be more likely to try something new. Growing food gives children such an integrative and profound understanding of where their food comes from—and it’s also fun!  This brings us to our final tip.

 

Tip 4: Save your leftovers! We could all learn a few lessons from some of the NYC schools. A lot of them are saving students lunch left overs to use towards composting.

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There are so many reasons to give composting and urban gardening a shot so let’s get our hands dirty NYC!

 

For more information on compost collection in NYC or tips, visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/compost/composting_nyc.shtml.

Join the Challenge on Food Waste

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 3.43.39 PMHave you ever looked into your refrigerator and noticed the dried out carrot sitting in the back of the fridge, or the wilted lettuce you forgot you bought 2 weeks ago (let’s face it, we’ve all been there at least once!) At some point or another, we had the intention to eat it but whether we didn’t know what to make with it or simply forgot, the end result is often the same: the waste bin.

Even as a fairly seasoned cook in the kitchen, I must admit that I often have difficulty deciding what to make with the kale I bought last week or how to reinvent leftover, steamed rice. And if you are fairly new to cooking, it can be especially difficult knowing which cuts of meats can be reused or which veggies can be stored for another meal. But when there’s no way to salvage the spoiled produce or forgotten leftovers, the reluctant answer is to toss it. While any food you toss away may seem like a small quantity, individual food waste adds up and contributes to a much larger issue at hand, and that includes damage to the environment and loss of resources.
Food waste occurs when food makes it to the end of the supply chain, i.e. the consumer, but doesn’t actually get consumed. It is a major issue in the United States. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture reports that in 2010, combined sources of food waste in the U.S., including from stores, restaurants, and homes contributed to an estimated 133 billion pounds of uneaten food–that’s a value of approximately $161 billion dollars.
In America, nearly 40 million tons of food waste is sent to landfills every year. Food waste in landfills produces methane gas, which is more harmful to the environment than CO2 gas. Moreover, the amount of resources it takes to produce the food (whether it be vegetables, fruit, or meat) takes up a ton of energy. There are many ways in which we can eliminate the waste in landfills. From the farmer to the food companies, grocery store, restaurant, and consumer, there are many opportunities to join the challenge on food waste.
Join the Challenge on Food Waste
Think about how easy it can be to reduce food waste in your daily life. If we work together, all of our actions (yes, even the small changes we make) can impact the environment on a larger scale. So what are you waiting for? Join the U.S. Food Waste Challenge now and to start you off, here are some activities you can undertake to practice reducing food waste.
Shop Your Kitchen First – Before heading out to the market and purchasing more food, check out your fridge, freezer and pantries to see what you can make with the ingredients you already have.
Plan Your Meals – Step into the grocery store with a list in hand. This will not only cut down the amount of time you spend in the store, but it will also reduce the chances of impulse buys or foods you won’t actually consume.
Shop Smart – Buy only the amount that you need. If you’re making soup for 2 tonight, do you need 1-2 carrots or an entire bag? If you buy the whole bag, will you actually eat them all? For grains, try out the bulk section where you can measure out exactly how much rice or quinoa you’ll need that week. If you’re trying out new grains, seeds or dried fruit, the bulk section may be the way to go. this is also a good way to measure out a small portion in case you may or may not like the new grain or seed. Since perishables go bad rather quickly, resist buying more especially if you haven’t already used up the ones in your fridge.
First In First Out – The concept of FIFO is exactly as it states– first in first out! When unpacking groceries, organize them so that foods with the earliest expiration date are moved to the front. Foods with a later expiration date, or are least likely to go bad first, should be moved to the back of the refrigerator or pantry. This practice will increase your chances of using the foods before they go bad.
Tune Into Your Body – Tune into your body’s hunger and fullness cues so that you can determine how much you want or are able to eat during meal/snack times. Remember, if you’re full and have leftovers, you can always save them.
Donate Excess – Have any wholesome, packaged goods that you haven’t or won’t be eating? Donate them to food banks, soup kitchens, or look into donating to other awesome organizations like God’s Love We Deliver. Not only will you be reducing food waste, but you’ll be doing social good by helping others in need. Just be sure to check the expiration date before donating, as many places have stringent inspections on the donated goods they receive.

To learn more about food waste in the United States, tune into registered dietitian Laura Cipullo on Why Do We Waste Food?

 

Are there other activities you practice to help reduce food waste? We’d love to hear your ideas!

How to Choose Safer, Sustainable Seafood

Fish

In addition to being a tasty source of protein, many fish contain heart-healthy benefits and essential omega-3 fatty acids. Some examples of fish that contain high amounts of omega-3 FA’s are salmon, mackerel, sardines and albacore tuna.  To reap the heart-healthy benefits, the American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish 2x per week. But some fish species contain high levels of mercury and there are certain fish that should be avoided, especially for those who are pregnant, nursing or feeding young children. For more information  on eating seafood while pregnant or nursing, check out a separate guide provided by the Academy of Nutrition.

Whether you’re grocery shopping or dining out, when it comes to choosing farm-raised or wild seafood, it’s important to understand what types of fish are safer to eat and the effect it has on the environment and our health. Read on to learn more about sustainable seafood and a fish guide for lower mercury choices.

Fishy Words

To help you decide what fish to eat or buy, let’s go over the basic fish terms found on restaurant menus, fish aisles and package labels.

Farm Raised – Farmed fish are the exact opposite of wild fish– they are farm raised in pens. Farmed raised fish are often overcrowded, which allows for little room to swim and can also cause many issues. First, raising large quantities of fish in such a small space leads to increased waste, toxins and risk for disease. Some (not all) farms try to prevent or combat this by treating the fish with antibiotics. In addition, farm raised fish are often fed wild fish, which contributes to overfishing. In addition, farmed fish are fed smaller fish. These small fish may contain toxic contaminants, which when fed to other fish, may cause a buildup of the very same toxins.

Common farmed fish include imported fish, Atlantic salmon (which is fancier name for farmed salmon), striped bass and shellfish. If the fish you’re purchasing is farmed, be sure it’s USA-farmed, as environmental standards in other countries may be inconsistant and/or not regulated.

 

Here’s the Catch

Opt for domestic fish over imported fish – American farmed fish generally have more stringent rules than fish sourced from other countries.

Choose locally caught fish – Not only is this more sustainable, but you’re supporting local farmers while getting fresher catch

Choose fish caught by line or troll – Even wild fish can be caught using unsustainable practices. Fish caught by large nets can cause damage to the ecosystem since they result in high “by-catch”–species that were unintentionally caught.

Check your local advisory – Seafood risks change seasonally and can vary from species to the state where you’re fishing. Stay up to date with the Environmental Protection Agency’s fish advisory.

Choose fish low on the food chain – Since they live the shortest amount of time, they accumulate the least amount of toxins. Fish low on the food chain include sardines, anchovies, mussels, oysters and clams.

Use a mobile app to keep a pocket guide in handy – Download the  Seafood Watch app provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium app to help you stay up-to-date with seafood and sushi recommendations.

Choose Your Fish Wisely – Check out this fish guide below and more information provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council

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Use this guide below to help you determine how which fish to eat in moderation and which fish to avoid based on high mercury levels. Whether you’re at a grocery store or dining out, there’s always a way to find out where and how the fish is sourced. As always, if you’re unsure about where your food comes from, always ask!

Sustainable Agriculture

You may have heard the word “sustainability” used quite often over the last few years, but what does it mean? Read on to learn what sustainable agriculture is, and how our everyday decisions can make a lasting impact on future generations.

What is Sustainable Agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture is somewhat of an umbrella term used to group several food-related topics under one roof. Sustainable agriculture is a method of producing foods in such a way so that it is mindful of the ecosystem; including but not limited to environmentally friendly practices, health of humans and animals, economic profitability, respects animal welfare, and promotes social and economic equity through fair wages.

Sustainable vs. Industrial

With the many food labels scattered across grocery shelves, it becomes all the more important to understand what sustainable farming is, and what it is not. Since there isn’t a legal definition or rules, a farm’s way of practicing sustainable agriculture may vary.

As you now know, part of sustainable agriculture may include respecting animal welfare. Yet when food shopping, it can be easy to mistaken “cage-free” eggs to be sustainable. While the chicken may not have lived in cages, they may have been raised in overcrowded indoor farms. Today, most of our meat supply is produced on factory farms, otherwise known as Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). CAFOs are industrial facilities where animals are raised in confined areas for mass production. Since the animals are raised in tight quarters, they are often mutilated to adapt to the living conditions, i.e. often chickens are de-beaked. Caged animals are restricted from moving, confined for their entire lives until slaughter. Due to the large scale of animals living in an enclosed area, the result is poor and unsanitary conditions. The method in which factory farms dispose of animal waste also ends up in run off, contaminating our water system. Moreover, with factory farming and mass production came the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, hormone use and development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria—the list goes on and on.

Sustainable agriculture is important because every action we take and every decision we make can protect the planet.

Sustainable Farms:

  • Recycle manure as fertilizer – this helps eliminate pollution in air and water systems and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers
  • Controlled use of antibiotics – animals are not given antibiotics on a daily basis but only when they are sick (animal products labeled organic are not labeled organic if they have been treated with antibiotics)
  • Animal welfare – animals are respected and treated humanely
  • Energy – they tend to save energy and decrease use of fossil fuels by using techniques like crop rotation to naturally enhance the soil
  • Food miles – sustainably grown foods are usually sold locally which not only cuts down on gas pollution, but the result is healthier and tastier food
  • Build Community – supporting local business help drive the local economy not only in terms of profits, but by providing jobs and building community rapport

These are just a few examples of how sustainable farming affects the planet. For more information on how sustainable farming compares to industrial farming, check out Sustainable Table.

Certified Organic, Not Certified Sustainable

Many people often confuse the terms “sustainable agriculture” with “organic farming.” Although both have to do with sensible food production methods, sustainable agriculture doesn’t always mean organic and organic farming doesn’t always mean sustainable practices!

A product labeled as organic means that the food was produced without the use of certain chemicals, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and genetically modified organisms. Organic meats, poultry, eggs and dairy products mean that it comes from farms where the animals were not raised with antibiotics or growth hormones.

While many farms that are certified-organic do not produce foods with certain chemicals, antibiotics, growth hormones, etc., the food may still be produced on an industrial farm setting. For example, some farms that produce organic dairy products still confine cows in CAFOs. For many large corporations that are certified-organic, it is through industrial farming that they are able to drive down consumer prices. Although they are able to meet minimum requirements that allow them to be USDA certified-organic, the farm may disregard animal welfare, denying animals space to carry out their natural behaviors (which can also result to poor health and unsanitary conditions!) Therefore, if you are looking to support sustainable agriculture, it is important to keep in mind that organic can — but doesn’t always mean sustainable.

On the other hand, some sustainable farms that are not certified-organic by the USDA do produce organic foods. In order for a product to be labeled “USDA certified-organic,” it must have gone through a national certification process, which requires both additional time and money. The additional fees can make it difficult for small farmers to receive organic-certification by the USDA. In turn, grassroot organizations like Oregon Tilth, California Certified Organic Farmers, Demeter Certified Biodynamic provide less costly organic-certification that either follow USDA organic standards guidelines or have their own strict production standards.

If you prefer organic foods and wish to support sustainable agriculture, the good news is that there are farms who do produce organic foods and practice sustainable agriculture. When in doubt, try buying directly from a local farmer. The best way to find out if your food is organic and sustainable is to ask! To find the closest sustainable farm near you, check out U.S. Department of Agriculture and LocalHarvest.

A Circle of Responsibility

While there are a myriad of reasons why one may practice sustainable agriculture, a big part of sustainability is being aware of how current practices can affect our food chain and how making a simple change, while small, is still a step towards a more sustainable future. Now that you know what sustainable agriculture is, here are some of the ways you can join the circle of responsibility:

Always Ask –
Whether you’re dining out or grocery shopping, you have the right to know how your food was produced. Let restaurants and stores know that you care about where your foods come from.

Buy Local
– As consumers, we help voice our opinion by a show of what we buy and who we choose to buy from. You don’t have to make a 360 degree change in order to make an impact.  Start by shopping at a farmer’s market to support your local farmers’ sustainable methods or by buying one or two foods that are organic.

Read
– Action is best backed by knowledge! Learn more and stay informed on the latest news and food policies. Visit Sustainable Table, CivilEats, or U.S. Department of Agriculture to learn more about the food system, issues and current events.

Get Involved –Tell your family and friends all you have learned about this exciting movement. Invite them to visit farmer’s market with you, to enjoy a sustainably cooked meal, or plan to have a “Meatless Monday.”

Think Before You Buy – Everything we purchase can leave a carbon footprint. Buying less than what you think you need means less waste.