Food action items

1

Approach eating well with up to date insights

From both nutritional and ecological perspectives, there are common misperceptions to overcome and significant recent developments to consider when deciding what to eat.

Why do this?

For human health

The still-prevelant belief that a reduced fat version of a product is better for you than a full fat version is dangerously wrong. What nutrionists have come to realize is that these products are usually higher in sugar content and don't satisfy hunger as much as do the full fat versions, and therefore have contributed to rising rates of diabetes and obesity.

Marketers are very clever at exploiting not only our emotions, but also our misconceptions to get us to buy their products. Being wise to their techniques, and to what truly is good for you is necessary to both eat better food and avoid wasting money by being fooled by health claims and imagery.

For planetary health

Conventional agriculture is a major culprit in climate change, biodiversity loss, desertification, antibiotic resistance, unsustainable depletion of resources like water and phosphorus, and water pollution.

Recent advances in agriculture that mimic abundant and complex ecosystems simultaneously improves soil health and overall yields of food per acre, sequesters carbon taken from the atmosphere in soil, raises livestock humanely without routine use of antibiotics, grows crops that do not need supplemental watering, eliminates toxic run-off, and makes room for biodiversity. It is a truly exciting possibility that we can grow enough food for humans and at the same time achieve all these other benefits.

Different ways of thinking

ON BEYOND ORGANIC

It used to be a binary choice: farming done conventionally or organically. Now it has become a choice among conventional, organic and regenerative. Whereas switching from conventional to organic farming involves building soil health and avoiding the use of toxic chemicals and routine use of antibiotics, switching to regenerative farming involves mimicking wild biomes that evolved without human involvement, building increasing complex and biodiverse ecosystems optimized for producing food for humans. This can make both land and aquatic habitats more and more abundant year after year and can bring acreage back to life that conventional agriculture had previously turned into desert. A few features of regenerative agriculture include:

  • Practicing extreme polyculture using crops and livestock — using the same land but at different times of the year. This mimics natural ecosystems, where plants and animals synergistically co-exist. For example, herbivores like cattle, sheep and goats can graze on cropland after the growing season, or in years it is being rested. Mimicking bird behavior in the wild, poultry can be made to arrive on land 3 days after herbivores, feasting on newly hatching fly larvae. Some farmers also are able to include pigs in their livestock rotations and to clear out dense underbrush. This creates multiple revenue streams from the same land.
  • Including pollinator plants and wooded areas that provide ecological services to crops, livestock and pasture, making it more full of life, simultaneously providing habitat for birds and other wild creatures.

  • Using livestock to add value by doing what comes naturally to them. For example, depending on cattle to mow, water and fertilize grasses, carefully managing the process so the grasses get healthier and denser each year. This is especially important for use in climates too dry for grain and vegetable farming without the use of supplemental water. Herbivores can convert drought tolerant grass – which we can’t digest – into meat, milk and cheese we can.

  • Growing more perennials and fewer annuals, as perennials are more efficient harvesters of sunlight, send roots down deeper to avoid erosion, and don’t need to be planted every year.
  • Minimizing financial risk to farmers and off-farm environmental damage by minimizing the use of inputs from elsewhere — not only including feed, fertilizer, pesticides and antibiotics, but also avoiding routine application of supplemental water. These changes preserve aquifers and largely eliminate environmentally damaging stream and lake water depletion. The near absence of applied chemicals combined with the increased rainwater retention that occurs as more and more carbon is sequested in soil greatly reduces the quantity of run-off, soil lost through run-off, and the degree of downstream damage done by rainwater laden with nitrogen and pesticides.

From environmental, nutritional, antibiotic, and animal welfare perspectives, this approach to agriculture provides a way for farming livestock and fish to be part of the solution rather than remaining a huge part of the problem.

Unfortunately, unlike the word “organic”, the word “regenerative” has not yet been codified into a set of standards that must be met to make the regenerative claim so food marketers can use it to promote practices that aren't sufficient to achieve regeneration. While 100% grass fed has a clear definition, it does not necessarily mean that the cattle fed solely on grass was raised using the managed grazing methods that regenerate pasture.

The most reliable way to source regeneratively grown crops or animal products from regeneratively raised livestock is to know your farm and farmer. The next best is to read about a farm on its website. At the Evanston Farmers Market Green Fire Farm sells regeneratively raised beef, lamb, pasture-raised pork, poultry, and eggs.


EATING FAT NOT ONLY DOESN’T CAUSE YOU TO BE FAT, IT CAN HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT

Replacing non-fiber carbs with fats has at least two impacts. More fat better satisfies hunger. The near absence of non-fiber carbs (the kind your body uses to generate energy) will force your body to use its stored fat to do this job instead. This allows you to lose weight without needing to fight off hunger.


There is considerable controversy over whether research supports the long held lipid theory that animal fats contribute to heart disease. However, there is little argument over the nutritional benefits from fat in beef, milk and other dairy products from cattle that have been raised regeneratively compared to cattle raised conventionally. Regeneratively raised beef contains up to five times the amount of Omega 3 fatty acids, providing a much healthier Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio. It also contains 3 to 5 times the amounts of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). CLA has been found to help in weight loss and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease1.

𝟷Conjugated linoleic acid link

PROCESSED FOODS PROMOTED AS HEALTHY OFTEN AREN’T

All the following words and phrases connote healthfulness: organic, enriched, low fat, low calorie, whole wheat, gluten free, includes real fruit (including superstars like açai), includes veggies, high in antioxidants, sugar free, fortified, baked rather than fried.

But products that are accurately described with one or more of them can nevertheless contain way too much sweetener, salt, nitrates, trans fats, and/or obesogens, and contain way too few essential nutrients. These include items with sterling health food reputations like granola, bran muffins, flavored yogurts, veggie burgers, non-dairy “milks,” and sauces or dressing applied to healthy items like salmon and salads.

Read the nutrition labels carefully, paying most attention to sugar, salt and transfat levels, and read the ingredient list, looking for and avoiding products with a large number of unrecognizable ingredients. Note that companies are aware that people are wary of products that contain sugar, and to mask its presence, have developed at least 61 different names for sugar used on food labels2.

Realize that all of these are processed foods, so you will not only be paying for the ingredients, but also for the costs of research and design, manufacturing, packaging, promotion and for heftier profit margins as opposed to basic healthy foodstuffs like fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, mushrooms, meats, seafood, eggs and dairy.

𝟸The many names for sugars link
More info

About regenerative farming mimicking savannah

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan, Penguin, 2007, Section 2: Pastoral/Grass
Films by Peter Byck: Soil Carbon Cowboys, One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts, herd impact, This Farm is Medicine
Restoration Agriculture, Mark Shepard, Acres USA, 2013
Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture, Gabe Brown, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018
Life Cycle Assessment study showing holistic grazing management sequesters more carbon in soil than it emits into the atmosphere. Note that this study was done on the farm profiled in Peter Byck’s film One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts.

About regenerative farming mimicking coastal wetlands

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, Dan Barber, 2014, Part III: beginning with the subsection titled “Falling in Love With a Fish” about Veta La Palma
Greenwave’s approach to regenerative shellfish and kelp farming.

About the nutritional benefits of animal fats and regeneratively raised beef

Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production, Nicolette Hahn Niman, 2014, especially the section titled “Beef: Food and Health”

About eating well to increase wellness

Food Rules, an Eater’s Manual, Michael Pollan, 2009, 140 pages and 64 principles

2

Buy local

There are many reasons to do this beyond reducing fossil fuel used in food transport to reduce our carbon footprint.

Why do this?

Fruits and vegetables can reach you quickly, so they can be picked much closer to the point of maximum ripeness.

Farmers can choose cultivars optimized for flavor rather than for shelf life and for bruise resistance.

You’ll be keeping the money you spend in our regional economy, supporting its success.

You can encourage farmers to grow differentiated high produce for human consumption, instead of growing commodity crops for animal feed or industrial ingredients. This will increase our region’s food resilience, and if the farmer adopts methods to attract purchasers by health and environmentally conscious customers, contribute to improving its ecological health.

You’ll be protecting our region’s farmland from development for other purposes.

You will be helping to grow the local food infrastructure.

If you buy crops grown by urban agriculturalists, you will likely be supporting the reinvigoration of local urban areas that have suffered manufacturing job losses. It will also increase our region’s food resilience.

If you do so by buying at a Farmer’s Market or through a CSA (explained below), you’ll be able to get more information about farming practices through farmers themselves or those who directly work for them, and therefore be able to better align your purchases with your values.

Action ideas!

Shop at Evanston’s Farmers Markets
During the growing season, which runs from early May to early November, Evanston hosts a large downtown outdoor farmers market every Saturday morning. Outside the growing season there are two small indoor farmers markets, open on alternating Saturday mornings. See more details below.

Radishes for sale at the Evanston downtown outdoor Farmers Market
Radishes

Join a farmer’s CSA CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, a customer membership revenue model. When you join one, you pay up front for a growing season’s worth of farm produce you pick up at a nearby location once a week at a set time. Each week you will receive produce fresh from the farm chosen for you by the farmer. This arrangement benefits the farmer by getting up front for produce, and being able to optimize the match between what you get and what the farmer has available. In return, the member typically gets extremely good value for the amount of food purchased. Whereas as buying at the farmer’s market, the farmer benefits from being able to sell more produce than his CSA members consume, and perhaps at higher unit prices, and the customer benefits from being able to select what they want in the quantities they want in the weeks they want to buy it.

Patronize Evanston restaurants that use locally sourced ingredients Refer to the food layer of the Evanston EcoHub map on this site’s home page to find restaurants under “Locally sourced ingredients.”

Buy locally produced groceries While national supermarket chains have been struggling to meet customer preferences for locally produced food, it’s difficult for them to do because it adds considerable complexity to their supply chains and they seek year-around supply. So you are more likely to find local canned and bottled goods that may or may not include local ingredients, as well as products from large scale indoor producers like tomatoes from Mighty-Vine, located 80 miles west of Chicago, where it soon will be able to grow 12 million pounds of tomatoes a year in 23 acres of greenhouse.

Evanston’s small specialty grocery retailers, like Foodstuffs, Hewn Breads, and Homestead Meats here in Evanston have a much higher percentage of groceries from smaller local farmers and food producers.

Buy alcoholic beverages crafted here in Evanston Refer to the food layer of the Evanston EcoHub map on this site’s home page to find beer brewers and our one distiller (FEW Spirits) under “Locally crafted booze.” FEW Spirits products can be purchased in many Evanston liquor stores. Sketchbook Brewing deserves a special shoutout for both mentioning their commitment to “sustainable local” production and because they offer Community Supported Brewery (CSB) membership. Members prepay for specific monthly quantities of beer and also receive 10% off on all additional beer purchases and 20% off merchandise.

Heirloom tomatoes from an organic farm that has a stand at Evanston’s downtown outdoor Farmers Market and that also offers Evanstonians CSA membership.
Radishes
More info
The City of Evanston’s Farmers Market page where you can find information including market dates, times, and locations, parking information, pet-related rules, LINK card rules and vendor lists, many with links to provider websites.
The Friends of Evanston Farmers Markets home page where you can find weekly updates, news and events, recipes and tips, and a glossary of farming, food processing, animal husbandry, and farmers market terms,
The market schedule appears on the EcoHub calendar on this site’s home page.
Local Harvest’s list of CSAs serving Evanston
The Evanston EcoHub map. It includes food markets that focus on local and environmentally friendly food, restaurants and prepared meal providers that are sustainably certified, restaurants that list local farms from whom they source ingredients, and local breweries and distilleries. Note you can isolate the food layer for easier viewing by unchecking the other map layers in the legend that will slide in from the left if you click twice (once to unlock the map, and once to make the legend appear) on the icon in the upper left corner of the map.

3

Grow it yourself (and share your surplus)

We in Evanston have the water and climate to grow herbs, berries, fruits and vegetables at least 8 months a year. You can even raise backyard hens to produce eggs!

Why do this?

Why grow food?

Combined with other flowering plants, food-bearing plants can be a part of a diverse beneficial habitat for all the life we wish to foster in Evanston.

Food gardens can provide healthy, sustainable produce for your family and others. In addition, food gardens can be beautiful and can fit right into our urban and suburban landscape.

Growing your own food helps familiarize your children with where food comes and the pleasure of eating what they harvest.

The more food grown in Evanston, the more resilient our food supply will become.

Why share it?

To utilize food that would otherwise be wasted, improving food value produced per farmland acre.

Because many in our community, from college students to seniors, and those without easy access to transportation, have trouble getting the healthy food they need.

To spread the pleasure of eating delicious nutritious fresh-picked food.

To demonstrate to others the benefits of growing one’s own food.

Action ideas!
Grow your own herbs, fruit and vegetables

Convert yard areas to vegetable beds; mix food-bearing plants, shrubs and trees into your decorative border; add a container vegetable garden beside an apartment building. Edible Evanston has a program to build raised bed gardens in underserved neighborhoods and provide a mentor to help new gardeners learn how to grow their own food.

If you don’t have a place to grow them, consider entering the annual lottery to rent one of the 220 community garden plots provided by the city of Evanston. Lottery registration begins early in January and ends early in March. To get exact dates and learn more about this follow the link in the More Info section.

Buy (and then plant) plant starts at the Evanston outdoor Farmers Market, especially in May and early June.

Encourage our local schools and other institutions to establish large gardens—for example, Skokie-based The Talking Farm helps Evanston Township High School manage the Edible Acre and its companion Edible Orchard, supplying Evanston’s schools with produce grown in town and teaching our youth about agriculture, careers, science, and where our food comes from. Support Schools Are Growing In Evanston (SAGE) educational gardens at many Evanston schools.


Keep hens and harvest their eggs

Chickens are quite beautiful animals, have individual endearing personalities, and are low maintenance. In their prime — year two— each will lay around an egg a day. By year five volume will be down to around 0-2 eggs per week. The hens can shred your fall leaves if you throw them in their coop, they eat table scraps throughout the year, and their droppings can contribute to the quality of your compost. When their egg-laying utility has ended, you can take them to a Halal butcher on Devon Street in Chicago to have them butchered. If you become attached to hens as pets they can live as long as 10 to 12 years.

With adjacent neighbor approval and an annual $50 hen coop license, Evanston allows residents to keep hens on their property. They will need summer shade, some supplemental heat to survive frigid sub-zero temperatures, and protection from predators such as dogs — that can bully their way through fences— as well as opossums, racoons, skunks, and even hawks. They typically aren’t as long-lived as dogs or cats, and are subject to chicken sudden death syndrome, so children may over time grow less attached to them.


Share what you grow with others

Use Edible Evanston’s Produce Sharing system or your community group connections to get your locally grown food to those most in need of fresh produce. A bundle of herbs, a bunch of chard, or a bushel of apples will all be appreciated.

Support or volunteer at the monthly Chicago Food Depository sponsored Produce Mobile outreach program. Note that it distributes free fresh fruits and vegetables on a first-come, first-served basis every second Tuesday of the month at Robert Crown Center, 1801 Main St., Evanston.

More info

Growning your own

City of Evanston’s Community Garden plot rental
Take advantage of Edible Evanston’s Raised Bed Program, as well as a variety of resources accessible on the Resources tab of its home page
Teresa’s Fruit & Herbs has a large selection of early season herb and vegetable plant starts at the Evanston Outdoor Farmers Market

Sharing food

Learn about and participate in Edible Evanston’s Produce Sharing system
Get involved through donations of money or time to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Their TSA: Evanston Food Pantry is at 1403 Sherman Avenue, and phone number is 847 866 9770.

Raising hens

Jennifer Murtoff of Home to Roost LLC provides classes and presentations on backyard chickens in the Chicagoland area. She also provides emergency advice.
Two websites with lots of information and products for the backyard hen keepers: My Pet Chicken and Backyard Chickens. Hen keepers typically source chicks and feed from suppliers like these.
The best local source for chicks and feed is Belmont Feed and Seed. In Evanston get feed in small quantities at Lemoi Ace Hardware and PetSmart.
If and when the time comes to cull your flock, Chicago Live Poultry on Devon may be the people for the job.

4

Encourage restaurateurs to improve their eco-friendly practices

Make it clear you care, both to restaurants that meet your expectations and those you'd patronize more if they did.

Why do this?
  • To help restaurateurs do what many would prefer to do anyway, if there were more customer demand and less indifference or opposition

  • To give yourself more options you feel good about for when you want to eat out

  • To use your buying power at restaurants to make agriculture part of the solution to environmental issues rather than remaining a huge part of the problem
Action ideas!

Reward restaurants who have earned certification from the Green Restaurant Association with your business.

Ask about the source of ingredients on menu items you are considering ordering. Let them know if you are avoiding ordering something because the ingredients don’t meet your standards.

Push to know more if you get vague answers, or ones you don’t believe.

Tell those who follow eco-friendly practices that they are a key reason you give them business.

Tell restaurants you like that they’d get more of your business if they were eco-friendly in ways that are important to you.

Support the restaurant’s efforts to push the envelope in:

  • Offering eco-friendly ingredients: organic greens, grains, vegetables and fruit. And meat, dairy and eggs from animals raised using holistic rotational grazing systems.
  • Working with farmers to find ways to use crops that contribute to soil health good to eat, to make the farmer’s operation more successful.
  • Finding ways to make delicious dishes out of invasive plant species (e.g. garlic mustard, Japanese Knotweed, purslane) to fund their eradication.
  • Using all parts of the animals they cook (nose-to-tail) to fully use the animals whose lives we take to provide us sustenance.
  • Distributing leftovers to food pantries and composting food waste.
  • Using recyclable materials for takeout packaging.
More info

Chefs working with farmers to make delicious crops that improve soil health

Making invasive species delicious to eat

These 10 Invasive Plants Are Surprisingly Delicious, Saveur, Marie Viljoen, October 3, 2019
An argument against taking this too far: Can We Really Eat Invasive Species into Submission?, Scientific American, Michael Snyder, May 19, 2017

Nose-to-tail utilization

5

Support efforts to transform our food systems

Use your voice, votes and dollars to help transform our agriculture to maximize its abundance in supporting life on earth.

Why do this?

Converting to clean energy is the first of two legs to address climate change. Changing agriculture from a climate action villain to hero is the second, and we’re much further along on clean energy generation than on agricultural reinvention.

Big agriculture is politically powerful and well-financed, and while gradually getting less ecologically damaging per unit of area, it is not improving fast enough. Agriculture needs to aim higher: not just to do less harm, but instead to repair damage already done and make life on earth more abundant.

We Evanstonians don’t have a lot of power to change agriculture, yet the future of humankind depends on conversion to regenerative agriculture. We therefore need to use all the tools we have to help it succeed.

Action ideas!

Philanthropy and investment

Support for profit and not-for-profit organizations:

  • Fighting farm animal abuse, the prophylactic use of antibiotics on livestock and farmed fish stocks, the building of new Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or the environmental damage being caused by existing CAFOs.
  • Supporting farmer conversion to organic and regenerative agriculture practices here in Illinois, in the rest of the country and around the globe. Converting from conventional to organic practices is typically a difficult transition for farmers to make because it takes at least three years to both build soil quality to increase yield and to become certified to be able to sell produce at the higher prices fetched by organic produce. Also converting from growing annual to perennial crops takes even more time because it can take 5-10 years between when a perennial is planted to when it yields crops.
  • Launching regenerative agricultural support infrastructure including training programs, farm management software, produce distribution hubs, and processing operations like stone ground grain mills and small scale abattoirs. To increase market share distribution needs to go beyond restaurants, gourmet shops and farmers markets.
  • Fighting the application of rules and regulations to small local organic and regenerative farms that are in fact designed for large scale conventional agriculture operations. They not only add unnecessary cost for small farms, but also create barriers to market.
  • Building supply and demand for locally produced agricultural products to ultimately get more of them into restaurant, food service and residential kitchens.
  • Reducing food waste through creative use of more parts of plants and livestock, distribution of unused food from commercial kitchens to people in need, and composting of waste using industrial methods that can compost both vegetative and animal-derived food waste.
  • Supporting research in regenerative agriculture.

Advocacy and voting

Sign up for emails informing you of legislative and corporate food-related activity to fight or to support at local, state, national and global levels.

Should food-related issues reach ballots, vote for them, and encourage others to as well.

Write emails, knock on doors, give presentations, volunteer and organize to make an impact on the issues that engage you, whether it is stopping something harmful or supporting something useful.

More info

Candidates for your philanthropy

Edible Evanston creates community centered around places of local food production throughout Evanston, encourages and supports food growers, and provides opportunities for education and sharing food.
The Talking Farm (on Howard Street west of McCormick Avenue in Skokie) provides education, examples, and hands-on experience to members of the community to expand the awareness, importance, and availability of food grown sustainably.
Champaign-based The Land Connection (founded by Terra Brockman, the sister of Henry Brockman of the Henry’s Farm stand at the Evanston Farmers Market) trains farmers in resilient, restorative farming techniques, informs the public about the sources of our food and why that matters, and works to protect and enhance farmland.
The Rodale Institute is one of the earliest and most important pioneers in regenerative agriculture research, farmer training and consumer education.
Here are some lists of the not-for-profit organizations who are:



Investment opportunities

PDF file of 2017 guide called Impact Investing in Sustainable Food and Agriculture Across Asset Classes: Financing Resilient Value Chains through Total Portfolio Activation
REIT Equity Shares from Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, an Evanston business that provides organic and regenerative farmers land security through long-term leases and mortgages. As of March 2020 the minimum investment is $10,183.
Vital Farmland REIT, offered by Farmland LP, invests n farmland and organic food markets. No investment minimum is specified on their website.

Advocacy opportunities

Find timely information concerning issues in play by signing up for weekly policy updates from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. It advocates for federal policy reform for the sustainability of food systems, natural resources, and rural communities.
Sign up for action alerts from the Food Animal Concerns Trust (located in Chicago)
Subscribe to the newsletter from the Illinois Stewardship Alliance. Its mission is to cultivate a local food and farm system that is economically viable, socially just and environmentally sustainable.