From both nutritional and ecological perspectives, there are common misperceptions to overcome and significant recent developments to consider when deciding what to eat.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
About regenerative farming mimicking savannah
About regenerative farming mimicking coastal wetlands
About the nutritional benefits of animal fats and regeneratively raised beef
About eating well to increase wellness
There are many reasons to do this beyond reducing fossil fuel used in food transport to reduce our carbon footprint.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Growning your own
Make it clear you care, both to restaurants that meet your expectations and those you'd patronize more if they did.
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
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:
Chefs working with farmers to make delicious crops that improve soil health
Making invasive species delicious to eat
Use your voice, votes and dollars to help transform our agriculture to maximize its abundance in supporting life on earth.
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.
Philanthropy and investment
Support for profit and not-for-profit organizations:
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.
Candidates for your philanthropy