For the first recipe of this challenge, I decided to cook one of my favorite plant based recipes, Veggie Stir Fry. To complete the challenge, I anticipated that I would need to improve my green shopping, cooking, and food management skills. To do this, I am following the practice based approaches for sustainable food consumption outlined by Wageningen Universities Elizabeth Sargent. These recommendations have been divided into what she deems “practical”, and “product alternatives”, and these include:
- Cutting down on food wastage
- Cutting down on packaging (relates to fresh produce, i.e. fruits and vegetables)
- Eating less meat (max. of three times a week) or no meat (vegetarian diet)
- Eating seasonal foods (relates to fresh produce, i.e. fruits and vegetables)1
- Eating locally/regionally produced foods (relates to fresh produce, i.e. fruits and vegetables)
- Buying foods with compostable packaging
- Eating organic food
- Eating meat with a label for animal and/or environmental production
- Eating sustainable farmed/caught fish
- Eating Fair Trade products
- Buying food products with a Dutch Eco-label (Milieukeur)
Source: Sustainable food consumption A practice based approach. (table 4.1 pg 55.) (Sargant, 2019)
In regards to the fairness of this recipe, I would rate it as a 4 out of 4 as the ingredients satisfied my criteria outlined for the challenge. All of the ingredients for the dish were plant based and therefore required less intensive water use in comparison to meat alternatives like beef and chicken. Outside of the lemon, I found it very easy to find vegetables that were locally grown for this dish. While there are some questions surrounding the sustainability of the tofu that was required for the dish due to the amount of water required for soy to grow, I think it is easy to substitute it out for another protein rich vegetable like cauliflower or bok choy if preferred.
All in all, I think the most challenging thing I encountered during this initial experience was the difficulties I found in verifying where non- local produce was sourced from, and deciding what to do when you can’t find a fair trade sticker. In finding lemons for example, I ended up having to decide whether to buy lemons in which the only information I was able to find was that they were produced in South Africa, or a more expensive organic option.
This was a tough decision, I care about sustainability deeply, but I am still in the phase of my life where the extra 30 cents might as well feel like 5 euros. After about 15 minutes of looking at these lemons, and trying to ask google what I should do, I ended up choosing the South African lemons because they were a little bit cheaper and I was starting to feel the pressure from the growing queue of people waiting to get their lemons.
In retrospect, I should have chosen the organic option. While it was slightly more expensive due to differences in the cost distribution across the value chain, I learned when I got home that organic agriculture production generally uses more renewable inputs, which results in lower levels of GHG emissions to the air, and discharge of pollutants into increasingly limited water sources. Furthermore, the organic lemons I was contemplating buying were from Spain, meaning that they did not require nearly the amount of fuel or related carbon emissions from distribution and related transportation activities as they did not need to be flown across the world from South Africa.
In the future, I aim to take this knowledge I gained from this experience and hopefully limit the amount of time people are waiting on me to decide which lemons I want to buy. I now feel more confident in purchasing organic ingredients, as I feel I have more of an understanding of the reasoning behind the additional raise in price for organic produce. I also learned that it is important not to approach these purchasing decisions from a purely rational economic point of view, as these decisions required me to think beyond the listed cost of the product I was considering to buy.
I am curious to hear of your experiences in regards to sustainable and fair food consumption. Have you also encountered a situation in which you were unsure of where your food you bought came from? What are your strategies for dealing with such situations? Please feel free to leave a comment, discuss, and share your thoughts and your favorite “fair” recipes!