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Protein: The lay of the lamb

This post is part of Protein Angst, a series on the environmental and nutritional complexities of high-protein foods. Our goal is to publish a range of perspectives on these very heated topics. Add your feedback and story suggestions here.

Photo by Martin Pettitt.

When it comes to carbon emissions, lamb is said to be the worst possible thing to eat. It’s the tall, scary skyscraper in the carbon emissions bar graph (see below), and for good reason. They’re small, gassy animals that spend most of their lives on pasture. Wait, what’s that last part? Yes, some of the animals who seem to spend the least time in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) -- a good thing, as far as I’m concerned -- also have the largest carbon hoofprints.

It’s a given that eating any meat at all has a larger environmental impact than choosing not to. But, for committed omnivores, choosing a comparatively green option has become increasingly complex. And precisely because lamb has gotten such a bad rap in carbon-centric circles, I thought it might be worth another look.

First the bad news: Sheep are big burpers and, like cows, they release a lot of methane into the atmosphere. Although their production “lifecycle” has around the same climate impact as that of cattle, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports that “lamb meat tends to have higher net GHG emissions because lambs produce less meat in relation to live weight than cows.”

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food

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When did vegetarianism become passe?

This post is part of Protein Angst, a series on the environmental and nutritional complexities of high-protein foods. Our goal is to publish a range of perspectives on these very heated topics. Add your feedback and story suggestions here.

man with "100% vegetarian" T-shirtOut of fashion and proud of it. (Photo by KayVee.INC)

It used to be that when I told a fellow progressive I’m a vegetarian, I would get one of three reactions: (1) an enthusiastic “me too!,” (2) a slightly guilty admission of falling off the veg wagon, or (3) a voracious defense of the glories of steak.

These days, there's another increasingly common reaction: People look at me with a mix of pity and confusion, like I'm some holdover from the '90s wearing a baby-doll dress with chunky shoes and babbling on about No Doubt. I can see what they're thinking: "You're still a vegetarian?"

At some point over the past few years, vegetarianism went wholly out of style.

Now sustainable meat is all the rage. "Rock star" butchers proffer grass-fed beef, artisanal sausage, and heritage-breed chickens whose provenance can be traced back to conception on an idyllic rolling hillside. "Meat hipsters" eat it all up. The hard-core meaties flock to trendy butchery classes. Bacon has become a fetish even for eco-foodies, applied liberally to everything from salad to dessert, including "green" chocolate bars and "sustainable" ice cream.

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food

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New Agtivist: Colin Archipley is teaching soldiers to farm

Colin Archipley (right) in the greenhouse.

Tucked into San Diego’s rolling hills, Archi’s Acres is a stark departure from the war Marine Sgt. Colin Archipley left behind. Rather than hunt down insurgents, he now grows oversized basil and specialty crops on six acres for local markets. The work is hard, but for Sgt. Archipley, it feels like a respite from the six years he spent training and fighting in Iraq.

In need of a second act, Archipley and his wife Karen pooled their resources to open the farm in 2007. Their mission is twofold; they hope to operate a successful small-scale organic farm and help soldiers make the transition from fighters to champions of sustainable agriculture and financial independence. Together the couple runs a program called Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT), a six-week course run in partnership with two local community colleges that focuses on organics and hydroponics (and the combination of the two, which is rare), as well as greenhouse production and the basics of putting together a business plan.

Read more: Sustainable Food

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Lexicon of Sustainability: Mobile slaughterhouse

Editor’s note: This is your weekly installment of images from Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton’s Lexicon of Sustainability. We’ll be running one image every Friday this winter, so stay tuned. If you have your own sustainability terms, you can add them yourself to the Lexicon of Sustainability.

Click for larger version.

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With meat, absence makes the taste buds grow fonder [RECIPES]

This post is part of Protein Angst, a series on the environmental and nutritional complexities of high-protein foods. Our goal is to publish a range of perspectives on these very heated topics. Add your feedback and story suggestions here. "I am in burger heaven!" exclaimed a friend of mine who, after six years of being a strict vegetarian, had recently moved away from the diet. It was the end of an era for her, and her taste buds could no longer remember what a juicy patty made with good ground beef tasted like. Hallelujah. She never went back to being …

Read more: Sustainable Food

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Real Time Farms tells you exactly where your food came from

Real Time Farms is a "crowd-sourced online food guide" that tells you exactly where the meal on your plate came from.

As crazy as it sounds, our vision is to collectively document the whole food system.

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Shopping for kids aisle-by-aisle: Stocking up without breaking down

Photo by USACE Europe District.

In a previous post, Ali wrote about her journey from meal challenged mom to coauthor of the book that bridges the sustainable food world with that of real families. The following is an excerpt from chapter 2 of The Cleaner Plate Club, the book she co-wrote with Beth Bader (Storey Publishing, 2011).

First, understand that food marketers have a goal that is the opposite of your own.  While you hope to get in and out of the supermarket quickly, with healthful food that didn’t cost very much, food marketers are trying to get you to stay as long as possible and to buy as much as possible, without much regard to whether the items are healthful or not. If you ever hope to get in and out of the supermarket without ruining all hopes for good health, you should understand some of the strategies at work as you shop.

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food

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Lexicon of Sustainability: Food sovereignty

Editor’s note: This is the second in a weekly installment of images from Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton’s Lexicon of Sustainability. We’ll be running one image every Friday this winter, so stay tuned. If you have your own sustainability terms, you can add them yourself to the Lexicon of Sustainability.

Click for a larger version.

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New Agtivist: Growing food sovereignty in the desert

Rebecca Wiggins_ReinhardRebecca Wiggins-Reinhard.

Those who live in the desert borderlands of southern New Mexico face plenty of serious struggles. Water is limited, living wages are scarce, and many live in unincorporated communities called colonias, which often lack basic infrastructure like roads and gas lines. Things are so tough there, in fact, that one might understandably presume that the only food issue on residents’ minds is whether or not they’ll have enough. Not so, argues Rebecca Wiggins-Reinhard, director of the Farm Fresh program for La Semilla Food Center in Las Cruces, the largest city south of Albuquerque. In 2010, Wiggins and two colleagues founded Semilla (“Seed” in Spanish), with plans to start a youth food policy council, a youth farm, and multiple produce stands. After their inaugural year, which included the council's launch and the gift of 15 acres to start the farm, Wiggins’ work won her an Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) fellowship -- and a visit from cookbook author, New York Times columnist, and food maven Mark Bittman. I spoke with Wiggins by phone to hear about her surprising path to food work, her plan to grow 500 foods in a desert, and what it’s like to promote local food in the country’s fifth-poorest state.

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An easy shell: Sustainable oysters [VIDEO]

Our videos are often inspired by whatever it is I'm in the mood to eat. Such was the case with this short trip we took along the Rappahannock River in Virginia, where oyster farmers are helping clean the Chesapeake Bay and replenishing the native oyster population (now down to just 1 percent of what it once was). These bivalves are a remarkable, sustainable food and if you are in an oyster-growing region, I recommend you partake as soon as possible. Winter is oyster season! (Just make sure your cameraperson isn't prone to seasickness.)

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food