Archive for October 2014 | Monthly archive page

posted by | Comments Off on Drink Responsible: Eco-friendly Alcohol

by Alexandra Gilliland

You can feel it all over D.C., the crisp breeze that signifies the start of fall and the onslaught of holidays.  Soon calendars will be filled with Halloween parties, Thanksgiving Dinners and plenty of politically correct December holiday get-togethers.  It stands to reason that at least a portion of these events will offer your favorite adult beverages. So whether you’re attending or hosting, here’s a quick rundown on how to make your next drink a sustainable one.

In terms of a pecking order for sustainable alcoholic beverages, wine tends to be the most environmental choice. The United States is steadily becoming the world’s largest consumer of wine, trailing only France. Although, wine production is organic in nature, most vineyards add preservatives to extend the shelf life of their vino.  Do not be fooled by labels, such as, “Made with Organic Grapes.” Those types of labels merely indicate that no synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fungicides were used to grow the grapes fermented for this wine, but that alone does not make the wine organic. The United States Department of Agriculture states that for a wine to be classified as organic it must not only be made with organic grapes, but also free of sulfite and sulfur dioxide, which are typically used as preservatives.

Even if a wine is organic, it may not be the most sustainable type of wine. How wine is made matters less than where it comes from, in terms of its carbon footprint. When possible, drink locally. This goes for beer and liquor, as well. The less the beverage travels, the better it is for the planet. Living in the District, local libations should be easy to come by, given Virginia’s vineyards to the south and Pennsylvania’s breweries to the north.

When reaching for a brew, pick cans over bottles.  The lighter the packaging, the smaller the beer’s carbon footprint during distribution. Another benefit, cans are more easily shipped and recycled. Of course, a reusable growler filled with your favorite local beer or a draft beer at the latest happy hour location is always preferable to cans and bottles.  The lighter the packaging, the better the beverage is for the planet.

Similarly, when selecting a wine or liquor look for bottles packaged in lightweight glass, and of course never underestimate boxed wine. Although it may not be the classiest choice, materially it is the most eco-friendly selection. Though not an ideal selection for wine that needs to be aged, it is the perfect choice for table wine; and as a bonus for the lightweights among us, box containers preserve wine for up to four weeks after opened, versus the one to two days bottled wine keeps.

Corks are another oft-overlooked aspect of wine selection.  The World Wildlife Fund has recently promoted the use of natural corks in wine bottles. The natural cork industry promotes the preservation of the trees.  The trees remain unharmed when the natural cork is harvested because it is pulled from the outside bark.  Although not easily recycled like synthetic corks and metal tops, there are natural cork recyclable programs and of course, hundreds of DIY cork crafts on Pinterest to reuse your growing cork collection.

When selecting liquor, steer clear of frosted bottles.  Companies use chemicals to give bottles the frosted look. Of course, local is always better, but research a liquor company’s distillation process, as well. Single distillation processes reduce the amount of energy and liquid used to produce the liquor. Additionally, looking at the wastewater treatments and energy programs at a distillery are ways to make a more ecofriendly choice.

So, when taking a sip, gulp, or swig, remember: organic, local and light packaging.

Eco-friendly alcohol, I’ll drink to that.

posted by | Comments Off on Pesticides in your pumpkin patch: How to make sure your fall is chemical-free

by Dawn Bickett

Shorter days, crisp autumn air, turning leaves. Fall is finally here in full force. And that means it’s picking time — our chance to head out to a local farm and spend the day gathering apples for a pie, or finding the perfect future jack-o-lantern. Let’s face it: It’s just more fun to pluck an apple right off the tree, or choose a pumpkin in the field.

But for those of us concerned about the effects pesticide have on the environment and our heath, heading out to the nearest farm might be a bit… spooky. Just how risky is picking that beautiful apple off the tree and taking a bite? Here’s the background:

Apple Picking

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While apple picking is a great way to spend a brisk fall afternoon, this fruit has a big drawback. Apples top the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to pesticides in produce. Conventional apples have more pesticide residues than 47 other popular fruits and vegetables. Even after apples are washed, they still test positive for traces of 48 different types of pesticides.

And while scientists have a lot more to learn about the health effects of pesticide exposure, existing research shows that pesticides may lower children’s IQs and potentially cause some cancers. All things considered, if you’re the type who can’t wait to eat apples straight off the tree, you may want to know how the farmer treats those apples before you take that first bite.

So how can you be sure that the beautiful pink lady you’ve spotted is safe to pull off the branch? The first step is to find out if your farm is organic. Organic apple orchards use only naturally occurring compounds for pest management. But organic orchards aren’t always easy to come by. If there isn’t an organic orchard in your area, consider orchards that practice Integrated Pest Management. That means the farmer applies pesticides only when they deem absolutely necessary.

Pumpkin Picking

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Pumpkin patches face a different set of challenges than apple orchards. While pumpkins do get doused in their fair share of fungicides and herbicides, they are much lower on the EWG’s dirty dozen list, 25th out of 48. However, it’s important to note that if you are planning on using a pumpkin for cooking or baking, pumpkins are very good at pulling nasty pollutants and pesticides from the ground. The pesticides used to treat pumpkins in conventional farms also cause environmental damage, leaching into groundwater and harming healthy soil.

Buying a pumpkin from an organic farm is your best bet for a your health and the environment’s.

Find Your Farm 

Now that you are thoroughly spooked, what’s next? Don’t fear, because finding an organic farm or IPM orchard in the DMV area only takes a quick search. I recommend the website Pick Your Own for listings of orchards in Northern Virginia or Maryland. And of course, if you already have a favorite farm, just ask what their pest management practices are.Jack-o'-Lantern_2003-10-31.jpg

 Or Don’t

Too much detail? Don’t sweat it. Just head to your neighborhood farmer’s market to buy organic apples and pick your favorite pumpkin. What this alternative lacks in rustic charm, it makes up for in convenience (and a decreased carbon footprint)!

Happy picking!

posted by | Comments Off on Preserving the Summer Bounty

Food preservation doesn’t need to be complicated; in fact, most methods are deceptively simple. We preserve food every day when we put our leftovers in the refrigerator. Most of the time, we’re trying to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria, which is what this post will cover. Fermentation – the process through which we get cheese, coffee, and alcohol — is a whole other game.

As the summer bounty comes to an end, let’s take a look at some of the easiest ways to keep the local harvest providing all year long.

Drying

Some foods practically dry themselves. Legumes (like peas or beans) will dry on the vine in their pods. But most of us don’t have cowpeas climbing the backyard fence. Instead, we have farmers markets… though the season is coming to an end. This week, you might be able to get some of the very last tomatoes.

One of the least labor intensive ways to store tomatoes is to dry them. By running the oven at a low temperature for a long time, you can create an environment where all of the moisture will be sucked out of the fruit. (Moisture is conducive to the growth of mold). Store the tomatoes in the fridge or freezer, and cover them with olive oil.

Want to dry fruit? Follow the same process, then follow up by curing it for a couple of days.

Curing

Technically, drying food is curing it. Curing is to drying what rectangles are the squares. (SATs, anyone?) Salting can be used as a form of curing, too. Basically, curing preserves food by removing all moisture. Garlic, for example, won’t keep unless cured. And sometimes, curing has an additional effect. Sweet potatoes don’t get sweet until their starches have time to turn into sugars!

Here’s a great explainer on curing garlic, and here’s one on sweet potatoes. Both can keep for months when cured properly.

To cure dried fruit? Make sure any and all moisture has evaporated by leaving it out on the counter for a couple of days.

Jellying

Jellying is the process through which food is preserved into, “A soft, semisolid food substance with a resilient consistency, made by the setting of a liquid containing pectin or gelatin or by the addition of gelatin to a liquid, especially such a substance made of fruit juice containing pectin boiled with sugar.” Apple peels naturally contain pectin and can be used as a substitute, but beginners should stick to the packaged stuff.

How do you make a jelly? Mix sugar, water, pectin, and fruit and/or veggies. Food in Jars has some great recipes and detailed instructions. This time of year, green tomatoes are in season, and you might be able to find the last hot peppers. But as Marisa McClellan’s website shows, it’s easy to get creative.

Canning

While the life of pickles and jellies can be extended in cans, a food doesn’t have to be immersed in vinegar or sugar for this form of storage. (Did you catch Alexandra’s post on the artisan pickle?) Tomatoes, for example, are regularly canned in a way that preserves the integrity of the tomato flavor. Well, the integrity of a cooked tomato.

Canning food preserves it because it creates an anaerobic environment. With all of the air gone, most organisms find it difficult to grow. The scariest exception is botulism, which is why you should always follow tried and true canning recipes. Hot water baths are the easiest canning method (see link below), but if a recipe tells you to use a pressure canner… use it.

Though it’s hard to read, this is my favorite site for canning recipes. It has lots of good tips and always follows safety protocols.

What methods of food preservation have you used?