If you’re buying a Thanksgiving turkey, choose organic

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Help stop the rise of antibiotic resistance by choosing a bird that’s been raised drug-free.

If you’re a meat-eater – which I realize many TreeHugger readers are not, but I know some of you are – then the purpose of this post is to convince you to buy an organic turkey for Thanksgiving, instead of the much cheaper Butterballs in the freezer section of your supermarket.

This decision matters for a number of reasons. Buying organic means you’re supporting an approach to animal husbandry that does not rely on antibiotics for disease prevention and artificial growth promotion, but instead provides better conditions and a more natural lifestyle.

Not only is this kinder to the animals, but you’re taking action to protect your own future wellbeing and that of subsequent generations. Roughly 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals, often preventively and excessively, and, as a result, antibiotic resistance in humans is on the rise. An estimated 23,000 Americans die every year because antibiotics don’t work, and that number is only going to get larger over time.

These drug-resistant bacteria do not remain on farms either, according to Consumer Reports:

“[They] continue to reproduce and spread resistance to other bacteria in the animal waste and can get into our environment via airborne dust blowing off of farms, and water and soil polluted with contaminated feces. Drug-resistant bacteria can also spread from farms to humans through farmworkers who handle animals or their wastes.”

Consumer Reports urges turkey shoppers to look for four specific labels – USDA Organic, Raised Without Antibiotics, No Antibiotics Administered, or No Antibiotics Ever. Anything other than these should be avoided, e.g. ‘antibiotic-free,’ ‘no antibiotic residues,’ and ‘no growth promoting antibiotics.’ These claims are not approved or recognized by the USDA.

Similarly, terms like ‘natural’ and ‘raised without hormones or steroids’ are meaningless, as they have nothing to do with whether or not the animal has received antibiotics. From Consumer Reports:

“On meat and poultry, ‘natural’ just means minimally processed without any artificial ingredients. It does not mean organic or no antibiotics. And hormones and steroids are prohibited in turkey production, so a turkey that carries the claim is not necessarily a better choice than one without it.”

Free-range is another worthwhile label to pursue, although I’m always skeptical of it in supermarkets. As long as meat is coming from industrial farms, their version of free-range is likely quite different from mine. Indeed, the only official definition of free range that I could find

Couple lives off food waste for a month

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From gleaned apples to out-of-date produce, there are many ways to score a free meal.

From the dumpster diver who found 36 cans of free beer to Bristol’s pay-as-you-feel food waste restaurant Skiptchen, TreeHugger has long been interested in the topic of food waste, and those willing to live off food waste.

We’ve sometimes been asked, however, whether the whole concept of dumpster diving is counter productive—doesn’t the image of ‘dirty hippies’ digging through trash put off would-be environmentalists and undermine the idea of sustainability as an aspirational goal?

I tend to disagree. For one thing, as someone who has been ridiculed enough times in my life for my crunchy ways, I would argue that the ‘dirty hippy’ boat has already sailed. And for a second point, of all the topics around the broad subject of environmental awareness, I tend to believe the food waste comes second only to plastic trash in the oceans as a uniting force that can bring the most skeptical anti-environmentalist on board. A significant number of us have, after all, been taught from very early on that wasting food is bad, and perhaps even immoral.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to start actively dumpster diving overnight. But if we’re honest, that was never really the point of the dumpster diving movement. Instead, by demonstrating just how much perfectly good food gets thrown away, most environmentally-motivated dumpster divers are hoping to shift societal standards and create systems where food waste doesn’t actually happen. In other words, they are seeking to dumpster dive themselves out of existence.

The latest example of such selfless giving (err, taking?) is Sophie and Paul Collins, who live in Cambridge, England. The married couple behind the blog Vegan On Board recently pledged to live off nothing but food waste for a month. By using the food waste connector app Olio, visiting the Cambridge Community Fridge, eating out with food waste rescuing charities, and gathering waste food and windfall fruit from friends, neighbors and random fruit trees, the couple appear to have actually eaten quite well.

Sophie does confess that it was difficult at first to put together a meal from the seemingly random items that came their way, but Paul is quick to add that this is a feature, not a bug, of a challenge like this:

“The challenge has made us more creative with the food we eat. We now know so many great ways to use stale bread – French Toast, Breaded Mushrooms, Garlic Croutons… that we will never throw bread away again.”

Of course, as mentioned above, such efforts are unlikely to convert everyone into hardcore dumpster divers and urban foragers overnight. But that’s hardly the point. Alongside documenting their efforts and helping folks to be just a little more creative with whatever soon-to-be-waste they happen to have in their kitchen, Sophie and Paul also used the challenge to raise more than £1000 (US$1250) for food waste charities FareShare, Feedback and FoodCycle.

So here’s to Sophie and Paul. If they sold it near me, I’d raise a glass of beer made from recycled bread in their honor. Oh, but lest you start feeling too bad for these heroes and their sacrifices, keep in mind that they did get to eat this rather delicious looking windfall apple tart…

Man selling mint leaves in Morocco (photo)

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It took me hours, but I finally found this guy.

I spent a month in Morocco last winter, and I grew enamored with the country’s traditional Moroccan mint tea. I eventually decided that I just had to make it myself, and that meant finding fresh mint leaves.

Unfortunately, no one in the small village where I was staying sold mint leaves; I’d have to journey to a city to get my hands on some. So I took a bus to the nearby city of Essaouira and walked the city streets for hours. I passed plenty of spices, traditional hats and restaurants, but no mint leaves.

Just as I was about to give up, I took a wrong turn and spotted this guy sitting in a tent by the side of the road. He sold me a bundle of mint leaves, wrapping them in newspaper.

Something about the sight of the man and the leaves really captured the feel of Morocco for me, and I asked him if I could take a photo. I shared it a bit, but I didn’t get a chance to clean it up until now. As the U.S. once again gets colder, I hope it brings you a bit of desert luxury.

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1. Argentina

Whenever I visit someone’s house, I have an intense desire to open the fridge and peek inside. I feel like I’ll discover more about the person I’m visiting based on the contents of their fridge than I will in an hour of talking.

That’s why the photo series by Admiral Home Insurance, titled “It’s a Cool World,” caught my attention. It satisfies my odd curiosity and offers a fascinating glimpse into the culinary lives of others around the world. Perhaps most profoundly, it reveals how many people feed their families with limited resources. It’s interesting to see what percentage of household incomes go toward food in different countries.

The full photo series features households in 20 countries, but we’ve picked ten to show you here.

This fridge belongs to a family of four, with two parents and two adult children. Miguel, the 33-year-old son pictured above, says,

“As a special treat we have dulce de leche (caramel jam) and sometimes dulce de batata (sweet potato jam). My mum and dad take it in turns to do a big shop once a month for non-perishable food. Then mum does a weekly shop for meats, vegetables, fruits and bread. We take a car 2 km to the supermarket, and from grocery stores we walk with items in bags or a trolley.”

Monthly income: US$1,475 / Monthly food spending: US$302

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Food: Buy it with thought

The United States may have joined the First World War late in the game, but they jumped in with both feet and everything they had. They were short of everything, either selling it to their allies who had been at it for two years, or supplying their own troops. Future President Herbert Hoover got the gig of running the US Food Agency, which produced a lot of motivational posters that still hold up today.

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Plant-based ‘Impossible Burger’ to hit grocery store shelves next year

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So far, this ‘bleeding’ beef alternative has been restaurant-only.

From White Castle’s Impossible Slider to my own local craft brewery and burger bar, the plant-based Impossible Burger appears to have spread almost everywhere in the United States in the last few years. (I even ate one at Boston airport.)

But it hasn’t yet hit grocery store shelves.

That, too, is about to change however—as Impossible Foods has now announced that the Impossible Burger will be available to buy from grocery stores starting in 2019. Details are scarce about exactly where, when and how widespread the retail-version’s debut will be, but Food and Wine carries a statement from CEO and Founder Patrick Brown suggesting there’s more than enough demand to go mainstream:

“By far the No. 1 message from fans on social media is, ‘When will I be able to buy and cook the Impossible Burger at home? We can’t wait until home chefs experience the magic and delight of the first plant-based meat that actually cooks and tastes like meat from animals—without any compromise.”

Of course, there will be plenty of our readers who would rather eschew processed plant-based meats, just as they eschew processed meats and other foods too. But given the public’s appetite for burgers—and the environmental benefits that could be reaped by cutting back—a growing availability of alternatives should probably be welcomed by all. I wouldn’t be surprised if the growing army of flexitarians start putting their secret powers to use by introducing unsuspecting carnivorous guests to this relatively realistic alternative.

Keep an eye on the Impossible Foods website to find out when and where the burger becomes available.

The secret power of the flexitarian

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The rise in not-quite-vegetarian eating has a ripple effect that shouldn’t be ignored.

As Katherine reported yesterday, one third of Britons has gone either vegan/vegetarian or now identifies as ‘flexitarian‘—meaning they are consciously reducing the amount of meat they eat and opting for more plant-centric diets. This statistic is not surprising to me. Whenever I visit the land of my birth, more and more of my friends are ordering plant-based meals and pubs and restaurants alike are increasingly catering to them. (I even spotted deep-fried, beer-battered halloumi in a regular old fish ‘n chip shop on my last visit…)

There’s obviously an immediate, direct power in the meal choices these folks are making, because cutting back on meat and dairy is a powerful way to reduce emissions that cause climate change. But I’ve been thinking recently about the ripple effect that such dietary choices have. Not only are vegetarians, vegans, and flexitarians reducing their own food-based emissions, but they are also subtly influencing the diets of those around them.

When a flexitarian goes to a dinner party, for example, it’s unlikely that the hosts will cook up an entirely separate menu just for that guest. Instead, we tend to tweak our menus to be more plant-centric in general—even if we serve some meat—meaning the rest of the party gets to eat a little healthier and greener too. Similarly, the growth in more veggie-leaning diets has meant a growing number of restaurants offering (increasingly good) vegan and vegetarian menu options that have never been near an animal. I’d be willing to bet that a fair few people try a vegetable stir fry or deep fried halloumi without ever thinking of themselves as ‘flexitarian’. And then there are all those schools and hospitals going just a little more veggie…

I’ve always argued that environmentalists focus too much on individual lifestyle change, when it’s systemic change that counts. But the growth in plant-based eating is doing a good job of undermining my argument—because when enough people adopt a lifestyle change, even partially, you soon see society-wide shifts taking root as a result.

The problem with a plethora of pumpkins

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After Halloween, most of these tasty, edible gourds go to landfill.

Every autumn, millions of pumpkins are purchased by people who want to add seasonal decor to their homes. Many pumpkins are carved into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, while others are left whole and arranged artistically. But the sad reality is that most are never eaten, despite being a nutritious, delicious, and affordable food. They go straight to landfill in early November after serving their decorative purpose – 1.3 billion pounds of methane-spewing, rotting pumpkin in the United States and an additional 40 million pounds in the U.K.

It’s an odd industry, when you stop to think about it. No other kind of produce comes to my mind as being grown in such enormous quantities, with so few intentions of eating, while generating such tremendous income. Canadian pumpkin farmer Rob Galey experiences this firsthand. He has multiple pumpkin patches that attract thousands of paying visitors each year:

“We have hayrides going down to the pumpkin patch [where] you can pick your own. We got the petting farm. We got the train with a mile of track [that] takes you around the farm [and] shows you all the crops. We got the corn maze.”

Galey says he and his staff have to restock the pumpkin field each night so that visitors are happy with the sight of the bright orange globes among the vines. Galey told CBC,

“We don’t want to get picked down where there is very little selection. We have many other pumpkin patches. If we’re short a certain kind or size, we’ll bring some down here to keep a great selection going.”

As Galey points out, people are buying a metaphor, rather than food. He doesn’t mind the lack of consumption, since he says pumpkins get people out to the farm and into contact with farming and local food production in a way that potatoes and corn never do. But for anyone concerned about food waste – and we all should be, considering the growing issues with food security – our relationship with pumpkins needs a serious overhaul.

The solution? Start eating more pumpkin. Delve into this seasonal fruit in the same way that you do asparagus in spring, lettuce and tomatoes in summer, and carrots in fall. Make November your pumpkin season, when you cook everything from curried pumpkin soup to pumpkin waffles to pumpkin mac’n’cheese to pumpkin cheesecake. Any pumpkins that are whole and unspoiled, that were used to decorate your home, can be safely consumed.

To be clear, you should NOT eat a carved jack-o-lantern, as its interior has been exposed to air and bacteria for days or weeks, as well as candle wax and smoke. Be sure to roast the seeds as soon as you carve it, but after Halloween all jack-o-lanterns should be cut or broken up and composted. (Read: How to host a pumpkin smash – and compost jack-o-lanterns.)

Here are some ideas for introducing more pumpkin into your diet:

10 inventive pumpkin recipes

7 squashes to use for pumpkin pie

How to eat a whole pumpkin