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An Interview with the Author

April 29, 2012

Because Earth Day falls in April, my friend Kelli Trujillo interviewed me for her blog. I’ve copied the interview below, but you can also visit Kelli’s blog here.

Kelli writes: “I love a good, healthy, homemade meal. And one of the best cooks I know is my dear friend, authorplaywright, and food-blogger Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence. Today she joins us in a great dialogue about how food & eating relate to environmental stewardship. Keep on reading . . .

Joy, can you tell my readers a little bit about yourself?

I’m in my 30’s, married with one daughter. I work in and out of the home in a college theatre and in my community. I drink coffee in the morning and green tea in the afternoon.

Where and how we get our food is becoming a topic of growing interest and importance for many Christians. In a nutshell, what are the main issues Christians ought to be concerned about? Why?

It’s really easy to think that our food comes from the grocery store. Period. Maybe it comes from the farm or field that’s pictured on the packaging, and we romanticize it and think about the farms we read about when we were children. But that’s not the way it is anymore. Where our food comes from and how it was grown or raised has many ethical considerations: the treatment of the soil, treatment of animals, and the treatment of people working with the food. And many times, in order to make cheap food (which many Americans consider a right) compromises are made. For instance, nitrogen is used to fertilize a lot of crops in the United States, including corn and soybeans. The nitrogen from the fields makes its way to large bodies of water, causing large algae blooms, which is detrimental to fish populations and causes “dead” water because it depletes the oxygen. 

Also, in order to get food to us, a lot of fossil fuels are used. In fact, the second largest use of fossil fuels in the United States, after transportation of people, isthe transportation of food. This is wasteful, especially if food is produced near to where you live. Both Barbara Kingsolver and Michael Pollan write about these issues in their excellent books.

These issues can seem overwhelming and discouraging! What encouragement can you offer for how we can approach these matters in a positive, hopeful way?

In Wendell Berry’s poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” he says “Be joyful, even though you have considered all the facts.” So, my advice is that. First, consider all the facts. Read up on contemporary food ethics. It’s not difficult and some of it is very good writing. Start with what I recommended above. Another great new book is Year of Plenty by Craig L. Goodwin  about how his family approached some of these issues and changes they made in their life. Another book I recommend (partially because I was a contributer) is Eat Well: A Food Road Map. This is a collection of essays about food and ideas about how to eat more mindfully. Then, after you’ve considered all the facts, don’t be afraid. Be joyful. Remember, as Christians, Christ has already overcome evil, we are just waiting for the consummation of God’s Kingdom.

For many, the idea of eating sustainably sounds difficult and expensive. What are your thoughts on balancing a need for cheap food (for a family on a tight budget) with a desire to eat locally, seasonally, or generally just more healthily?

What surprises people is that often, local and seasonal food is cheaper than conventional food. Now, if you’re buying local prepared food, like pickles, jams or bread, it will be more expensive, but it will also be of a higher quality. However, local produce, when in season, is usually very affordable at the farmer’s market–especially if you purchase it in bulk and then take it home and preserve it by canning or freezing.

I get a big thrill in August and September when supermarket peppers are $1.50-$2.00 each and at the farmer’s market I can get them three for a dollar.

Local meat is affordable if you buy it in bulk, such as half a pig or cow. It’s expensive all at once, but if you purchased each cut separately from the butcher, it would be far more. You can also learn about how a local farmer treats his or her animals–do the cows graze? Do the chickens graze? (You want the answer to be “yes” to both of these. Check out Joel Salatin’s books for a balanced Christian perspective on how animals were created to be treated.) Eating locally and seasonally means that you have to plan ahead. Look at it as a challenging game, not as a burden, and it will be a lot more fun.

Can you share some specific ideas or tips for how a Christian can develop what I’d call a more “green kitchen”—habits, attitudes, and choices that connect food consumption with creation care?

Here are some questions to ask yourself when purchasing food:

1) How much packaging does this have?

The more packaging an item has, the more wasteful it is (yes, even if you recycle the packaging). For instance, rather than purchasing yogurt in small containers, purchase a large one and the serve the yogurt in bowls or put it in a reusable plastic container for your lunch. You will also save money this way.

2) Where is this from?

Often, it doesn’t say. More and more grocery stores are labeling food when it is locally produced, which is helpful. Purchasing locally produced food helps keep money in your community or state. It also means the food has fewer food miles on it. If it is produce, it means that the produce is fresher, and has more vitamins and minerals in it.

3) Would my great-grandmother recognize the ingredients?

(With apologies to Michael Pollan.) If she wouldn’t, I wouldn’t recommend purchasing it. Your body doesn’t need it.

Here are a few ways to green your kitchen without spending a lot of money:

Read More with LessThis is an old cookbook from the 1970’s, but the philosophy it teaches about food is timeless. It gives a lot of hints about ecologically conscious AND economically conscious food. You can do both. You just can’t by organic prepared food and do both.

Learn to cook with legumes, preferably dried ones. Yes, it is possible. And legumes are far more than baked beans. There are plenty of bean soup recipes that also include meat, but the beans stretch the protein, provide fiber, and make an economical and healthful addition to your menu. There are plenty of resources about this, but the Mayo Clinic has a fairly concise and comprehensive one here:

Learn to freeze and can. When something is in season and cheap, buy a lot of it and then put it up. Canning is not rocket science (if it were, I would be a rocket scientist), but it is important that you do it properly. You can find great resources about canning from your local extension office and online.

Consider prepared food a luxury. You’ll save money, eat less sodium, and learn more about cooking. I’m not saying never have prepared food, just have it less often.

I could go on and on with more hints, but these are a good start. Most of all, enjoy your food. Say a blessing over it and bless all the people that touched it before you did.

Thank you, Joy-Elizabeth! Readers, you’ll get great recipes and more insights for healthy, sustainable cooking on her web site.

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