Sustainable agriculture is a way of growing or raising food, including animals, in an ecologically and ethically responsible manner. It includes using practices that protect the environment, safeguard human health, are humane to farm animals and provide fair treatment to workers. Sustainable eating means eating food that is grown or raised according to these principles.
This way of looking at the food we grow, raise and eat has gained popularity over the last 10 years, and food manufacturers have picked up on the hype. As a result, sustainable eating “buzzwords” have become commonplace on food packages, restaurant menus and the evening news.
But what do these popular words and phrases mean, and what can you expect from the foods that advertise such claims?
Produce must be USDA-certified to earn the “organic” label, but restaurants have the ability to label food as “organic” without regulation. For meat and eggs to reach organic status, the animal must be raised on 100 percent organic feed and not be given antibiotics or hormones.
The term “free range” is typically used to describe meat and poultry products from animals provided shelter in areas with unlimited food, water and continuous access to outdoor space.
Many products, like lunchmeats, use the word “natural” as a way to grab the attention of a conscientious consumer. Natural simply means the product is minimally processed without artificial additives. These items are less regulated than those with the organic label and the claim has nothing to do with farming processes.
You may have noticed or even purchased beef from the store with a label indicating “grass-fed beef.” This term, which only applies to beef, indicates the animal was fed a grass-heavy diet, similar to what the animal would seek out naturally.
Cage free is a USDA-regulated term referring to birds housed without cages. The fowl are able to stretch their wings and lay eggs in nests as they would in nature.
So is sustainable eating necessary for optimal health? Not necessarily. For most Americans, a diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables healthy fats and lean meats is most important, and often these basic nutrition principles are not being met. Meeting these fundamental requirements, whether with organic produce or not, should be the first priority. However, if sustainable eating coincides with your values and your budget, it can be a wonderful choice.
Asian chicken and vegetable foil packets
<&underline>For the sauce</&underline>
1/4 cup lite soy sauce or Tamari
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
<&underline>For the chicken and vegetables</&underline>
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 1/2 cups broccoli florets
1 large red bell pepper, cored and sliced into strips
1 large yellow bell pepper, cored and sliced into strips
2 large carrots, sliced
1 small red onion, sliced
1. Preheat grill to medium heat. In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, olive oil, brown sugar, sesame oil, cornstarch, garlic powder, ground ginger and Sriracha sauce.
2. Place the cut up chicken in a large Ziploc bag or bowl. Pour half of the sauce over the chicken, and let it marinate for while you cut the veggies and make the foil packets.
3. To make the foil packets, cut eight sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil, about 12×18 inches each. Place two sheets on top of each other, so you will have four foil packets. Set aside.
4. Place the cut up vegetables in a bowl and pour the remaining sauce over the vegetables. Stir until vegetables are well coated.
5. Place the chicken in the center of the four foil packets, distributing it evenly. Discard the leftover marinade. Evenly distribute the vegetables onto the four foil packets with the chicken. You can spoon the extra sauce over the top of the chicken and vegetables. Bringing the short sides of the foil together, fold the seams together twice, and then tuck the ends in and up to seal tightly.
6. Place the packets on hot grill. Close the grill and cook for 17-20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are tender. Carefully remove the packets from the grill and serve warm.