Tag Archives: Food

Bison: A Delicious Solution

American Bison

‘Meat is murder’ sang Morrissey. But, lets accept the facts, no matter how lovely that crotchety vegetarian might croon, American’s are a carnivorous bunch, consuming an average of 183 pounds per person annually.  And while that might be an excessive quantity, being an omnivore doesn’t have to leave one with an unresolvable sense of guilt. Eating meat can actually be good for the species, the environment, and our bodies. That is, if we adopt some changes to our diet, one delicious change–eat more bison.

 The American Bison, or American Buffalo, once blanketed the US landscape.  Ranging from Washington to New York, Florida to Montana, bison were considered to be the most numerous single species of large wild mammal on the Earth.  But the 19th century was a horrific one for bison as Americans began slaughtering them in staggering numbers.  As frivolously shot carcasses lay rotting, as boastful men erected mountains of skulls, the American bison’s population, historically exceeding 60,000,000 dwindled to less than 300 by 1893.  An emblem of American bravado and strength was nearly rendered extinct.

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Couple of Bison Skulls

As the population of bison diminished, so too did their native grassland habitat. No longer roamed by the largest heard in the world, millions of acres of healthy grasslands, which once covered more than 45% of the US, were divided, fenced, and reclaimed for human habitation, cattle ranching and large scale farming. Ironically, the diverse and balanced grassland ecosystems–which hold the world’s highest potential for carbon sequestration–were replaced by staples of the vegetarian diet, notably soy and corn, which require huge quantities of water, chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides.

But thanks to the efforts of a few who saw both a responsibility to preserve the breed as well as its value as a food source, bison have made a steady return. Lower in fat and cholesterol, yet higher in protein, bison is a fantastic replacement to cattle and require far less human intervention. Raised on open ranges for most of their lives (some are grain fed in the last 90-120 days), bison are a vital component in the grasslands ecosystem, and do humans a serviceable job of digesting those grasses that our stomachs cannot.

Just over a hundred years after bison were nearly eradicated at the hands of man, it is their brains and stomachs that have given the American bison a second chance, with annual consumption over 20,000 and the species climbing up the Conservation Status’s registry, one step away from reaching the highest label of ‘Least Concern’.

Now if that’s not a reason to celebrate with a bison steak, I don’t know what is.

Bison is sold at numerous food retailers around Austin,  including…

http://www.thunderheartbison.com/

Written by Avery Thompson

Finding Out What the Term “Organic” Really Means

A typical day of grocery shopping is more complicated than one may think. When looking for peanut butter, for instance, one has to consider several things. Is the brand affordable? Does it have a lot of fat and sugar? If it’s healthy, will it still taste good? Is it natural? And most importantly, is it organic?

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Too many people walk into grocery stores and associate anything labeled organic with the sometimes expensive price tag attached to it. Some people just buy organic either way simply because they’ve heard that it’s better. I mean, if it’s more expensive, that must make it good for you right? The sad part is, most people don’t really fully understand what the term organic means or why it is beneficial in our foods. So welcome to your crash course on organic shopping 101.

  1. Organic and all natural are not the same thing. “All Natural” is a term used on labels that is not regulated by the government in any way (other than some meat products) and could mean something as simple as just not using synthetic sugar. Organic, however, is a heavily regulated term that cannot be used on labels without official USDA certification. Also, while “All Natural” refers more to what is in the food, organic is referring to what is in the product and how it was made.
  2. A lot goes in to being USDA Organic Certified. USDA agents are in charge of visiting farms, etc. to see how the product is produced and how it affects the environment. Organically labeled products may not use genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or chemicals as fertilizer or pesticides. Antibiotics are also not allowed to be given to animals. They have to constantly maintain separation between organic and non-organic foods (sometimes from nearby farmers) and have to be inspected spontaneously. This is a problem especially now with the controversy of patents on GMOs by companies like Monsanto.
  3. Organic food is better for the environment. DDT, a pesticide used in the 50’s and 60’s, became banned because led to a rapid decrease in nearby species where it was used, particularly in birds. Pesticides today have a similar effect, but span out over longer periods of time. Chemicals used in those pesticides and in fertilizers also have a negative effect on water quality, which effect ecosystems nearby as well as people who use that water source for drinking.
  4. Organic food is better for you. Every time a person takes in antibiotics, bacteria becomes more immune to them. This means that every time you eat meat that has had antibiotics, you ingest some too, and become more resistant to them when you need them most. Similarly, eating produce that has been sprayed with pesticides can lead to a build up of toxins that can prove harmful for pregnant women, children, and the elderly.

Overall, organic food is a worthwhile payoff. A few cents extra on the price tag is much less than the medical bills or taxes to fix the environmental or personal harm that often occurs.

For more information, visit the following links:

Tips for Shopping for Organic Foods on a Budget

Organic Labeling Fact Sheet

Organic Certification Process Fact Sheet 

-Morgan Faulkner, Sierra Club Intern

How to Really “Eat Local” in Austin

So we’ve all heard the term “local” being tossed around recently. We’ve all been told that eating locally grown food is better for the environment. But what exactly does this term mean? How local is local?

In fact, there are no true regulations pertaining to what is allowed to be labeled local in terms of food.  Many large grocery chains get away with labeling food from as far away as California and Southern Mexico local in Texan stores, places that the majority of Texans would not consider to be close neighbors.  Most of us seem to think that by purchasing a product at the grocery store emblazoned with the “L” word, we are automatically doing good for Mother Earth. Sadly, this is too often not the case.

Thankfully, the city of Austin and community groups are doing a lot to bring local food back to its roots. Community gardens seem to be popping up everywhere in our city, providing residents with a place to interact with nature and others while creating a pleasant space for all who wish to visit. These plots are open for residents, young and old, who have an interest in growing their own food. The gardens encourage self sufficiency and reduce the need for transportation, the most climate burdening process involved in commercial farming.

Homewood Heights Community Garden

Another excellent way Austin promotes truly local food is through the community farmers’ markets. If you live in or near the city you can’t call yourself a true Austinite until you  venture out on a Saturday morning to experience the joy and excitement  of The Austin Farmers’ Market. Each week brings fresh, new varieties of produce and goods produced by family-owned farms from within Central Texas.

Restaurants in the Austin area make it even easier to live a local lifestyle. Many eateries we know and love use locally grown produce in their menus. 24 Diner, Kerbey Lane Cafe, and Walton’s all rely on local farms to supply their customers with fresh, seasonal food.

Eating locally is essential to reducing our impact on our environment. Eliminating reliance on mass transportation and reducing/eliminating use of pesticides and other chemicals makes all the difference when it comes to sustainable living. The city of Austin offers many different ways in which one can become involved in their local food community. Hope to see you at a community garden or market soon!

Helpful Links:

Coalition of Austin Community Gardens- A full list of the community gardens around Austin and surrounding areas

Edible Austin - Publication that informs readers of local food advancements and opportunities in Austin and Central Texas

Real Time Farms- Online food guide to local farms and restaurants that serve local produce

Slow Food Austin- Providing activities and education for a more sustainable Austin food community

Sustainable Food Center Farmers Markets- Full information on the local farmers markets and the opportunities they hold

- Tansy Stobart, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Intern

Jars of Joy: Zero Waste Grocery Store Coming to Texas

Source: in.grediants.com

America’s  first zero waste and package free grocery store, called in.grediants,  will soon be making it’s debut in Austin, Texas this fall. Their plan is simple. They will be selling natural and locally grown food in bulk, while you, the consumer bring your own reusable packaging to take your groceries home in (or you can opt to use their compostable containers). Through this method of “precycling”, creating new waste is entirely avoided, which is quite significant owing to the fact that 40% of all waste in America is from packaging that is only used once.

Want to learn more? Visit their website. If you are interested in helping this store become a reality, you can help them by either investing or donating money.

Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! (and Precycle!)

-Jessica Olson, Sierra Club Beyond Coal/ Communications Intern