Perhaps we should shift the narrative and make the new year a little fun, lighten the burden and make it a time to experiment. Don’t force yourself to give up meat and be a vegan if you don’t want to, but maybe, just maybe, try some foods that are more sustainable. Be it Pruett’s, Food City, Cashew or Mike’s Hole in the Wall, it’s pretty easy to explore the “Future 50 Foods.”
With the world population predicted to be almost 10 billion by 2050, ruminating over how we are going to feed our masses is hardly a sunny topic. However, the future need not be so bleak. We have an unprecedented groundswell of youth involvement. Here in Chattanooga this September, we saw an unrivaled number of students learning about local environmental justice issues and involved in a rally in front of the Tennessee Aquarium, which concluded with a climate strike vigil in front of the Holmberg Bridge.
As a Baylor student and head of the Sustainability Club, Rachel Kleban says, “My generation is realizing that some predictions for the world in 50 years are dismal, and we feel it is important that we take action now. The club has initiated meatless Monday and has planned a vegetarian day with Impossible Burgers. Furthermore, the school menu has expanded to include more vegetarian meals. Going meatless is good for you, good for the animals and good for the environment.”
In addition, every day we are discovering new technologies that could allow us to reach sustainability and to live in greater harmony with the environment. Social media has made it so that people can connect in ways unprecedented to act quickly and unite. In short, there is a silver lining to this gloom.
So how can we locally start uncovering this silver lining? Currently, our global reliance on a small range of foods presents problems. Rice, maize and wheat make up 60 percent of most plant-based calories. This repeated use of the same crops on the same soil leads to depleted nutrients and indirectly leads to a decline in biodiversity and an increased use of pesticides and fertilizer. If our soils are depleted, our wildlife is endangered. To work toward sustainability, we need to switch it up a bit and plant other crops that have higher yields and are more tolerant of weather fluctuations. For those of us in Chattanooga, we can familiarize ourselves with sustainable options and start trying them. If we create even a small demand, we will help foster sustainability.
Recently, the World Wide Fund for Nature and Knorr gathered a group of experts in food sustainability, nutrition, human rights and agriculture to discuss food sustainability. The resulting report published in February 2019 included 50 plant based foods that are optimal for the environment and health. The Future 50 Foods meet the criteria as long as they reduce the impact on the climate, are affordable, accessible, and healthy and promote a sustainable global food system. I had fun looking at the list and was determined to try and prepare some I had never used.
Several foods I had never heard of (lavara seafood, bambara groundnuts, fonio), but many I knew were readily available and not solely relegated to upscale restaurants in Chattanooga. I could add amaranth, buckwheat, spinach, quinoa, sweet potatoes, walnuts and red cabbage to my grocery list. To see the list, just google Future 50 Foods.
So, along with Candy Clark, my ever so lively carrot-top friend, I filled my grocery basket with five days worth of Future 50 Foods. Shopping was quite easy, and many of the prices weren’t bad. At Whole Foods, amaranth is $1.99 a pound, mung beans $1.99 a pound and sweet potatoes 89 cents a pound. Purchasing from the bin made it so Candy and I were not stuck with a lot of weird food we didn’t want after trying a recipe. Honestly, it was fun.
We cooked disasters and successes. I couldn’t pop amaranth; it just burned, and I set off the smoke alarm. Candy popped it, but found popping took too long and the little grains got caught in her teeth - not worth the effort. When I cooked amaranth, I thought it smelled like grass; nope, I was not oohing and ahhing! However, successes were out there: We both loved and will repeat the amaranth porridge with walnuts and maple syrup for breakfast. The buckwheat pilaf, mung bean stew, quinoa salad with sweet potatoes and spinach salad embellished with walnuts all make the mark.
If you are totally flummoxed by the prospect of cooking these foods yourself, it’s worth trying some local restaurant fare. Cashew on River Street in North Shore has a meatball bowl of walnuts, mushrooms and quinoa and sells both the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger. Southern Squeeze in Riverview and downtown uses buckwheat, purple cabbage, sesame seeds, kale and hemp hearts, all organic. Says Kelsey Vasileff, owner and manager of Southern Squeeze, “Chattanooga has shown a growing interest in plant based food. The more people find out the, more they want to try. With anything when it comes to bettering our health and world, I think consistency is key. Consistency with eating more plants, consistency so that every time you go to the store or out to eat, you try a new veggie. The more we are consistent, the more it becomes a habit, and buying, eating, and feeling better just becomes a part of us.”
Even the fast food world has joined the ranks in working toward sustainability. Try Dunkin Donuts for the Beyond Meat Sausage on an English muffin or Burger King for an Impossible Whopper or Chipotle for a sofrita. Each time you make those purchases, you are reinforcing a commitment or movement to take care of our planet.
When it is drizzling cold rain, and the sun refuses to shine, bring on the New Year with some creative intrigue in the kitchen, tweak a few recipes and add in some hemp seed. Why not have a Future Fifties pot luck or check out the new options cropping up on menus. Think that maybe, just maybe, you are helping the earth.