Safe water, organic vegetables, and better meat

Fighting global climate change and ending world hunger are noble efforts. Let us not forget how important it is to have safe drinking water and enough vegetables to eat. This week I step back to take a look at water and veggies.

Potable water. Imagine a world with no safe drinking water. In my 72 years of life, I have always had ready access to safe drinking water. It was as near as the closest tap in my home. On foreign trips, perhaps too cautious, I drank bottled water or canned soda. I don’t ever remember being under a boil-water alert. It pains me to know that many people do not have that access. My wife and I support efforts to provide safe, potable water to communities around the world. Many organizations work to bring access to safe water to communities that do not have it. I did some research online and found Lifewater.org was worthy of our support. If interested in supporting this cause, I urge you to do your own research.

Water is unsafe if contaminated by harmful microbes or toxic levels of heavy metals. Food or water poisoning is bad enough when it sends us to bed for a few days. Low levels of critical nutrients combined with water contamination challenges immune systems. Remember the early days of COVID when we washed our hands often to prevent transmission. Not so easy without access to safe water.

Young girl drinking from a community faucet in Uganda
Enjoying safe water in a village community in Uganda. Photo courtesy of Lifewater.org

Bringing safe water to the community is a major goal. It beats forcing families to trek long distances to the nearest supply of clean water. Providing pumps to enable quick access helps villages cope. Teaching hygiene and sanitation to recipients is an important part of the process. Some simple technologies aid in bringing safe water to communities. A drinkable book intrigued me. The idea prints information about safe drinking water on its coffee filter pages. Placing the removable pages on a filtering device reduces microbial contamination by 99.9 %. My readers know how much I like books! Solar and wind power drive purification systems to generate a surplus of safe water. LifeStraw eliminates microbes or parasites for a personal water supply using microfiltration. A family unit uses ultrafiltration to also remove viruses. The most important aspect of water purification is to provide safe water for a village.

Fresh, organic vegetables re-entered my alimentary tract again this past winter and spring. Realize that in Florida, winter is our growing season. Six years ago, I signed on to a 20-week subscription for delivery of organic vegetables. I did not care whether they were organic or not. They were grown 65 miles away and delivered to locations throughout SW Florida. I am not sure if that qualifies as local. I liked the freshness of the delivered veggies. The variety of items in the box was good, at first. Then, the items became the same almost every week. My wife was not pleased with all the dirt that ended up in our refrigerator. I was not pleased with the amount of food that I had to throw out because we were not able to eat that much.

Needless to say, I skipped five years of delivery. This past year I changed my mind. I was not eating enough veggies. A neighbor who winters down here from Chicago agreed to share the bounty. I signed on for another 20 weeks. There were differences this time. The drop-off point had changed. What had been a 4-mile round trip turned into 35 miles. When picking up my first box, I noticed that it was smaller than I remembered from six years ago.

rainbow radishes
Delicious salad featuring rainbow radishes.

When I returned home, my neighbor came over to divvy up the goods. She didn’t like radishes, and I took them. My dislike for them during childhood turned into a pleasant jolt in my salads. Who knew that I would like radishes! During the last week or two, my neighbor’s daughter came down to visit her. Her daughter loved radishes, so I had to share some of my new favorite vegetable. My neighbor took all the arugula. Good riddance as it reminds me of armpit aroma! I came to enjoy the curly kale. I sautéed it like I do spinach. We didn’t exactly fight over anything. We both loved the lettuce which had much more flavor than what we could find at the supermarket. I took out a big knife and sliced the romaine in half. My neighbor took home some eggplant, onion, squash and tomatoes. Then she returned them in the form of an awesome ratatouille! She is a much more experienced and accomplished cook than I am.

Although the box was smaller, the variety was greater. There were fewer large items and more small ones. The variety of items was consistent throughout the season unlike my previous experience. There did not seem to be as much dirt on the veggies this time. The large sink in my remodeled kitchen helped me in the dirt-removal process. I had a veggie-based salad almost every day and loved them! I was eating more vegetables than normal, but I was unable to eat everything I put into the refrigerator. I had to toss some of the previous week’s load to make room for the new arrivals.

When the deliveries ended, I craved more veggies. Was I becoming addicted to them? I do not eat as many vegetables now as I did during delivery season. I am eating more of them than before the subscription started. I miss the variety of items I enjoyed in the boxes. I miss those wonderful radishes! Vegetables available at the three grocery stores I shop is much more limited.

Organic doesn’t mean that much to me. The freshness of the items was what appealed to me. They lasted in my refrigerator much longer than “fresh” ones from the supermarket. The flavor was great! The variety was great! The whole experience was great! I am ready to sign on again come winter if my next-door neighbor will help me out.

Meal kits were also an experiment I tried in the past. Many of the meals were good, and I didn’t have to shop for ingredients. The meals were more difficult to prepare than advertised, but the quality was worth it. Although these meals include whole foods, most of the extra ingredients were ultra-processed. UPFs are not a problem for me, but meal-kit popularity makes me wonder. The company is offering deals to get me back. My dietary restrictions make it more difficult to prepare these meals. More important is my increasing interest in food sustainability. Air freight for food is one of the most unsustainable food practices. Most of these meal kits rely on air freight. My wife points out that the planes need to fly anyway, but I am not convinced that meal kits are sustainable.

Less meat, better meat? Jenny Splitter wrote a provocative article on reducing meat in school cafeterias. Instead, they turn to better meat coming from small farms and regenerative agriculture. She notes that larger, factory farms use less land to produce the same amount of meat. Factory farms also produce lower carbon emissions. To reduce the effects of farm animals on the environment, we will need to eat a whole lot less meat. Is better meat more sustainable? She urges the pushers of better meat to do the math!

Next week: Growing insects for food. Another alternative protein?

 

7 thoughts on “Safe water, organic vegetables, and better meat

  1. “When the deliveries ended, I craved more veggies.” Maybe “craved” is not the best word. Here’s how I like to phrase the phenomena. Your body is telling you it likes those vegetables. Why? Maybe because there are nutrients or bioactives or other components in the seasonal fresh selections that for what ever reason have been bred out of commodity crops. And your body wants you to know so you’re getting a message. I know it’s slightly heuristic, but I like to think flavor is information.

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    1. “Craved” is the exact word I wanted. Merriam Webster defines ‘crave’ as “to have a powerful desire for.” The thesaurus describes it as “having a longing for.” GoodRx states that “Cravings are one sign of an addiction problem.” Like ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ the medical community has co-opted common English words. I can no longer crave a specific food without suggesting I could be an addict. I can no longer be depressed about my favorite basketball team or be anxious when the check-engine light comes on in my car without admitting a mental condition. Sorry, but you hit a raw nerve. I did think it amusing to admitting I might be addicted to fresh vegetables!

      I have read some of the literature on breeding out nutrients and bioactives in commodity crops. The evidence is very thin. It sounds good, but I reject the concept. Flavor does provide information, but the idea that flavor guides nutritional value also seems to be overblown. For example, the high beta-carotene tomatoes are too orange, and have off-flavors not found in those with higher levels of lycopene.

      Thanks for the comment. You appear to be a dreamer, and I am a curmudgeon.

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      1. Words are funny things. Despite the best attempts of dictionary writers to nail down a meaning, we humans tend to be contrarian and bring our own meanings. The usurper that irritates this me is the snack food marketeers with a craveable new offering every other day. But I figure it’s okay for folks to bring different meaning to words so I’m happy to accept your meaning. As for flavor providing information, that’s exciting. I hear you about the scant data and if anyone know this stuff, it’s you. But here’s where this “dreamer” gets really heuristic. We may never know for sure in our lifetimes because of the years of testing time required. So for now, my plan is to use what tastes good to me as my best guideline. Local green leaf in the summer and California escarole in the winter. Local peaches and strawberries in season and California clementines in winter. If the nutrition / bioactives are the same, I’m okay. If the nutrition / bioactives are different, I’ve made the right choice. But even more important from my “dreamer” perspective, I will have greatly enhanced my joys of eating.

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      2. The joy of eating is so important. One of the main points that Mark Schatzker emphasizes in “The End of Craving” is that Italians focus on enjoyment and Americans focus on health implications when it comes to eating.

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