Food nourishes us. It excites us. It keeps us connected. Food is a staple to human life, but have you thought about the environmental impact that food has?
Our current global food system lacks diversity based on monocultural large scale agriculture. This is due to a focus on profit and output rather than biodiversity and the health of humans, animals, and the environment as a whole. “Seventy-five percent of the global food supply comes from only 12 plant and 5 animal species”. Current large scale agriculture’s reliance on heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides on monocultures leads to a degradation of the land and waterways.
Regenerative agriculture is a long term solution to meet sustainable farming needs, which is why Mikuna Foods utilizes regenerative agricultural techniques to grow chocho. Unfortunately, monocrops will continue to grow in unsustainable ways until we as consumers diversify our diets (even if that means incorporating a couple new foods) because what we buy and eat is a way to vote with your money.
Have you ever thought of how many meals are centered around meat? One reason for this is due to the simple idea that meat has a lot of protein. The unfortunate thing about standard animal agriculture is that those animals are fed protein rich plants, like soy and grains that are also great for humans. Because animals need a lot of feed to survive, as well as plenty of land to live on, animal agriculture can have a bigger carbon footprint than unique protein sources like quinoa, lentils, and chocho. It is taught in many countries, including the United States through the Standard American Diet, that almost all of your protein source comes from animal meat. This is not the case. There is a plethora of protein in vegetables, grains, and legumes, so diversifying your protein source with plant based foods is an easy way to minimize animal contributing greenhouse gases.
Knorr and the World Wildlife Fund have developed a report called “Future 50 Foods” where they put together a list of foods in different food categories that are nutritious, low-cost, and good for the planet . Below is a peek into their findings with one to two items described per food category. You can read the full report here.
You might already be familiar with laver seaweed or nori as it is the common Japanese seaweed used to wrap sushi.
Benefits: It grows all year round in water and doesn’t need pesticides or fertilizers. It is also high in vitamin C and iodine.
Use: Often eaten dried in soups, on top of salads, or of course in sushi!
Beans and Pulses
Native to Africa, cowpeas are packed with protein and have a slight nutty flavor.
Benefits: These legumes are similar to chocho, in that they are drought tolerant and great nitrogen-fixers. They are also full of folate and magnesium.
Use: Great in a stew or soup or dried and ground into a flour. Also, their leaves can be consumed similar to other leafy greens!
Not only were lentils one of the world’s first cultivated crops, they have a carbon footprint 43 times less than beef !
Benefits: They use a small amount of water to grow and they are full of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber.
Use: There are many varieties of lentils, but most of them can be used in soups, salad, or patty. A general rule of thumb is to use a three to 1 water to lentil ratio and boil for 15-20 minutes.
Nopales or prickly pear are a common cuisine in Central and South America. The fruit, flower, and flattened pods or shoots are all edible!
Benefits: They are full of nutrients and have a high water content, so they are very hydrating. Besides being edible for humans, nopales can also be used as animal feed, and as a source of biogas.
Use: The leaves and flowers can be consumed raw, cooked, pickled, or made into a jam.
Cereals and Grains
Quinoa is becoming a popular health food, and for good reason! A crop of South America, quinoa’s more recent rise of popularity in the United States and Europe has led to farmers increasing their yield, but producing less and less varieties, which has led to land degradation. Luckily, there are incentives in place to allow farmers to grow more of a variety of quinoa and a push for restaurants and schools to use them. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat quinoa. It’s actually the opposite; this is an example of why grain and food diversity is important.
Benefits: Quinoa is drought tolerant and doesn’t need much fertilization. Along with containing all nine amino acids, it has protein, healthy fats, and is gluten free.
Use: It can be used as you would rice, as well as in salads or mixed with other veggies into a burger patty.
Fruit and Vegetables
Pumpkin Flower and Leaves
It is good to find fruits and veggies that are often thought of as inedible and discarded. Pumpkin flowers are one of those fruits. Male flowers don’t produce fruit, so they are often seen as useless. As long as you discard the center stem, then you can eat the pumpkin flowers to minimize food waste and increase your range of fruit intake.
Benefits: High in vitamin K, C, and A.
Use: Eat them raw in salads or sandwiches or stuff them with grains, nuts, and legumes for a filling entré.
When most people think of beets they think of a red root that will stain your fingers; they don’t usually think of their leaves. Beet greens are super underrated and amazingly versatile when cooked!
Benefits: Beet greens are PACKED with nutrients, including vitamins A and K, magnesium (which helps regulate muscle function and blood pressure), and iron.
Use: Beet leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. They are similar to chard or kale in that they are great in soup, salad, sauteed, or baked into chips.
Mushrooms are amazing as they are such a resilient plant, and these mushrooms are no exception! They are known as the “hen of the woods” or “king of mushrooms” because they can grow to be 99 pounds .
Benefits: They are a source of vitamin B and a non-animal source of vitamin D.
Uses: The earthy flavor can be used in stir frys, stews, or sauces
Nuts and Seeds
Hemp seeds are gaining popularity for their wide range of use and have been used for centuries. They can be consumed in a variety of ways, such as oil, blended into milk, flour, or just the seed.
Benefits: They are high in both omega 3 and 6, iron, fiber, and protein. The serving size is usually small for how many vitamins and nutrients are packed in.
Use: As mentioned there are a variety of ways to use it. Add hemp milk to your coffee, hemp oil to oatmeal, or the flour in bread.
White Icicle Radish (Winter Radish)
Looking similar to carrots, white icicle radishes have more of a peppery taste than the red radishes you may be familiar with.
Benefits: Not only can these be used as a cover crop to improve soil, but they grow super fast (mature in a month) and are companion plants to squashes. They also help improve digestion and are chalk full of vitamin C.
Uses: White icicle radishes are super diverse! They can be grilled, roasted, boiled, or eaten raw. You can put them in anything to add a peppery, refreshing crunch.
I’m sure you have heard of chickpeas, but probably not sprouted chickpeas? Sprouted chickpeas have the same protein packed benefits as your standard chickpeas, but they are actually better for you.
Benefits: By sprouting chickpeas, it neutralizes the phytic acid, which helps us absorb the nutrients better . The nutrients that they contain include calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
Use: Sprouting chickpeas yourself is super easy! Just soak for 8 hours, drain, and rinse them. Then, put them in a bowl and cover with a cheesecloth or thin towel. Repeat the rinse and drain a couple times over 3 to 4 days until the sprouts have reached your desired length. Use them the same way as you would with unsprouted chickpeas. Blending them into a hummus offers more of a crunch and a nutty flavor.
Ube or purple yam is native to the Philippines and known for its beautiful purple color seen when raw or cooked. Unfortunately, ube cultivation has declined due to tourism and/or replacement of more popular potato varieties.
Benefits: Ube grows faster and is more nutritious than any other type of yam. Along with the sweet taste, ube is full of vitamin E and fiber.
Use: Ube can be prepared like any potato or yam. Best when baked or boiled, but you can get creative by pureeing it into a pudding or boiling it down into a syrup.
By diversifying your diet with foods that you may not be familiar with, you can add nutrients to your meals, while helping promote a more biodiverse agricultural system. Many would argue that our current food system has become narrowed down and weakened by monocultures and the overproduction of animal livestock. We have the power to not only try super delicious and healthy foods by venturing outside of your norm, but for your choices to have a larger positive impact.