Written in collaboration with Jeremy Bowler.
As more people become aware of the negative effects of industrial animal farming, eating too much red meat, and global warming, many are adding more plant-based foods to their plates. Did you know that three of the most sustainable plant-based foods are very popular right here in the South?
First, a quick note on plant-based alternatives: There are now many plant-based alternatives to animal-based products, including vegan cheeses, milk, and plant-based burgers that actually taste like beef. Not only are these sustainable, plant-based foods being grown better and more efficiently with new technologies, but biologically grown meats are also being developed, reducing land usage of animals by up to 95%.
In addition to these plant-based alternatives, you can’t go wrong with eating more vegetables, which are naturally vegan! Reducing meat consumption and eating more vegetables is one of the best ways to reduce your personal impact on the planet. Vegetables can be quite sustainable to grow. Some of the most sustainable and cost-effective vegetables grown here in the South include:
- Sweet Potatoes
Potato – The Humble Servant
The potato is probably the king of food. Believed to have originated in the area of Peru, South America, potatoes were brought to prominence when Sir Walter Raleigh of England presented them back to Queen Elizabeth II following a trip to one of the first English colonies at the infamous Roanoke Island, located in present-day North Carolina.
Seeing their value as a sustainable food source, 40,000 acres of land were used for potato farming in Cork, Ireland. Over the next 40 years, potatoes would make their way across the rest of Europe.
Potatoes are now widely considered a staple in American and European cuisine. When first learning to cook, one of the first things you learn to do in addition to chopping is to learn how to boil potatoes.
Potato dishes can be very warming and hearty for winter dishes such as shepherd’s pie or light and fluffy as in potato salads.
Cooking techniques vary with potatoes. They can be mashed, roasted (skin off), baked (skin on), or made into the classic American french fries. The versatility and low environmental needs of the potato means that it has become highly sustainable, and one report has concluded that of all the items in the “starchy vegetable” food group, potatoes are the most sustainable.
Cabbage – The Mother of Brassicas
Considered the mother of the Brassica family, which also includes sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower, cabbages are one of the most sustainable plants in the world. The origin of cabbage can be traced back to North China circa 4,000 BC, but North Carolina is one of the largest cabbage producers at around 70 million pounds all year round. Florida and Texas are other notable Southern states with high cabbage production.
Some people really don’t like the taste of cabbage, or indeed anything from the Brassica family, but most people who don’t like them simply aren’t cooking them properly. A lot of people’s first memories of cabbage might be an overcooked, limp, soggy, and bitter mess on a plate. However, cooked the right way, cabbages can be a beautiful accompaniment to any main dish.
Most cabbages really don’t need much time at all and are best when blanched; add to boiling and water for around four or five minutes, then remove into ice water in order to stop the cooking process. When you want to serve the cabbage, add it to a frying pan along with some butter (or vegan butter!) and toss until warmed up, then season to your liking.
Blanching like this makes the cabbage a lovely green color, protects and preserves vitamins and minerals, and most importantly tastes amazing.
Sweet Potato – The Vegetable of the Future
Because of their naming misnomer, the sweet potato has befallen a common misconception because they aren’t technically potatoes. Originating in South and Central America as part of the Convulvalacea family, sweet potatoes are a staple of Southern United States cooking.
Just like regular white potatoes, sweet potatoes can be cooked in the same ways because of their similarity to them. Southern states are known for their delicious homemade sweet potato pie, but this extremely versatile root vegetable can also be cut in half and baked with a drizzle of olive oil and thyme, mashed with butter, or sliced for an alternative to standard fries.
Not only do sweet potatoes taste amazing when prepared properly, but current research also suggests that they could be one of the most sustainable foods for the future of agriculture. Because of their sustainability when it comes to farming methods, they have been proposed for use in animal feed and clean burning biofuel.
Alright, which one of these sustainable veggies do you plan to add to your menu in the next week?
xoxo Laura (in collaboration with Jeremy Bowler)
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