Given what we know about the role certain dietary choices play in exacerbating climate change, the menu offered to those attending the UN Climate Conference in Poland right now doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. An analysis from the Center for Biological Diversity, Farm Forward and Brighter Green (2/12/18) has exposed that if all 30,000 visitors were to choose meat-based dishes during the 12 day conference, “COP 24 could contribute more than 4,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases to the climate crisis.” There are reportedly twice as many meat-based options available to participants as plant-based ones, generating four times the GHG emissions and requiring nine times more land and nearly twice as much water as the plant-based fare on offer.
Many more plant foods certainly could have been included by COP 24’s menu planners in place of the carbon emissions heavy ingredients actually prioritized. “Food is not a matter only of personal choice, but an essential factor in solving the climate crisis,” states Caroline Wimberly of Brighter Green. “We know that we cannot meet the Paris Agreement goals, or the 1.5 C target, with business as usual.” Waiting for so-called world leaders to actually model the important changes required in response to our global emergency doesn’t seem like a very good idea.
Fortunately, for those of us with the privilege of choice also determined to be more pro-active, it needn’t be difficult to reduce our carbon footprints and meet all of our nutrition requirements on a diverse whole foods plant-based diet. Nuts are one of many excellent sources of plant-based protein that we could benefit from eating more of. Today, both homemade and commercially produced nut and seed milks are growing in popularity as tasty alternatives to traditional dairy products. Even water-guzzling almonds are a far superior choice to dairy when it comes to cutting carbon emissions. But it’s important to educate ourselves about how these foods (and others) are grown, harvested and/or commercially processed if our choices are to truly reflect our concerns for the environment and social justice.
It’s always going to be a good idea to stick to certified organic nuts as much as possible, and yes, those are generally more expensive. However, in the form of dairy alternatives, nut milks can be blended with those made from more affordable ingredients like oatmeal, rice or soybeans, flax and other seeds. And adding nut meat in small quantities to dishes in place of animal meat (it isn’t necessary to feature nutrient dense nuts as a main ingredient) can boost healthy calorie counts along with flavor in a budget conscious way.
Cashews are one of the most popular nuts in demand today, but definitely best avoided unless you can afford to purchase them from a certified organic fair trade source. They are difficult to process, and the majority come from India and Vietnam. Workers have been documented suffering permanent damage from the toxic liquid released from shucking the tough shell layers of the fruit. Time Magazine coined the term ‘blood cashew’ after an expose on the Vietnamese cashew industry uncovered forced labour associated with drug addiction.
Brazil nuts, highly prized among Amazonian people, grow on trees that produce for hundreds of years. They are dependent upon insects that will only pollinate them growing in the wild. Since they cannot be cultivated, the Brazil nut industry actually helps to preserve patches of vital rainforest and support farmers that care for the trees. Considered a superfood by many (they are also an excellent source of selenium) Brazil nuts have gone up in price recently thanks to both increased demand and limited availability due to drought that global climate change has no doubt played a part in. Consumed judiciously they remain an ethical choice, but of course the surest way to maintain a low carbon footprint when it comes to sustainably produced nuts is to purchase varieties that grow in our own climate zones.
Walnuts and edible chestnuts are great choices that do well here in the pacific northwest, but hazelnuts are my personal favourite. They require little water, minimal upkeep and thrive in harsh soils where other plants would fail. Hazelnut trees are drought resistant, can survive harsh weather conditions, have a high yield per plant, and help prevent soil erosion. They also boast a massive root system and remove a huge amount of carbon from the atmosphere.
All whole nuts are an excellent source of dietary fibre, protein, Vitamin E, and unsaturated fatty acids like Omega-3s. Most are high in calories though, so remember that many ‘treats’ made with nuts, including plant-based cheeses (watch out for palm oil in commercial varieties), are best consumed in moderation. Here is a simple, heart healthy dish featuring locally grown ingredients that is perfect for holiday feasting!
Fireweed’s Stuffed Acorn Squash
Ingredients for squash:
– 2 acorn squash
– 1 T. (approx.) olive oil
– salt and pepper
and for the filling:
– 2 T. (approx.) vegan butter
– 1 cup minced onion
– 1.5 cups of diced apple
– 2 T. dried currants or cranberries
– 3/4 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts
– 1 tsp. dried sage
– 1/2 tsp. sea salt
– 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
– 1/4 cup (approx.) maple syrup
– 1 cup of brown rice or quinoa (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 F. Split squash and rub with olive oil. Place cut side up on baking sheet. Roast for 30-40 minutes or until flesh is soft and golden. Meanwhile, prepare rice or quinoa if you choose to include one of these optional ingredients. Melt vegan butter in a separate pan, add onion and saute until soft. Add apples and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Add currants, nuts and seasonings. Toss to combine. Add syrup and allow mixture to cool while squash continues baking. Fold in cooked rice or quinoa. Mound stuffing on your squash bowls and gently reheat all before serving. Top with a sprinkle of chopped parsley, and enjoy!