A Quick Guide to Shopping at the Farmers Market

This article is written by Collin Philips and was originally published on Selva Beat, an online, environmental magazine with a strong focus on the palm-oil industry and conflict-free living. Selva Beat will be publishing some farm to table recipes in the upcoming weeks, so be sure to check back for more Farmers Market fun! 

Image courtesy of Selva Beat.

Image courtesy of Selva Beat.

One of my goals this year was to transition to completely local perishables. I made this mostly lofty goal after noticing that the apple I was eating in Houston, Texas was from New Zealand, and possibly over half a year old. To lower my carbon foot print another 4-5%, I would have to eat local and seasonal fruits and veggies. I already make my own vegan dairy like milk and butter and can buy rice, flour, nuts, and legumes at my local grocer or co-op. So, how hard could it be?

Well, there's certainly a lot of trial and error. After all, how many times have you dropped by the store after work to grab an extra tomato or garlic? To get you started on the right foot, here are five tips I wish I had kept in mind before making the switch:

Be (And Stay) Realistic

The market where I live has the best organic fruits and vegetables, most of which I would never see at a national chain grocer. Nothing beats the atmosphere either! But, I have to be realistic about what I can make with what I buy. If you have a routine where you make similar dishes each week, shopping this way may be a little jarring at first. I can always find amazing herbs, gourds, mushrooms, etc but sometimes I can't find good citrus. How does that affect the dishes I will make? Eating this way requires adaptability but thankfully, that is just something that strengthens with time. 

If you're not great at cooking on the fly, consider buying a seasonal cookbook for your area or city. Here's one just for Connecticut! General farm to table cookbooks are great too but note that most of them are not vegan. If all else fails, food blogs are your friend!

Simply put, start out with an open mind and a little patience.

Image courtesy of Selva Beat.

Image courtesy of Selva Beat.


Pick The Best Market For You

If you’re looking to transition your home too, you first have to become well-versed in the farmer’s markets in your city. If you don't know where to start, here is the USDA Farmer's Market Directory. Sometimes googling your 'zip code + farmer's market' is all you need. Chances are your area has more than just one and each is going to have a different array of vendors, some more suited to your needs than others. In Houston, the two I love are only on Saturday and Tuesday. Back in Austin, there was a farmer’s market five days out of the weekAll markets have fruits and veggies, most have eggs, meat, fish and cheese, and some have bread loaves and flour, etc. You can also find kombucha, pickled goods, coffee, and likely a variety of food trucks. 

Make note of your favorite stalls and take a photo of their banner to keep in mind for later (more on this below). Introduce yourself whenever possible, though some stalls get really crazy; how often do you get to say you know the people who grow your food?

Image courtesy of Selva Beat.

Image courtesy of Selva Beat.


Stay Connected

Okay, so you’ve found the perfect fit for you, and your stomach. Now you need to stay friends.  I recommend adding your farmer’s market on Facebook or Twitter, as they’ll likely post tidbits on which vendors will show or highlight certain fruits and veggies (like the best watermelons!). The same goes for your favorite vendor —  it’s a real bummer when you really need something special like vegan bread or kombucha and that stall is a no-show. Be the first to know about sick days and early bird specials. The more informed you are, the more positive this process will be and you’ll be less likely to burn out six months down the line. 

TIP  → Scope out each market’s cash or credit options. The markets in the last city I lived in were practically all electronic and card friendly, whereas Urban Harvest, my current beat, leans way more towards cash transactions. It can also get really crowded, so sometimes handing someone a five dollar bill is just more efficient.

Read the rest on Selva Beat!

Ethical Shopping, Not A Myth

This article is by Leah Wise of Style Wise, a blog that addresses ethical issues in the fashion industry and aims to inspire conversation and creative dressing. Her patient voice provides an excellent rebuttal against Michael Hobbes' article for the Huffington Post Highline which claims that shopping ethically is impossible.

The Myth of the Ethical Shopper shopping sustainably and ethically is totally possible and we should continue to try our best even if we can't be perfect. The perfect is the enemy of the good, don't give up on ethical shopping.

Michael Hobbes wrote an article for Huffington Post Highline a few weeks ago that shook the conscious consumer community. In The Myth of the Ethical Shopper, Hobbes outlines the myriad ways buying our way to a better world has failed us. It's well researched, and it's true. Imposing regulations on foreign companies without real oversight or local social change has little long term effect on the well being of factory workers.

If you've been following the movement for awhile, you've probably heard an outline of his argument before, but I encourage you to read it - it's an impressive amount of research. The primary point of the piece is this:

"Listening to consumer advocacy campaigns, you’d think our only influence on the developing world was at the cash register. But our real leverage is with our policies, not our purchases...We are not going to shop ourselves into a better world."

In his followup, published last week on the Huffington Post blog, Hobbes responds to commenters who maintain that they are ethical shoppers - by virtue of buying American made or locally sourced items - regardless of what Hobbes has to say about it:

"Let me be super clear about this, in words I might have minced in the piece itself: that is impossible. And pretending it's not is exactly what keeps sweatshops from being solved."

Responding to Hobbes is no easy feat, because he's absolutely right. We're spending too much time making shopping lists and not enough time doing the boring, excruciating work of lobbying for better systems. But it's not enough to write a convincing argument that we all suck at being good people. In fact, that's maybe the worst thing we can do.

In 1984, psychologist Karl E. Weick published a study entitled Small Wins, which explains why large scale social problems are rarely resolved by simply proliferating social sciences research on relevant topics. The reason we fail to remedy social problems, he discovered, has everything to do with how problems are defined in the first place. He found that:

"The massive scale on which social problems are conceived often precludes innovative action because the limits of bounded rationality are exceeded and arousal is raised to dysfunctionally high levels. People often define social problems in ways that overwhelm their ability to do anything about them."

Basically, if you're inundated with information about how terrible everything is, your brain is wired to shut down. This may be the reason The True Cost movie hasn't been as well reviewed as one would hope. There are simply too many reasons to give up hope. There are too many problems.

Read the rest at Style Wise Blog.

Rana Plaza Images by Taslima Akhter

Today is Fashion Revolution Day - the two year commemoration of the disastrous Rana Plaza factory collapse. A lot of this day is centered around social media and making ourselves heard, and sometimes that can disconnect us with the true story behind what happened on this day two years ago in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I want to share some images with you that were taken that day and in the following days and years. These are powerful images taken by Bangladeshi photographer, Taslima Akhter. I know that it can be hard to envision the realities of other people in other parts of the world, but we are all human and we all deserve to be treated with respect. These chill-inducing images remind me of that, they remind me who I am speaking up for and that there is a long way to go. You can see more of Taslima's work focusing on garment workers' lives in Bangladesh on her website.