Saturday, January 8, 2011

Eating In Season - Green Living in January

What is January all about if we want to live in tune with nature? What lessons would you learn in this season when earth is resting and life is nearly invisible? Staying warm, staying connected with our tribe/ our family, staying well fed, acknowledging dark and light  - no matter what era it is, these elements define our lives in the cold and dark months of winter time. And how do we create green living in January?

Eating in season has become more popular in  recent years. What does eating in season mean for January, when most commercial food is coming either from storage or is flown in fresh from some distant continent with warmer climate? How do we eat in season in winter? Ecological necessity as well as many religious traditions dictate that winter months are largely spent in fasting, i.e. without eating too much meat, milk or eggs.
In the winter meat, eggs and milk are not as freely given to us by farm animals as they are in the rich months of the year. Cold and dark times mean that animals have to expend more energy to stay warm, there is not enough sunlight for making abundant eggs and milk - which,  after all, are both meant to create and nurture their young which arrive in the spring of the year.  As the season progresses, food sources dwindle. And sometimes in December, the mating season begins and animals cannot be seen as source of food.

In the old days, what few eggs or little milk there was available were reserved to those family members who needed them most: children, pregnant women, and the sick or elderly. The rest of the family fasted, by necessity. Living with farm animals quickly connects you with that reality - and reducing the amount of animal foods in your winter diet is a critical step towards living green and eating in season. Eating animal-derived foods is a crucial component of optimal health though and by no means am I suggesting a vegetarian or vegan diet as a green solution for year round use (it is not green on many levels).

Winter is a time for dried, canned, and stored foods to tickle our taste buds and delight us with new recipes rooted in ecological reality (and in spiritual connection for those of us on spiritual path).  Root crops (beets, turnips, rutabagas, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic); cabbage/ sauerkraut; hard cheeses (which are made with summer milk); whole grains of all kinds; pumpkins and winter squash of all shapes and colors; salad greens if you can swing it in your climate with a cold frame or a tiny green house - this is really the list of foods that is realistic when either shopping or growing your own. Good-tasting wholesome home-grown herbal teas add to the flavor of this season.

Freezing enough locally-produced meat it is a solution too, though the meat harvest comes in early fall and by January it may be not possible to get any local meat. Apples are just about the only fruit that comes to mind that stores long enough; the most of our fruit is brought to stores by airplanes and trucks from far away and are not seasonal nor local - but home-grown fruit can be dried and frozen without much fuss. Canning is the modern solution to providing more food choices in the winter months, though I wonder if any nutrients survive the rigors of canning..... Fresh frozen fruit and greens give some green tint to using energy-hungry refrigerators.

Staying warm is another matter all together, and for those of us with fireplaces and wood-burning ovens we have some choice in keeping our houses cozy in a more or less sustainable way. This post written last winter details using a masonry wood-burning stove for cooking as well as heating the house. The problem is, not too many houses have that type of efficient stove! But any wood-burning stove used for preparing food, at least to some degree, is important, and it can be quite a delightful winter tradition to warm up one's tea in the coals of a recent fire, or to make soup on the stove top while getting the house warm.

Keeping in touch with your tribe and family is endorsed by the mainstream culture with holiday season stretching over quite a period of time. This a quote from Ann Druit's All Year Round "... the space between the end of the Old Year and the beginning of the New that was of significance to our pre-Christian forebearers. Our earthly world is governed by time, unlike the "other world" , and it was believed that the suspension of time even for briefest moment could dissolve boundaries and provide a crack though which unwelcome beings from the "other world" might intrude. Therefore it was necessary to assert human presence at this moment as strongly as possible...". All of the partying of the past holiday season is such an assertion for human presence, not only to keep the world in order, but to assist each other in this passage through dark times, times of gathering fire sticks, of winter fasting, of going inward - ecologically and in many other ways.

Happy green living in January!

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