Thoughts on Food Sustainability + A Pickle Recipe

Thoughts | Alex Whitwam

Sights | Victoria Hong

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In recent years, the idea of sustainability has taken off. Businesses push products that purport to reduce your impact on the environment as an individual and make you a more conscious consumer. The actual benefits of these products are probably fairly minimal, but the fact remains that people are willing to spend more for eco-friendly, low-waste solutions to their problems, making it possible for corporations to once again capitalize on a trend. Starbucks’ new straw policies have garnered significant press, and Ontario legislators have been fighting for and against a ban on plastic shopping bags for years.

Ultimately, though, the ability of an individual to create a positive change in terms of environmental impact is minimal; this is brought up frequently by detractors of the sustainability movement. The largest negative effects on the environment are the fault of corporations, such as the BP oil spill of 2010; the beaches of Alabama were streaked with grey sediment from oil brought in by the waves for years. Garbage patches in the oceans grow larger by the day whether or not you drink your latte with a straw.

Nevertheless, even if our potential to enact change is limited, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we are capable of in an effort to bring about profound progress.

It’s impossible to avoid waste entirely, of course, in particular when it comes to food. Most of what we buy is packaged in some way, and the production chain of even unpackaged fruits and vegetables involves significant levels of carbon emissions and plastic waste in transporting produce from point A to point B. It also tends to be more economical to buy more heavily processed items. Lower rates of spoilage mean it’s cheaper to produce and stock, even with low turnover rates. Spoilage in both the grocery store and at home is yet another contributor to food waste; sometimes things just don’t get eaten fast enough to avoid going bad, and while expiration dates can be mostly taken as suggestions rather than law, it’s safe to assume that those beans sporting a fuzzy blue jacket have reached the end of their tenancy in your fridge.

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Still, by striving towards sustainability and taking small steps to minimize our impact on the environment, we are promoting beneficial values and encouraging other individuals and organizations to do the same. However, it’s important to keep expectations of yourself and others realistic. Not everyone is in the same life circumstances, and what’s easy for some may be nigh-impossible for others: it’s probably not advisable to try to dramatically shift your lifestyle into a minimalist, zero-waste one overnight, but if you are capable of making some smaller changes in the way you behave as a person and as a consumer, why not do so? Incremental progress is still progress, and the ultimate goal of the sustainability movement is not to wipe plastic straws off the face of the earth, but to change our cultural attitudes and values to better society and the planet. While the specific “you” won’t make a difference; the all-encompassing “you” can.

One particular age-old technique for preserving vegetables, pickling, happens to be among the most delicious ways to avoid food waste (those who disagree are entitled to their opinions, but those opinions are also objectively incorrect). Making standard refrigerator pickles from cucumbers is simple, and it’s easily adaptable to a variety of vegetables and herbs/spices, which you can customize in any way you want to make the recipe your own.

Refrigerator Pickles (makes four 500ml jars)

Ingredients

  • 15 mini cucumbers, chopped into discs

  • 4 garlic cloves, very roughly chopped

  • Dill, celery seed, peppercorns, and chili flakes (any spices will do, but these are a good starting point)

  • 3 cups water

  • 3 cups white vinegar

  • 3 Tbsp salt

Directions

  1. Divide spices, garlic cloves, and cucumber slices among jars, being sure to pack them as full as possible without reaching the lip of the jars.

  2. Combine water, vinegar, and salt in a pot. Stir until salt dissolves and bring to a boil for 1 minute.

  3. Turn off heat. Once liquid has calmed to a simmer, carefully pour into jars until contents are submerged. Close jars.

  4. Allow to cool before refrigerating. Pickles will stay good for at least 4 months; beyond that, just keep an eye out for signs of spoilage, but the process theoretically should make them safe to eat for at least a year. Garlic may turn blue due to chemical reactions, but is still completely safe.