Part 2: The Local Food Movement

By Jolee Keplinger (C’20) | Principia Center for Sustainability

Why make local food the next focus? The answer is simple, yet complicated. The ultimate goal of this blog is to promote a holistically sustainable food system. As you probably know, there are many viewpoints regarding the best way forward. These stances range from the plant-based movement to regenerative ranching. There’s also the organic vs. conventional conversation, and the whole issue surrounding food waste. All of these movements play a significant role in the broad topic of sustainable food production and consumption. 

Rather than one-dimensionally viewing a certain method of farming or eating as being “good” or “bad,” I believe it’s important to address the topic with a local lens. Progress is being made in many forms. In some locations, it’s not so obvious though.  Fortunately, with a bit of time, education, and a solutions-based journalistic approach, the trending topic of sustainable food can effectively be addressed.

Each so-called sustainable “solution” has many positive aspects that should be highlighted. Although becoming a locavore will not make the largest environmental impact, focusing on local food production, as a subcategory of a sustainable food system, allows for many connections to be made.

Now, I will be highlighting various aspects of sustainable food, throughout the St. Louis/Elsah, IL area.

This blog serves a a communication tool, raising awareness of what’s in my backyard as a student at Principia College. Rather than complaining about the unfortunate state of the mainstream food system, I want to educate, inspire, and create positive change by documenting the abundant local and sustainable options that exist for those living from the village of Elsah, Illinois to metropolitan St. Louis, Missouri.

Now, it’s time to tackle a persisting problem in our society. These days, most of us are highly disconnected from our food. In general, most people don’t care where it originated, who grew it, and how it ended up on the table.

So why should we care?

  • Food plays a crucial role in our quality of life. Unfortunately, many of us are at a disadvantage.
  • The U.S. food system is contributing to pressing public health problems such as obesity, health disparities, and environmental degradation.
  • Food that is cheap and widely available is typically high-calorie, low in nutrients, and over-processed.
  • We’re not eating enough real food; we’re eating too many food-like products.

If you’re still not convinced, here are three reasons why:

1. Mindful Living

In a world of abundant food, the thought of mindfully sourcing each food item may seem excessive for all the non-foodies. I’ll admit that shifting from quick and simple grocery store trips to seeking locally grown and raised food is a process. Although it requires a few logistical shifts, it’s absolutely worth it.

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The more time one spends doing an activity, the more one tends to value and appreciate it. For example, carefully selecting ingredients and cooking a meal is not simple, but the end result is far more meaningful.

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Food diversity and new experiences: two reasons shop locally! Yes, these purple beans are turning green as they cook. I never would’ve known magical beans like this existed if I hadn’t visited my local farmer’s market.

2. The Local Economy

Supporting local farmers by purchasing their foods keeps money in the community rather than sending it to a massive multinational corporation which is not likely to directly benefit the local area.

This is called voting with your wallet. Developing relationships with the local food producers builds community resiliency, and further establishes one’s sense of place within a community. 

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Imagine if everyone were to strive toward this. Communities would be stronger regarding food-secure, financial stability, and socially. In a world full of increasing uncertainty, striving to utilize local resources builds resiliency, and fosters a peace of mind.

3. Environmental Sustainability

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Relevant Term: “Food miles

This is the distance food travels from where it is grown to where it is ultimately purchased or eaten by the consumer.

  • Locally grown or raised food = less miles traveled from the farm to fridge. This means: less pollution, less waste & less resource depletion 
  • Did you know sourcing food locally can also be a better bang for your buck nutritionally? Read this NY Times article to learn more!

Plant-Based Recipe Test #11: Grilled “Cheese”

Need a simple and satisfying lunch? This alternative grilled cheese is perfect for those who want comfort food without a long cooking commitment. Best of all, it’s 100% plant-based!

All you need is bread, olive oil, Daiya “cheese”, and your favorite vegetables.

I don’t recommend the Trader Joe’s soy cheese in the picture. It works, but it doesn’t compare to Daiya.  

Since Daiya “cheese” is dairy-free, it doesn’t melt at the same speed. To prevent burning the bread on the skillet, I recommend microwaving the sandwich first. Microwave until the cheese is slightly melted, and then crisp the bread on the skillet (with olive oil).

Yum!

  • If you want to feel even better, click to learn about how dairy cheese negatively impacts our planet. 

Feedback

Yemen 8/10

  • “This is good!”

Doug Brown 10/10

  • “That was satisfying and it felt very wholesome because of the substantial bread, the “cheese” was creamy, and vegetables were fresh. I think if food like this was served in the dining hall, people would be up for it. I like trying alternatives like this.”

Diego John 10/10

  • Delicious!!!

Boyo 9.8/10

  • Normally I’m not a fan of grilled cheese. This is very similar to the regular version, but very good! It’s the bomb!”

Plant-based Product Review: Beyond Meat Grilled “Chicken” Strips

By Jolee Keplinger (C’20) | Principia Center for Sustainability

Move over tofu, Beyond Meat has created a variety of meat alternatives! My favorite product is the Grilled “Chicken” Strips. They look just like traditional chicken, and taste very similar. On their own, you can tell it’s not real meat, but when they’re served with other ingredients, it’s hard to tell the difference!

If you’re not sold by this amazing “meat” substitute, let me give you a few reasons why you should be.

Beyond Meat Grilled chicken

  • Complete protein — 20g per 3-oz serving
    • 46% of your daily value!
  • 20% DV of iron
  • No saturated fat or cholesterol

Chicken (espeically when raised on factory farms)

  • May contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria
  • May promote animal exploitation
  • Potential for E. coli contamination
  • Waste pollutes the land and water
  • Some are fed arsenic to make them grow faster (toxic to humans)

 

The best feedback was received when the “chicken” was incorporated into plant-based dishes such as the stir-fry pictured above, quesadillas and melts. The melt pictured below was made with Daiya provolone “cheese”, “chicken”, tomato slices, and a bit of pesto spread on top of toasted whole grain bread.

Student Feedback (“chicken” only)

Yenum Egwuenu 6/10

  • “It tastes very veggie. It’s okay but I prefer meat. I’m open to eating it in the future though.”

Stephen Stuart 8/10

  • “It has a fish-like flavor. It’s really good but it doesn’t taste like the chicken I ate for lunch. There’s a blandish flavor. It would be great with spices and other things mixed in.”

Cheesy Chicken Melt – Student Feedback

Adelainee Biang 8/10

  • “It tastes like meat. At first I didn’t like it but after eating it all I think it tastes good! I normally don’t like cheese, but this tastes really nice.”

Boyo Amuka 10/10

  • “The chicken alternative tastes like normal chicken! It’s a great substitute! I think it’s best when combined with other things.”

The Verdict

This chicken alternative is by far, the most similar to chicken out of all the plant-based imitation chicken I’ve tasted.  It was received by students, making it an excellent option for plant-based eaters here at Principia.

Plant-based Recipe Test 10: Pasta with Alfredo Sauce

Alfredo sauce is a classic choice among pasta-lovers. This rich and creamy sauce is far from being plant-based though. Most Alfredo sauces contain heavy cream, butter, and parmesan cheese. Since I’ve never tried a plant-based version of this sauce, I decided to test out a recipe I found online.

The recipe called for garlic, olive oil, cauliflower, plain almond milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

First I cooked the garlic in olive oil for a few minutes. Next, I added the almond milk and brought it to a boil. Next I added the chopped cauliflower, salt, and pepper. After about 7 minutes of cooking, I transferred the mixture to a blender and added the nutritional yeast and lemon juice. I blended it until a smooth consistency was reached. DONE!

I served the alternative Alfredo sauce with brown rice pasta and the plant-based pesto. 

Student Feedback

Blake Bischoff 8/10 (alone), 10/10 (with pasta).

  • “I appreciate how this sauce is healthier than traditional Alfredo. It’s not very flavorful on its own but it compliments the pasta well.”

Pauline Mwangi 8.5/10

  • “I like how it’s dairy free. In general, I like healthier things. This sauce is not as runny as as most are.  I’d go for it!”

 

Plant-based Recipe Test 9: Pasta with Pesto

Pasta is a go-to dish for many students at Principia. Currently, marinara sauce is the only 100% plant-based sauce option. The others are contain dairy products such as milk, cream, and cheese. For example, most traditional pesto sauces contain mozzarella cheese. Cheese-free pestos aren’t common, but they do exist! I tested out a recipe I found online

This recipe is similar to traditional pesto, but there’s nutritional yeast instead of cheese and walnuts instead of pine nuts. 

Slight change: The recipe called for two cups of fresh basil. I only had one, so I substituted a cup of kale for the basil I lacked.

The recipe was quick and simple. All it required was measuring, chopping, and blending the ingredients. Once complete, I served it with pasta and began the student feedback session.

Student Feedback

Diego John 10/10

  • “This tastes fresh, real, and I like it better than the original. I’d personally have this in the morning, afternoon, and night. It reminds me of food from Africa. I feel very satisfied after only eating a small bit!”

Boyo Amuka 9.9/10

  • “It tastes very natural. I’d definitely choose this over what’s currently available!”

Jenita Arini 9/10

  • “It’s very similar to normal pesto.”

The Verdict

This (slightly altered) plant-based pesto recipe is healthy, and incredibly delicious. It was highly rated by students based on its fresh ingredients and powerful flavor. We didn’t miss the cheese at all!

Plant-based Recipe Test 8: Pancakes

Pancakes are a frequent item on Principia’s breakfast menu. Since they contain butter, eggs, and milk, I figured that a plant-based alternative recipe would be worthwhile. 

I bought ingredients from Grassroots Grocery, a local co-op, and tested a recipe I found online.

This alternative recipe was incredibly simple. (Not cracking eggs was a plus too.)

In addition to plain pancakes, I experimented with a few other varieties: banana, chocolate chip, blueberry, walnut, flaxseed, and one with everything.

Oil, rather than butter, is used for the cooking process. I chose coconut oil due to its rich flavor.

The pancakes cooked beautifully and tasted even better. 

The Verdict

This particular recipe was quick, simple, and tasty, but it doesn’t compare to the average fluffy pancake that most people are accustomed to. These pancakes were dense, a bit tough, and the coconut oil overwhelmed the flavor. Due to this, I will continue testing other plant-based pancake recipes. Hopefully I’ll find one that’s comparable to the average pancake!

Bonus Recipe: Cheesy Basil Tomato Appetizer

With leftover tomatoes and basil from the avocado pasta bean salad, I decided to create a post-dinner appetizer-style dish.

I sliced up a tomato, placed fresh basil leaf on each slice, sprinkled Daiya “cheese” on top, and added a bit of sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

To melt the “cheese”, I placed the slices in the toaster oven for a few minutes. The end result was delicious! Best of all, it was ready in less than 10 minutes!

Plant-based Recipe Test 7: Spaghetti with Beyond Beef Crumbles

Spaghetti is a classic for food lovers. Meat sauces with ground beef are a staple of the typical college students diet. Out of all foods, beef is one of the least sustainable due to the massive amount of resources needed. Fortunately, Beyond Meat makes a ground beef alternative which serves as a delicious substitute for  spaghetti sauce. For vegetarians that would normally go without meat, this adds plenty protein, yielding a well-balanced meal.

A few students and I got together and cooked dinner. We cooked pasta, sautéed veggies, added sauce, and cooked the Beyond Meat Beefy crumbles. We mixed it together and had a delicious meal. 

We also made garlic bread with olive oil (instead of butter) and Daiya jalapeño”cheese” (instead of dairy cheese).

Student Feedback 

Stephen Stuart 9/10

  • “I love it! I think the “meat” tastes pretty good. I love the garlic “cheese” bread too!”

Kiersten Sheehan 8.5/10

  • “It has a dry smoky taste. I like how the “meat” isn’t as oily.”

Daniel Cornell 8.75/10

  • “I can’t say I’d always eat it but I like it in this form. In terms of realness, it’s great! I feel good because I’m not killing a cow.”

Alan Freeman 7/10

  • “I like this in terms of helping my conscious by moderating how much beef I consume.”

José Lucero 8/10

  • “It doesn’t taste like meat but it’s good. I’d eat it if it was an option. I’m concerned about the artificial ingredients though (specifically caramel color).”

Reilly Jeddy 8/10

  • “It doesn’t taste quite like beef so I wouldn’t eat it all the time.”

The Verdict

Even though the Beyond Beef crumbles didn’t taste exactly like beef, they complemented the meal quite nicely. Since vegetarian spaghetti (pasta, sauce, and veggies) isn’t a complete protein, the additional protein from the Beyond Beef crumbles made an already delicious meal, a nutritionally balanced and satisfying one.

Plant-based Alternative Product: Cream Cheese

Bagels with cream cheese are a go-to breakfast for many college students. I’ve always loved bagels with cream cheese, and I even worked at a bagel shop for two years. 

Sadly, dairy products, like cream cheese, are not the most sustainable choice. Click to learn more.

Luckily, there are quite a few pre-made vegan cream cheese products available. A few students, and myself tested one made by Tofutti

Student Feedback

Anna-Zoë Herr 8.75/10

  • If Dining Services offered this I’d be really grateful and totally buy it! I’d eat this instead of real cream cheese because I don’t eat dairy products.”

Kiersten Sheehan 9/10

  • “I’d eat this!”

Stephen Stuart 8.5/10

  • “It’s pretty good! I’d go for it!”

Afton Leslie 10/10

  • “There’s no milky, fatty aftertaste! I love it! Since I’m vegan I’d definitely choose this over normal cream cheese.”

Natalie Storm 8/10

  • “It seems lighter than the dairy version. I’d go for it!”

 

The Verdict

The taste testers and myself all liked this product. The texture is exactly like traditional cream cheese and the taste is similar. You can tell it’s different, but not in a bad way. A vegan cream cheese would be an excellent addition to Prin’s Bagel Tuesday.

Although this alternative cream “cheese” is a step in the right direction, there’s one ingredient I have a problem with, and it’s palm oil. I did some research the company claims it’s sustainably sourced. Personally, I like to avoid products that contain this oil if possible.

Plant-based Recipe Test 6: Mac and Cheese 2 Ways

Mac and cheese is one of the most popular side dishes at Prin. Mac and cheese is a side dish is one I’ve always loved but unfortunately, the cheese we enjoy eating may come with a high environmental cost. (Click to learn more.)

I browsed through quite a few recipes online and decided to test this one out. I selected this one because it’s made completely from scratch with whole/natural ingredients.

I’ve been sampling a lot of vegan cheeses so I wanted to see if a cheesy texture and flavor could be achieved without relying on processed cheese substitutes (such as microwaving a bowl of pasta with with Daiya cheese). 

The 5 minute “cheese” recipe I used contained the following ingredients:

  • White beans, unsweetened almond milk, nutritional yeast, salt, garlic powder, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil

I blended the ingredients, heated the mixture on the stove, and poured it over pasta. (To add some additional color and texture, I sautéed tomatoes and kale in olive oil and mixed it into the pasta.)

It wouldn’t mistake this recipe for traditional mac and cheese due to the difference in flavor and texture, but overall, it was very good. It tasted fresher, lighter and healthier.

Student Feedback

Brandon Robles: Immediately he said “it needs something”. He suggested adding some Daiya Jalapeño “cheese”. I added the “cheese”, melted it in the microwave, and it was “way better”.

Marygrace Kinuthia: I added extra olive oil, salt, and Daiya mixed shredded “cheese” to the next sample. Here’s the reaction I got: “This is vegan?! I really like it!” She gave it a 10/10.

Version 2

Here’s simpler version for busy college students. All you need is pasta and a cheese alternative such as Daiya. 

Just cook the pasta and mix in the “cheese” until melted and evenly spread. 

Student Feedback

  • Afton Leslie (visiting student)

“It’s thick, creamy, and tastes like real cheese! I’d much rather eat this than the dairy version. I want to give it a 10/10 but I’m vegan so that’s probably not fair so I’ll give it a 9/10. I love how there’s no milky/fatty aftertaste. I feel fantastic after eating this!”

  • Natalie Storm 8/10

“Yum! It’s really cheese-like. It’s good! I like the spice from the Daiya Jalapeño Havarti because I usually put saracha on my mac. I normally don’t eat much mac and cheese but I’d go for this if it was in the dining hall. I feel like I’d feel better afterward (as opposed to eating the traditional version). I just really love pasta!”

  • Vanessa Ramirez Jasso 7.5/10

“I like it! I’d eat this if it was an option here.”

  • Devon Maurande 8/10

“It’s a little spicy but it’s delicious!”

Prin DIY(s):

  • Purchase pasta from Dining Services and Daiya cheddar “cheese” from the C-Store. Add the desired amount of “cheese” and microwave until melted.
  • Purchase the boxed Daiya kit from the C-Store!