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Pushing The Boundaries Of Green Living With Local Plant-Based Proteins

As a deeply committed locavore, I find myself forever grateful that I get to call this Mediterranean paradise—with the perfect mix of tropical and temperate climate, the seemingly endless growing season, and the rich farm-to-table culture—my home sweet home. Like most conscientious consumers, I realize that eating locally is one of the best ways to reduce my waste, cut my carbon footprint, and support a truly sustainable food system. And living in Santa Barbara like the lucky ducks that we are—well that means that eating locally can really become our reality.

by Sayward Rebhal

Mostly. See, I’m a strict vegetarian, and that comes with its own set of locavore obstacles. But being a vegetarian is something I’m committed to, and I know that regularly replacing animal-based foods with plant-based foods is the single greatest eco-friendly action I can take. Check out these stats:

According to the United Nations, the livestock industry (including locally pastured animals) accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined. In fact, here’s a 2010 report from the United Nations Environment Programme: “Food production is the most significant influence on land use and therefore habitat change, water use, overexploitation of fisheries and pollution with nitrogen and phosphorus.… Animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives. In addition, non-seasonal fruits and vegetables cause substantial emissions when grown in greenhouses, preserved in a frozen state, or transported by air. As total food consumption and the share of animal calories increase with wealth, nutrition for rich countries tends to cause higher environmental impacts than for poor countries.”

And, bringing things a little closer to home for us here in California, we must consider the water input associated with raising animals for food. As a writer for Newsweek once quipped, “the water that goes into a 1,000-pound steer would float a destroyer.”

But here’s that tricky obstacle I referenced above. Where’s a plant-based eater supposed to get locally-grown protein? Most people associate the locavore movement with pastured animals meat, farm-fresh eggs, small-scale dairies, and wild-caught seafood. And these options are certainly better for the environment than their factory-farmed counterparts. But when it comes to conserving resources, you simply can’t beat the power of plants!

So that’s what I’ve spent the last year or so investigating: locally-sourced plant-based proteins. And I’ve got some great news! It turns out that in Santa Barbara, you can have your local and eat your protein, too. There’s plenty of options available for purchase, and I’ve even been playing around with growing my own (pintos and peanuts this year – with more to come next summer, for sure).

For those who choose to replace just one or two animal proteins with plant proteins every day, their environmental footprint will quickly shrink to unparalleled proportions. Here are some of the locally available plant-based proteins I now rely on:

  • Shelling beans in all sorts of varieties—such as black beans, cranberry beans, and Christmas lima beans. They’re available year-round, sold dry at Farmer’s Markets. These types of beans average 15-16 grams of protein per cooked cup.
  • Dried wheat berries (whole grain wheat). These are also widely available year-round. Soak and sprout them before preparing them, to maximize nutrition and increase the protein content. Sprouted wheat contains eight grams of protein per cup.
  • Millet and amaranth. These can be harder to find, but they’re worth looking around for. Amaranth is grown at Pacifica Graduate Institute and is available for purchase there. Cooked millet contains six grams of protein per cup, and cooked amaranth has nine grams per cup.
  • Fava beans (also called broad beans). These are eaten fresh and in season. Cooked favas have a whopping 13 grams of protein per cup.
  • California-grown nuts. The most commonly seen in Santa Barbara are pistachios and almonds, both of which have six grams of protein per ounce. These can be found roasted in a variety of delicious flavors, and are available year-round.
  • Peanuts. These are actually legumes, making them a superior “nut” protein, with seven grams per ounce. Local peanuts are also widely available year-round.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the average adult should be consuming 46 to 56 grams of protein per day (3) – a relatively easy accomplishment with local proteins such as these. The majority of Americans consume much more protein than they need.

To me, replacing animal protein with plant-protein isn’t a chore or a restriction. It’s more like an opportunity for an exciting new challenge – a chance to play with even more of the incredible abundance of locally grown food that we’re fortunate to have here in our little slice of heaven. My plate, filled with lovingly prepared plants, is as downright delicious as it is nutritious. Bon appétit!

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