Utah’s Greening Food Culture

One day every April, Salt Lakers shake out their dusty tie-dyes and hemp sandals, unplug their unused appliances, park the Explorer and consider sustainability. Like dutiful Easter Catholics, we pull out back burner ethics we’d tucked away beneath the kitchen cabinet. Like good environmentalists, we slip canvas bags into the basket of the bike four months ago we resolved to rescue from the garage. In some cities, Earth Day celebrations bring green salesmen from every crevice, showcasing every sort of mileage reducing, home insulating, solar paneling, self-propelled technology on the market. Streets line with hemp bags, hemp clothes, bamboo baskets, bumper stickers, corn made enviro-plastics- and all at hefty green prices. We’ve all read, heard or uttered the green brigade slogan, “Every day is Earth Day!” Among Salt Lake foodies, though, that slogan is becoming more and more true.
Granted, we’re no Portland, Seattle or Madison. We don’t head organic agri-business, grass-fed ranches, and the streets aren’t lined with Golden Delicious. In the last decade, seeds of sustainable eating have blossomed onto our daily plates. Even among big box grocers, green is in. Over the last decade, many have added organic and local offerings to produce sections, imitation meats, and increased selections of Earth friendly brands.
The heart of the movement is among local businesses; growers, producers, and retailers. While consumer demand for better environmental ethics fuel changes in food philosophy, increased revenue does not necessarily compensate for higher costs. In these cases, the greening food chain comes as an internal response; a heightened sense of stewardship, desire to raise industry standards, and passion for the environment that sustains them.  

Utah Foodies and the Environment

John Garofalo and Sue Post (Ranui Gardens): Biodynamic farming is as much a worldview as a farming practice. Every aspect, from soil preparation to harvesting, relies on nurturing ecological balance. Farmers work to create interdependence between organisms, yielding more flavorful, nutrient rich produce. In terms of sustainability, biodynamic agriculture outreaches organic standards by leaps and bounds. Like organics, biodynamic farms use natural manures and composts, and avoid chemicals. In biodynamics, however, specific composts and mineral preparations are applied during strict timelines Farmers practice open pollination, which increases plant diversity. For more than twenty years, John and Sue have operated Utah’s only biodynamic farm in Summit County’s high altitudes. They were the first certified organic farm in the state, and the produce is considered by many to be the best available in the state.
Omar Abou-Ismail (Omar’s Rawtopia & Living Cuisine): Omar’s environmental awakening began as he slept. On a beach in Maui, he dreamed a beautiful dreadlocked goddess gave him an ancient book, covered in sand. It contained deep importance and wisdom. The next morning, while reading a book on raw food and sustainability and relaxing on the beach, the goddess from his dream walked past, commenting on his book as she went by.
                The symbolism was pivotal, a calling of sorts. He began soaking up eco-literature and information. The more he read, the more he found himself looking for new ways to connect with the Earth, shaping his philosophy and worldview. He began a raw diet, a plant-based diet consisting of minimally processed and uncooked foods. The lifestyle caught on, and for about a year, he vended raw meals to beach patrons.
                “I work for the Earth,” he says, in the same fervent tone a lover might reference his partner. “Responsibility to live sustainably is among the highest truths.” This passion led him to open Rawtopia in Sugarhouse, Utah’s only exclusively raw restaurant. In addition to environmental benefits of promoting plant based, low impact foods, 100% of his ingredients come from local sources. During Utah’s the summer, he sources produce from farmers markets and local organic growers. When Utah grown produce becomes scarcer, neighboring California and Colorado supply the Restaurant. The shop also serves as a gathering place for locals to share ideas, recipes, and collaborate on environmental projects.
Matt Caputo(Tony Caputo’s Market): At every opportunity, Matt Caputo looks for new ways to increase sustainability at the market. When Blue Sky began offering wind energy through Utah Power, Matt jumped at the opportunity to sign on, purchasing 100% of the store’s electricity from renewable sources. Next, he switched from plastic grocery bags to biodegradable bags produced with corn oil. During their 2008 remodel, the Caputos installed Liquid Membrane Roofing, a technology that insulates during winter and reflects heat in the summer, reducing energy in heating and cooling. Over time, local offerings at Caputo’s have increased, due partly to surges in Utah’s culinary quality. Last fall, as Farmers’ Market waned, year round vendors lamented they’d have nowhere to sell their treats. Slide Ridge’s Larry Howell approached Matt Caputo and the two concocted Locavore. This weekly Saturday market hosts 3-7 small gourmet producers from 10-2, an invaluable resource for connecting farmers and vendors to customers. 
Cristiano Creminelli (Creminelli Fine Meats): Customs restricts import of authentic Italian salumi. Cristiano Creminelli, 400 year descendant of Piedmont salami masters reacted by exporting… himself. When he arrived on American soil, he recoiled at common pork husbandry practices: unsanitary and crowded pens, unhealthy livestock, using of chemicals and poor diet. He embarked on a 2 year trek cross-country in search of free range, organically raised, hormone and antibiotic-free pork. On the border between Utah and Idaho, he finally found his sustainable ranch; ethically raised, chemical free roaming pigs. He settled nearby and began weaving his craft, establishing Creminelli Fine Meats in Springville, Utah. Many of his ingredients are sourced locally, traveling fewer than 100 miles. He’ll be upping the stakes over the next year, adding enthalpic curing and aging cells. By taking advantage of ambient air, the technology will allow Creminelli to turn off all refrigeration for half the year, reducing energy consumption considerably. Chris Bowler, his business partner says, “While all of the decisions we make start with the desire to make the best possible handcrafted meats, we can feel good about what we're doing knowing that our practices also make us good stewards of the environment.”
Liz Butcher (Butcher’s Bunches & Cache Valley Gardeners Market President/ Chairperson): Hailing from Cache Valley, Utah, (AKA the land of milk and honey) Liz began selling her jams at Farmer’s Markets last year. This year she sourced 89-98% produce from farms around the state, boasting Logan grown berries and apples from her own garden. Ingredients not grown locally, she sources from local small purveyors. Chocolate in her jam comes from Orem’s Amano Artisan Chocolate (recognized for quality, sustainability, and ethical global practices); blue cheese from Caputo’s Market, and produce from locally based Cibo Mushrooms and Muir Copper Canyon. After fantastic reception and customer response, Butcher has been making preparations to increase local ingredients to nearly 100% year round. Local sourcing aside, she has teamed up with Greenlocals, a group dedicated to promoting sustainability, to further improve her environmental impact.
As President/ Chairperson of Cache Valley Gardeners Market, Liz has been collaborating on a co-op designed to increase availability on off-market days, sell/trade/barter between areas of the state, and to prevent produce from going to waste.


How Sustainable Food Practices Help the Planet
Organic growing: Chemicals used in conventional farming and ranching seep into the air and soil, are consumed by unintended critters, kill both beneficial and detrimental insect populations and endanger ecological balance. Growers who adopt organic practices take advantage of natural environmental relationships to prevent unintended ecological effects and foster safe, healthy air, water and soil.
Plant based diets: Common livestock animals require large amounts of plant based food, additional energy consumption and emit methane gasses into the atmosphere. Pound for pound, consuming animal products utilizes more resources than eating plants. Moreover, animal husbandry in the U.S. is associated with terrible conditions; small and dirty living spaces, overuse of hormones and antibiotics, and toxic leakage of waste products into nearby bodies of water. By adopting plant based diets, less methane enters the atmosphere, fewer rivers and lakes are contaminated by ranching by-products, and more agricultural land is allocated for harvesting diverse plant based foods.
Free range and organic ranching:  As mentioned above, factory farms contaminate nearby air and water. Forests and natural habitats are razed for space to grow corn based feed (and, ironically, biofuels also). Hormones injected to increase animal size and mass are implicated in human health problems, particularly obesity, antibiotic resistance and the early onset of puberty (which yields more people and thus, greater demand for resources). Finally, low yield animal parts are often wasted. Free range and organic animals graze in open spaces and pastures, interacting with their environments and separating from the group when ill. Hormones are never used, and antibiotics are given in response to illness and not prophylactically, decreasing spread into meat products. Finally, small ranchers make greater efforts to use more of the animal and reduce waste, equating to smaller landfills and fewer slaughters.
Local Sourcing: Often, traveling food will need additional processing and packaging. Every mile traveled emits hazardous gasses into the air, wears roads and highways sooner, and represents land allocations to building more roads. Shorter distance between the farm and the plate represent decreased energy consumption to transport and store products, decreased air pollution, and stronger communities. Additionally, face to face communication between producer and consumer often yield more conscientious production and consumption.
Renewable energy: Energy fueled by petroleum gas and coal powered electricity (common to Utah) severely impact air quality. As we extract the ingredients for these energy sources, we deplete the supply which will be available to future generations. By embracing clean renewable energy sources, we pave opportunity for future generations, preserve mineral/ oil rich natural environments, and keep the air cleaner and safer.