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Expert Interview Series: Emily McLaughlin of Gathering Green on Locally-Grown Food and Sustainable Living

Emily McLaughlin is the author of Gathering Green, a sustainability blog aimed at the integration of food and the environment. We recently sat down with Emily to discuss locally-grown food and how to embrace a greener lifestyle. Why did...

Sustainable living

Emily McLaughlin is the author of Gathering Green, a sustainability blog aimed at the integration of food and the environment. We recently sat down with Emily to discuss locally-grown food and how to embrace a greener lifestyle.

Why did you choose to create this blog?

There are a lot of food blogs, and a lot of "green" blogs, but not so many that look at how our food choices impact our environment. At the beginning, Gathering Green was the place to showcase my Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. It was a new experience for me and one I wanted to document.

Over the years, GG has also evolved into a sustainable living blog in general. For example, I've covered topics such as online consignment reviews, which are great ways to avoid sending old clothes to the landfill; and natural and chemical-free cosmetics and personal care product reviews.

As a young professional, how do you think your generation views food and/or cooking?

I try not to make blanket statements about a generation, but it appears the millennial generation thrives on two things; a busy schedule and great food. I know that's true for me personally! Of course, great, home-cooked food doesn't pair well with a packed calendar.

My generation is an increasingly inquisitive one, and food is no exception. We want to know where our food was grown, whether it has pesticides, what type of condition the farmers live in, and how long ago it was picked. I think this is why meal services that deliver ingredients to your door with easy-to-follow instructions are so popular with young professionals.

What exactly is a Community Supported Agriculture project? What benefits are you getting from it?

Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA) isn't a new concept, but it's one that's gaining popularity. CSAs are basically a membership program where you make an advanced payment to the farmer(s) in the form of the seasonal membership price; and in return, you are provided with a weekly box of produce (or eggs, cheese, meat, etc.).

I currently have a CSA through Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative where my boyfriend and I get a large box of veggies each week. We paid upfront for the full season in February, and from May-October we will pick up a box of veggies each week. The benefits are reduced grocery bills; cheaper, fresher and more direct organic produce; and the knowledge that I've helped those farmers in a personal way.

Traditional CSAs do take some flexibility in that you don't get to pick specifically what comes in each box; but each pickup site has a swap box so if you really don't want something, you can always swap it out for something else. We currently only have a vegetable share, but there are CSAs for fruit, bread, cheese, meat, even herbal medicines. I find CSAs exciting because I'm pushed to try new veggies and recipes!

How can people do their part to help the environment when it comes to the foods they choose?

You vote every day with your dollars. Where you shop and what you choose to buy sends farmers, lawmakers, and distributors a clear, immediate message. Ideally, you're choosing local, organic produce and meat; but when that's not realistic (which it isn't for us all the time), choose wisely. Start to question why those two traditional chicken breasts are twice as large as the organic ones but $5 cheaper.

I recently started working with a startup out of Seattle, Barn2Door, who is trying to bring the consumer and farmer closer together. By eliminating middlemen and the accompanying pricey markups on produce, we make it easier for farmers to sell local, organic, sustainable produce. Oh, and try doing meatless at least once a week! It's intimidating at first, but if we all cut just a small amount of meat out of our diet, we'd reduce our carbon footprint drastically.

Visitors to Gathering Green would probably expect to see your recipes featuring salads and vegetarian dishes. But your blog also showcases many meat entrees and desserts as well. Do you have a sweet tooth and/or an "inner paleo" as well?

While in an ideal world I'd be vegetarian or vegan, I'm far from it. So I try to showcase what I truly eat. I don't post recipes I haven't personally tried, and I always encourage people to use local, organic produce when possible. Many of my desserts feature baking alternatives (using applesauce instead of oil, or sneaking vegetables into baked goods), but some don't. I don't believe in never indulging; those sorts of restrictive diets have never been my style. I like to think that my inner sweet tooth and inner paleo both try to shine through in their own ways!

Could you share a recipe with us featuring fresh, locally-grown produce?

Summer is the height of produce season and everything is so fresh and (hopefully) local. I love to cook and bake my summer produce as little as possible. A classic way I love to use summer tomatoes is in a caprese salad (slices of mozzarella, tomato, and chopped fresh basil) drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar alone or topped on top of toasted French bread.

If you're looking for a great cookout recipe that is free of mayonnaise and heavy dressings, my Mayo-Free Coleslaw with a Red Wine Vinaigrette is a crowd pleaser. It's just shredded or chopped cabbage, carrots, celery, peppers, and onions with a dressing made from red wine (or apple cider vinegar), oil, oregano, salt and pepper, and sugar. So simple - but so, so tasty.

Given the dishes that you like to cook, what is your must-have kitchen tool, utensil, or item?

I, of course, love my food processor and can't live without it! But my recent favorite tool is my handheld citrus juicer. This super-simple gadget squeezes more juice out of lemons and limes than any human hand can. It's been a life saver when making citrus-based chicken marinades, guacamole with lots of lime, or salad dressings. A must have!

Are there any kitchen appliances, gadgets, or other machines that can help someone be more environmentally-friendly?

Eventually, I'd love for every house to have a compost bin. We have a private service that does citywide composting, so it's super easy for us and I'm so thankful for that. Beyond a compost bin, I'd say some good storage bags and containers are vital to a more sustainable kitchen. Even if you have a compost bin to sustainably dispose of food scraps, you still want to waste as little as possible. By keeping your refrigerator, fruit bowl, and pantry organized, you'll know what you have and don't have and what needs to be used up quickly. A disorganized fridge is the fastest way to waste food.

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