Luckily, being "green" doesn't mean giving up the all American barbecue—with a few minor tweaks to the usual routine, I have made my cookouts healthier for my family, better for the environment, and better for the local economy.
Barbecues, burgers, and being green…
The staples of the American barbecue—hamburgers and hot dogs—do not score high on the healthy or sustainability scales. The mass production of meat is bad for the environment in an alarming number of ways--too many, in fact, to recount here. But consider this one fact: The livestock industry is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than automobiles. (For more info, check out the United Nations report.)
But I'm not going to lie—I love me a hamburger now and then. So, how do we, the omnivorous environmentally conscious, have our Labor Day cook out without being riddled with guilt?
The easiest way is to buy local and free-range animal products. Grass-fed beef is actually better for us—it is lower in fat and calories and higher in nutrients, and because grass-fed beef are not eating grain (which makes them sick) they do not require the antibiotics that commercially raised cattle do. Free-range chickens are less prone to disease and bacteria like salmonella.
As for the sustainability factor, because grass-fed cattle don't eat grain, all the energy, water, and pesticides required for grain production is eliminated. Cows that are fed a balanced, natural diet also produce less methane gas, a greenhouse gas. Finally, our local farms are using sustainable farming practices that reduce air and water pollution.
Localizing your BBQ
Aquidneck Farms of Portsmouth offers grass-fed beef products and pastured chickens; Simmons Farm of Middletown offers grass-fed beef and pork products as well as pastured chickens. Both farms are at Saturday's Aquidneck Growers' Market.
In addition, Aquidneck Farms' products are available for purchase seven days a week at Sweet Berry Farm's Market. Guilt-free burgers, hot dogs, sausage, chourico, and steak are all at your finger tips! Be prepared to pay more for this meat than you would in the grocery store—the reality is that if commercial farmers were producing meat in sustainable ways, we would be paying more.
While you are at your market of choice, be sure to grab some local potatoes for potato salad—we grabbed some of Bally Machree's fingerling potatoes—and of course, some native corn. If you are making burgers, don't forget the fixings—tomatoes, lettuce, and onions. If you aren't a big burger fan, kabobs could be exciting—your meat of choice paired with fresh peppers, onions, and the last of the season's summer squash.
If you do choose to go the burger route, Provencal Bakery of Middletown makes a great sandwich roll that is perfect for burgers! They are at the Saturday Aquidneck Growers' Market, and also have a shop on Aquidneck Avenue.
And don't forget about dessert! If you are up for baking in this heat, then grab yourself some fresh fruit or berries to make a tart, crumble, pie, or shortcake. If you aren't up for baking, Provencal Bakery has some great dessert offerings, as does Cory's Kitchen at Sweet Berry Farm.
Wash it down
In Middletown, we are lucky that we can even buy local beverages! The staff at Newport Vineyards and Winery helped me pick out a nice red wine to pair with my burgers (their Gemini) and I also decided to try the Rhody Coyote Hard Cider (which is great for a hot summer day!)
Newport Storm is available at local liquor stores for those of you who prefer beer—their Ophelia Cyclone Series Ale has a summery, peach flavor.
Voila! You have a local feast you can be proud of, and you will have plenty to talk about with your guests—who grew their food, who brewed their beer, who baked their bread… The conversation will only blossom from there!