A belated reply to the Green Mountain College student or supporter who supposed that saying “soy isn’t in season in the winter” was some sort of argument for the superiority of animal flesh as a “sustainable” source of protein.
Black beans, red beans, pink beans, white beans. Chick peas. Green lentils, red lentils, yellow lentils. Navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans. Lima beans. Great Northern Beans. Green split peas, yellow split peas. Mung beans, adzuki beans.
Let’s not forget the heirloom varieties: Jacob’s Cattle beans, Arikara Yellow beans, Hidatsa Red benas, Good Mother Stallard beans, Snow Cap beans, Ojo De Cabra beans, Saint-Esprit à Oeil beans, White Rice beans, Yellow China beans, Hutterite Soup beans and literally dozens and dozens more. When you grow heirloom beans, you not only treat yourself to new flavors and colors; you also help to preserve the diversity of our seed supply.
All of these legumes are excellent sources of protein that can be dried. No, that’s making it sound too difficult. All of these legumes are excellent sources of protein that grow easily and dry themselves on the vine.
Any gardener with enough land and the will to do it can easily grow enough sources of concentrated protein to last the winter. Bean plants not only grow readily but enrich rather than deplete the soil, due to the nitrogen-fixing properties of the interaction between their roots and the Rhizobium bacteria found in most soil. (Do they not teach this at the Green Mountain College farm program? How can it be that home gardeners know more about growing crops than agriculture students?)
So, beans can be grown as a stand-alone crop in fields or garden areas in which heavy nitrogen users were grown the year before. Beans also can be grown within systems of plants, such as the corn-beans-squash system used by many Native American farmers. In that system, the corn stalks serve as supports for the vining beans. (Yes, there’s one of many reasons we chose the acronym VINE.)
But let’s not forget nuts: almonds, beech nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and more. Nut trees, once mature, provide plentifully, as anybody who has ever lived near a walnut tree knows. And, as every squirrel (but I guess not every college student) knows, nuts last all winter. Which nut you might be able to grow or buy locally will depend on your region, but most nuts are high in not only protein but also many other vital nutrients. Hazelnuts in particular (which do grow well here in New England) provide a whopping dose of vitamin E and are also good sources of thiamin, folate, and vitamin B6. Walnuts also can be grown in New England and are especially excellent sources of essential fatty acids.
But—wait!—there’s more: Quiet as it’s kept, protein lurks not only among the usual suspects but also in many unsuspected locales, including those dark leafy greens you’ve heard tell about. Kale packs a powerful protein punch, along with iron, calcium, fiber, and essential fatty acids. A cool-season crop, kale can be started early in the spring; a second crop can be sown in the summer for harvesting into late fall. Even better, you can knock together a cold-frame out of discarded windows or other found objects and grow cool-season greens almost all year long. Kale can even be dehydrated into crunchy winter snacks.
Speaking of cold-frames, let me remind you of the old-school root cellar, in which potatoes, turnips, and other root crops that aren’t in season in the winter can be kept edible well into the winter. And, of course, tomatoes, fruit, and other summertime treats can be canned for later consumption. So, seriously, it’s just silly to suggest that sustainability requires eating animals in the wintertime. Spring, summer, winter, or fall, eating an animal always means implicitly eating all of the plants (and drinking all of the water) that animal consumed over the course of her or her life. And that’s always more resource-intensive (and much less kind) than just eating plants directly.
Vegans! Pipe up! What are your favorite ways to prepare any of the sustainable protein sources mentioned here?
I’ll go first. I love to grow Santa Maria Piquento beans, which are heirloom plants producing a plenitude of small, round, light brown beans that require very little in the way of soaking before cooking. After doing a quick soak (bring to a boil, wait an hour, drain), I like to saute them with molasses, garlic, and ginger for a dish I call “stove-top baked beans.”
I discovered those beans when Miriam and I were living in Ypsilanti, Michigan. In that backyard urban garden, I managed to grow nearly a hundred varieties of vegetables and herbs by making efficient use of space (including vertical space–I do love those vines) and by using proven veganic gardening techniques. That’s why I feel so frustrated when folks who have even more land that I had to work with there claim that they somehow need animals or animal products to produce food sustainably.