This week I tip my hat to the 2021 Source Award winners as they, each in their own way, make living more sustainably in Maine that much more possible. I could not do what they do.

These folks, and their stories (attend the online ceremony to honor them at 7 p.m. this Wednesday), are aspirational. For lack of time, talent, training, tenacity, money and/or inclination, we can’t all attain their level of sustainable living. But we can take smaller steps along the way to contribute to what I call “herd sustainability.” For the seven years that this newspaper has been handing out Source Awards, I have been writing this column to help readers identify some of the manageable steps to sourcing, preparing and avoid wasting food grown here in Maine. These are the top seven things I’ve learned along the way.

1. Food waste reduction is a muscle. Smaller than a hamstring but bigger than a bicep, food waste avoidance needs to be exercised to get stronger and become a habit. Case in point: I’ve had a Garbage-to-Garden compost bucket on my counter, right next to my cutting board, for five years next month. At least once a week, I still find myself walking with inedible food scraps toward the garbage disposal instead of the bucket or pulling an onion skin out of that bucket to put in my scraps for stock bag in the freezer. About once a month, I find a container of leftovers I’ve neglected for so long it could be a science project. And every holiday, I still make too much food for the mouths I must feed. Clearly my muscle needs work if I am going to help make a dent in the 219 pounds of food the average American wastes annually. I’m guessing yours does, too.

2. The Rs in the recycling equation have multiplied like rabbits. Rethink your place in the natural environment to better understand a just hierarchy of resource management. Refuse items that are over-packaged. Reduce your reliance on single-use plastic containers by reaching for reusable shopping bags, straws, water bottles and lunch containers. Repurpose all types of packaging right down to your butter wrappers, which can double as cupcake liners. Rot is the “R” word for composting. Recycle only if none of the other Rs apply. But do it, just the same. China used to process many of the world’s recyclables, but several years ago drastically cut back. The U.S. needs to establish domestic plastic recycling plants, which, in turn, will need a steady supply of carefully sorted input from folks like us.

3. Eat local vegetables year-round. Maine farmers are making investments in agricultural infrastructure (think high tunnels to extend the growing season, cold storage to hold carrots and squash after harvest, hydroponics systems to give you basil and tomatoes in February) to make more local produce accessible through mud season. Support their efforts to improve the local food system with your dollars.

4. Eat more seafood. Working waterfronts are part and parcel to the whole “way life should be” slogan. If the fish was reeled in by a Maine fisherman, it was caught in accordance with that species’ sustainable stock management, offering environmental incentive to eat it, above and beyond its sheer deliciousness. And don’t forget the farmed filter feeders – clams, mussels, oysters and seaweed – whose mere presence makes the ocean healthier for all sea creatures.

5. Eat less meat. I am not advocating veganism as I am a confirmed omnivore. I am talking about scaling down the huge portions of beef, pork, chicken and cheese that industrial farming has allowed Americans to overeat for decades. Yes, grass-fed, local meat is more expensive than highly subsidized feedlot meat, but it’s also better for you and the environment. Right-sizing your portions to a 5-ounce serving provides the financial leeway to seek out sustainably sourced animal proteins.

6. The toaster oven is a cook’s friend. Before you turn on the oven in your range or the wall, turn to your countertop toaster oven to assess if your recipe will fit in the smaller appliance. It heats up quicker and cooks just as well while consuming much less fossil fuel.

7. All recipes are adaptable. Buy a copy of “The Substitution Bible” by David Joachim from your favorite local bookseller. It will save you loads of time, money and gas on running to the market to get that one ingredient the recipe said you needed but you really didn’t.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport Press based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

DIY soda with homemade blueberry-lavender simple syrup, perfect for toasting the 2021 Source Award winners. The lavender vase, by the way, is a repurposed local BBQ sauce jar and the soda bottle is a reusable soda stream. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

Fruity Herb and Spice Simple Syrup

A flavored simple syrup in your refrigerator is handy. It can be used in many ways. Mix it with something bubbly – Champagne? soda water? – to add color to a celebration, to, say, fete the 2021 Source Sustainability Award winners at our annual awards ceremony on April 21. Or mix it with liquor to make a cocktail. I usually add 1 tablespoon syrup per glass of Champagne (you want to be able to taste the Champagne), 2-3 tablespoons syrup to an 8-ounce glass of soda water, and deploy a 2:1 ratio of booze to syrup in a cocktail; so if you’re making a raspberry gin and tonic, you’d use 1 ounce gin, 1 tablespoon raspberry simple syrup and 4 ounces tonic.

You can also dissolve the syrup in iced tea on a hot day. Stir it into yogurt for breakfast or pour it over waffles. Moisten a dry cake or whip it into sorbet or use it to make homemade sodas. Flavored simple syrup can also make a salad dressing slightly sweet and help yield a nice char in a marinade for grilled meat. Use this general recipe to make your own flavors. Some of my favorite combinations are lemon and thyme, grapefruit and rosemary, strawberry and black pepper, pineapple and Thai chiles, limes and chipotle chiles, peach and lemon verbena, and blueberry and lavender.

Makes 2 cups

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh or frozen fruit or citrus peel
2 tablespoons finely chopped herbs

Combine the sugar in a medium pan with 2 cups water. Bring the mixture to a boil on the stovetop over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, reduce the heat and simmer until the mixture is reduced by one-third, 8-10 minutes.

Remove from heat, stir in the fruit and herbs, and set the syrup aside to steep for at least an hour. Strain the syrup into a glass jar and store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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