The importance of what we cultivate close to home has never been more apparent than it is today. The food we serve to our families impacts not just our health, but also our communities and our planet, so choosing to support local farmers is one step we can all take towards a sustainable future.
For the award-winning chef and entrepreneur Andrew Zimmern, that philosophy is especially true when it comes to cooking with American-grown soybeans.
Whether making an edamame hummus or using the beans as the base for a delicious, bright dressing for a sliced tomato salad, “I love incorporating soy, grown right here in the U.S., into my recipes because, not only is it a complete protein, but it’s also grown sustainably by farmers who are committed to reducing the impact farming has on the environment,” he says.
While filming his TV series What’s Eating America, Zimmern spent a year traveling to farms and learning about the issues facing U.S. farmers today. What they shared, he says, is a motivation for a sustainable future.
“When you talk to farmers about what their job is, they don’t tell you I grow soybeans, they say, I take care of the land,” he explains. “Farmers know more than anyone that if they don’t take care of the land they are farming, everything goes out the window. It begins and ends with the land, which is why soybean growers, when I talk to them, their goal is to improve and preserve the soils on their farms for future generations.”
They do so by employing sustainable practices such as crop rotation, reduced tillage and water and nutrient management to provide a quality, sustainable ingredient to feed communities around the world. In fact, since 1980, U.S. soybean farmers have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 41% per metric ton and reduced energy usage by 42% per bushel. Even accounting for the fact that soy production has nearly doubled since then, U.S. farmers now use 8% less energy than they did in 1980.
Supporting American soybean farmers also means supporting family business: 97% of U.S. farms are family-owned, and soybeans are the second-largest crop grown on U.S. soil. Cooking with locally grown soy products such as tofu, frozen soybeans or neutral-flavored soybean oil (often labeled as “vegetable oil” on grocery shelves) helps ensure that the families who look after these farms can continue to do so for generations to come.
While Zimmern has a global outlook on food, having traveled to 176 countries in his career, he’s come to understand that even the most worldly pantry should be stocked with ingredients grown close to home.
“When we source food locally, we’re helping our local economy. We strengthen our own food system because it supports U.S farmers, the sustainable farming practices they employ and helps them reach their sustainability goals,” he says.
The urgency of this goal has become particularly evident in 2020, first in March as nationwide shutdowns brought the food-service industry to a halt, and in the months since as the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted supply chains for staples like beef and pork, leading consumers to see meat prices rise by 4.3 percent, according to recent data from data from the Bureau of Labor statistics.
Throughout all of this, farmers — like so many essential workers in the food industry — have labored tirelessly every day, supplying ingredients even as fluctuating demand and logistical disruptions have at times threatened their businesses.
At a time of global upheaval, having a reliable food system in the nation’s backyard is an invaluable resource, and consumers play a critical role in keeping it alive.
“I keep coming back to this idea as consumers: supporting farmers and their families also allows us to say ‘thank you’ for their efforts because they are working to help ensure shelves are stocked and families are fed all around our country, from coast to coast and around the world,” says Zimmern.
When our food sources are just a truck drive away, we’re more resilient in the face of uncertainty. Shrinking the distance food travels between the farm and our plate also reduces its carbon footprint. “As eaters, we need to eat sustainability and shop sustainably,” says Zimmern. “Soybean farmers, because of the nature of the soybean itself, are able to employ really reliable, sustainable practices that reduce greenhouse emissions. They increase energy use efficiency; they conserve water, and all while boosting crop productivity.”
By innovating and evolving their production practices, America’s soybean farmers are fighting the climate crisis alongside the communities they feed, working together toward a more sustainable food system.
Like most Americans, they want future generations to have access to the same locally grown foods we enjoy today, many of which have been keeping the country fed as we’ve cooked more at home this year.
Zimmern, for one, cites a dip recipe as a favorite use for frozen soybeans: “Like peas, cooked soybeans freeze very well. I defrost them, run them under warm water and dry them really well. Then, I puree them in my food processor with one garlic clove, a little bit of chili, olive oil, tahini, parsley, maybe a little bit of cilantro if you like that, salt and lemon juice. So simple and it’s an easy and delicious dip.”
It’s also a nutritious one, thanks to soy protein — a complete protein, providing all the essential amino acids needed by the human body. Soybean oil is also a heart-healthy oil with a high flashpoint and neutral flavor that make it ideal for frying at high temperatures and allowing other ingredients to shine.
The FDA recognized the cholesterol-lowering effects of soybean oil, confirming they may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. “Supportive but not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 1½ tablespoons (20.5 grams) daily of soybean oil, which contains unsaturated fat, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
Just as many of us are particularly grateful for our health and the health of our families these days, Zimmern suggests we should also express our gratitude to the workers who are keeping us well-fed.
“We need to tell people they are doing a great job. That’s part of taking care of people,” he says. “There are so many folks toiling in anonymity who feel that they are not heard. So by pledging support to farmers and farm workers - let’s underscore that: farmers and farm workers - we are showing our appreciation for the individuals working to provide the safe and sustainable ingredients to feed our communities.”
“We all are living in uncertain times,” Zimmern continues. “I know I need a pat on the back, and I’m one of the luckiest people in the world. So, if I feel like I need it, I can’t imagine how desperately others do.”
Visit SupportUSFarmers.com to take the pledge to show your support to farmers who are working to feed our communities around the world and helping ensure shelves are stocked.