Ethical and healthy eating in Manhattan, KS

If you’re like many Americans, you’re frustrated with the current food system and inability of politicians to make meaningful food policy changes (if you’re not yet, just watch any of the 1,000 food documentaries on Netflix and you will be). However, you can ‘vote’ with your food choices. I’m going to tell you how I vote with my food choices living in Manhattan, KS.

Eating ethically refers to making food choices that uphold sustainable and morally responsible food systems (see Unitarian Universalist Association website on ethical eating for more details).

For many people, lack of access and/or knowledge are barriers to socially responsible food choices. I’ve been living in Manhattan, KS for 3 years and have found several ways to overcome these barriers. I’d like to share this knowledge with those who live in Manhattan and are interested in eating ethically.

It also happens to be the case that food that is ethically produced also tends to be the food that is good for you (i.e., real food). Double whammy. Just note that I’m not making any claims about how to structure your diet, just how you can make ethical food purchases in Manhattan.

Further, although a huge part of ethical food choices certainly involves the decision on whether or not to eat meat, I’m not talking about that here. Only where to buy food that I consider to be socially responsible, regardless of whether its meat or something else. That said, let’s get to it…

Generally speaking, to eat ethically and socially responsibly one should follow two basic principles:

Buy local

Buy organic/natural

In Manhattan, KS, that translates into a few options: 

  1. Shop at farmer’s market

The Farmer’s Market runs year round (Downtown in the Summer and at Cico Park in the Winter). It’s your standard farmer’s market, really, with the added benefit this year of being able to use your EBT cards to pay for your merch.

Farmer’s market:

  1. Shop at People’s Grocery cooperative (co-op)

The co-op, People’s Grocery, is located on Ft. Riley Blvd in the plaza at the intersection of 17th, next to Baan Thai. It’s easy to miss, but if you find it, you’ll be glad you did.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 12.56.05 PM

The skinny: Cooperatives, like this one, are jointly-owned, democratic organizations. The goals of the cooperative are defined by the owners (i.e., you). To become and owner (where you own a share of the cooperative) you pay a one time fee of $55. Your $55 buys you quite a bit, including cheaper food, educational classes, voting power at annual meetings, as well as continued access to healthy and locally sourced foods (as your money goes to improving and operating the cooperative). You don’t have to be an owner to shop there, but over the long haul it’s a good idea. Expect to pay a little more for most of the things you would buy at Dillon’s.

People’s Co-op:

Note that there are also the Westside and Eastside Markets. They are locally owned and often have some local and organic food options.

  1. Join a CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture)

Although some CSAs work differently than others, in a CSA the consumer basically buys a ‘share’ of the farmers crop at the beginning of the growing season. The share is usually paid for with money, but some farmers also accept ‘sweat equity’ (i.e., you go get your hands dirty and work on the farm. Kinda cool.). You then get freshly harvested _____ (whatever is in season) every week for about 4-5 months. (Click here for a more detailed description of CSAs)

CSAs are awesome on so many levels. They’re a great way to buy local and seasonal foods (meat, fruits, veggies, herbs, etc.) directly from farmers. In almost every case, the farmer uses organic, natural and humane farming methods. If you’re not sure, just ask (one of the perks of buying directly from farmers).

CSAs, like farmers markets, are also a great way of building relationships with local farmers and learning about where your food comes from while building or maintaining some level of social cohesion among the community. Note that there are also some risks/cons as well, such as drought or insect plights that can retard or completely wipe out a crop, limiting the variety or size of your weekly harvest.

There are several CSA options in Manhattan:

  1. Restaurants

There are good restaurants in Manhattan. I eat at several of them quite often. However, when it comes to using local ingredients, none really seem to pass the test. To be clear, I visited the websites of many (but not all) of the restaurants that I thought might emphasize locally sourced ingredients and searched for the term “local”. The only place that explicitly stated that they used local ingredients was 4 Olives. Bluestem Bistro hinted that they offer ‘local cuisine’, which may reflect local ingredients, but I’m not sure.

If there are others out there, you can add them to the Google Doc (see below). Otherwise, that’s really all we’re working with here. My hunch is that if you tell them that locally sourced ingredients are important to you, they might actually listen. Naïve, but worth a shot. And now, Portlandia.

  1. Buy meat directly from a local farmer

At the risk of over simplifying, meat that is locally raised and ‘free-range’ is generally what you’re looking for. That said, it’s also more expensive. Sometimes it’s a lot more expensive. I think I’ll write another article that addresses financial barriers at some point, but in the meantime here is an article on how one couple ate ethically for one month on $248 (the food stamp minimum in New Haven, CT).

One strategy (among many): If cost is prohibitive, consider how often you’re eating meat and whether you can stand to cut back a couple days a week and get your protein from other sources (e.g., beans, hemp, soy, etc.). Most of you can, but the question is really whether or not you want to.

There are many local farmers who sell directly from the farm (listed below). Contact them directly to ask about their pricing. Buying in bulk can save a lot of money. Like ‘half a cow’ bulk. Buy a freezer on Craigslist on the cheap and store all your meat in the freezer.

You may also be able to order through People’s Grocery, which has a direct relationship with many local meat producers. People’s also stocks meat from many local farms, as well.

  • Also note that some of the CSA farmers above have meat options, as well.
  1. Grow your own food

Not the easiest route, but definitely a viable option. Whether or not it is ‘socially responsible’ will depend somewhat on how you do it, but if you’re not putting money into the industrial food system by buying non-local, you are, for the most part, making a good move.

Many local residents have their own vegetable gardens right here in town. Some even have chickens. There are a few ordinances that one must follow for the chickens, but the point is that it’s possible, even if you live in a dense neighborhood.

There is also a community garden on the outside of town (South on Manhattan Ave). A bit less convenient that growing in your yard, but, still, it’s only a mile or so outside of town. Here is the link:

Other stuff you should know…

You’ll notice that many of the chain grocers in Manhattan have organic food (e.g., HyVee, Target, Walmart). True as this may be, there are a couple of ethical issues on the side. First, this food almost never locally sourced, and your money ends up leaving Manhattan. Second, some of your money will go to contribute to a company whose business practices you may not consider to be ethical (you can Google the company to find out more).

I should also point out that, while HyVee is a large Midwestern chain, their employee-owned business plan offers a more democratic and, I would argue, ethical structure than your typical, hierarchically-structured companies (e.g., Walmart). Still, I think you’ll be hard pressed to find many locally sourced products in HyVee (but not impossible, as their mission implies) and, as with other chains, some of your money ends up leaving Manhattan. I’m open to others’ opinions on this, but as of now, HyVee only gets brownie points from me.

Is there something missing from this list? Here is a link to a public Google Doc where you can add farmers, restaurants, or other vendors that I have missed.

Public Google Doc

Hope this helps:) Feel free to comment below.

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