My great-grandmother was on the sustainable eating bandwagon before it was even a thing. Of course, she called it “surviving.” She mostly ate what the family grew, foraged, or hunted. They took what they needed with a little extra to “lay by.” Sustainable. Not to mention practical.

Just before Christmas I was listening to the radio on my way home from work and heard some chefs suggesting simple side dishes that would suit any holiday meal. One of the recipes featured green beans. The chef commented that her kids had gotten into sustainable eating and interpreted that as eating a plant-based diet.

Okay, fine.

She then went on to describe a recipe for haricot verts (those skinny, French beans) in a delicious sounding dressing. But I REALLY have to take issue with her discussing this dish and sustainable eating in the same conversation. She mentioned that you can get haricot verts pre-packaged in the produce section.

So. It seems she was suggesting that it’s more sustainable to eat pre-washed green beans that come in a plastic package than to eat meat. I checked one of those bags in my own produce section. It came from Guatemala by way of Florida. I think my great-grandmother would wonder what she meant by “sustainable.”

I’m not trying to give anyone who prefers a plant-based diet a hard time. But I do think if you want to eat sustainably, you have to look deeper. My suggestion is to do what Grandma Jane did. Eat food produced in your neighborhood (or at least your state). Eat it when it’s in season (FYI strawberries don’t grow in January unless there’s a greenhouse operation nearby). And don’t assume there’s an easy answer.

So how about you–how did your great-grandparents eat?