July 2018

 

HOW TO BE A MORE SUSTAINABLE COOK:  A BEGINNER'S GUIDE 

 

Making your home kitchen eco-friendlier doesn’t have to be overwhelming.  Even small steps can lead to meaningful change.  Here are some great ideas to green up your kitchen.

 

Learn the Label Lingo.  Not everything on a package’s label is meaningful.  The USDA Organic label is set by law, so it’s one you can trust.  But don’t be fooled by terms like “natural” that have no regulated definition, and don’t buy “non-GMO”-labeled produce where there’s no GMO option.  That’s label confusion.   Check out Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices tool: it breaks down food labels in a friendly way.

Embrace “Ugly” as Beautiful.  We all have flaws.  That holds true for produce, from misshapen potatoes to twisted, multi-legged carrots.  But most imperfections are only skin deep.  Embracing funny-looking vegetables and fruits can go a long way in reducing our nations food waste problem.  We toss a jaw-dropping 400 pounds of food per person per year: 40% of our food.  Look for “imperfect produce” bins in most grocery stores and food markets. 

Save All (Nutritious) Bits.  Parmesan rinds, radish tops, turnip greens, leftover bread: keep these nutritious bits out of the trash can.  Steep Parmesan rinds into broths.  Whiz raw radish tops and turnip greens in a food processor with pine nuts, cheese, and fresh mint, then use on pasta or grilled vegetables.  Carrot tops add fresh texture to salads.  Or resuscitate leftover bread for a panzanella.  Toss in oil, bake, then coat it with oil and vinegar.  It saturates the bread and is so good.

Stock Up on Frigid Fruit.  The produce aisle isn’t the only place to get your fruit on.  Go to the freezer section for deals on mangoes, berries, peaches, and more.  They’re often more nutritious than what you’ll find in the produce bin because they’re picked and processed at their peak ripeness.  And preserving them in your freezer means they’re less likely to go bad on your counter.

Friend a Farmer.  The best way to make a transition to a sustainably minded home cook is to shop at one of nearly 8,700 farmers markets sprinkled across the U.S.  Farmers are dying to let you in on their secrets.  And there’s an added benefit: Locally produced food at its seasonal peak is at its most nutritious and delicious.

Eat Plant-Based “Meat”.  Raising animals for food takes vast amounts of land, water, and energy, and those animals are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.  Even worse: Global meat production is expected to increase to a whopping 62.6 million tons in 2018, placing an even heavier environmental burden on our planet.  But companies like Impossible Meals and Beyond Meat are working hard to win over even staunch carnivores with mouthwatering plant-based burgers.

Optimize Grains.  Oats already have a low carbon footprint, and overnight oats get a sustainability bump:  The tasty breakfast requires no heat.  But take it one step further: With heirloom whole grains, nutrition is at its highest if you allow them to soak.  Soak on the counter with added water in a 1:1 ratio for 12-24 hours.  Then cook (if necessary) in the same liquid.

Choose Seafood Wisely.  Knowing which fish is sustainable is easy with the Seafood Watch app.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium app’s simple red, yellow and green rating system makes sustainable seafood shopping a snap. (montereybayaquarium.org).

Join a CSF.  Americans prefer their seafood in the form of salmon, shrimp and tuna, but there’s more deliciousness to be had if you’re open to it.  Join a community-sponsored fishery.  Much like its CSA cousin, members pay up front and each week share in the bounty of their local fisherman’s catch.

Buy Frozen Fish.  Many think freezing can change the texture and flavor of seafood.  But the way fish is frozen today is much improved, and that can mean better quality, especially for seafood that travels a long way.  Plus, seafood frozen at sea reduces waste.

Eat Seasonally.  Eating produce in season is tastier, more nutritious, and can be better for the planet: Because vegetables and fruits are often harvested in your region, it cuts down on the carbon footprint from long-distance transportation.  Even better: buy from nearby growers.  Find out what’s ready to harvest near you via the new Seasonal Food Guide app, which includes more than 140 types of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and herbs.

Avoid Antibiotics.  Antibiotic resistance is a serious, looming threat.  The routine use of antibiotics in animals raised for food (to promote growth and keep them healthy in often crowded environments) is now propagating antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”.  We’re seeing a global rise in ailments that can no longer be treated by a simple round of antibiotics.  One of the best things to do is buy chickens and other meats raised without antibiotics.  Look for the ‘No-Antibiotics Ever’ label.

Grow Your Own.  It’s hard to get more sustainable than planting your own garden.  If you don’t have space or time to tend to a large plot, start with pots on your patio and fill them with herbs, tomatoes, and peppers.  You can snip herbs like thyme and rosemary for months while keeping the plant looking good.

Seek Out These Sugars.  Try honey and maple, some that don’t rely on intense farming practices.  There are so many cool spectrums of honey.  And buying honey from local producers helps keep local bee populations up.

Reuse Bags.  Don’t wait for a plastic bag ban; pony up with reusable bags.  It’s a tiny step that helps reduce 8 million tons of plastic that reach our oceans each year.

Go for Quality over Quantity.  We love cheese, but it has a hefty environmental footprint. Cheese is third on the list of highest emissions (behind lamb and beef).  For every pound of cheese eaten, about 13.5 pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted.  Don’t totally ditch cheese; make it a special-occasion item.  And indulge in artisan cheese so it won’t feel like sacrificing.

Don’t Let Leftovers Go.  Eat your leftovers; don’t toss them.  Two-thirds of discarded items could have been eaten, with coffee, milk, apples, bread, potatoes, and pasta topping the list.

Second-Guess Sell-By Dates.  Sell-by, Best-by, use-by, enjoy-by and best-if-used-before dates are confusing because they don’t have a precise legal definition and are often based on the manufacturer’s concerns over food freshness, not food safety.  That confusion prompts many of us to toss food that’s often still perfectly safe to eat.  Large retailers are trying to standardize those phrases, but variations still abound.  Before tossing an item on a due date, take a closer look.  Except for infant formula, if the date passes during home storage, a product should still be safe if properly handed until you can see spoilage. 

Up Your Vegetables.  One of the easiest ways to eat more sustainably is to downsize that larger center-of-the-plate meat entrée to a side.  The more vegetables you eat, the more sustainable your kitchen, period.  And the trick to eating more vegetables is to make them taste better.  If frying eggplant, buttering spring peas, salting your salad, or dipping your crudités gets you to eat more vegetables, do it!

 

Claire Leschin-Hoar