50 Ways to Eat Sustainably


Resolving to be a truly eco-conscious eater is best undertaken during the summer months when fresh food is readily available.  There are many little things that have a huge impact on our planet.  Here are some fresh ways to shop, cook and eat heroically all year round.

1)      Use the whole vegetable: The stems of cauliflower or broccoli, the inner leaves of celery, the fronds of the fennel, the greens of the beets, even the stems of the herbs: all edible, all tasty.

2)      Get to the root: Forgo bagged and boxed salad greens for loose bunches, and look for anything with the roots attached.  You’ll use zero packaging, and you can compost or even eat the stems.

3)      Get Staples: Instead of buying only a handful of tomatoes at your farmer’s market, pick up onions, potatoes and herbs.

4)      Buy Heirloom: It’s not just a boutique marketing term. It describes vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans from seeds that have been passed down for generations, and grown in small crops that may restore the health of the soil.

5)      Stock Up: Buy in bulk when produce is in season.  Freeze it, pickle it or preserve it so you can still eat local when you have off-season cravings.

6)      Get Advice: Ask the Farmer’s Market for recipe suggestions.

7)      Challenge Yourself: Try to use only what’s at the farmer’s market for a week’s worth of meals.

8)      Local is always the priority.  If you can’t buy local, buy organic coffees, teas, jams, olive oils, honey, nuts, raisins, oatmeal, beans, and grains. 

9)      Use your Basement the Old-Fashioned Way: Hardy root vegetables like squash, sweet potatoes, beets, turnips and rutabagas will keep four to six months in a chilly cellar where the temperature stays 40 degrees F or below.  Store them as close to the time they were harvested as possible, preferably unwashed, green tops still attached, and packed in sawdust or moist peat moss.

10)  Buy local eggs: Purchase them at a farmer’s market, directly from the person who collected them.  Keep in mind a cage-free label in the grocery store doesn’t necessarily mean the eggs came from chickens that were running around a yard.  They still could have been raised indoors.

11)  Get Farm-Fresh Food Delivered: Find a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm near you at eatwellguide.org or localharvest.org and pay a subscription fee for regular batches of local produce (and in some places, grass-fed meat).  If you’re worried about being able to use if all up, go in with a friend or two.

12)  Be Package Conscious: If you’re buying food at the store, try to choose products that come in the least amount of packaging possible, or in containers that are easily recyclable in your area.

13)   Google your Milk: Until the USDA revised the standards last year, 30-40% of the milk sold in the U.S. and labeled organic was actually from farm-raised cows.  Regulations are tighter now, but not all organic milks are created equal.  Check your brand at sustainabletable.org, and opt for antibiotic and BGH-free (no artificial bovine growth hormones).

14)  Use Unprocessed Grains: Anything that qualifies as  whole (i.e. unrefined) grain--brown rice, barley, farro, quinoa—is automatically healthier for both you and the environment than a processed grain like white rice.  Even better is buckwheat, which can improve soil quality.

15)  Soak Beans and Grains Overnight: You’ll cut the cooking time and energy usage, in half.

16)  Read Those Labels: Choose packaged foods with no more than 5-7 ingredients, no ingredients you can’t pronounce, nothing artificial, and no cartoons on the package.  Why no cartoons?  Because those companies are deliberately marketing to children.

17)  Freeze Berries: They top the list of foods to buy organic because of typically high pesticide levels.  Stock up when they’re available locally, spread them on a cookie sheet and freeze them for 6-8 hours.  Then transfer to storage bags or containers.  They’re great for making smoothies, desserts, or for snacking-- even when summer is just a distant memory.

18)  Make Your Own Seltzer: Carbonation machines keep bottles out of the landfill.  Mix seltzer with a fresh fruit syrup to make fizzy drinks.  (Heat 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water until sugar dissolves.  Add ½ cup raspberries, remove from heat, let steep for 30 minutes, then strain.  Add to seltzer.)

19)  Buy Local Bread: Shop at your neighborhood bakery or farmer’s market.  You’ll eliminate a plastic package and a fuel-burning journey, and the bread is more likely to be made with fewer ingredients.

20)  Make Breadcrumbs: Whiz stale bread into crumbs and freeze.  Or dice and toss with olive oil, season, and toast to make croutons.

21)  Read PLU Codes: If the number on the produce sticker at the supermarket starts with 9, then the item is organic.

22)  Make Connections: Become friends with your local growers and fishermen so you can keep in touch about what’s just been picked or caught.

23)  Cut Out Processed Corn: Avoid buying items with corn or corn-based substances (corn oil, corn starch, or corn syrup) as ingredients.  According to the USDA, at least 85 percent of the corn grown in this country has been genetically modified, meaning the plants were altered to make them more pest-resistant.

24)  ..and Eat More Real Corn: Fresh corn is easy to stockpile.  Blanch the cobs, strip the kernels, and freeze.

25)  Wash Less Wastefully: Instead of running greens under the faucet for minutes at a time, submerge them in water, drain, and roll in a cloth towel.  Rinse only if they’re still gritty.

26)  Save that Cooking Water: Repurpose the nutrient-rich water that you used to blanch a batch of vegetables in soups or for boiling pasta. (Or water plants with it if unsalted and oil-free).

27)  Eat Safer Seafood: You can enjoy the ones below with a clean conscience.  For on-the-spot ratings, text the Blue Ocean Institute’s FishPhone-30644- with the message ‘fish’ and the kind you’re planning to buy.  To start: wild Alaskan Salmon, Alaskan Halibut, or just about any fish from Alaska.  The state has some of the most environmentally sound fishing practices in the country.

28)  Anything in a shell: Mussels, clams and oysters are almost always sustainably raised.

29)  Wild American Shrimp: The tiny ones from Maine, pink shrimp from the Northwest, and wild-caught from the Atlantic.

30)  Local varieties: Dungeness crabs from the Northwest, line-caught striped bass and haddock from the Northeast, and so on.

31)  Buy Better Canned Tuna: American albacore is the only canned variety that’s certified to be sustainably fished.  Wild Planet’s albacore is hand-packed in BPA-free cans without added oil, water or fillers.  From $4 a can; wildplanetfoods.com

32)  Make Stock: Once your used up the last of a chicken or a turkey, throw the carcass in a stock-pot with enough water to cover, a whole or half onion, a carrot, a celery stalk, a few garlic cloves, and a couple of sprigs of herbs like parsley and thyme.  Simmer uncovered for at least two hours, occasionally skimming the foam that forms on the top.  Strain it, pour into glass jars (leaving room for the liquid to expand), let cool and then freeze.  You’ll have four or five quarts of ready-made stock on hand for soup, braised meat and vegetables, pan sauces, pasta, and risotto.  You can use this method for vegetable stock too.  Start a collection of unused vegetables—an onion quarter, carrot greens, a turnip, wilted herbs—and simmer them in water for at least an hour.

33)  Buy Whole Chickens: You’ll get more meat—and rich stock—for less money and far less waste.  Look for chickens without hormones that were pasture-raised.  And they couldn’t be easier to roast:  Brush with butter (or Smart Balance) and season with salt and pepper; bind legs with twine.  Roast at 450 degrees F, basting occasionally, for about an hour.

34)  Fill Up the Oven: As you’re roasting chicken or baking lasagna, throw in some vegetables or tomatoes for roasting, and maybe a loaf or two of zucchini bread.  The goal is to turn the oven on just once or twice a week.

35)  Pick Healthier Pots and Pans: It is best to skip altogether traditional nonstick pans with carcinogenic materials (PTFE and PFOA) in the coating.    There are alternatives, like Cuisinart’s Green Gourmet line, with non-stick interiors that are ceramic rather than petroleum-based.  Or keep it simple and cook with pots and pans made from stainless steel, pure cast-iron, or enamel-coated cast iron.

36)  Have a Green BBQ: Use carbon-neutral Green Hearts Natural Charcoal Briquettes made of wood.

37)  Be a Smarter Carnivore: The first step toward a sustainable food system is to eat less meat overall.  But to start: skip the additives.  Buy only absolutely antibiotic- and hormone- free meat.

38)  Choose Domestic Meat: Imagine how eating lamb from New Zealand affects your carbon footprint.

39)  Eat Seasonally: There is a reason turkey is served at Thanksgiving.  The birds mature in the fall.  Look for lamb in the spring and goose around Christmas.

40)  Pour on the Honey: A huge amount of water is required to produce regular table sugar.  On the other hand, honey is a renewable resource that requires little more than healthy bees and healthy plants and flowers from which to pollinate.  Try adapting your favorite recipe to use honey instead of sugar.

41)  Plant More than Flowers: Almost anybody can grow a little bit of food.  You don’t have to be an expert gardener.

42)  Compost your Kitchen Waste: Not just vegetable scraps and eggshells, but leftovers, coffee grounds, stale bread, tea bags and pretty much anything else except animal fats, scraps and bones.  If you can’t use all of your compost, give excess back to local farmers or to a community garden.

43)  Limit Yourself to 2 Appliances, and USE Them: Plugging in a high-speed blender or food processor is worthwhile if it motivates you to cook more often and eat more fruits and vegetables.  You can get a couple of meals out of a seasonal soup and several out of a homemade pesto.

44)  Drink Better Coffee: Your watchwords are “fair-trade certified” and “sustainable”.  Also look for “bird-friendly” or the Rainforest Alliance label, which means the beans were grown responsibly.  Brew it at home with a French press (2 Tbsp. coarsely ground coffee per 6 oz. water) and you’ve started the day on a very green foot.

45)  Switch to Organic Olive Oil: Most mass-produced olive oil is grown with pesticides, which can be even more concentrated in the oil than on the olives.  Budget for domestic (likely California) small-producer olive oil labeled organic.

46)  Make Your Own Vinaigrette: Salad dressing is a packaged condiment that’s so much better homemade-and it’s incredibly easy to whip up.  Mix 1 minced shallot, 3 Tbsp. any good vinegar, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, ½ cup olive oil and salt and pepper.  It will keep for a week in a corked glass bottle in the fridge.

47)  Use Natural Wax Paper: Use unbleached paper lined with vegetable wax such as If You Care Brand (amazon.com).  Use it instead of aluminum foil or plastic wrap.  It’s compostable, reusable when wiped down, and can be fastened with masking tape.

48)  Go Plastic Free: Keeping track of which plastics are safer (Nos. 2,4,5) and which are more likely to release toxic phthalates, styrene, or BPA when heated or warm (Nos. 3,6,7) can be confusing.  And we have yet to come up with an easy-to-remember shorthand.  So make it a policy to use as little as possible plastic in the kitchen.  First, get glass containers: airtight plastic bags are OK, but most glass containers are freezable and microwavable.

49)  And Glass Bottles and Jars: Store liquids like juice, oil, and vinegar, or bulk-bought grains, beans and nuts.

50)  Wrap with Dish Towels: Surround baked goods with cloth instead of plastic wrap.  You can also use a towel and rubber band to cover bowls of food to chill in the fridge before serving.

Source: Katherine Wheelock