Trying to step more lightly on the earth is a daunting task, but we do believe that small, seemingly insignificant actions can make a major, positive impact. TwoJunes offer up the following four categories of practices/ choices that have either already made it into our daily routine or are gradually being adopted.
Shopping & food choices:
- Support local agriculture—you’ll get a feel for the foods available by season in addition to creating livelihoods, keeping farm land in local hands and having a greater diversity of crops. Note that there is heated discussion around the fact that many small farms driving produce to farmer’s markets is may actually be less environmentally friendly than one large efficient organic farm with an efficient delivery system to large stores. Ask questions and weigh your choices.
- Make seasonal adjustments to your favorite recipes. Being flexible, say, by using broccoli in winter when snow peas are unavailable, will help your wallet and the planet.
- When you do purchase out-of-season produce, consider frozen over fresh food that’s been flown halfway around the world. Even better, freeze and can produce from your own garden or a local farm. Choosing two items, such as your favorite berry and tomatoes, is a huge step. Imagine a freezer packed with ripe berries and jars of canned tomatoes (or pasta sauce or salsa) at the ready in the pantry. A day of labor could lighten your carbon footprint and save you money.
- Not everyone can afford to purchase organic produce exclusively. If you’re family is on a budget, focus on crops known to be grown with highest amounts of pesticides. The top offenders http://www.foodnews.org/fulllist.phpare listed by The Environmental Working Group.
- However much your budget allows, seek out small farm, humanely-raised, natural meats, dairy and eggs. Local Harvest provides a comprehensive, easy to use resource for finding farms and CSA’s.
- Be mindful of serving size when cooking with meat (technically 3 ounces of cooked meat whether red meat, chicken, pork or fish) according to the USDA dietary guidelines (PDF). The classic visual reference for correct portion size is a deck of cards. Most Americans find that a little depressing, so a great end around is to use meat as a flavoring rather the star. For example, instead of cooking four 8 to 10-oz steaks, why not grill a one-pound single steak, slice it thinly across the grain and serve it over a salad made with greens, veggies, and whole grains or pasta? Nobody feels cheated that way.
- It takes a large amount of resources (both grain and water) to make a mere pound of meat. Try to eat at least two meatless dinners a week.
Use your fuel wisely:
- In winter, the excess heat generated by the stove-top and oven helps keep the house warm and cozy—a nice by product of an inefficient system. In warmer months, that’s a problem. Slow-cookers, pressure cookers and your microwave all use less energy than your range. In very hot weather, use an outdoor grill or a microwave to avoid heating up your house. Microwaves use from half to a fifth of the amount of energy as your range. Hint: for maximum efficiency, cook smaller rather than larger pieces of food. A whole meat loaf, for example, takes longer to reheat than the same weight of sliced meatloaf thanks to more surface area. If you don’t like to use microwaves, invest in a toaster oven.
- If you, like the TwoJunes, cannot give up your charcoal grill in favor of the more environmentally-friendly gas grill (Grist http://www.grist.org/article/greenguide-grilling/ has a great explanation of the pros and cons of various methods), avoid waste by using only as much charcoal as you need, and take advantage of the heat by cooking up enough food for a couple days worth of meals. Also be mindful of the type of charcoal you use, and how you light the fire. Don’t burn paper with toxic inks, for example.
- Incorporate stews, casseroles, main-dish salads and stews into your weeknight cooking. It takes less energy to cook a one-pot than to use multiple pans and heat sources. The website Care2.com has a great selection of energy saving tips and information.
- If you have a bottled-water habit, consider giving it up. Production, packaging, transportation and disposal are all costly to the environment and it’s not necessarily better than most tap water. Install an under-sink water filtration system instead if you don’t like the flavor or find your local water source problematic. Check the EPA report on your local water.
- Use cool water to rinse dishes as you load the dishwasher. Or even better, don’t rinse. Most dishwashers don’t require a pre-rinse to get dishes clean.
- Fill one side of the sink with a few inches of water and wash all the produce for your meal at once rather than running the tap.
Kitchen clean up:
- Use dishtowels and cloth napkins instead of paper products. By using napkin ring identifiers, you can re-use napkins safely for a number of uses.
- Use a sink compartment or tub of soapy water to wash dishes rather than running water—it’s also great for soaking dirty dishes.
- Let the dishes in the dishwasher air dry, especially in summer when you’re running the air conditioner.
- Take care to minimize the use of harsh cleansers and detergents. One advantage of environmentally-friendly cleaning solutions is that they are almost always less toxic to your family and pets, too. Decide if antibacterial soap is necessary to your household—key ingredient Triclosan could have unintended effects upon the organisms around us, much like other antibiotics. This Center for Disease Control article Antibacterial Household Products: Cause for Concern makes for some interesting reading.
Related Post: Earth Day in the Kitchen For the Two Junes, making our cooking life more sustainable is an on-going process. Sure, energy and water-efficient appliances are great, but simply modifying daily habits can make a big impact.
Lisa Bell is a freelance producer, writer and editor. She spent the first fifteen years of her working life as a pastry chef, recipe developer, test kitchen director, food stylist and print editor. She has also taught cooking classes, run a small cooking school, and worked as a food scientist. Nicole Rees currently works as a baking scientist. She is also a food writer and cookbook author specializing in baking science. Her most recent book Baking Unplugged, is filled with simple, scratch recipes that require no electric gadgets beyond an oven.