Sustainability in the kitchen

I consider cooking to be a creative endeavor. It can be as fun or therapeutic as painting. This weekend I had fun making a vegan zucchini lasagna from scratch and it gave me the idea to make a post about the things I personally do to eliminate waste in the kitchen. I have included some links within the text but I am not being paid by anyone. Some sources are more official than others. I wanted to show the scientific information for some items, as well as have a few articles that are easier to digest.

  1. Eat more plant-based meals: Going vegan is the number 1 way to lower your impact on the planet. One vegan meal a day is equivalent to driving from NY to LA (one person’s impact) or taking 16 million cars off the road (if all of UK ate one vegan meal a day). Even if you don’t want to be fully plant-based, every cutback on animal products is a big help. I originally cut dairy from my diet, then started replacing meat with more vegetables and then eliminated eggs. I know most people say cheese is the hardest to live without (it is literally addictive for a lot of people), but eggs were the most difficult for me. Find a way to lower your animal product intake that works for you: ie, Meatless Mondays, one meal a day, vegan replacements, or start by adding more vegetables and grains to your meals with smaller meat portions.
    I could do a whole post on the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. Maybe I will in the future.
  2. Compost: If you live in a city that offers organic recycling, you should definitely utilize it. Just keep a small paper bag or a small tub lined with a compostable plastic bag in your kitchen and whenever you have food scraps, in they go. I use the paper bags I get from bulk shopping. Minneapolis recycles compost but in cities that do not or if you live in an apartment, check online for a drop-off site or check this organization. When I didn’t have city pickup, I kept a bigger paper bag in the freezer and dropped it off once it was full.
    Food in the landfill composts without oxygen which causes higher amounts of methane. Methane is 21-86x more harmful than CO2 (which is also a by-product of animal ag). At a composting site, they aerate it while it composts, which reduces methane. You can also do this if you wish to compost at home.
  3. Buy in bulk: Shopping in bulk eliminates packaging, is generally cheaper, and you can buy as little or as much as you will use. It is also easier for the company to ship it to the store thus lowering travel emissions. Hopefully you have a store near you that has a bulk section and it offers paper bags instead of plastic. I try to bring my refillable containers (I use Ball/Mason jars most often and a few mesh bags) but if I don’t have them with me, I don’t mind using a paper bag. I then store them in jars when I get home. It looks better than packaged foods, too, if you are a fan of kitchen aesthetics.
  4. Use dry beans instead of canned: Dry beans are easy, cheaper, require little to zero packaging–especially if you have a bulk section and your own bag– and do not contain BPA like some cans. If you do not have a bulk section at your store, most have bags of dry beans. That is what I used to buy. If you have an InstantPot, it is incredibly easy to make dry beans. But even if you do not, you can simply cook them on the stove. The only thing that can be annoying is it requires some forethought, since you need to soak them ahead of time. One thing I like to do is cook a banana-load of beans and freeze them.
    *Canned beans are still better than meat or dairy. Plus cans are great for last minute meals, so no judgement here.
  5. Try plant-based milks: This was already mentioned under number one but it deserves its own category. There are just so many types, brands, and flavors that you shouldn’t dismiss them all if the first one you tried was not for you. Right now my favorite is Oatly’s oat milk but when I tried a different brand of oat milk, I didn’t like it. Silk Brand’s organic soy is good too. I have heard great things about hemp milk but the only one I’ve tried so far was not good. I had to hide it in baked foods and hot chocolate in order to use it up. Try a few different kinds, see what works for you. Most of the time there is a regular version and an unsweetened version, so pay attention to that.
  6. Wash your vegetables instead of peeling them: I grew up peeling everything–carrots, zucchini, potatoes, apples, you name it, but I have since learned that the majority of the nutrients is in the skin. Plus it saves you that much time and food. All you have to do is scrub the outside with warm water. Many of the vegetables are already peeled and scrubbed before they arrive in the grocery store, you really just need to wash off the germs of all the individuals who helped get the item to the store.
  7. Save aquafaba from chickpeas: Aquafaba is the liquid leftover from cooking chickpeas, or the liquid from a can of chickpeas. It is full of protein and is great in other recipes. Instead of water, I use aquafaba when I make rice (another item that is great to buy in bulk). I add it to my soups and sauces too. It can be used to make vegan whip cream, as well.
  8. Give food to friends or neighbors: Whenever you have a situation where you don’t think you will be able to finish your food before it goes bad, you can find someone who would eat it. Don’t let it go bad. If you are someone who doesn’t eat leftovers or if you’re going out of town for the weekend or you are sick of the dish you made, reach out to someone. Friends, family, neighbors. There is an app specifically for this that I use, called Olio. I’m guessing Facebook also has a way to share food but I am not on FB, so you will have to find out yourself.
  9. Freeze food before it goes bad: If you don’t want to share or don’t have time, you can freeze the items before they go bad. When I have lemons that are getting close, I juice them all and freeze the juice as ice cubes. Earlier this year I had cilantro that wasn’t being used so I chopped it really small, added it to warm water and then poured it into the ice cube tray. The next time I made rice, in they went. Ice cube trays are amazingly versatile. Greens are great frozen too. I don’t do anything to them, I just toss the whole bag in the freezer. When you need them, they are easy to chop when frozen.
  10. Avoid palm in all its forms: Palm oil is found in a lot of packaged foods and it is detrimental to tropical forests and other critical habitats of endangered species. It may not be realistic to avoid it completely if you ever buy packaged food or eat at restaurants but be mindful of the ingredient and try to avoid it. One of the easiest ways to start eliminating it is by buying different peanut butter and snack food. Look for peanut butter that only has peanuts and salt as the ingredients. It will taste better too. Crackers is another one I changed. I love crackers and many of my favorites had palm but I am happy to say that I can find similar crackers in different brands without it. It is good practice to read labels in general. Learn what is in your food. Oh, also! Don’t fall for “green” palm. Companies are claiming to have eco friendly palm but studies show these are even more harmful than standard palm.
  11. Eat more homemade foods: Making your own food saves on packaging and other environmental impacts due the shipping of the items. Personally, cooking also helps me get back into a creative mindset if I have been stuck for a while.
  12. Replace liquid store broth: If you like soup as much as I do, you probably use a lot of broth. Making your own broth is fun but if you don’t have the time or patience, buy the cubes of dry broth or the concentrate, such as Better Than Bouillon instead of the containers of liquid broth. The energy needed to ship broth in the liquid form is so unnecessary when you have water at home. I use BTB brand, they have 2 or 3 vegan options that I like.
  13. Use cocoa powder for hot chocolate: Have you ever read the ingriedients on a pack of premixed hot cocoa? It is usually sugar, cocoa, milk powder and a bunch of crap you don’t want to know about. If you look at organic or fancy hot cocoa, it is sugar, cocoa and sometimes dry milk. My point is, to make a delicious cup of cocoa, all I use is cocoa, (brown) sugar, hot water and a splash of milk from the fridge. I add cinnamon and ginger for spice.

If you are interested in learning more about climate change, you can also look at the IPCC report that everyone was talking about last year, ie Greta Thunburg.

Let me know if there is anything here you want me to delve deeper into for the future.
Thanks for reading!

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