The idea of relearning a task in order to be more kind to the earth can sometimes sound like a gargantuan project. Although some measures to increase sustainability do involve overhauls or large-scale traditional processes, some methods are more palatable, literally. For those trying to do their part for the planet without breaking the bank or installing an appliance from the increasingly growing line of efficient homewares, the kitchen is an excellent place to start. Extravagant single-use kitchen gadgets simply are outside of the realm of affordability for many, but thankfully cost is no obstacle to undertaking some other tricks for your chef-du-jour.
Sustainable cooking is a practice, not a piece of technology. In other words, anyone can do it and it simply involves reevaluating your practices in the kitchen, free of charge. Additionally, it’s a procedural and material alteration, so it relies on better practices in the kitchen, and before you even get to the kitchen.
Food waste in America is a pervasive issue. Studies show that up to 40 percent of food is wasted, accounting for 20 percent of cropland yields in the United States. That means that 1 out of every 5 acres of healthy farmland and their corresponding resources (water, fertilizer, manpower) is basically being disregarded as its yields are being discarded or unused.
The average household throws away $1,812.50 worth of food every year. Luckily, every home no matter how small or large has the ability to impact this for the better. Here’s how.
- Cook at home
Ordering takeout or even buying prepared foods means portion sizes are likely the wrong amount of food and ingredients’ supply chains cannot be assured. By whipping up meals at home (like our grandparents did), cooks can select what products they feel comfortable buying and putting into their bodies. Options like farmers’ markets or local organic markets offer the best transparency on production and help avoid additives while also supporting smaller, individually owned companies.
- Use everything…really
The idea of “root to stem” cooking is not new but has gained acclaim in recent years with the rising popularity of green practices (no pun intended). Although it largely is seen as a practice for those who consume predominantly non-meat items, the practice can be easily applied to carnivores and herbivores alike.
The basic premise is that no part of an item goes to waste. This means saving stems of popular items like broccoli or kale for other dishes (a stir fry, sauteed veggie bowl, or even coleslaw).
Cookbooks like The James Beard Foundation’s Waste Not offer great recipes to guide eco-friendly chefs through these greener pastures.
- Peel it
People peel produce for all different reasons. Some recipes call for it, some cooks prefer to do so for sanitary reasons, and so on. A great way to save money and avoid producing waste is buying whole produce and cutting and peeling it yourself. For example, carrots are fairly cheap (usually less than a dollar a pound) and can be easily chopped and peeled, and the peels used for other ingredients. A prepackaged bag of baby carrots (which really is just a normal carrot literally carved into a smaller carrot) runs for about three to four dollars a pound, and the excess is likely wasted at the production facility.
Opt to not only buy whole and unprocessed produce but use the peels for dishes or dips. This is also particularly popular with cucumbers, whose peels can be used for dips like tzatziki.
- Save it for later
Preserving food through freezing (or if you’re feeling posh, dehydrating) is a great way to extend the lifespan of uncooked items. Although it may compromise the flavor slightly once defrosted, it is far better than throwing away pounds of food and already-spent cash!
- Pickling Project
A not-so-widely used practice is that of pickling! While everything cannot be pickled, lots of produce can be and stays good for much longer when done properly. Make a little project out of it with the family or your friends. Start with a basic pickle recipe and then advance to more complex pickling activities.
- Steep it
Many people live in abundance today due to the ease of simply going to the store to buy more food. This certainly is not the case everywhere, but even in the US only a few decades ago, people had to get crafty when it came to making meals. A surefire way to transform a bland ingredient into a whole dish was to make a casserole, soup, stew, or stock.
Stock recipes are relatively easy and are a prime way to use everything you buy. Leaves from greens can also be used for homemade, loose leaf teas!
It’s easier than one might imagine to reduce our waste, and can actually be an excellent exercise for thinking outside of the box. If at the end of the day you’re stuck and need to dispose of biodegradable items after exhausting all options (tip: think about dog treats too!), consider composting! Even if you live in a city without outdoor space, many weekly farmers’ markets offer compost drop offs.