Here at SaltyLama, we’re always looking for ways to reduce our footprint by making impactful changes, big and small. Recently, we began to think about how the way we eat impacts the Earth and how we can bake more sustainability (get it, because, “bake”… never mind) into our day to day lives. And since we all have to eat to live, how we source and how we cook our food can make a real impact on reducing our footprint. Cooking sustainably is a great way to reduce your impact on the environment, and the best way to make sure your food is sustainably sourced is to purchase and cook it yourself. So, here are a few ways to make your home cooking more sustainable, all while helping to save the planet, and potentially some money.
1. Embrace the “ugly”
We all have flaws, and most of us are pretty understanding of the flaws within ourselves and others. But for some reason, we are incredibly unforgiving of our produce. From “misshapen” tomatoes to “twisted” bell-peppers, we can be unforgiving to the point of discarding less-than-perfect produce. Note that these imperfections are only skin deep and that we’ve been conditioned to look for and prefer perfection from our produce by grocers, who lay out rows and rows of fruits and vegetables, perfect in color, shape, and size. But it’s estimated that some countries throw out about 400 pounds of food per year, or forty percent of their food because it is considered “ugly”. Instead of falling for the skin-deep beauty trap, embrace imperfect produce from grocers and produce services committed to sustainable food practices.
2. Befriend a local farmer
All over the world, citizen farmers are taking the growing and distribution of food back to the neighborhood, starting local farms that help to feed their communities. One of the best ways to transition into sustainably minded home cooking is to shop with a local farmer. This practice helps to support the local economy and decreases the need for long-haul shipping. Local produce is also sold at its seasonal peak and is actually the most nutritious and delicious, making it an easy choice for inclusion in your home-cooked meals.
3. Grow your own
It’s pretty hard to get more sustainable than planting your own garden. But we won’t act like gardening isn’t hard in itself. Between planting, growing, and harvesting, gardens take quite a bit of time to start and maintain. But you don’t have to jump straight into raising chickens or an orchard. We recommend starting small. It can be as simple as filling pots on your patio or in your backyard with herbs, tomatoes and peppers. Many local hardware stores offer seeds for herbs, fruits and vegetables. Or, if you’ve already made that farmer friend we talked about, ask them for a few seeds to get you started at home. This practice can again save you time and money, while helping to reduce your footprint.
4. Join a community support fishery or community support agriculture program
A CSF or CSA is an alternative business model for selling fresh, locally sourced seafood and produce. CSF programs were modeled after increasingly popular CSA programs, both offering members weekly shares of fresh seafood or produce for a pre-paid membership fee. Community supported fisheries and farms aim to promote a positive relationship between fishermen, farmers, consumers, the land, and the ocean by providing high-quality, locally caught seafood and grown produce to members. This is another great way to support the local economy and have some insight as to how your seafood is being caught and how your produce is being grown. This is also a fantastic option for those who are short on time but want to ensure access to fresh and sustainable seafood and produce.
5. Save the bits
A few years ago, one of our employees experienced the onset of an autoimmune disease. After trying western medicine, to no avail, she sought a holistic approach. Her doctor recommended stress reduction, lots of exercise, a gallon of water a day, and the adoption of a plant-based diet. It was taking on this new diet that helped her learn how to use leftover produce to make vegetable stock, a dense nutrition source often recommend for autoimmune suffers. From leftover onion ends, radish tops, carrot heads, and broccoli or cauliflower stems, you can save the week’s produce scraps to make your own broth that is delicious, nutritious, and fantastic for the immune system.
6. Embrace the whole bird
When it comes to whole cooking, meat can get interesting. Because what are we really going to do with fish eyeballs? Nevermind, don’t answer that. But when it comes to chicken or other bone-in meat, the leftover bones are perfect for adding to the afore mentioned vegetable stock, making for a fantastic bone broth. Bone broth just happens to be nutritionally dense and has been proven to aid in digestive health, immune function, and anti-aging. And if you happened to find a bird with the livers still in tact, Grandma would tell you to sauté them with a little butter for a quick snack. If you don’t like liver, you know who probably does? Your favorite pup or the local dog you’ve been meaning to make a peace offering to. Either way, get creative and use everything!
7. Eat those leftovers
We can’t believe we have to say this, but, eat those leftovers! A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council took a peek into trashcans all over the U.S. and found that two-thirds of discarded food could have been eaten, with coffee, milk, apples, bread, potatoes and pasta topping the list. Don’t throw it out! Make a meal of it. Not only does this help save the plant and save you money, but it also challenges your creativity. By forcing yourself to making something out of seemingly nothing, you literally have a chance to get in touch with your innate creativity. You’d be surprised at how creative you can be in the kitchen when you mix and match ingredients. Turn some music on and get cooking!
8. Take a second look at sell-by dates
We’re constantly inundated with sell-by, best-by, use-by, and best-if-used before dates. But they are often confusing because they are based on the manufacturer’s concerns over food freshness, not food safety. This confusion prompts many of us to toss foods that are still safe to eat. So before tossing an item based on the date, take a closer look, as most products are safe to eat until you can see or smell spoilage. If it’s canned, you’re probably safe to hold on to it. If it’s a fresh item, check for spoilage, and if safe, get creative with it and add it into a new masterpiece.
9. Turn down the heat
When cooking, try to be mindful of how much heat you are using. Not only because you don’t want to burn up all the good food you spent so much time sustainably sourcing, but because energy consumption matters in the sustainability game too. So, do you really need to have the heat on ten? Or can you set it at a seven and put a lid on that pot? Do you really need to pre-heat the oven, or can that home-made pizza warm up with the oven? Turning down the gas or electricity a notch is another great way to bake more sustainability into your daily cooking habits.
10. Cook seasonally
Can we go on and admit that eating a fruit or vegetable when it’s in season is one of the lost joys of life? If you’ve never had a watermelon in the middle of summer or a pomegranate in the middle of the winter, you have not lived! Buying, cooking and eating produce in season is tastier, more nutritious, and can be better for the planet because it saves on storage and long-distance transportation. As you begin to think about sustainable cooking, think about meal planning and how sourcing and cooking with seasonal produce and even meats can make an impact on your budget, your health, and on the planet.
11. Watch your water
How many of us fill a pan to the brim with water to boil two eggs? As tempting as it can be to fill pots completely, think of how much water you’ve had to dump because of this excess filling. It’s a little lame, and yes it calls for actually knowing where you measuring cup is, but try measuring your water instead. And because we like you so much, we’ll give you another tip, completely free: try using that homemade broth for boiling things like meat, vegetables, and even pasta. This will give your food additional and natural seasoning all while saving water.
12. Switch to eco-friendly cookware
A quick note about cookware. Many kitchenware manufactures are using new ceramic technology that keeps food from sticking while traditional nonstick pans have been coated with Teflon. Teflon is known to begin breaking down at 232 degrees Celsius, meaning that it can begin to break down fairly quickly in households that do heavy cooking. But pots and pans made with the new ceramic-based technology takes less time to heat, saving your pans and saving you energy, given you won’t need to use as much heat during the warm-up process. So, if you’re in the market for new cookware, consider eco-friendly pots and pans.
While going green is rapidly becoming the norm, we don’t often talk about the kitchen. But because we all have to eat to live, the kitchen is a great place to start making environmentally friendly changes in your home.
From the food you buy to the way it’s cooked and stored, you can save energy, reduce your footprint and keep an eye on your budget in many different ways. Eco-friendly cooking not only benefits the environment; it’s healthier for you and your family, too. Happy cooking.