12 Steps to Cooking Up a Green Life, complete
- Some days it feels like the flood of information I’m absorbing about how I should eat is going to drown me. I want to do the right thing and I also want to be able to plan dinner without consulting six websites and a Ouija board.
- So, after much research and many interviews with sustainability gurus, I’ve come up with a short list of the essential steps for greening up my culinary life. This collection of strategies and resources feels both satisfyingly comprehensive and doable to me.
- Consult the Eat Well Guide when planning your shopping list. This online resource lists sustainable, organic farms, restaurants, markets, bakeries, and even wineries by locale. So, just enter your zip code and discover green businesses within driving distance. The extensive list of “partners” on this site ( who contribute information and listings) is a clear indication of how widespread America’s interest is in eating natural, sustainable foods. 50 individual groups, from the Adirondack Harvest to Chef’s Collaborative and the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association, work with the Eat Well Guide.
- Eat grass fed (or mostly grass fed) beef. It’s better for: the earth, the cow, and you. According to Jo Robinson of Eat Wild, “If you eat a typical amount of beef, switching to a lean grass-fed beef will save you 17,733 calories a year…If everything else in your diet remains constant, you’ll lose about six pounds a year”. Compared with feedlot meat, meat from grass-fed beef, bison, lamb and goats has less total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories. It also has more vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and a number of health-promoting fats, including omega-3 fatty acids
- Cook more often; eat less processed food. I know this sounds obvious. But it’s worth repeating. when you prepare your own food you know where it came from and what’s been added (besides food). Skip the frozen pizza and canned soups when you can and thereby avoid all that extra sodium, sugar (corn syrup, etc), preservatives, AND packaging that plague packaged foods. Consider cooking quantities of food on the weekend or starting a cooking club to freeze in batches for the busy week.
- Eat sustainable seafood. Whether you’re in a sushi bar or your market, only order/buy seafood on the Seafood Watch Guide. This will include Alaskan wild salmon and American shrimp. This constantly updated guide is even available as an iPhone (or android, etc) app.
- Give grass fed bison a try
Bison are an extremely lean, healthful meat, with 35% more protein than beef. And consuming them actually ensures that they will not become an endangered species (that’s where they were headed as recently as 40 years ago). Bison burgers are a great summer entertaining option.
- Compost. This simple step can reduce your contribution to landfills by at least half. Put all of your produce scraps (and in some cities, meat and dairy, too) in a compost pail in the kitchen. I found an inexpensive little bucket that comes with biodegradable liner bags that completely eliminate the stinky food odors that used to make me hate my little compost pot. Transfer that to a simple compost bucket in your yard to enrich your garden. Or, in some cities, your food waste will be picked up by your recycling service. Either way, you’re cutting down on your personal garbage contribution by a lot.
- Embrace the Asian Food Pyramid
From Tempura to Pad Thai, Asian cuisines have developed around the use of a small amount of meat or fish for flavor rather than as the star of the show (for the most part). This approach results in dishes that are easier on our waistlines, our wallets and the environment.
It’s been established that cutting back on the amount of meat in your diet (currently 200+ pounds/year for Americans) is better for your general health. It also relieves some of the stress that confined animal feeding operations place on the environment. There are lots of great books to help you both understand the issues, and find vegetarian or meat-light recipes you’ll enjoy.
By the way, note the trim bodies and glowing skin on most Asian folks still enjoying their tradtional cuisines. They have obviously developed a food pyramid that works—and protein is nowhere near the top.
- Support Local Agriculture
You can achieve this profoundly important step (without local farmers we are reliant on industrial commodity farming) in a number of different ways: Join a CSA, shop at farmers markets, raise some of your own food (from produce to chickens). These all take a little more effort than stopping by the grocery. But with today’s evolving local food sources, it’s definitely getting easier almost everywhere in the country. (And yes, I know we’re spoiled in Seattle.)
- Can and Preserve Canning and preserving is experiencing a monstrous renaissance (right up there with chicken cooping). Canning parties are evolving as today’s version of a bridge party or book club. I’m a proud member of Canning Across America, a national organization founded here in Seattle that is gaining members by the busload.
- Look for pastured pork, lamb, poultry and eggs.
Pasturing is more humane for the animals, ecologically sustainable, and a healthier way to raise animals for meat. The term pastured on a label is still not regulated by the USDA, but farmers using that designation are typically raising their animals in a way that approximates the natural lifestyle for the animal. That’s a good thing for the ultimate quality of the meat and, eventually, us.
The regulations around the labeling standards for eggs are relatively loose (free range-right), so pastured is definitely the safest bet for finding a nutritious, delicious egg. Pastured eggs have less fat, more healthy Omega-3, and significantly less cholesterol than eggs from factory farms.
- Buy organic wherever you can. It’s hard to balance all of the “shoulds”— even just the 12 on this list. And most of us find that while we understand the benefits of eating organic foods, our organic purchases are limited by our wallet as much as by availability. This list of the most pesticide-loaded produce from the Environmental Working Group is very useful when you’re deciding which organic produce purchases are most important.
Organic is equally significant when you consider meat and dairy purchases. There are great online resources like Local Harvest and many markets and farmer’s markets will have these options.
Organic coffee, chocolate and wine–who’d a thought? These highly popular (addictive?) commodities have been enthusiastically embraced by organic producers. And, in some instances, main stream producers have expanded into organics. As an added good conscience benefit, these indulgence items are some of the most visible examples of fair trade practices really taking hold. So when you have the opportunity, choose organic, fair trade chocolate, coffee or wine. Main stream outlets like Starbuck’s, Trader Joe’s and Sam’s Club have several lines of organic, fair trade coffee and organic chocolates and wines are widespread.
- Use green cleaning products According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the air inside the typical home is on average 2-5 times more polluted than the air just outside (!)—and in extreme cases 100 times more contaminated—largely because of household cleaners and pesticides. Using environmentally gentle products like the ones listed here will let you scrub your kitchen until it sparkles with little, if any, residual damage to the air or the water system where it all winds up.
Let me know what you think. I’m gonna print this up for my wallet (or tattoo it on my wrist, not sure yet).
Nicole’s Top 12 Green Moves
Not only do these choices ensure a food supply that is fresher and seasonal, it is usually more naturally raised (if not organic) and will offer you a wider assortment of ingredients. Local farmers can afford to raise the tender tomatoes and strawberries that can’t handle shipping, and the goofy pineapple sage the markets don’t want. And what you can raise is bounded only by your climate and garden space. I know folks who manage to raise tomatoes and herbs they treasure on a Manhattan balcony.
Canning and preserving just has it all going on. You can save money by purchasing buckets or flats of what’s in season at the farmers market, a wholesale club, or directly from a farm. Then you have the fun of rounding up a posse of pals to prepare it with you. Months later you’ll enjoy unique preserves like cherry mostarda (a recipe I’m making this week), gingered peaches, or— one of my favorites— fresh tomato-chipotle ketchup. There is NOTHING like homemade ketchup. This is the ultimate in sustainability
I like 20 Mule Team Borax for general cleaning. For the dishwasher (which is way more energy efficient than hand washing in hot water) both Life Tree and Seventh Generation do a great job. Also, use cloth kitchen towels as much as possible; limit paper towels. Recycle everything that passes through your kitchen and your house.