Earth Day: Room by Room in the Kitchen

14 Apr

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The kitchen is full of choices that can lead to a greener lifestyle.  If you tried one of the water calculators that Robin posted about earlier this week, you saw that diets can strongly affect water usage.  Not only does the food we eat make a difference, where it was grown, when and where we purchase it, how we prepare it, what we eat it on, how we dispose of leftovers and how we clean up after it are all areas that we can improve on.  For minimal environmental impact, we would all eat raw, seasonally grown vegetables from our own homestead gardens, but food is such a huge part of our lives that it also needs to be enjoyable – not just sustainable.  Since our food choices probably make up the biggest proportion of our kitchen’s impact I’m going to focus on that.  Luckily, there are so many factors in this process that almost anyone can change their habits and make a difference.

We all know beef has one of the highest carbon footprints, but did you know lamb is worse?  As if you didn’t already feel a tinge of guilt for eating such an adorably tasty animal…  For a few people, knowing the impact of beef, dairy, and meats in general can lead to going cold turkey, as it were.  Most people love the taste of a hamburger on the grill or a nice steak, though, so completely abstaining isn’t the appropriate choice for everyone.  Limiting portion sizes and adding meatless meals to your weekly repertoire are great alternatives.  And even if you do choose not to eat meat, you don’t come off carbon-free.   Vegetarians that eat cheese are right below the beef-eaters.  As for vegetables and fruits, they are not all created equal.  Differences in pesticide use, fertilizers, water needs and seasonality all affect their carbon footprint.  While studies show that organics are not necessarily better health-wise, they are better earth-wise.  Not only do conventionally-grown products leach extra chemicals in the soil, they also use less water.  For green guidelines for all types of food, I like to modify Michael Pollan’s simple mantra.  “Eat food.  Not too much. Mostly plants” Local, organic and in season (which works for meats just as easily as plants).

Fish is whole ‘nother kettle of … fish.  The politics of the fishing industry are perhaps even more complicated than that of the meat industry.  After all, fish are often taken from their natural environment rather than being raised on a farm (which has its own complexities), so there is additional stress placed on the oceans.  For a good overview, check out the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website.

Now that we have an introduction to the foods that we bring into the kitchen, here are some tips for keeping everything else a little greener:

  • Use your dishwasher instead of washing by hand (it uses 1/4 of the water that handwashing does)
  • If you do handwash, use greywater to water your plants or even flush your toilet.
  • Ditch disposables such as paper plates, napkins, and parchment paper.  I can’t stop singing the praises of my silpat.
  • If you choose a food that has a large carbon footprint, try balancing it with a meal lower on the list, like this easy lentil soup.
  • Join a CSA to enjoy vegetables that are local and in season.  Some areas even have CSAs for meat, eggs, or fish.
  • Upgrade to EnergyStar appliances.
  • Buy in bulk and bring your own containers.
  • Grow your own plants.  Even sun-deprived apartment dwellers can grow a few herbs.  Here’s a really cool system on kickstarter.
  • Compost scraps.
  • Meal plan to reduce leftovers.
  • Use the smallest method possible to cook your food.  A toaster oven uses much less energy than the full-size.  If you use the oven, consider baking everything one day and microwaving to reheat later in the week.
  • Use lids when cooking on the stove to reduce heat loss.
  • Make your own paper towels.
  • Find more tips from Treehugger, WebMD, and The Daily Green.

~ April

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One Response to “Earth Day: Room by Room in the Kitchen”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Earth Day: All In One Place | Without a Map - August 27, 2014

    […] Reduce, Reduce April 12, Earth Day: Recycling Update April 13, Earth Day: Throwback April 14, Earth Day: Room by Room in the Kitchen April 15, Earth Day: Going Green to Save Green April 16, Earth Day: Green Smarts April 17, Earth […]

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