Saturday, March 6, 2010

Going Green in the Kitchen - food

As promised, here is the second installment of Going Green in the Kitchen. Today, I will talk about food - the food we eat, how we prepare it and how we buy it.

The food we eat

We all know to eat to do the best thing for our bodies and most often, doing the best for our bodies will also do the best for the planet. Sometimes, though, it can get confusing. Is it better to eat an imported organic product, or a locally grown but conventionally farmed product? There is really no simple answer. While purchasing organic obviously has huge benefits for the ecosystem, the transportation of the product creates a huge amount of carbon emissions which is bad for the planet as a whole. Here are my tips for going green with the food we eat:

  • My first priority is to buy local (and therefore in season). Buying local not only encourages local communities, but will also minimise fuel consuming transportation.
  • Buy in-season where possible - produce like apples and pears are often kept in cold storage so they can be available all year round. Unfortunately, the refrigeration of this produce has a huge negative impact on the environment.
  • Support your local farmers' markets - these are usually smaller producers who often use more eco-friendly methods. Also, many use organic methods, but aren't officially certified.
  • Where I can't buy local, I will try and buy organic. Organic products are becoming more and more available here in Australia, and as the demand for the products increases, prices are starting to drop. I can now buy organic whole wheat cous cous and cereals for only slightly more than the regular products.
  • Eat less meat - producing meat is incredibly resource intensive as well as being the cause of much deforestation in South America. I personally believe that we need to eat some meat, but I think that we eat way too much. I try and have two vegetarian meals a week, and two fish meals a week.
  • Focus on whole foods, rather than processed foods. Commercially processed foods use a lot more energy and water to make, and from a health perspective you will be avoiding all of the artificial additives that are often added.
  • Make your own mixes - there is no doubt that prepackaged box mixes makes life more convenient. So again, avoid all the nasty additives and make your own mixes from bulk ingredients. You will also be minimising a huge amount of packaging. Here is a great bisquik mix that makes wonderful biscuits (scones) and pancakes. It takes just minutes to make.
  • If you eat eggs, chicken and pork, buy free range. It is much more humane and free range produce often needs less antibiotics. In Australia, all meat is hormone-free, but if other countries, try and buy hormone-free products.
The way we cook

Now that we have improved what food we buy, let's look at how we cook it.

  • When buying new appliances, look for energy efficient models such as gas stovetops rather than electric.
  • Use the right sized appliance for the job - it is much more efficient to use a small benchtop grill/sandwich press to grill a couple of chicken breasts than to switch on the oven's broiler. Similarly, use the right sized hob for the pan.
  • Thaw frozen items in the fridge over night rather than using the microwave the next day.
  • Use the minimum amount of water necessary when boiling pasta or vegetables so you are not wasting energy heating up excess water. Even better, steam your veggies - more nutrients stay in the food.
  • Use a pressure cooker - these are perfectly safe (unlike the old models our mothers' used!) and use up to 70% less energy than cooking on the stove. Even better for rushed mums, it cooks meals in a fraction of the time.
The way we buy it

Just as important as the type of food we buy is how we buy it. It is all very well to buy local, organic products, but if we are buying it in single serve packets, then all that good intention has really gone to waste. It is really important to minimise packaging waste where ever possible

  • The easiest way to minimise packaging is to buy in bulk. This is not only cheaper, but saves on packaging and transportation costs.
  • Try and buy goods in recyclable packaging, and recycle it. Where possible, buy food in glass, steel tins, or paper as these are all recyclable. Many types of plastic aren't.
  • Try and reuse the packaging instead of disposing of it. For example, save plastic icecream tubs for storing craft materials, and use old pasta sauce jars as cute vases. Also, lots of items often come in reusable packaging such as cookies in cookie tins.
  • Avoid single serve packaging. Instead of buying little pots of yoghurt, buy a large tub and serve into reusable small containers. Package up your own 100 calorie packs in little ziplock bags that you can reuse afterwards.
Implement just some of these ideas, and you can make a real difference to the environment. Stay tuned for how you can make a difference in how you package your food and how you dispose of it.

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