Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Green Kitchen: How to Eat Green Without a Greenmarket

Green Kitchen is a bi-weekly column about nutritious, inexpensive, and ethical food and cooking. It's penned by the lovely Jaime Green.

Around the environmentally-/socially-conscious foodosphere (those being categories and a word I just made up), tons of focus falls on farmers markets and CSAs. Last time 'round these Green Kitchen parts, we looked at why eating locally and getting your food from those sources is so good (for you, the planet, and your wallet). But not everyone has access to a greenmarket or CSA. So how can we eat green without a greenmarket? Like this:

Buy Local at the Supermarket
In the last year, I’ve noticed that Whole Foods has started highlighting local produce with big signage, but even your average (or below-average) supermarket tells you where produce comes from. If you can’t find vegetables from your local area, aim for your region, or even your country or hemisphere. The shorter the food had to travel to get to you, the fresher it is and the less carbon its transport put into the air.

Buy Seasonal
Citrus is not local to me by any means, but when it’s in season it’s cheaper and way more delicious. Supermarket asparagus this time of year is also probably coming from closer by than South America, where it often hails from in off-season months.

Buy Unprocessed
Processed food comes with packaging, which takes resources to manufacture. Then the processing of the food itself takes power, which (odds are) isn’t coming from a happy green windfarm. You also save yourself the sodium and additives gunking up the works. 99% of the time, unprocessed foods are way, way better for you.

Process Food Yourself
Some processed foods are value-added - for example, turning milk to cottage cheese makes it a more protein-dense food. Processing cabbage into sauerkraut makes it tastier and better for you. These are usually old-timey sorts of processing your grandma could’ve done on a farm. So, try it yourself! Make your own bread, jam, cheese, or pickles. You’ll be spending kitchen time rather than cash, and accruing valuable post-apocalypse survival skills. Oh, and you control what goes into your food, in terms of energy and ingredients.

Store it Right
A full fridge or freezer uses less energy to stay cold. And don’t leave that door open! Keep your shelves organized so you don’t have to stand there with the door open looking for stuff.

Cook!
If you’re reading this website, you’re probably already on the cook-your-own-food bandwagon, but it does more than save you money and pounds (or pounds and kilos, if we’re being British). Cooking is just a way of processing food yourself. You save on packaging, you skip the mysterious additives, and you choose how much energy is expended.

Don’t Cook!
Even if you sign up for green energy for your home, no energy is even better. A raw or minimally-cooked meal saves on power usage, whether it’s electricity or gas. And when you do cook, use efficient appliances.

Eat Ethical Animal Products
Although I’m a vegetarian, I am a passionate believer in humane and environmentally-sound meat-eating. However, most large-scale meat production puts a huge tax on resources by consuming food resources (and the water and energy that goes to grow those crops) and polluting the environment with untreated animal waste. Look for grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat and milk, and buy cage-free, hormone-free eggs. The extra cost is worth it. You might not be able to eat as much meat this way, but you can also choose, then, to eat a little less.

Choose the Right Fish
The Environmental Defense Fund has a handy guide to choosing fish that are good for you and the ocean: Use it.

Compost
Why send scraps to the landfill when you can turn them into fertilizer? (Not that way.) Start a compost pile or get a worm bin. (It’s not nearly as gross as it sounds.) In New York City, the Lower East Side Ecology Center collects compostables, and I make my contribution every couple of weeks. See if an organization in your town does the same.

Bike or Walk to the Market
Truckers aren’t the only ones putting carbon into the air to transport food. If you can walk or bike to the supermarket, do. If it’s too far, consolidate your trips. You’ll save cash on gas, too.

Don’t Buy Bottled Water
Come on.

It’s kind of amazing how many of these ways to be good to the Earth also end up being good to our bank accounts. It sometimes takes a little more effort, but it isn’t actually harder to make these choices. And that extra hour in the kitchen every so often is something I’ve really come to love. I’m hoping to delve into canning this summer. Is there anything you’re planning on tackling to make your kitchen a little greener?

(Photos courtesy of And Now a Word From Our Sponsor [cows], DCist [jars], and Eaves.ca [bottles].)
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6 comments:

Lumi said...

These are great tips, but I don't think that a full freezer is cheaper to keep cool! The less surface area it has, the easier it is to bring the air around the food back down to the appropriate level.

Also, a full fridge can make it harder to find what you're looking for, which requires you hold the door open for longer. Not to mention you may forget you even have that dozen eggs tucked in the back, and then they expire before they're exhumed.

The Nervous Cook said...

This is a great, thoughtful, helpful and thorough post!

Even though I'm lucky enough to live in a very farmers-market-friendly city (NYC), it's helpful to think of the bigger picture: What can we all do? What small changes are available to everyone?

Bravo.

Lucy's Soup Can said...

Amen to the "don't buy bottled water".

Diane said...

Yup - I do all of these except full fridge. Even though I have a small fridge, I am single, so it's never totally full.

Cathy said...

Your list is right on. I would add: get a sun oven! I have one right outside my back door. This week we've cooked a pot roast, oatmeal, artichokes. Totally free energy.

Jaime said...

Thanks everyone. And Lumi, a mostly-full fridge or freezer is indeed more efficient. To quote from consumerenergycenter.org:

"As your food budget permits, keep your freezer and refrigerator full-but not so full that air can't circulate. The mass of cold items inside will help your refrigerator recover each time the door is opened."

You can even fill a few large containers with water to fill up empty space and help keep things cold. (This keeps your fridge and freezer cool longer in case of a blackout, too.)