Alright tree huggers! If you’re ready to take your diet to expert green level, follow these simple tips about how to eat, stock your kitchen, store your food, and save it from going bad or heading to the landfill.
The life cycle of food includes the production, processing, transportation, storage, retail, and consumption and disposal of that given food. Coming up are tips for each of these practices.
How to eat
1. Eat less overall – in developed countries like the US it’s not uncommon for us to overeat. This leads to weight gain that could lead to obesity, which increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Many resources go into growing, processing, and transporting foods – water use, land use, potential fertilizer and pesticide use, hard work by farmers and farm workers, tractors and farm equipment, gas and oil, refrigeration of foods on farms/trucks during transport, trucks/planes/boats for moving food, vitamins and minerals to potentially fortify foods (like refined grains, milk and plant “mylks”, specialty bars & powders, some snack foods), store space, food packaging… By eating food that meets your needs most of the time, you are contributing to a healthier body and planet.
2. Eat less meat, eggs, seafood, and dairy foods – these foods are responsible for more greenhouse gases, more land use, more water use, and more nitrogen and phosphorus application per serving compared to plant protein sources like nuts, seeds, beans, and peas. Watch your seafood consumption as many areas are being overfished, affecting the food chain overall. You can get your protein from these foods in plants (like beans, nuts, seeds, and peas) as well as other nutrients from a balanced primarily plant-based diet.
3. Eat more legumes and tree nuts – these foods offer healthy fats, fiber, protein, and often more vitamins and minerals per gram compared to meat. Plus they use much less water, land, fertilizer, pesticides, and energy than beef.
4. Eat less processed foods and more whole foods – processed foods usually have added salt, preservatives, sugar and/or food colorings. Plus the processing in itself tends to remove natural vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibers that are naturally present in food. Try to eat whole foods instead or foods that are not refined. Try making your processed favorites at home if you can.
How to shop
1. Buy less processed foods – energy goes into processing of foods – just one more step added to the resources used in order to make food. Processed foods also tend to come in lots of packaging. And it’s not good for you typically so limit these foods.
2. Buy more whole foods – they’re better for you, undergo less if any processing, and can often be found package-free (in the produce section if you use your own bags or in the bulk section)
3. Buy foods in bulk with your own cloth/mesh bags – or your reused plastic produce bags from a previous trip. If you don’t have bulk bins accessible to you, try buying bigger bags or cans of essentials to you (rice, pasta, dry beans, frozen fruit/veggies, meats) – just try and make sure you buy the amount you will be sure to use before it goes bad. That way you will not waste food or money you spent on that food!
4. Buy things you know you will eat – sometimes we want to try new foods or recipes and that is all good and well! If you end up not liking that food or recipe, gift it to a friend or if its unopened you can donate it to a food bank, church, or food drive. On the other hand, if you know you don’t like broccoli and you keep buying broccoli but it is laid to rest in your veggie crisper, maybe stop buying that pesky broccoli!
5. Buy local – try to buy in your country, even in your state or county if possible. You can try to connect with local farmers at farmers markets and sometimes smaller grocery stores that connect with local farmers. This is becoming more mainstream as farmer’s markets and buying local popularity is growing.
6. Buy in-season – Buying in season means the food tastes better, looks better, and the price is better! Supporting in-season allows food to be grown the way it would grow out on it’s own in nature, where the temperature, rainfall, wind, and climate overall is just right for the perfect yield. We have all bought strawberries out of season at some point…and they aren’t great. That’s because they are best in spring and summer!
7. Buy organic when possible – it’s more pricey and there is usually not as big of a selection, but it’s the better option for the environment. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides aren’t allowed, so alternative means for pest control and soil health are used instead which is better for our planet in so many ways.
8. Buy the ugly produce and products with damaged packaging (as long as it isn’t open and exposing food contents) – many people won’t and those foods may end up unsold and thrown out by the stores. It tastes the same, I promise! Consider subscribing to “ugly food boxes” if they’re available in your area.
How to stock your kitchen and store your food
1. Buy kitchen tools and appliances secondhand – secondhand shops and garage sales are almost always full of them. You can also check out online sale groups, like Craigslist or Facebook marketplace – even Ebay (but shipping charges may eat your money up).
2. Buy kitchen appliances energy-efficient – if you are in the market for something shiny and new with hopes of a lower electric bill, invest in newer energy-efficient appliances like a fridge, microwave, or stove/oven combo. Ask yourself what appliances you really even need. A toaster, a full size oven with 6 burners on the stovetop, a blender? Buy what is right for you/your family and leave the rest behind.
3. Consider these tips for saving energy in the kitchen – Unplug appliances when you are finished using them since sometimes they still use electricity. Also try to keep a full fridge as it helps the fridge use less power to keep everything cold inside. Don’t lower the temp too much or you will waste energy that way too.
4. Learn proper storage of foods – learn whether foods should be stored in the fridge, in the dark, away from certain foods, in water, in closed containers, or in bags with holes. That way you aren’t having food go bad prematurely and will have less food waste.
5. Eat leftovers – some people are not fans of leftovers and I will never understand why! If it stores well in the fridge, eat it within day or two. Just make sure you are following proper food safety guidelines by cooling and reheating foods properly. Freeze them if you don’t plan on eating leftovers within 48 hours. You can also repurpose your leftovers into a whole new recipe – shows on the Food Network has had chefs do some pretty cool remakes of leftovers!
BONUS ROUND! Your last attempt at keeping it green.
How to save food from waste
1. If fruit and veggies are on the verge of going bad, throw them in a smoothie or a soup.
2. If you know you won’t be able to use all the fruit and veggies that are on the verge of going back, stick them in the freezer for another time or dry/dehydrate them (for chips or dried fruit snacks).
3. Give your leftovers to someone who you know will eat them if you won’t be able to before they spoil.
4. Donate unopened foods you know you won’t use or didn’t like to a food pantry, food bank, food drive, family in need, or church/other center that organizes the such.
5. If all else fails, COMPOST! That way the nutrients in the food are recycled back into soil to nourish the earth and future plants for new food growth.
Missing something from the list? Drop a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can keep the list growing!
Written by Stacy Ramirez, MS, RDN, LD
PHOTOS COURTESY OF WWW.PIXABAY.COM