What is Cooking Sustainably?
Cooking sustainability is a way of cooking that helps to improve our ecosystem, and does not harm the environment. Our environment/ecosystem is largely impacted by agriculture, both positively and negatively. The kitchen can be a great place to help improve our food system.
Sustainability itself is a term that is described as a way to support processes over time. In regards to agriculture and the environment, it is a way of living and using natural resources that allow our environment and ecosystem to continue to grow, live and regenerate.
How to Cook Sustainably
There are many ways to incorporate sustainability into cooking. It can be from focusing on what you are actually cooking to the methods you use, to something simple as reducing waste.
Just like everything I talk about start small! Pick one or two things you want to focus on and see how it goes. No need to overwhelm yourself or feel pressure. Cooking Sustainably can be a fun process that you can adopt into your daily life.
Purchase fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market
There are many benefits to purchasing local and seasonal produce from supporting your local economy, eating healthier foods, and also being able to purchase food without all the unnecessary packaging!
Purchase grass-fed/pasture-raised meat
Grass-fed and pasture-raised meats are better for our environment if you can find true pasture-raised. Having animals (especially ruminants), graze the land helps to reduce methane emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas that pollutes our air. When animals graze and are pastured properly, their manure helps to create rich and healthy soil.
Look for environmentally-friendly seafood
Seafood is a hard purchase. There are no organic labels, and unfortunately, sustainable seafood and fisheries are limited. The Monetary Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch is a great organization to help you navigate the complicated seafood world. On their website, they have a list of recommendations and what seafood to avoid.
Another organization called The Marine Stewardship Council also helps consumers choose and find sustainable seafood. They have a certification for fisheries to put on their product which you can look out for at the grocery store.
Have a little bit of pasta left over from yesterday’s dinner? Maybe you cooked up too much chicken? Keep those leftovers front and center in your refrigerator! Repurposing food is a great way to cook more sustainably and reduce waste.
Try cooking up some legumes!
Legumes are a very eco-friendly food. They are nitrogen fixing, which means that when they are planted, nitrogen (which acts as a soil builder and fertilizer) naturally gets into the soil. Our farm uses peas as a cover crop to help improve the soil! Growing legumes use a lot less water and land than other protein sources.
Cook the entire bird
We are so used to just purchasing breasts or thighs, which come pre-packaged. Next time challenge yourself to cook an entire chicken! It’s much easier than you think! Try this simple recipe from The Food Network. You also get a beautiful chicken carcass at the end which makes for a great broth!
Homemade broth is SO simple to make and is a great way to use up veggie scraps and bones. As you cut your vegetables, instead of throwing away your carrot tops/peels, onion skins, etc, save them in the freezer. When you have enough, combine them with cooking bones (also can be frozen).
Here is a recipe for vegetable broth – but you can use any vegetables/vegetable scraps that you have. On the same note a recipe for chicken stock – but again you can use whatever vegetables or bones that you have!
Don’t put too much value on expiration dates
Did you know expiration dates are only legally required for infant formula? Expiration dates are created by food manufacturers and are usually just an indicator of when they think food should be consumed for freshness. Eating “expired” foods will not make you sick. Most of the time, all you need are your eyes and nose to tell if food has spoiled.
Purchase organic food when you can
Fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides have a large negative environmental impact. To be created they require a lot of energy, and they also increase the number of greenhouse gases and produce chemical runoff in our waterways.
If you are not able to purchase all organic fruits and vegetables (there is no need to) A good resource to is looking at the Dirty Dozen by the EWG. It is a list of produce that uses the most pesticides. Alongside the dirty dozen is a list of the Clean 15 which are produce that use the least amount of pesticides. These are foods that there is no big difference between organic and non-organic
Waste Less Food
While this can be an entire book (O wait I did write a book about food waste!), here are some simple ideas that you can start today!
- Purchase less food if you find yourself throwing away a lot
- Meal plan or batch cook
- Shop your refrigerator and pantry first
- Do an inventory and organize your pantry and refrigerator so you can actually see your food!
- Use highly perishable fruits and vegetables first
- Use less plastic in the kitchen
- When you heat foods up in plastic, it creates BPA and Phthalates to leach into your food. This is also the case if you put really hot food into plastic containers such as leftovers.
- Avoid highly packaged foods
- Have you noticed foods at the grocery store that are unnecessarily wrapped in plastic? Such as peppers in plastic containers, or apples in bags? Selecting foods that are sold loose is much better for the environment.
- You will also feel much better throwing less in the garbage can. Bring your reusable mesh bags to store loose produce at the grocery store or farmers market!
Choose less energy intensive ways of cooking
Check out this video to see what type of energy is required to toast a slice of bread!
Try some of these tips to use less energy in the kitchen
While a toaster does use energy, small appliances use far less energy than a stovetop and oven. If you are cooking a small meal, try using your tabletop toaster oven instead of turning on your large oven.
- If your refrigerator or dishwasher is on the older end, look into a newer model. The newer models use less electricity and the dishwashers often have additional settings that can use less energy and water.
- While small tabletop appliances are annoying and bulky to keep in the kitchen, they do use less electricity. Slow cookers, toaster ovens, pressure cookers, and microwaves are smaller and have more insulation which helps to reduce needed energy.
- Soak foods before using. If you cook beans from scratch, make sure to soak them for several hours! This cuts down the amount of cooking time.
- Defrost before cooking. This is the same concept as above. If your food is fully defrosted, less time is needed to cooking
Use sustainable cookware
Cheap and nonstick cookware contains several different kinds of chemicals and metals that leach into your food when heated. Some of these chemicals include PFOA, PFOS, PTFE and PFAS. When purchasing non-toxic cookware stay away from Teflon, aluminum, cooper, and certain ceramics that might be coated.
Why is Cooking Sustainably Important
You may be wondering why try to go through all this ‘work’ and change your cooking habits. There are many benefits to living and cooking sustainably. These include health, environmental and financial benefits.
- Eating more seasonal and local can provide greater nutrition. You can cut down on the number of toxins you consume. When switching to organic and pasture-raised organic meats, dairy, and poultry you can consume fewer antibiotics and pesticides, and other chemicals.
- This may not exactly fall into health, but in my opinion, when my kitchen is more clean and organized from meal planning or the refrigerator is less cluttered, I feel less stressed! Everyone knows stress is not good for their health.
- Supporting local farms that use sustainable methods helps to improve soil health, and animal welfare, and helps to reduce greenhouse gases
- The more we support these types of farmers, the more farmers will engage in sustainable practices
- Cutting down on food waste has SO many benefits including reducing greenhouse gases by avoiding putting food in the landfill, wasting less land and water since food requires both these resources, and can help to reduce the amount of plastic being used. My book has much more information about the environmental impacts of food waste.
- Wasting less food and purchasing less means more money in your pocket, and who does not want that?
- Supporting your local producers helps to stimulate your local economy! Local money stays local!
Sustainable cooking is a lifestyle that can bring great joy to your life! Cooking and eating are something that most of us do on a daily basis, so why not make it healthy, affordable, and environmentally friendly? Take small steps that you think would be realistic and can fit into the way that you cook.