Thursday, 18 July 2024

Foodie Freak: Tips for becoming an eco-cook



Saving the planet should start in the kitchen. After all, that is where we consume most of it. Water, wildlife, vegetation, chemicals, packaging of all sorts – all of them pass through your kitchen before they pass through other parts of our homes.

I follow many different practices and I’ve been doing them now for so long that I don’t even realize I’m doing them most of the time. Hopefully, in this new year you will start new habits to lessen your footprint and readers will add their own tips after reading this.

I want to lessen my impact on the planet but I want to be smart about it. I think about the amount of fuel that is used to ship foods, the amount of energy that is used in processing them and the amount of water that is used in all of it. I can’t help but think that we don’t have droughts from lack of water but from overuse of it.

Save water

I keep a half gallon water bottle next to my kitchen sink and when I need some hot water instead of letting the water gradually get warm while running wastefully down the sink I catch it in the bottle and use the tepid water to water my plants, add to my aquarium, put in my water filter, or even to cook with.

You may be amazed at how many gallons you waste if you actually start saving them. I estimate that I save about 1,000 gallons a year by doing this.

If you think about it, if we didn’t use so much water every day then there would be that much more in the lakes and water table.

Bring your own bags to the store

The canvas bags that you can reuse at the grocery stores I like but make me shake my head sometimes.

If you go to a major grocery chain you can purchase theirs for typically two or three dollars with their name and logo on it. Wait a minute! You want me to pay you $3 to advertise YOUR company? My local grocery store (Nylander's) carries generic canvas bags for only 99 cents. I’ve saved a couple bucks and am not someone else’s billboard.

I’ve purchased 10 of these bags and have two free from swag of the Lake County Wine Auction supplied by Kelseyville Lumber; between all of them they hold enough for even my largest grocery run.

The major grocery stores will give you a discount on your grocery bill – typically three to five cents per canvas bag – but be sure to remind them and tell them how many bags you have provided so they can apply the discount. There aren’t a lot of people using canvas bags yet so reminding the cashier will help assure you receive your discount.

One of my favorite moments was when the cashier finished ringing up by groceries and then looked back and said with a frustrated look “Oh, and you have bags,” as if I was paying with pennies. Not only do I save the grocery store bags from the dump but with their rebate the bags have paid for themselves since I’ve bought them.

Use natural cleaners

I clean my cutting board first by scraping it with a board scraper (I bought mine at the Kitchen Gallery). Then I squeeze the juice of half a lemon on the board and sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of kosher salt (kosher salt has no use in my kitchen except to clean my cutting board).

I then use the spent half a the lemon as a scrubber and mix the lemon juice and salt (which is now a natural hydrochloric acid that will kill anything) scrubbing the entire board clean. When I have cleaned the board enough I rinse it under running water and set it aside to dry. You now have an eco-friendly, yet sanitized, cutting board.

Cover your pots when bringing them to a boil

A watched pot never boils but a covered pot boils in no time. The heat you are creating in a pot escapes into the air but if the pot is covered the heat is trapped, reflects back and helps the heat in the pot increase substantially so the pot boils faster wasting less energy whether you are heating with gas or electricity.

In my kitchen I may start boiling a pot of water, not see a lid nearby and just cover the pot with another (larger) pot. It’s that simple.

Also boil with less water

When you need water to boil pasta try to use less water since the more water there is, the more gas or electricity you will need to bring that water to a boil.

When I am done with the boiling water I take it directly outside and pour it over any weeds in my yard. I hate weeding so this works well for me because not only does the boiling water kill the weeds but it cooks them, making them palatable for the scavenger insects in my garden that then eat the dead cooked weeds almost overnight.

Cook from scratch

When you eat a packaged “just add water” or “just add ground beef” dinner, that food was harvested from all over the planet then shipped to a factory, processed and then, meanwhile, packaging is manufactured, printed, shipped, the product is put into the packages then they are shipped again to distributors that guess what? Ship them again!

When you eat prepared meals you are promoting a massive wheel of processing, waste and, did I mention … shipping? I can only imagine the amount of gasoline that is used to get your box-o-dinner to your house.

When you make your food from scratch you not only save the planet but your money. I look at a can of sloppy Joe mix, a box of San Francisco treat, or macaroni and cheese and think, “I can make that better and cheaper myself.”

I tried making my own mayonnaise for a while but it was too much work so I buy it now. Even I have my limits for saving the planet and money.

I also like cooking from scratch because I need a smaller garbage can. Since I don’t have as much packaging to throw out I can order a smaller trash container from my garbage company and pay less for my garbage service. Save money and landfill space, cook from scratch.

You’ve watched Rachel Ray’s 30 Minute Meals (I don’t like to admit it either but come on!) so you have to admit, it doesn’t take long to make a dinner from scratch.

Process as much as you can yourself

I only purchase whole chickens or, more commonly, capons at the grocery store. There are many reasons.

First of all, why should I pay someone to dismember them when I can do it and save the money? Look at the price per pound for boneless chicken breasts to the price of a whole chicken per pound.

Secondly, I get more for my money. Not only do I get the chicken meat, I get a skeleton to make into soup but also the giblets to make all sorts of things.

I mentally pull my hair out when I see people on food stamps buying tons of food that, with just a little bit of work, they could get a lot cheaper. I just want to scream, “You could get so much more for less!”

Lastly, I enjoy doing it, since all of my wife’s cats stand around my feet meowing their heads off waiting for me to throw a scrap at them while I trip over them (sarcasm alarm sounding).

I also purchase “primals” whenever I can. These are large cuts of meat that I can cut myself into individual steaks or roasts. Buying a primal can cost over $100 but after you’ve cut them into your individual servings the price is drastically less expensive than what you would pay at the grocery store.

Literally, you can save hundreds of dollars working with primals. Recently I purchased a whole pork shoulder, cooked it, and made half a dozen dinners with it – pulled pork sandwiches, enchiladas, cassoulet, soup, curry. I was able to make a lot of dinners with the one piece of meat.

Eat sustainable food and more vegetables

Americans have become obsessed with meat. We eat far more of it than our bodies actually need. The meat with your dinner should be about the size of a deck of playing cards yet we regularly eat much larger amounts.

Raising these animals requires massive amounts of food, water, medicine, land and labor, all of which themselves require massive amounts of money, fuel and other resources to produce. It can take up to 12 pounds of feed to make one pound of animal.

Some are more efficient, like tilapia, which takes barely over a pound of feed to make a pound of meat, rabbits need three pounds of food to make one pound of meat, etc. The fact is that you are growing feed for something else that you could have grown for humans and negated the “middle meat.”

Bring your cart back to the grocery store

It’s what, 60 feet to return the grocery cart back the building from your vehicle? If you bring the cart back to the building then the grocery store doesn’t have to pay someone to stop their job inside the building to go retrieve them. This little step saves the grocery store money which then can be passed on to you.

If you think about it, every step you make for yourself saves someone else from doing it, which can save you money and the world resources.

Farmers markets/seasonal local foods

Now in the middle of winter it’s hard to promote farmers market that won’t be available until spring, but if you buy foods that are seasonal you save the planet also.

After all, it you buy a cucumber in the middle of winter it probably came from Chile, where a lion's share of our out-of-season winter produce comes from.

How much fuel does it take to ship a cucumber from Chile to us? If you eat fruits and vegetables that are in season for California you are more environmentally sane but have more of a connection to your food.

These are just some of the things that you can start to do to reduce your drain on the planet.

Anyone else have steps that they follow that can help?

Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community. Follow him on Twitter, .

Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

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