April is earth month, so you’ve probably seen various posts and announcements about ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Some of these changes are as small as printing double sided or turning off lights when you leave the room. Other changes are grander, such as converting your home to solar power or buying an electric car. But one of the most effective environmentally friendly changes that people can make actually starts with daily habits surrounding food choice. Two of the major causes of our planet’s deterioration are pollution from plastic waste, and greenhouse gases from the farming of livestock. These are two issues that can be tackled by every person every single day by making more thoughtful food choices. In addition to the effect our dietary habits can have, we can also aim to be more efficient with our use of food by aiming to decrease food waste as well as plastic associated with food packaging. Below are 12 simple changes that you can make, most of which would take minimal time out of your day.
Eat more plant-based foods. This is a big one. Maybe the most important one on the whole list. When most people think of vegan diets, they assume those following them are doing it because of animal welfare and/or health. While that may be true in many cases, plant based diets also have huge benefits for the environment. Believe it or not, our planet's food supply is actually in jeopardy because of all of the land dedicated to feeding and producing meat. But you don’t have to go full vegan to make an impact. Try limiting meat to one meal a day instead of 2-3 meals. Or designating a few days a week where you don’t eat meat. Plant based diets may require a little more creativity with meal planning, so I’ve included some of my favorite plant based recipes at the end of this post for inspiration. For more information, check out #EatForThePlanet
"The livestock system is responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions... that's more than the entire transportation sector combined." -Eat for the Planet
Use your leftover herbs to make sauce.For whatever reason, fresh herbs seem to only be sold in quantities suitable for a small army. Instead of breaking off a few sprigs and letting the rest get moldy in your produce drawer, use the extra to make a sauce or puree. These will typically keep for longer than the fresh herbs, or can be frozen for later use. Two of my favorites are a green tahini or a pesto.
Use what you have. Be flexible with your recipes. Vegetables can be easily swapped based on what you already have available. A recipe might call for kale, but if you already have spinach in your produce drawer then that can easily be substituted. Other good examples include asparagus instead of green beans, broccoli instead of brussels sprouts, or diced red pepper instead of carrots.
Freeze food that’s about to go bad. Fruit is the perfect example of this. Fruits and vegetables are among the most commonly wasted foods in the US, likely in part to their short expiration dates. If you have fruit that’s about to go bad, peel it and throw it in the freezer. It can be thawed later to make smoothies, mixed into yogurt or oatmeal, or into a healthy jam.
Plan before you cook. Knowing roughly how many servings you’re making will help you to know how much rice, pasta, or meat to cook. Rice and pasta expand hugely when they’re cooked, so people often over-estimate how much they need to pour out when it’s dry. Planning ahead will help to avoid a Tupperware of food that sits in your fridge uneaten until it goes bad.
Do inventory before you shop. How many times have you picked up spinach at the store, only to see that you already have half a bag in the refrigerator? Unless you’re Popeye, you’re probably not going to eat all of that before it gets soggy. So you can either a) see steps 3-4, or b) do a quick inventory of your refrigerator and pantry before you head to the store. This will save you money by not buying the same thing, and will reduce food waste.
Plastic and Packaging Related
Share a trash can at work. Most of us who work in an office have our own individual trash can at our desks. We probably use it every day, but it rarely gets full to the top, and often will just have a few dirty napkins or an empty yogurt cup. But the employees who clean the office have likely been asked to empty these trash cans every night, which is a huge waste of plastic bags. Try having a communal trashcan for you and your surrounding coworkers in order to reduce the use of trash bags. Using one bag between four coworkers instead of one each will slash your area's plastic bag use by 75%.
Stasher bags. These things are amazing. They’re made of silicone and much sturdier than a flimsy sandwich bag. They come in multiple sizes and can be refrigerated, microwaved, and put in the dishwasher. Perfect for storing food in the fridge, pantry, or transporting food and snacks to and from work. Not sponsored, I'm just obsessed. Shop here. Alternatively, you can try the brand LunchSkins.
Reusable grocery bags. Bringing these bags with you to the store will save anywhere from 1-10 plastic bags depending on how big of a trip you’re making. Not to mention they’re much more durable and can typically hold more in one bag. If you already bring a purse/briefcase to work every day, it can be helpful to throw a bag or two in there for those last minute after work errands.
Say no to bags in general. Many stores will automatically bag your items, even when they really don’t need to be. Think of when you buy a salad that you’re about to eat and they bag it, or when you buy a greeting card from CVS and they throw it in a bag. Get in the habit of saying “no thank you” in these situations to minimize unnecessary plastic bag use.
Opt for real silverware. When given the choice, choose metal silverware in social situations, cafeterias, or in the break room at work. If real silverware is not available, you can always bring your own to work if you have a place to put it after (back in your lunchbox, wash and keep in your desk, etc).
BYOB (watter bottle or cup): While this tip isn’t exactly a novel idea, it’s still important to remember to bring your own water bottle to work, on road trips, to the airport, and to the gym.
Firecracker vegan lettuce wraps by Pinch of Yum
Cuban Quinoa Bowl with Spicy Lemon Cashew Dressing by Heather Christo