When you cook healthy meals and experiment in the kitchen, you make small changes to improve your technique and outcomes. You know minor tweaks can make a large difference in your dishes. In the same way, making small changes in your kitchen protocol can impact climate change.
Climate change threatens global prosperity and well-being. There are countless ways to steward our resources well to slow climate change, especially in the kitchen. Here are some simple practices you can incorporate into your cooking routine to help do your part:
1. Use Water Efficiently
As a nation with a seemingly endless water supply, we do not think twice about letting the faucet run or wasting water. These practices have a detrimental large-scale effect, though. As the global demand for water increases, we turn to groundwater supplies or aquifers to supplement. Many of these sources have a slower regeneration rate than the current extraction rate, which makes this practice unsustainable.
When you cook, you may use water for the following purposes:
- For rinsing produce
- For washing your hands
- For boiling pasta or rice
- As an ingredient
- For cleaning pots and pans
Water usage adds up quickly in the kitchen, but you can take a few steps to conserve while you cook:
- Avoid letting the faucet run: Instead of using a constant water flow to wash fruits and vegetables, fill a bowl with water. You can clean produce in the water and refill with clean water as necessary. Establishing this limit requires little effort, but it can greatly reduce the amount of water you waste.
- Reuse water creatively: When you drain pasta water, you likely dump it down the sink. Instead, you can pour excess water into a jar, let it cool and use it to water your plants. You could also use excess water to pre-rinse pots and pans.
2. Diminish Food Waste
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of all food is wasted each year. As 1.3 billion tons of lost food sits in landfills and begins to rot, it produces a greenhouse gas that is even stronger than carbon dioxide — methane. The World Wildlife Fund estimates we could reduce approximately 11 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from the food system if we cut down this food waste.
You can curtail food waste in the kitchen with a few simple tips:
- Plan your meals ahead of time: Some chefs prefer spontaneity and decide what to cook on a nightly basis. Though fun, this tactic may encourage leftover food waste. Before you grocery shop, think about the meals you want to make for the week. This recipe planning can help you purchase only the necessary ingredients and prevent unused produce from going bad.
- Get creative with your leftovers: Before you cook a new dish from scratch, consider the ways you can re-purpose your leftovers. Toss last night's steamed rice into a soup or add yesterday's rotisserie chicken to a garden salad. Some websites even allow you to search for recipes based on the ingredients you already have in your pantry or fridge.
- Compost food waste: If all Americans composted their food waste, it could prevent 24.3 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere. As a beginning step, you can keep a small compost bin in your kitchen. If you have access to a larger outdoor area, you may even build up to larger compost piles.
3. Avoid Single-Use Packaging
Though single-use plastics are convenient, reducing their presence in your kitchen can help fight the growing plastic problem. Here are a few steps you can take as you cook and meal prep:
- Avoid processed foods: Processed foods are bad for your health, and they also come wrapped in plastic packaging. When you opt for fresh produce, meats and grains, you can better control how much packaging you are purchasing and discarding.
- Buy produce at farmer's markets: If you live near a farmer's market, you can usually purchase produce without any plastic packaging. You can also bring a reusable cloth sack to the market to carry your groceries and avoid plastic bags. Even if you only have seasonal access to farmer's markets, your purchases make an impact on reducing plastic waste.
- Switch to beeswax wraps: Plastic baggies are convenient for packing lunches and storing unused food, but they are almost always thrown away after a single use. Beeswax wraps offer a sustainable alternative with reusable cotton and wax material. You can use these wraps to cover a bowl of ingredients, wrap up remaining food or pack lunches without plastic waste.
4. Reduce Your Carbon Emissions
Carbon dioxide gas has been one of the biggest contributors to climate change in the centuries since the Industrial Revolution. When carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere, 40 percent of it remains there for the next 100 years. Simply put, the carbon dioxide we contribute to the atmosphere sticks around, and it propels climate change.
Many of our typical food habits contribute to carbon emissions. You can reduce your carbon footprint in the kitchen with some of the following changes:
- Choose foods with a smaller carbon footprint: Veggies require less water, energy and resources to grow when compared to livestock, which gives them a smaller carbon footprint. Simple changes, like cooking with beans instead of meat on occasion, can keep metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
- Eat food grown close to home: Many foods are grown and transported thousands of miles around the world to support consumer demands. The further food has to travel, the more greenhouse gas transportation adds to the atmosphere. When you shop for locally grown produce, you can slash these emissions.
5. Cut Down Your Meat Consumption
Meat is a staple for many American meals. As the livestock industry works to meet these demands, they contribute a significant amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The beef industry alone produces 26.5 kilograms of emissions per kilogram of beef product.
Choosing more meals without meat can help address this issue:
- Try one meat-free meal a day: To ease into eating less meat, try making one meal a day meat-free. You can use this opportunity to experiment with new recipes or make the meat-free meals you already know and love.
- Work up to one meatless day a week: If you want to make more of an impact, designate one day of the week to cook without meat. There are plenty of excellent plant-based recipes to try, so you will never have to sacrifice flavor or fun in the kitchen.
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