Eco Bites: Greening Casa Appetite

As Earth Day -- April 22 -- approaches, I am taking stock of just how green things are at the Casa and where (and how) we can make things a little bit greener.

Would I like to have more energy-efficient kitchen appliances and solar-powered water? You bet. A yard for growing vegetables and a dedicated compost heap to nourish the soil and reduce overall waste? Oh yeah.

But for now, those goals remain on the wish list and instead we focus on what we can do rather than on what we cannot. Some change is better than no change at all, no?

As much as I love the laundry lists a la "100 Ways to Green Your Life" or the "How Green Are You" quizzes, I find them overwhelming and daunting, at best, and maybe even a little guilt-inducing. If most of us agree that we all need to do our part to clean up the planet and be more mindful of the waste we create, how can we do this free of judgment and instead in the spirit of awareness and community building?

To that end, I share 10 ways we’ve been able to make the Casa just a little bit greener, realizing that we’ve still got a long way to go. Although I could have made the list longer (and seemingly more impressive), I have included only those green deeds that we execute with consistency. That’s where you come in; since we’re talking about teaching each other, I’d love to hear what others are doing to make their kitchens greener places. Don’t worry if you don’t have 10; gimme five and I’ll slap you five. We can use as much green luv as we can get. Onward!

The Green Machine at Work at Casa Appetite

* Using re-useable, washable cloth napkins that last for years, and when they’re past their prime, re-purposing them as dust rags

* Washing the dishes with detergent made from plant-derived cleaning agents, without perfumes, dyes or phosphates

* Toting re-useable shopping bags at the super market or wherever we buy food

* Eating lower on the food chain with one (and sometimes 2 or 3) meatless suppers per week

* When meat and fish are on the menu, we make a point of knowing its origin and how it was raised and/or processed

* Shopping locally and seasonally as much as possible. When we buy perishables from local farmers and producers, we’re supporting stewards of our respective food shed, folks who look after the land and surrounding waterways

* Avoiding food items that are pre-sliced and individually or heavily packaged as much as possible

* Supporting businesses – restaurants, supermarkets & groceries, hotels, coffee shops -- that support local agriculture and that feed my community

* Using what we have on hand and Eating Down the Fridge one week every quarter (next one scheduled for the week of June 22), in an effort to minimize waste

* Saying yes to water from the tap instead of water in a plastic bottle whenever possible

By Kim ODonnel |  April 9, 2009; 7:30 AM ET Eco-Bites
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A couple more that you probably already do:

Run the dishwasher when full, skip the heated dry (open the door to allow for air-drying, or drip-drying).

Preheat the oven at the last possible moment, if at all, when roasting/baking.

Save/recycle your egg cartons for the farmers' market vendors (paper, please).

Posted by: CentreofNowhere | April 9, 2009 8:19 AM

Buying a bigger container of yogurt and using smaller containers I already have to bring it for lunch

(the obvious) recycling

washing and reusing ziploc bags (esp. freezer bags)

Posted by: chiquita2 | April 9, 2009 9:13 AM

Thanks for a couple of tips Centre. We're shifting to local eggs and I hadn't thought about reusing the egg cartons. I'm with you on the oven. It doesn't take that long to warm up and so I do my prep work and then turn it on.

We've got a little patch of earth along the border of our back porch, so we're planning a small vegetable/herb garden for this year. I think I'll take a try at composting as well. The downside of all the fruits and veggies is a fair amount of waste.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | April 9, 2009 9:13 AM

We do the following:
--use plant-based dish soap and dishwasher soap
--run the dishwasher when full
--recycle everything we can
--cook vegetarian at home (hubby is having some issues with this so I don't know how long it will last)
--drink tap water--no bottled water here!
--we're members of a CSA (can't wait for it to start in June!)
--use reusable shopping bags for groceries and sometimes at Target

There are other things too but I'm on vacation mode and not thinking of them.

I have the space for a small vegetable garden and compost pile/bin but it's not in the cards right now. Maybe next year...

Posted by: earlysun | April 9, 2009 11:23 AM

These are all great suggestions. Other things we do are:
1) use old t-shirts, underwear, and socks for rags;

2) after washing greens or veggies in the sink, save the water and bale it out to use for watering plants (or washing your dishes after the meal);

3) compost!! It is really easy, takes surprisingly little space, saves pounds and pounds of valuable matter from being transported to a landfill to sit in stasis uselessly, and it yields good-smelling fertilizer. I'm betting even if you think you can't compost, you can. This is an example of a compact, urban composter that would even fit on a condo/apartment balcony:

Posted by: samgsmith | April 9, 2009 11:41 AM

I know not everyone feels able to deal with the "hassle" of composting, but I highly recommend it, for the reasons samgsmith posts, and many more, including; compost is organic food for your garden, which can provide organic food for you, and additionally, most American households can cut their garbage output by 30% (!) just by composting their biodegradable matter. It's one of the most environmentally sound decisions you can ever make in your kitchen.

I live in an 800sq ft apartment, and I use a homemade vermicomposter which sits under my kitchen sink. It's small, has no odor, and is incredibly fun and fascinating to observe.

Posted by: redweather | April 9, 2009 1:39 PM

Ooops, and I should probably mention that "vermicomposting" is a composting practice that employs red worms! (I love my worms, and quickly got over the slight squeamishness I initally had - they are all named "wormy" now.....)

Other ways I have tried to green my (rental) kitchen:
-unplug all electric devices (toaster, mixer, blender, etc) when they are not in use
-props to samgsmith! I also bail out my dishwater (with organic, biodegradable detergent) to water my plants
-use reusable mesh bags to purchase and store produce, and completely gave up ziplocks, saran wrap, and sandwich bags, instead reusing plastic takeout containers
-use the most earth-friendly cleaning products I can find, although I haven't been able to bear moving to vinegar and baking soda, which would probably be best...

Posted by: redweather | April 9, 2009 1:49 PM

Some things nobody mentioned...

I try to buy in bulk and bring my own containers. No new packaging and I can buy exactly what I want. This includes spices(very cheap), rice, popcorn, raisins, nuts and dried fruit.

I buy my milk in glass jars that you return for a deposit.

I buy juice in concentrate. Instead of a large plastic jug or tetra pack, I have a bit of plasticized cardboard to throw out.

We buy cans or glass bottles of soda rather than plastic bottles.

Recycle #5 plastic with Preserve. Right now you have to mail it to them but hopefully you will be able to drop them off at Whole Foods soon.

Posted by: Billie_R | April 9, 2009 3:00 PM

What is the eco benefit of "Avoiding food items that are pre-sliced and individually or heavily packaged as much as possible"? We usually buy presliced meat and cheese for sandwiches...just curious, thanks!

Posted by: emily_ak | April 9, 2009 5:05 PM

Using clean dish cloths to cover food in the microwave rather than paper towels. This then becomes the dish washing and/or counter cleaning cloth depending on what we're doing that evening.

Posted by: marisak | April 9, 2009 9:06 PM

Good thought about the spices, Billie. We're lucky that a Penzey's moved into town recently. There is still some packaging, but much less than buying new jars.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | April 10, 2009 11:14 AM

emily, I don't think your sliced meat and cheese are what Kim was talking about. I think she means that she wants to buy whole carrots instead of baby carrots in a plastic bag. Or whole onions rather than chopped onions in a plastic clamshell. Or a large bag of pretzels instead of a bag full of individual serving size bags of pretzels.

Posted by: mollyjade | April 10, 2009 12:56 PM

Centre - I, too, was skeptical about "preheat for 15 min." I have an oven thermometer, I know it didn't take that long.

Then Alton Brown explained it to me (not personally). The air inside heats up quickly, the metal does not. Unheated metal inside your oven means that the temp drops a LOT when you open the door. Not good for many baked dishes and inefficient in a different way.

Now I preheat for a long time if I'm baking bread, cookies, souffle, etc; but not if I'm roasting meat, veggies, and other less temp-sensitive items.

Posted by: fitday19550 | April 13, 2009 9:18 AM

"What is the eco benefit of "Avoiding food items that are pre-sliced and individually or heavily packaged as much as possible"?"

This refers to the amount of paper and plastic that each entails. Compare one large piece of cheese in one wrapper to a package of slices with little papers in between each slice. Compare ham from the deli that comes in a single plastic bag to the ham that comes sliced, sealed inside a bag, inside of a refrigerator dish. Then compare any of those to Lunchables or other premade meals, with tons of individual wrappers and little plastic dishes. Small differences, but different nonetheless.

My oven has a countdown timer that runs while it preheats. I have noticed that it takes six minutes to heat to 350 and eight for 400. If you pay attention once, you can decide the most efficient way to get the oven hot, but not too soon.

Posted by: margaret6 | April 13, 2009 9:51 AM

If I'm going to use the oven, I try to make several things at once. By trial and error, particularly error, I discovered this works much better with meats & veg than with baked goods. I rarely use the oven cleaning cycle but when I do, I stick in a pan or two that needs some serious cleaning.

I always know what's in the fridge and have a handful of standards to use leftovers - omlet & frittata, risotto, soup.

I keep a list of what's in the freezers (the free-standing one as well as the fridge's freezer). As a result food doesn't get lost in there and I don't stand in front of an open freezer figuring out what's in there. Also, I label leftovers with name and date. All of this sounds a bit psycho but really it's just a habit. Once you have the habit, keeping the list takes very little time.

I save the water that runs while I'm waiting for it to get hot - mostly from the shower but also when dishwashing. I use gallon milk jugs. It used to go into the washing machine, till I replaced it with a front loader (note for record: it almost never makes sense to replace a working appliance, given all the materials and energy it takes to manufacture an appliance. Wait for the old one to die first.) Now most of the water goes into the water filter pitcher and the plants, some of it is used in the salad spinner - and thence to the plants (usually).

I use a pressure cooker for beans.

Billie_R: the environmental economics of concentrate vs. full-strength juice isn't clear. As you say, concentrate uses less packaging and also is cheaper to transport. But it takes a LOT of energy to concentrate it in the first place. did an article on this subject, which, alas, I cannot access from where I am right now.

When I'm cooking, I try to take everything from the fridge at one time and to return everything to the fridge at one time.

I rinse out and reuse ziplocs, but not if they're yucky/sticky/really messy. I make my own single servings of snack foods using snack-sized ziplocs. I use specialized produce bags for my produce, which really does keep the produce fresh for twice the time. I keep asparagus & scallions in a glass of water in the fridge, as if they were flowers.

Posted by: fitday19550 | April 13, 2009 10:06 AM

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