You don’t need an endless supply of time and money to be kinder to the planet. Journalist and author Karen Edwards is here to make eating sustainably more accessible and less intimidating…
In an ideal world, we’d all be living completely sustainable lives. However, the world is far from ideal right now – and in a time when reports of the climate crisis and plastic pollution dominate the headlines, alongside news about a raging pandemic, it’s fair to say a more environmentally friendly home life isn’t always going to be your priority.
Thankfully, one of the easiest (and most significant) ways to live more sustainably, and be environmentally conscious, is to modify our food habits. This doesn’t necessarily mean going vegan – instead, it’s about making simple adaptations to how you shop, cook and enjoy your food, all of which can create a more sustainable food industry.
Here are five tips on how to be more sustainable in the kitchen.
Shop seasonal, local and fresh
It sounds obvious, but the most practical way to eat sustainably is to buy locally grown food that is in season. You can do this by shopping at marketplaces, rather than the big-name supermarkets.
Not only is locally grown and seasonal food fresher, more nutritious and delicious, but it requires little transportation and refrigeration, meaning less carbon emissions are produced. There should also be less, if any, packaging – which reduces plastic pollution.
Get to know your regular market sellers and find out where they source their food. Smaller farms and fisheries avoid intensive methods that are harmful to the environment and tend to use organic practices which, thanks to a lack of synthetic chemicals and hormones, is much kinder to livestock. Plus, buying from markets allows you to support small businesses.
Thinking ahead and batch cooking
Meal-planning is already a hit with busy people as it makes life easier when juggling work, raising a family and all the other demands of today’s world. However, if you haven’t tried it yet – it is also an absolutely genius way of shopping and cooking more sustainably.
Note down the meals you will prepare for the week ahead, remembering to factor in any meals you might not have at home. Then choose a selection of recipes that have common ingredients, so you buy as few new ingredients as possible.
When it comes to cooking, make more than you need for one night – a double batch is ideal – so the leftovers can be enjoyed for lunch or dinner the following day. If you can cook more and freeze it – even better! This will ensure nothing is going to waste and it will save on energy throughout the week.
Make your own snacks
Supermarket snacks tend to be unsustainable, with many made with excessive amounts of water, sugar and unethically produced palm oil. Often, they are also unhealthy and can be pricey. By making your own snacks, you would be helping to save the environment and your bank balance.
Thinly peeled carrots, squash and parsnips make tasty crisps, while softening veggies are perfect for dips. Both are a great way of reducing food waste and are a much healthier option than shop-bought crisps.
If you don’t have any leftovers, you can still make your own snacks. Just save the peels from any vegetables you’ve cooked during the week and batch bake them at the weekend. You can use everything from potato and carrot to pumpkin peels – in fact, the more you have the better. Even a bag of kale that needs using up can be transformed into tasty, crunchy snacks.
Don’t throw out your food, even after the used-by date
Shop only for the ingredients you need, but if you do miss the used-by date, don’t be in a hurry to throw food away. Root vegetables in particular make insanely delicious dips, while most veggies, including cabbage, onion, cucumber, carrot and even cauliflower, can be pickled to last much longer.
Fruits such as bananas, strawberries and raspberries can be frozen after they’ve softened for later use in jams, ice creams, smoothies and dessert sauces. The latter can even be used to infuse your favourite alcohol (raspberry-infused gin works a treat after a long week, trust us).
Have a few slices of stale bread leftover? Cook up a batch of these yummy eggy-bread and veggie muffins (pictured) using the leftovers. Check out The Planet-Friendly Kitchen (£8.99, Summersdale) for more sustainable recipes.
Swap in a few more plant-based alternatives
Unfortunately, livestock farming and commercial fishing have devastating impacts on the environment – but for most people, giving up meat or seafood is not a viable option, especially when there are little mouths to feed. Still, if we all reduced our meat intake slightly, we can reduce the pressure on land, water and marine resources.
It is important not to feel guilty about eating meat. After all, humans have been doing it for centuries. Rather, be willing to make a few substitutions so meat-based meals do not feature as heavily in your diet.
If you typically eat meat in almost every meal, swap breakfast and lunches to veggie alternatives and enjoy your favourite meaty recipe in the evening. For those who don’t eat meat daily, why not experiment with cutting down to just two or three times a week?
Eating less meat doesn’t have to be boring. Stick to enjoying your favourite dishes, just with plant-based substitutes. Small changes like this make an almighty difference if everyone clubs together to make a collective effort.