If you're passionate about cooking but concerned about the environment, here are a few things you can do to create a delicious, eco-friendly meal.
- Eat seasonal. This is the cardinal rule of many great food cultures. Creating a meal with ingredients that are in season in your region will produce an eco-friendly plate. While it may be tempting to pick and choose from exotic ingredients grown all over the world, your seasonally based dishes will be fresher and they'll reduce the environmental impact of cross-country and international shipping. It's also an exciting opportunity to experiment with seasonal bounty that you might normally overlook.
- Buy local.When you use locally grown ingredients you're supporting the agriculture and farmers, as well as the economy, of your community. You're also reducing the amount of fossil fuels that are generated by transporting nonlocal ingredients from the food source to your supermarket. And if that's not compelling enough, there's also an obvious benefit to your meal: Locally made meats, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables will truly taste fresh — because they are.
- Use organic ingredients. Organic foods are grown naturally, without synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetic modification, or ionizing radiation. Additionally, organic farming is more environmentally sustainable; it reduces pollution and conserves water and soil. While there is no conclusive evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or safer than their conventionally grown counterparts, many people (including a growing number of gourmet chefs) prefer organic because they believe there is a palatable difference in taste.
- Choose free-range, hormone-free, and organic animal products. When purchasing meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy, look for food raised in an environment that supports the ethical treatment of animals, such as farms where animals are allowed outdoors and are nourished with balanced diets. Organic meats, dairy, and eggs are made from animals that are pasture-fed or given organic feed, and have not been treated with antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic farmers practice rotational grazing and other preventive measures to help minimize disease in their animals. Many people find the quality and taste of free-range and hormone-free products to be superior.
- Be selective about seafood.Our finned friends are a great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals; they're low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories. Salmon and herring, in particular, are high in omega-3 fatty acids. However, not all fish are safe to eat these days. Some, like sharks and swordfish, are contaminated with high levels of mercury and other chemical pollutants. And that's not the only problem fish are facing. Destructive fishing practices and poorly managed fisheries are hurting the fish population and the environment. For an eco-friendly feast of fish, be selective about what you buy. Avoid farmed fish and shellfish that are fed with endangered wild fish. Choose locally caught and raised fish. And check out seafood watch lists, like the one posted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to ensure that you're making the most responsible decisions about the fish you serve.
- Avoid the extra packaging. Whenever possible, choose minimally packaged food products, buy in bulk, bring your own containers, or look for products that are packaged with environmentally sensitive materials, such as recycled paper or bio-based plastic. You don't need all that petroleum-based plastic or Styrofoam, anyway. Additionally, make an effort to bring your own totes to the market, instead of bringing home your goods in a bunch of flimsy, ecologically unfriendly plastic bags. Many organizations are now offering/selling reusable bags. Finally, be sure to reuse or recycle any packaging you do bring home with you.
- Grow your own ingredients. One of the most ecologically conscious things you can do to make a great meal is prepare it with food that you grew yourself. If you think you can cultivate a green thumb, plant a small vegetable garden and a few fruit trees in your yard or join a local community garden. Even sprouting an herb garden on your windowsill will make a difference, plus everyone in your household will appreciate the choice in fresh seasonings. If you have other challenges, such as a lack of light or space, you could also try aeroponic gardening, hydroponic gardening, gardening in a bag, gardening in a pocket, from a matchstick or growing a vegetable garden inside your apartment with Leopoldo's indoor vegetable garden.
Writer: Jen Laskey