How Sustainable is Your Kitchen?

Sustainable NE Seattle has a sustainable home workshop coming up on August 21 and I’m helping pull together some information for the kitchen. I have many goals for our house and dog this year but I can’t really think of any more changes to make in the food preparation area. I thought I would share with you my list of things that will help make others become more sustainable in terms of food preparation and storage. As you read through these I encourage you to think if these are things you can do as well.

  1. Stop Wasting Food. Did you know that 40% of all food goes to waste? Just think how much more sustainable you could be if you stopped wasting food!
  2. Eat more nutrient dense food.  It follows that you’ll consume less of it that way.
  3. Garden year round and eat seasonally. I do still preserve some of summer’s bounty but it’s far more efficient and simpler to just eat what is in season, when it is in season. In the winter in Seattle we have vit, winter hardy spinach, cabbages and kale, carrots and parsnips can stay in the ground and be harvested as needed, and onions, garlic, potatoes and winter squashes can wait all winter in your garage. Many long storing apples can also last in your garage most the winter. When they start to soften it’s time to make applesauce and fruit leather.  This means no strawberries in January, even if they are a good deal at Costco.Plant perennial edibles in your landscape. Many fruits, nuts and berries make attractive landscaping but also provide valuable and enjoyable nutrients that reduce your food purchases.
  4. If you can’t garden, consider getting a local, organic or heirloom variety CSA.  This helps reduce monocrop farming and genetic seed modification.  If everyone did this it would be a HUGE setback for companies like Montsanto.
  5. Learn to ferment. Many foods can be fermented, such as sauerkraut, kimchee, carrots and beets. In this way they can be preserved using no electricity and stored in a cold cellar, garage or basement until spring.
  6. Turn an area of your yard into a perpetual garden. Many herbs and leafy greens can self-sow, coming back several times per year at no effort on your part. Parsley, cilantro, arugula, kale and lettuces form seed heads and create new volunteers with abandon. Set aside a dedicated patch and let them. Think of all the plastic containers you’ll save by not buying these things any longer!
  7. Learn to culture dairy. Buttermilk, kefir, yogurt, and non-pressed cheeses are simple to make, require only a few ingredients and no special equipment. You’ll save a lot of packaging and be able to extend the shelf life of fresh dairy so that you don’t end up wasting it.
  8. Grow your own teas. Camellia sinensis grows very well in most climates and is easy to dry as green, black, or oolong tea. You can also easily grow and dry mint, chamomile, Echinacea, lemon balm, raspberries or huckleberries, rose hips and other plants that make many different flavors of herbal teas. Leaves are simple to dry in the warm summer air and you won’t be buying individually wrapped tea bags in a plastic wrapped box that was imported, shipped and trucked in order to get to you.
  9. When you buy things like chocolate, coffee and sugar be sure they are organic, fair trade, and shade or sustainably grown.
  10. Trade surplus produce with friends and neighbors. Don’t let large bounties go to waste!
  11. Organize a barter event twice a year. It’s much more efficient to make large batches of the same canned good, soap or lotion then swap with another person who has made something different. Trading for things you don’t know how to make also keeps you from buying a less local, more packaged version of the same thing.
  12. Compost kitchen and garden scraps. You can make small plastic tubs into worm bins that fit under your kitchen sink, making composting just as convenient as using your garbage disposal. In fact – you should take out your garbage disposal so you have room for a bigger worm bin! Simple metal lidded garbage cans can be drilled with holes then sunk into the ground outside to make rodent and pet proof compost bins and a simple pile suffices for everything else.
  13. Make long lived snacks rather than buying packaged foods. Jerky, dried fruit, fruit leathers and trail mix are great ways to preserve fresh meats and fruits so that you have some convenience foods in a pinch yet they will be shelf stable.
  14. Buy a grain grinder and learn to make your own baked goods. This will be the single-most biggest change you will make. Imagine no longer buying bread, pancake mix, crackers, muffins, tortillas or breakfast cereal. Not supporting the additive companies, or the packaging, or the companies supporting genetically modified grain seeds, or the pesticide companies, or the large mono-crop farms is what will change the food movement faster than anything else. Drive that change. Support local, small scale grain farmers who are growing organic heirloom variety grains. There is a whole world of grain beyond wheat just waiting for you to discover it.
  15. Buy local, pastured meats and use the whole animal. Request the bones for making broth and bone meal for the garden, learn to prepare the organs and reserve the fat for soapmaking and cooking. Nothing need go to waste.
  16. Take a good look at your pantry. Do you really need to be buying so many different vinegars and other products? Consider making due with fewer variations of things. Do you have molasses and granulated sugar? Then make your own.
  17. Use pantry items and essential oils to make lotions and cleaners rather than buying a closetful of products. Old houses didn’t need cabinets in the bathroom because they didn’t have things to put in them! You don’t need them either.
  18. Shop monthly from a list. This will help force you to be organized and cut out impulse buys that get you off track. It will also help you stay on budget.
  19. Consider replacing existing appliances with high efficiency models, or using them less frequently.
  20. Hit thrift stores and stock up on cast iron, glass, wood and Corningware™. Repurpose rather than shopping for new.

How about you?  Do you have any suggestions for things I’ve missed?  If so I’d love to hear them!

14 Responses to How Sustainable is Your Kitchen?

  1. I just love your website. Makes me not feel so alone in my ideas.

    A few things I can think of off hand to be added to your list:

    Collect rainwater for watering plants, but also collect rinse water and water used to cook veggies to use on your garden/houseplants too.

    Use “made in the USA” fibers to knit/crochet rugs, dusting clothes that replace swiffer-type towels, washcloth, small face clothes to cut down on the need for cotton balls, etc.

    Thrift nice cotton materialed items to make reusable napkins

    If you need to shop the grocer, bring cloth sacks and glass bottles for packaging bulk items (make sure you have an employee weigh the bottles first.)

    Post easy guidelines for cooking grains, beans, and the like in your cabinets where you store your items. That way, instructions are at hand when needed. Also make a diary of weeks that worked regarding dinners. Then planning will be a no brainer when you might be at your weakest.

  2. Great suggestions. I love thrift stores. I could go to one everyday. My family and I always look for made in the USA and even if it’s more we buy the one made here. And I love my fabric grocery bags.


  3. You have goals for your dog? Not that I would expect anything less, but these I gotta hear!

  4. Great list and suggestions. I would add one more to the list:

    Rotate and use your food stocks. I purchase and store items in bulk as it is more economical, but it is easy to have a pantry full of items that got shoved to the back and forgotten and not used timely (waste). Actually cleaning out the pantry once a year (pull things out to clean and then restock) is a great way to rotate older items to the front and to remind you of what you have. I periodically do a pantry challenge month where I try to cook almost exclusively from my pantry and garden and freezer and not shop for anything but fresh dairy and fruits. This forces me to be a bit more creative and to work my way through some items that need to be used up.

  5. Kelley Ahearn

    Oh so sad! August 21st is the beginning of our camping trip. DARN!!! I will be waiting for another ‘sustainable home workshop’ ………….maybe in the Early Spring?
    Thank you for you Blog.
    Kelley in Graham,WA is reading!!

  6. Annette, talk about a windfall harvest; this post is more bountiful than any tree in my orchard.

    I think many believe they have to have a grand plan to live sustainably, not so. Take baby steps, change habits. One day you’ll have big changes from many small efforts.

    Simple stuff:
    -Quit using paper towels; launder cloth ones
    -Stop driving your car one day
    -Drop your heat source to 60 or 65 degrees–it’s refreshing, and you get to where cool sweaters around the house
    -Set aside one week where you cook only what’s in the fridge or pantry.
    -Regift things; someone must surely want that hummel statue

  7. Great post Annette!
    Where did you get your grain grinder? I know you mentioned it before…
    I love the perpetual garden idea for herbs/greens. Do you just let them go to seed? Awesome!
    Can’t wait to hear what you are doing with the dog =)

  8. Tom, Annette,

    You are right – take small steps towards a big change. I just read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle on a recent camping trip to Fort Worden, Port Townsend.

    The book gave me permission to continue doing the little steps like baking my own bread, and putting up some jam, and freezing those lucious blueberries, instead of having to redo the WHOLE garden for full production RIGHT NOW. [Though that is just what Ms. Kingsolver did ... ]

    With two small kids, the best I could accomplish this summer was to build a fence. Though only 13 feet long it is priceless in terms of keeping the kids from running into the street while I go out to pick an onion for the salad, and get distracted by the compost bin, and muse about where the chicken coop will go.

  9. I would have really like to see some links out to how to’s on some of the ideas. eg fermenting foods.

  10. Thank you! I am going to come back to this time and time again as it is things I need to remember! For the metal cans outside for composting – do you need to add anything to it in addition to your food waste?

  11. Whit – thanks for adding the cloth bags. I have a billion of them but now that I don’t shop at the store I don’t need them anymore! I love the grey water addition as well. I still have on my list homemade dishwashing liquid so that would make it possible to use that grey water.
    Tiffany I just switched her to an American sourced food that is more nutrient dense and she is really old or I would switch her to raw. I also want to come up with an above ground compostable can for her poop. You can find plans for the sunken ones but we have clay soil so that won’t work.
    KFG I love your pantry challenge. I have to say once it’s full of home canned foods I sometimes go down there just to ogle. It’s like pantry porn.
    Kelley have fun! I am starting with the kitchen but in time hopefully we can cover every room of the house! I love getting more ideas from you guys.
    Tom good thoughts – and you have a spare hummel statue?
    Meg I do let them go to seed. In fact I scatter the seedheads around to help them out. I’ve had no shortage of parsley or cilantro this year finally! The grain grinder was from I have a little video of it grinding that I still need to post but if you go to the sustainable gear category I think I have more info on it there.
    Grace don’t forget Ms. Kingsolver grew up on a farm and went back to a farm with 3 willing and able helpers. She was not trying to care for small children who were not pulling their own weight. I didn’t start this until my littlest guy was 2 and the first thing I did was a fence, just like you. And a hole for mud, a shovel and some pans to keep him busy. You’ll get there!
    Trace there was a lacto-fermentation blog carnival a few months back. If you click on the lacto-fermenting category you should find it and there are some GREAT ideas and how-tos on my blog and many others who participated. Have fun!
    Anna Katherine I drilled holes in the bottom half of the cans then sank them into the ground. This lets the worms and pill bugs and centipedes get in to help things out. I started with a dry layer on the bottom (could be from the chicken coop bedding or dried leaves or dried grass or shredded junk mail, etc.) then just kept adding things. If it gets too wet add another dry layer. I never even turn it. I have 3 so I can rotate them. I have some pictures and more information here:

  12. I’ve added a few more things to the list now that I can’t believe I left off before. Can you spot them?

  13. I love this entry. Good info. I’m wondering what you do in the winter for a variety of fruit? I have 2 small ones, and they eat fruit constantly throughout the day. I can’t imagine getting to eat apples all winter long!! What do you do? Thanks

  14. Shannon I dried lots of fruit in the summer (apricots going as we speak), froze berries and then we did eat apples and pears. When citrus was in season I bought a few cases of those and we ate them while they lasted. We juice lots in the winter when the root crops are plentiful and need to be used up. This helps too even though it’s not fruit. And I canned grape juice. Between flavoring apple fruit leather base with the dried fruits and these things we didn’t really miss fruit at all, or I should say we ate all kinds of fruits. I dried apricots, cherries, strawberries, peaches, apples and plums. I canned lots of apple sauce too.

    What kinds of fruits are they eating in the winter? And then you have to question if those fruits really contain any nutrition since they are so far removed from the tree or certainly not tree ripened anyway. Maybe they aren’t really benefiting from that fruit in the winter anyway? At least I never felt like we were.

    Now that we are eating seasonally I feel like we don’t miss things as much, probably because we are gorging on them when they are in season.

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