If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the news about the climate, you aren’t alone. While so many of the forces behind climate change are beyond our control, many of us are interested in making changes in our day-to-day lives that help minimize our footprint.
In my journey as a sustainable chef, I have picked up a lot of tips and tricks on how to be more eco-friendly in the kitchen, where – surprise! – I spend a ton of time. Here are five of them:
1. Use all the produce
Why buy broccoli by the pound and then throw out half of what you paid for, i.e., the stalk? Many-a-times, the parts of the produce that we discard are just as nutritious and maybe even more nutritious – banana peels contain an additional 78 milligrams of potassium, for example.
With produce that has been washed thoroughly, everything can be eaten and go inside your body instead of the landfill. You can make banana peel “pulled pork” sandwiches, whole banana bread or beet tops pesto, to name just a few options.
2. Use your cooktop efficiently
We don’t always have a say in what kind of cooktop we get in our homes. But there are still ways we can use our cooktops efficiently – consider adding a lid to boil water quicker, boiling water in a teapot for tea and coffee (versus an electric kettle), and cooking items on the stovetop that may normally be made in ovens.
For example, make eggplant parmigiana in a skillet on the stovetop instead of baking it in the oven. Regulate the flame when cooking on a gas stove – a higher flame means more gas use. The same applies for electric cooktops – generally, a mid-heat setting is sufficient versus the highest setting.
Power down an electric cooktop a few moments before your dish is complete – this will allow the cooktop to cool down sooner and not prolong the use of energy.
Similarly, for induction cooktops, which are the most energy-efficient option, make sure to align the size of your pan with the size of the heating element on the stove to not overuse electricity when cooking or prolong the heating process.
3. Stop buying Mason jars
I can’t recall the last time I purchased a glass jar. Instead, I wash and reuse jars from coffee, jam, salsa and more. If you ever walked into the home of an Indian family in America, you are bound to find a former Tostitos salsa jar now filled with fragrant masalas or large jars filled with all sorts of dried legumes, flours and rices.
The easiest way to sanitize a jar to reuse it is washing it in the dishwasher on a hot cycle. Alternatively, soaking it with hot water and soap overnight and scrubbing clean the next day works, too. Dry completely before using. If canning or jamming, consider water-bath canning to process and seal jars.
4. Reuse your water
If you’re boiling pasta or grains for a meal, reuse the same water to boil or steam veggies in the same pot. This minimizes the use of additional water and dishes. Once your food is cooked and removed, you can use the remaining water to blend into sauces.
And if you’re still left with water from cooking, use it to water your houseplants – it can even add more nutrients to your plants.
5. Always pack food at restaurants
While this is an obvious one, I’ve observed that most people don’t practice this. Having hosted and led several pop-ups across New York City, I’ve seen that the majority of restaurants don’t have systems in place to compost, which means everything you don’t eat goes directly to a landfill.
In 2018, the Food Waste Reduction Alliance reported that 84% of unused food in American restaurants ends up in the trash. When food rots in a landfill, it produces massive amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas at least 28 times as potent as carbon dioxide.
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