24 Simple Ways to Green Your Diet

Already get your tomatoes in season from the farmers’ market or — even better — grow your own organic produce? If you compost like a pro, sew your own reusable napkins from pre-loved fabric, and never, ever forget your organic cotton shopping tote, you might be feeling smugly self-satisfied about your eco-eating ways or (in true treehugger style) fully focused on how to shrink your food footprint even further.
 
After all, a whopping 20 percent of the fossil fuel used in the United States goes toward growing, moving, processing, packaging, selling and storing food, according to Food & Water Watch. And that’s even before we’ve prepared and cooked our food — or dealt with any food scraps, leftovers or packaging.
 
Luckily, even diehard 100-mile-dieters can pick up some new easy and effective eco-ideas in this list of 24 green eating tips. Make them part of your daily routine to save fossil fuels — and a few bucks! — without completely revamping your already-pretty-green lifestyle.
 
INSPIRED EATS
 
1) Help yourself to heirlooms. Make your favorite recipes new again by cooking them with heirloom ingredients. Start small by scoping out the luscious heirloom varietals at your local farmers’ market, then plan ahead to pre-order your heritage turkey for Thanksgiving, and shun the Broad Breasted White turkey stocked in 99.9 percent of supermarkets. Your adventurous eating will help preserve biodiversity and keep regional specialties around for future generations.
 
2) Skip the syrup. Despite the Corn Refiners’ greenwashing ads, high fructose corn syrup is packed with empty calories — and was recently found to be laced with mercury. Everything from Hershey’s chocolate syrup to ketchup to Nutri-Grain bars to canned coconut milk can be made with this ubiquitous syrup, so scrutinize ingredient lists carefully before you buy.

3) Sweeten smarter. Conventional sugar is often produced with unfair labor — and sometimes processed with bone char, to the chagrin of vegans everywhere. An eco-smarter alternative is organic agave nectar, a low-glycemic index sweetener that prevents spikes in your blood sugar and is 1.25 times sweeter than sugar to boot. Or try organic yacon syrup, another low-calorie, low-glycemic sweetener. If only sugar will satisfy your sweet tooth, spring for the organic, fair trade brand; the blow to your wallet might convince you to cultivate a taste for something new next time.

4) Green your windowsill. Even the organic fresh herbs at your favorite co-op grocery store are often over-packaged — not to mention overpriced! Luckily, basil, dill, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme are all easy herbs to grow, so pick one or five you use often and start a mini indoor garden.

TECHY TOOLS

5) Kegulate. Ask for what’s on tap, and you’ll cut back on your brew’s packaging and transportation emissions. Serious beer-loving environmentalists should pick up a copy of Fermenting Revolution by Chris O’Brien to learn how to save the world by enjoying a good buzz.

6) Take the tuna test. If you weigh less than 200 lbs, eating just one can of albacore tuna a week can put you over the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommended limit for mercury. Stay healthy by figuring out how much canned tuna you can safely eat at ewg.org/tunacalculator, or get mercury stats for all types of fish at gotmercury.org.

7) Develop a green thumb — by texting! Shop green on the go with Bon Appetit’s Eat Low Carbon Diet calculator. Text 69866 with the message “lcd” and the name of the food (i.e. “lcd chicken”), and you’ll get a text back with the food’s carbon rating. If you’re in the seafood section, use the Blue Ocean Institute FishPhone. Text 30644 with the message “fish” and the swimmer in question (i.e. “fish salmon”), and a return text will give you all the fishy details to help you decide on your dinner dish.

8) Makeover your leftovers. Yesterday’s dishes don’t have to be boring repeats. After all, a leftover hambone can be turned into everything from stock to bean soup to ham and greens. Visit leftoverchef.com to quickly find recipes that’ll get you more mileage out of your meals.

POWER PREP

9) Soak‘em first. Save yourself some energy — and cooking time — by soaking beans and rice in water for a few hours or overnight. Or opt for products like bulgur wheat and couscous, which don’t even need to be cooked post-soak. Just pour boiling water from your energy-efficient electric kettle over these fast-cooking ingredients, then stir and enjoy.

10) Go for volume. Think you don’t have time to cook your own beans? Bulk cook these staples and store them in your freezer, putting each cup in a separate small container, then whip out a container whenever your recipe asks for a cup ‘o beans. Over time, your savings will add up — and you’ll avoid Bisphenol-A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor found in the lining of some cans.

11) Thaw in the fridge. Instead of running hot water over frozen food, just move the item from the freezer to the fridge the night before. Your food will thaw more evenly in addition to saving your fridge some cooling energy.

12) Use freezer packs. Most foods keep quite well at 37 degrees, so try turning your refrigerator thermostat up while keeping meats, dairy and eggs a bit chillier by placing them along the colder freezer wall with an ice pack or two.

13) De-liquify. Don’t stress out your reusable bags by lugging heavy TetraPaks of organic veggie broth. Go for less backbreaking bouillon cubes and powdered versions of your favorite flavorings and condiments. Your shopping will be lighter — and you’ll shrink your food’s transportation carbon footprint and packaging waste too.

CONSCIOUS COOK

14) Think outside the oven. As Kate Heyhoe puts it in Cooking Green, the oven is the Humvee of the kitchen, because only six to 13 percent of all the energy an oven uses up is actually used to cook the food! So rev up the toaster oven (a.k.a. the Prius of the kitchen) instead, or go all electric with the slow cooker, microwave and plug-in kettle.

15) Cook in a chain. When you do turn on the oven, bake dishes back to back to get more mileage out of your oven heat. Better yet, ditch the pre-heat and start your dishes in a cold oven — a handy eco-trick that works for most recipes. Then set your timer to turn off the heat a few minutes early, letting your dish finish cooking passively in the accumulated heat.

16) See blue. Make sure your pilot light is all blue; any yellow or orange in the flame means your light is using up too much gas. If you’re upgrading your kitchen, do away with the pilot light altogether by opting for an efficient electric ignition.

17) Stir it up and get steamy. Whip out the wok and get stir-frying or steaming for an oil-free dish. Both energy-efficient cooking methods get even more planet friendly if you chop up your food into smaller pieces for faster cooking times.

18) Get snooty about cookware. Say no to Teflon cheapies! Good cookware can last you a lifetime, so treat yourself to the well-designed, high quality kitchen tools you really want. You’ll make up for the higher up-front cost over the long run — and save lots of pans from going into the landfill.

GREENER CLEAN-UP

19) Capture the veggie water. Let your organic veggies beget more organic veggies! Give your produce a bath in a basin, and then reuse that water for your window herb garden.

20) Ditch the garbage disposal. If you accidentally break your garbage disposal, rejoice! Garbage disposals are unnecessary energy and water-wasting machines that wreak havoc on our septic systems. Instead, keep your drain clean with a simple metal strainer, and put your food scraps in your composter.

21) Give your dishes a late night bath. Embrace your inner procrastinator and put off kitchen cleanup. Then run your dishwasher and other electronics during off-peak hours, when your city’s electric grid is producing power more efficiently.

22) Sponge off. Choose eco-friendly dishwashing tools made from 100 percent biodegradable products — they’ll get your dishes squeaky clean.

23) Go for seconds. Adopt a plate-half-full attitude at buffets, potlucks and parties, and take small first portions. After all, you can always go back for seconds — and get more of what you know you like instead of throwing away foods that looked yummy but tasted ho-hum.

24) BYO to-go container. Don’t want to send perfectly good food to your organic restaurant’s composter? Take your own to-go container and keep tomorrow’s lunch Styrofoam-free. An airtight reusable container will also help you avoid spillage on the trip back home and keep your food fresher.

Siel is a freelance writer and eco-foodie based in Los Angeles. Visit her at greenlagirl.com.

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