Earth Day is just around the corner! As cheesy as this may sound, every day is Earth Day in our house. I know, I know. CHEESE. But it’s true. For the last 6 years, my new year’s resolutions have all been centered around helping Mother Earth by making changes in how our family eats and cooks. As I look back on those years, I can see how much better we’ve gotten about a lot of things and I can also see how those resolutions have really gotten me (and my kids!) to be constantly thinking about how our actions are impacting the environment. The best part is that it’s all been easier to do than I thought it would be!
When I say that I am constantly thinking about how our food system impacts the environment I am not exaggerating. I think about environmental food issues all the time. I regularly read articles and reports about the environmental impact of the food industry and I love getting the chance to talk with food companies of all kinds to find out how they produce food, what they are doing about their carbon footprint and more. This year I’ve already talked with at least 3 different food companies regarding sustainability and have gained so much insight into how food companies think about sustainability and what they are doing about it.
One of those companies I’ve met with is General Mills. I visited their headquarters this past January, where I participated in a small Q&A session with the president of the cereal group as well as a one-on-one conversation with Catherine Gunsbury, director of sustainability and transparency at General Mills. My talk with Catherine was awesome and I got all kinds of great intel out of her. We also discovered that she and I are kindred spirits – we are both obsessed with not throwing food into the trash (obsessed). I spoke with Catherine on the phone again this week, at which point she filled me in on General Mills’ latest annual Global Responsibility Report. We talked about General Mills’ goal to sustainably source 100% of their top 10 ingredients by 2020 (and what that means) as well as General Mills’ commitment to achieve zero waste going to landfill at 100% of their global production facilities by 2025 (they are at about 6% now and making good progress). If you want to read more detail about what General Mills is up to in terms of sustainability and social responsibility, click here.
As I’ve spoken with many food companies over the years, both big and small, and really mulled over all the issues surrounding food and the environment, I’ve been encouraged to see that a lot of these companies really do care and are working hard to turn the ship that is our food system around. One of the other big things I keep coming back to is how powerful consumers are. If we as consumers demand better food (and packaging and production and everything else!), food companies will continue to deliver better food (and packaging and production and everything else!). Like I said, the food industry is a large ship and it will take a lot of work and time to turn it around, but I have faith we can all contribute to that process. It can feel daunting, but if we all keep on keeping on, we can make the world a better place and ensure our food sources will be sustainable for generations to come.
So, what are some of the things we can actually do in our daily lives to help that process along? To celebrate Earth Day this week, I’d love to share ten things our family has done in the kitchen over the years to have a positive impact on the environment. Some of these tactics are more involved than others, but none of them are difficult and all of them make a difference! And, before you let yourself feel overwhelmed by the list, I promise these are things our family does every day. I’m about the laziest cook you’ll ever meet and I’ve still been able to follow these steps! For me the key to success is to keep it simple and realistic and focus on working on a step-by-step basis.
1. Eat Less Meat.
My first official what-we-eat-and-how-we-eat-it-affects-the-environment resolution was to eat less meat. Per capita meat consumption has increased significantly over the last several decades. In fact, if we all switched to natural, pasture-raised meat, there wouldn’t be enough land to support our demand. The natural resources that go into producing a pound of meat versus pretty much any other food is significantly more. Reducing meat consumption across society would have a huge positive impact on the environment! So, how do we do that?
For our family we did not go vegetarian, we simply cut back on the amount of meat we ate week to week. I experimented with vegetarian recipes that incorporated beans because our family likes beans. I chose recipes that made it easier to spread out the meat I was using so I could use less meat overall in that meal, like salads with just 1 or 2 chicken breasts for the whole family. I thought cutting back on meat would be so hard, but it wasn’t, and I think that’s because we took a moderate approach that was realistic for our family.
(Pictured above: Sweet Potato Bacon Pizza, where very little meat is used…and dinner is still filling and beyond delicious!)
2. Cut Back on Paper Towels and Napkins.
I honestly thought cutting out paper towels would be impossible, but it was EASY. I swear. The trick is to buy a big stack of towels and to have them in a very accessible place in the kitchen. The only time I use paper towels now is to soak up grease. Click here to read more about our family’s system that’s made living without paper towels no big deal. Our family also only uses cloth napkins. They go in with the normal laundry and it hasn’t been any extra work. Quick tip: my favorite cloth napkins are the cocktail sized napkins – they are perfect for everyday use!
3. Use Less Plastic.
This was a multi-year goal for me and one I am still working on. Reducing plastic use is hard because it is everywhere, especially when it comes to food products. The good news is that all that plastic gives you ample opportunity to tackle the problem! Maybe start by eliminating one-time plastic use items, like throwaway food containers and baggies. Then slowly replace plastic storage containers with glass, and so on. And, don’t forget the classic bring your own bags to the grocery store! One step at a time is the way to go with this goal!
4. Recycle Even More!
I know most of us recycle a lot already. But I also know a lot of us don’t realize just how much we can recycle. For example, I learned just 3 months ago that the cereal bags inside the boxes for General Mills cereals are recyclable! Upon closer inspection I discovered that the bottom of the boxes told me that very fact, I just never bothered to look. Now I check all food packages much more carefully to see what packaging is recyclable! I also took the time to visit my waste management company’s website and reviewed their recycling list. Did you know you can recycle aluminum foil? The list goes on and on!
5. Waste Less Food.
This is my 2016 resolution and it’s a big one. It’s amazing, though, how simply being mindful of food waste has automatically decreased the amount of food our family throws away. For example, I am so much better about using leftovers now. I’ve also discovered that a lot of our food waste happens when we eat out, so I try to adjust our takeout orders accordingly. There are just so many ways to decrease food waste and paying just a little bit of attention is a simple way to make a big difference!
Composting is related to my food waste goal and something I just started doing this year. I’ve always been scared of composting (actually, terrified), but now that we’re composting it’s seriously no big deal. I have a bowl on my counter where I toss compostable items, which I dump each night in our compost bin we have out in the yard. Total added time to my daily routine? 1 minute. Easy peasy! And, if you’re lucky enough to live in a community that picks up compost with regular trash pick up, then composting is even easier. Be sure to research what your town has to offer!
7. Don’t Throw Food in the Trash Whenever Possible.
This is also related to numbers five and six, but I think it’s worth a specific call out. Did you know that when food decomposes in the landfill, it puts off significant amounts of greenhouse gases that would not be emitted if the food was composted naturally? Keep food out of the landfills by putting it in the disposal or compost pile. There are some items that can’t go in compost or down the sink, but that list is small. This is an easy way we can all make a difference!
8. Buy Food in Bulk.
Buy food in bulk to cut down on packaging and encourage cooking! But keep those food waste goals in mind…don’t buy more than you will use. And don’t forget to utilize your freezer! I’ve found that my freezer has been a great friend both in reducing food waste and allowing me to buy more foods in bulk.
9. Reusable Containers for Food Storage and Packing Lunches.
When I started cutting out plastic, I bought a bunch of glass food containers. I recycled a few of the old plastic items, but kept the good quality ones, which I use when I run out of glass. I’ve forced myself to stop using plastic wrap for covering food in the fridge, too. I’ve also switched to reusable lunch food bags for my kids’ lunches. Washing them every day takes a bit of time, but nothing crazy and it’s definitely worth saving all those plastic bags from going into the trash!
10. Join a CSA.
There’s nothing like joining a CSA to help you eat more locally and seasonally! Plus being connected to local farmers can teach you a lot and really connect you to your community. If a farm share is too expensive or simply too much food for your family, consider splitting it with a friend!
I hope this list isn’t daunting but instead encouraging! If you have any questions about any of these tips, let me know! And, as always, if you have your own tips or tricks for implementing any of the steps above, please share!
Today’s post is sponsored by General Mills.