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37 Green Habits (Part 1: Food)

For almost two decades now I've been auditing my green practices, seeing where I have made progress, learning where I can improve, and making goals for the future. From minimalism to energy efficiency to health to addressing my actions on a macro perspective (community, voting, etc.), there are a bazillion ways every single person can empower themselves to make a difference.

In my past EcoGrrrl blog that I kept for many years, one of the big focuses for me was on self-sufficiency. Sometimes referred to as 'homesteading skills' (a term that's never sat right with me because of the origins of the word), these are about the things like preserving food, raising meat, building stuff, and more. I'll eventually post about that, but for now, I'm going to share Columbia Climate School's 37 Easiest Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint, a really cool list and animated graphic that is a good way to not only review what you've done but give yourself a few goals to stretch towards as well.

As I'll never post suggestions without sharing an audit of our own household, I'm going to do this in segments, with the first being in what we eat...

1. Compost your food waste, or find a drop-off point. I've composted since buying my first home in 2006 and the City of Portland advertised backyard bins for something like $20. It's amazing how good sustainability marketing can impact habits! While living in my hometown, they became an early adopter of curbside composting for food & yard waste, which allowed for the bones & things you wouldn't ordinarily put in the backyard bin. On the farm, we had a tumbler, and buried the bones, and now back in the city? We do exclusively curbside composting. And folks, composting isn't just for food and yard waste! From parchment paper to plastic-free dental floss to cotton swabs, those go in there as well. (Note: I tried a FoodCycler electric composter for a year, and while I liked it, we simply created far too much to store in our freezer for the garden beds, so I resold it on Craigslist).

2. Eat less meat and more fruits, veggies, grains, and beans. 2023 has been a tremendous year of change as I'm weaning off most meat. Ironically, it started on the farm when we raised our own meat chickens and butchering a local pig we got from a neighbor. When you are there for the process, you care more for your food. What does that mean? Well first, the 100 or so heirloom pastured chickens we raised were taken care of beautifully - lots of bugs and green grass and sunshine, organic feed, and produce scraps from my husband's co-op employer - not to mention processed humanely. It taught us how storebought chickens - even the 'organic free range' ones you see - are nothing like what you raise yourself. Ours not only tasted better, we could vouch for how they were raised, especially after learning that 'free range' does NOT mean 'pastured'. I couldn't go back. Less is more. Back in the city, we eat chicken now maybe once a month at most, and never from a restaurant where 99.9% of the meat served is procured from factory-farming. As for pork and beef, my husband may be a sustainable butcher, but we actually only eat that about once a month as well. We have a sockeye salmon share with a sustainable fishery, so that's the bulk of our animal intake. As far as other animal products, I was dairy- and egg-free for a number of years, which even after reintroducing it back into my diet, spurred me in a new direction. I make my own oat milk (4 cups water, 1/2 cup oats, blender, sieve) which is cheaper and tastes the same in everything except hot chocolate (we enjoy a cup together about once a month made from goat's milk, which I think tastes 10X better than cow's milk!), last year I transitioned exclusively to Miyoko's vegan butter (which tastes exactly like the dairy version, possibly better...), and have reduced our cheese intake at home to a fraction of what it once was, while also transitioning much of what we still buy to chevre and homemade mozzarella & ricotta (the last two our local grocers make). Note: Most vegan 'cheese' is highly processed, and most homemade versions call for cashews or almonds, which are rarely organic and either way, extraordinarily water-intensive crops. So folks, use it in moderation. (Besides, Daiya can never compare.) My concept was simple: treat animal-products like a dessert, a special occasion, going beyond Michael Pollan's advice of 'eat real food, mostly plants' (where he recommends that majority on one's plate be non-meat rather than the other way around). So instead of 'meat-free Mondays', how about 'Meaty Mondays' and leave it out the other days? It's also WAY easier on the wallet...and the body! I've found that rather than going cold turkey and giving up meat altogether, introducing more plant-based meals and learning how to make vegan ingredients has gotten me much further along in my quest for a more earth-friendly diet.

Note: Below is a chart my new primary care doctor shared with me on calorie density which helped me understand why my more plant-based lifestyle has contributed so much for my weight loss (even during periods where I've had to rest up due to injury!)...

3. Reduce food waste through meal planning and freezing leftovers. I've found this incredibly easy, to be honest. Leftovers are not an option - if you don't eat it all the first night, of course you're going to have it the next day! How else would my husband have lunch to take to work? But I do get the concept of boredom when you make too much of one thing, and this week I really focused on different ways of repurposing those leftovers. For example, for our monthly chicken meal, this time I made Harissa Chicken with Rose Water Sauce (hella yum!) and after one set of leftovers, found inspiration in this Harissa Chicken Pasta recipe, shredded the rest of the chicken and combined it with the leftover sauce, adding tomatoes and using up the rest of the vegan cream cheese we had in the fridge. SO good. And if you're curious what I did with leftover sushi rice from another meal, click here! For the coming week, I'm now defrosting a jar of mole I'd made a month or two ago that I'd made an obscene amount of...

the ultimate leftover bonanza - Thanksgiving!

4. Buy in bulk, with a reusable container when possible. My happy place is definitely the bulk aisle. Seriously. Did anyone else play "store" as a kid? I think that must have been my calling, as I love the colors and shapes of everything that is in there, 10X more than the awful - and utterly useless - packaging that we also get charged for both buying and disposing of. Bring your own bag, mason jar, mayo jar, whatever, and fill'er up. If the store is weird about weighing a container, then reuse the same paper bag over and over...or better yet, find a store that isn't weird about it. (For example, we've stopped shopping at my husband's large chain co-op and instead give our business to a small co-op's bulk aisle after his employer made up a lie that it was now against state law to use your own containers - even though they're the only store saying this, as all the other co-ops have dedicated self-serve tare areas.) (Note: I cannot recommend Azure Standard. It's a brilliant business model when it comes to allowing folks to buy bulk foods, but nearly everything else about it sucks. 'Coordinators' will frequently change the pickup times & places at the last minute - or even cancel them after orders are in! - and Azure takes no responsibility nor offers refunds when you can't bend over backwards to make the new time/place, to the fact that we rarely got 100% ordered, so often you waste your time driving 10 miles to the drop point for a trunkload of bulk items only to get a single item...all matched with apathetic 'customer service' who have little interest in improving their processes.)

5. Choose organic AND local foods that are in season.

One of the biggest lessons I learned is the myth that local is always better, even if it's not organic. Nope, nope, nope! Transportation miles are actually only a fraction of the carbon footprint of food, while pesticides are pesticides are...pesticides. As someone said once, "local poisons aren't any better for you!" which says all you need to know. Not only are we talking about our own bodily health, but the environmental impact of non-organic, non-regenerative farming practices is huge, from climate change to air & water quality to the impact on the workers who grow, harvest and distribute our food. Simply because it was grown 10 minutes from your house doesn't make it good for the planet or your body! If a farmer is using Monsanto/Bayer pesticides that have proven to cause cancer, who cares if they are in your county? I sure as hell am not giving them our hard-earned money! Remember the old Sears catalogs where they rated products as "Good / Better / Best"? Here's one for the ages:

  • Good: Buy Organic.

  • Better: Buy Organic that's Locally Grown.

  • Best: Buy Organic, Locally Grown Food that's also in Season.

Note: At your farmers' markets, don't ignore vendors who are 'pesticide free' and 'organic practices but not certified' as well. The cost of USDA certification is very expensive, and this is a way to support their efforts to become more sustainable.

A favorite activity of ours every summer? Picking our own fruit at local organic farms! From blueberries to pears to squash and so many other goodies, if you can't grow your own (or not enough for a year's supply!), this is the way to go. It's cheaper, it's healthier, it's community-oriented...and it's a great way to spend time outdoors! Then you can come home and get to freezing, preserving, dehydrating, etc., the food so you can enjoy those foods you picked with your own hands in the dead of winter...

PS - if you are going to farmers' markets or even your local grocery store, please avoid the produce packaged in plastic clamshells! The cardboard containers are compostable (recyclable if clean), while plastic is forever (and super toxic). The only time we buy in plastic is the huge bags of organic mango, as we will reuse the bags to pick up after our dog at the park.


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