Saturday, 30 January 2010

Cooking Greener – The Food You Eat

Food is one of the biggest & most prominent areas where you can make a substantial difference without a huge amount of effort. Some things will save you money & others may cost more.

1. Be A Responsible Carnivore.

Livestock are the greatest contributors to greenhouse gasses. Going vegetarian or vegan is one option for cutting this down – but an option that really doesn't appeal to the masses. My version instead is set aside one day a week where you will not eat meat. Start a meat-free Monday in your house or like me, ditch meat altogether on the weekend.

People approach meat-free diets with caution thinking that they will go hungry or will feel weak & lethargic. Let me tell you right now – that's crap. There is so much variety in a meat free diet. Here is a meat free day for me: breakfast – cereal with milk or toast with Vegemite (an Australian classic that cant be beat) or if I've got time some poached eggs on toast, Lunch – a toasted cheese & tomato sandwich or omelette or pumpkin soup (especially my grandma's), Dinner – a vegetable pie, stir fried veggies & noodles, pasta, a vegetable paella – there is just so much to choose from!! Cutting meat out for just one day will make a substantial difference for the planet & also to your grocery bill. Meat is usually the most expensive thing in my shopping basket & I've saved quite a bit from cutting it out on certain days.

2. Buy Local & Australian.

Buying only locally grown food & Australian products cuts down your foods travel time/distance & therefor gives it a lower carbon footprint. This isn't always easy to do, especially if you buy your meat & vegetables from the supermarket & don't know exactly where they come from.

My advice is start off slowly. When you see a road side stall for eggs or fruits or vegetables go check it out. The people in the stalls will usually be happy to tell you about how the food is grown or chickens are raised. They will also be open to doing deals. My grandparents & a few of their friends know a lady who has chickens & does them a deal on buying bulk lots of eggs together. Once every few weeks one of the families will go see her & then drop around eggs to everyone. It's a great way to save money & to support an ethical business.

Markets are also a great place to go meet the farmers & buy your produce. They will always be happy to tell you where the food has come from. They're also very helpful when it comes to trying something new – I have often gone up to some weird looking fruit or vegetable & the farmer has told me what it tastes like, how to cook it & their favourite recipe to use it in! Aside from the environmental benefits, its also great way to meet local people & get yourself into the community.

If buying from the markets or stalls is a bit daunting or time consuming for you then a good way to start is to at least buy only Australian products. Generally most things will tell you if they are made/grown in Australia – they will have the green triangle with a gold kangaroo in the middle. Buying Australian keeps the carbon footprint down but also stimulates our economy & supports Australian jobs & businesses.

On a side note - Australian Grown means that each significant ingredient has been grown in Australia, and that all or virtually all of the processes involved in the production of the food have occurred in Australia. Made in Australia means a product is substantially transformed in Australia and at least 50% of the cost of production has been incurred in Australia. Product of Australia means that all of a product’s significant ingredients come from Australia, and all or virtually all of the manufacturing or processing is also carried out in Australia.

3. Cook Yourself Greener.

This is one of the area's that has saved me a hell of a lot of money! Cooking using base ingredients ie. Flour, sugar, vegetables etc saves you money & substantially cuts down the amount of packaging your food has. Also when you support Australian primary industries, your supporting our farmers & our people!

Instead of buying muffins or biscuits for lunchboxes – have a baking session on the weekend & make some. Its better for your family & its an effective method of controlling what they eat. Kids don't care that you slipped some wheat germ into their chocolate chip cookies, they're just happy to have cookies! My favourite part is that your weekend baking session makes your house smell AWESOME! Haha. If you want to go all out – make your own bread. An interesting fact I learnt this week is that most bread makers use less energy than ovens. Its a great way to get your kids interested in cooking & taking charge of what goes into their bodies. My Grandma's cooking & helping her in the kitchen is the reason I love to cook.

When your cooking dinner start from fresh meat & vegetables ( I am also a very proud supporter of frozen vegetables!). You will see a definite difference in your meals when you start making things properly. Stop buying jars of pasta sauce & make your own (which is really no more difficult that throwing some tinned tomatoes, garlic, onions & basil leaves in a pot & simmering) it tastes much better & your cutting out all those nasty preservatives that don't do your body any good. Or for an easy dinner just stir fry some veggies & boil up some rice - the most minimal effort meal ever haha.

Instead of coming home after a long day at work mid week & reaching for a pre-packaged TV dinner/frozen meal I like to make a big batch of something on a Monday night (usually the only night I don't work late & don't make plans after work) & freeze it in single portions for those nights when I come home & want dinner fast! My favorite freezer meals are spaghetti bolognaise (of course!), curries, my mums strogonoff, soups that I freeze in ice cubes & casseroles. Also when I cant be bothered to make lunch I will grab one of these on my way out the door to work! Do make sure that you don't keep them in your freezer too long – I set my maximum at 3 months (although they usually don't last that long!).

A great way to also help the environment when your buying your groceries is to buy wholemeal flour, raw sugar etc. Anything where the product has had as little processing as possible – it makes sense that the less they do to it, the less bad stuff is pumped into the air because of it!

Growing as much of your own food as possible is a fantastic way to green your life that extra bit. As I've mentioned before, I live in an apartment so whilst I cannot have a veggie patch I've been inspired to use my balcony to its full potential. At the moment it contains some star jasmine, a peace lily (which refuses to flower), a goldfish plant, a hydrangea, a new frangipani tree which at the moment is just a stick in some dirt (as my uncle keeps reminding me!), a fern, some chives & some basil. Basically, its a low maintenance balcony! But my plans for 2010 involve many more herbs & some trial & error gardening with vegetables. I'm also hoping to get some small citrus plants – and if they go well I will send them to my dads house to be planted with the custard apples & passion fruits. My dad always told me that knowledge is power so for the next few months I will be researching & writing up some balcony vegetable patch cheat sheets for anyone else in my position! I'm also really interested in constructing some kind of discreet rain water tank/irrigation system that will make it as low maintenance & water-wise as possible. I've been reading Gavin's blog about his life-greening & have been inspired at what he has done with his garden/home.

My theory on gardening is that no matter how much of a black (as opposed to green) thumb you have, you can at least have some sturdy herbs. If your the kind of person that kills everything they touch – you have no where to go but up! The first plant I ever bought was a rosemary plant – which everyone told me was almost impossible to kill – needless to say, I killed it. But after that I got better & better & now I can say that my balcony has some green & things are looking more than positive!

Happy eating my little greenlings!

Sunny x

Picture sources unknown - recognise one? email me so I can give credit to the owner.

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