Our favorite tips, recipes, and products for a more sustainable plate and kitchen, including eating less meat and cutting back on plastic bags.
This month, we dedicated our monthly newsletter and social media coverage to Earth Day, which falls on Monday, April 22, in the U.S. Every year we try to organize a street cleanup with our kids and their friends in our Queens neighborhood, which feels great and instructive and symbolic, but let's be honest: We kind of need to be doing that daily. We need to think of what we can do ALL THE TIME to really make an impact, and I'm limiting this here to easy individual actions that are not politically or policy-related (that is essential too, of course, but another matter).
Today I'm more concerned with how we can make more Earth-friendly choices when it comes to eating and cooking food. Easy, everyday kind of choices.
Last year's garbage haul.
Experts seem to agree that the No. 1 thing we can do to decrease our own personal greenhouse gas output is eat less meat. That is it. Given the vast deforestation, water shortages, methane emissions, and air and water pollution directly associated with raising mass quantities of livestock, it’s no wonder eating less meat (especially beef and pork) tops the list for how individuals can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to climate scientists. (Bonus: Your heart will thank you too.)
But it's easier said than done for so many people, including us. We're an omnivorous family and I can tell you, my children crave meat. They love it. I've been working hard to find and make new vegetarian recipes to introduce to the family (see this new Pinterest board if you are also looking for ideas; I am pinning the ones we like), and I generally cook meat in any form no more than twice a week.
Veggies for the win.
(I do have one secret weapon, and I'm going to share that at the bottom of this post: a no-recipe recipe for those nights when I don't know what to make, but I want it to be healthy and meatless and eaten by all four of us. Scroll to the end to find it.)
As for other ways to up your green eating game, when it comes to buying and eating food, go for local. Food (or beer, or wine) that’s locally grown or made gets to your plate via fewer food miles (i.e., less fuel and air pollution) and was likely produced in a more sustainable manner. This is one reason why we always fixate on so-called locavore food in certain cities around the world, like Asheville, North Carolina, where there are more local farms sourcing to restaurants than traditional dishes to eat. It's also why we shop every single Sunday at our wonderful local greenmarket in Jackson Heights—with reusable canvas bags, naturally.
Local beer in Asheville.
There are other small Earth-friendly steps you can take in your own kitchen that may feel like an adjustment at first but will soon become second nature. Here are four changes we recently made at home:
Swap plastic wrap for beeswax.
Swap plastic baggies for PVC- and BPA-free reusable ones, like these versatile silicone bags, sandwich bags, and snack bags.
Buy recycled napkins, paper towels, and toilet paper, or switch to cloth napkins and bamboo paper towels (which are reusable and can replace months of paper towels).
Compost! Turn your food scraps into soil-boosting fertilizer instead of methane-producing landfill. Methods vary by city, but it’s not as big of an undertaking as it may seem. In our apartment, we use a small stainless-steel, lidded garbage can like this; move it to the freezer when it fills; and then bring it to the GrowNYC compost collection at the farmers market each week. We also are lucky to have two compost bins in our shared backyard garden, so we add scraps there as needed
Let us know if you try any of these ideas! Living an eco-friendlier life doesn't have to be a big deal or a big change, but it can have huge impact—especially if everyone's doing it.
And now, as promised, here's that easy, no-fail vegetarian (or pescatarian) weeknight dinner recipe:
Caveat: This is not really a recipe; you just have to trust your judgment (and taste) on measurements!
What you need: rice, carrots, cucumbers, greens (like baby spinach), avocado, 1 egg per person, (optional) tinned fish of choice (we love Trader Joe's smoked trout and wild-caught mackerel), low-sodium soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, Sriracha.
How to: Cook some rice. While it's cooking, make a small pile of julienned carrots and cucumbers, slice up some avocado, wash a handful of greens. Once the rice is ready, cook an egg or two omelet-style (sometimes I add a little soy sauce to the egg before I beat it), just fry flat on both sides, and then cut it into squares. If you are going with the fish, cut that up too.
Make your dressing: Mix about 1/4 cup soy sauce, 2-3 Tbsp rice vinegar, 1 Tbsp sesame oil, and a dash of mirin or brown sugar if you want it sweeter. I usually dilute with a splash or two of water too. It's done when it tastes good to you!
Assemble: Put the rice in your bowl, and drizzle some dressing on top. Add in piles of your carrots, cucumbers, greens, avocado, egg, and fish, and then drizzle with more dressing. Top with sesame seeds and Sriracha, and enjoy!
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