Written by Hannah Trueman, AKA @gypsy_kitchen_
If it wasn’t already, David Attenborough’s new documentary “A Life On Our Planet” has brought climate change and sustainability to the forefront of many people’s minds. The programme is his witness statement and first hand account of the devastating effects human activity and climate change are having on our beautiful planet which he has witnessed over the course of his lifetime and career.
Despite everything else that’s going on in the world at the moment, this is something we simply cannot ignore. The planet needs us and the time to act is now.
That being said, you don’t have to overhaul every aspect of your entire life, go completely plastic free and radically change your diet at this very moment to make a difference. There are so many things you can do to reduce your environmental footprint and live in a way that is kinder to the planet and all the beautiful beings we share it with, including future generations.
The kitchen is a great place to start and, as a nutritionist, that’s where my speciality lies.
Food & Sustainability
The health of our planet, as well as our own physical and mental health is profoundly impacted by the food we eat, the ways we produce it and the amount that ends up wasted. There are changes we can make, right from switching our mindsets, to the way we shop, the brands we supports, the food we eat, how we store it and what we do with leftovers. Read on for some top tips on how you can shop, cook, store and enjoy the food you eat, as well as reduce its waste, without compromising on nutrition or taste.
Switch to (predominantly) Plant-based
All the research now points to a predominantly plant-based diet as being not only the healthiest way of eating for our physical and mental health, but the healthiest way of eating for our planet. Focus on a wide variety of whole-foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, seasonal and locally-sourced as much as you can.
If the thought of going plant-based seems completely out of reach, start with going meat-free one day a week. There are so many delicious and nutritious recipes out there and healthy plant-based eating does not have to be boring, expensive or complicated.
Reduce Food Waste
Think about your staples – those foods you always eat, then carve out time each week to come up with a rough plan for your meals, find some recipes and write your shopping list on the notes in your phone so you can’t forget it! Buy what you need and what’s on your list, rather than for the sake of filling your fridge or to make the most of a deal on a food product you don’t even like (as tempting as a bargain may be!). Another idea is to use a veg box delivery service such as Odd Box or Riverford Organic Farmers and then plan your meals around that once you know what you’re working with. This is also a good way to ensure seasonal variety in your diet, whilst supporting local growers and suppliers.
Organise your fridge and pantry
This is a great place to start – go through all your cupboards, fridge and freezer. Find recipes to use up any half-empty packets you come across, then gradually start to restock following the principles above. Organise your shelves so that you can easily see what’s inside them – and make it look pretty! This means you are less likely to waste things as packets disappear into the abyss along with a jar of mango chutney from 2007, it’s also a calmer and more inspiring way to store your ingredients and means you can see exactly what you have to work with.
Find your local bulk food store
Bulk food stores are now popping up all over the place. Not only is this an aesthetically pleasing and inspiring way to do your food shopping, these stores are plastic and waste free as far as possible. The idea is that you take in your own bottles, jars, containers and reusable produce bags. If you don’t have your own, there are often jars there which you can buy, or they provide paper bags. These stores have everything from artisan chocolates to natural cleaning and beauty products, locally-sourced handmade gifts and staple items such as rice, oats, pastas and so much more.
Cook Root to Stem
This involves using parts of fruits and vegetables that you might normally throw away. These parts, including skins and leaves, are not only edible, but delicious and nutritious. Carrot, beetroot and radish tops, cauliflower leaves, cauliflower and broccoli stems can all be used. One of the simplest ways to do this is to fry them off with some good quality olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and lots of garlic, then serve with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.
Get Creative with your Leftovers
Instead of seeing leftovers as things to just throw away (or reluctantly use up), start to see them as key ingredients you can build meals around
- Leftover cooked veg can be made blended up to make pasta sauces, or used in soups, stews or stir-fries
- Curry dishes or veggie burgers/falafels make delicious fillings in wraps and salads as a quick lunch option
- Make burritos with leftover veg, beans and rice – just top them with some homemade guacamole, a squeeze of lime juice and a handful of fresh rocket or parsley
- Stale bread can be made into breadcrumbs or croutons, or drizzled in olive oil and baked with tomato and garlic.
- Cooked potatoes you didn’t quite finish can be made into a delicious vegan potato salad using tahini, mustard, lemon juice and fresh herbs
See, the possibilities are endless! You can even cook extra and intentionally make enough to leave leftovers, which can be used throughout the week as the base of your meals. Saving time and the planet, because realistically, who has time to cook every component of every meal from scratch anyway!
Storage – store leftovers in glass storage containers or jars. Reuse your plastic containers, but switch to glass when it’s time to replace or get more. Use ziplock bags for freezing, these can be washed and reused.
Is there anything you can make at home rather than buying? Dips, falafels, burgers and even dairy-free milks are some examples of things that can be made at home relatively easily and often very cheaply – saving you both time and money, as well as reducing packaging. Making these items at home means you have complete control over their ingredients and flavour, and can tailor to your exact preferences.
Switch to natural cleaning products and kitchen tools & equipment
I’m not asking you to throw out all your current cookware and start again from scratch (that in itself would be unsustainable, wasteful and expensive!), but when the time comes to replace or expand your collection, look for eco-friendly and reusable dish washing tools, food wraps and pouches, cookie sheets, compostable baking paper and jars (to name a few). By the way, jars will be you and your new sustainable kitchen’s best friend – particularly when it comes to food storage and keeping your leftovers fresh.
If this list seems overwhelming, try choosing two or three things each week or month, and just keep building on that. It’s not about completely overhauling your life or being perfectly waste free and sustainable from the get-go – it’s about becoming aware of the problem, educating yourself and implementing long-lasting change (no matter how small – it all makes a difference).
Remember to be kind
As with everything in life, it’s important to remember that we are all at different stages of our journeys. What’s possible for you may not be possible for someone else, in the same way that what’s possible for someone else may not be possible for you. We are all in different situations and the changes we are able to implement will be influenced by many factors. So as you reflect on what you can do moving forward, try not to be judgemental of others (or yourself). Starting right now, focus on what you can do, lead by example rather than lecturing or shaming and let’s get to work, together.
Further reading, watching & listening resources
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet (Netflix)
A Plastic Ocean (Netflix)
Lauren Singer: Why I Live a Zero Waste Life (Youtube)
More Plants Less Waste: Plant-based Recipes + Zero Waste Life Hacks with Purpose by Max La Manna
Live Green: 52 steps for a more sustainable life by Jen Chillingsworth
The Zero-Waste Chef: Plant-Forward Recipes and Tips for a Sustainable Kitchen and Planet by Anne-Marie Bonneau (available for pre-order on Amazon)
“Every year, 10 million pumpkins are grown in the UK.
Of those, 95% are used at Halloween and then thrown away – creating 18,000 tonnes of food waste.”