Your Sustainable Kitchen Makeover

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Have you ever watched a food show where they go into someone’s kitchen and open up the refrigerator and cupboards for everyone to see? They always look so neat and tidy – there is no way that was a surprise visit! These shows make me think about my own refrigerator… what is in it right now? Leftovers? Vegetables that I need to eat? And working at Sustainable Table, of course I also wonder – how sustainable is my food? Where did it come from? What if someone wants to look inside, am I ready for my TV debut?!

Even if you shop at the farmers’ market or the healthiest grocery store in town, how sustainable do you think your kitchen is? There is a chance that chemicals, additives, pesticides, GMOs and many other unsavory toxins are lurking in your refrigerator, cupboards and under your sink.

Let’s take a look and see how to make some sustainable improvements. If you know what to look out for, you can start creating a healthier and more sustainable kitchen with each shopping trip.

Get started!

#1. Peek inside the fridge and cupboards… take a quick inventory. Get a sense of what you usually have on hand – veggies, dairy, meat, condiments, breads/grains, processed foods, etc.

#2. Tackle this makeover slowly… one item at a time. Don’t start throwing things out (see all about food waste in the new GRACE food waste section!) but as you run low on an item that you want to upgrade, start to think about alternatives.

#3. Pick which item you want to makeover (Carrots? Milk? Crackers?). On your next trip to the grocery store or farmers’ market, come armed with questions and be ready to read labels to make the best new sustainable choice.

#4. Enjoy the newest sustainable addition to your kitchen! Notice the flavor difference and think about the health implications for you, your family and the producers – relish in the fact that you are contributing to a sustainable world.

#5. Pick the next item. Repeat #3 – #4.

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Freeze The Last Vegetables For The Cold Months Ahead

It’s that time of year. The growing season is winding down, but there is still quite an abundance of local fruits and vegetables at all but the northernmost farmers’ markets and coops (even here in NYC after Hurricane Irene did so much damage). I’m still eating like it’s summer (well the end of summer) and hoping that it will never end. But there is a way to extend the bounty, even into the cold and snow that will be here before we know it. Preserve, preserve, preserve!

I know that preserving can be intimidating, so I’m going to show you how easy it can be done. How can it be easy you ask? I’m not talking about canning (which Leslie really did do and swears canning is easy, if a little time-consuming) – I’m talking about an often overlooked but solidly tested form of preserving, freezing! Anyone can do this, all you need to do is boil some water for blanching and open your freezer door. I went to my local coop and bought all the local and organic produce that I could carry. Right now it is cheap and at the height of its flavor. I got eggplants, carrots, peppers, corn, yellow zucchini, green striped zucchini and 5 pounds of tomatoes. The tomatoes, which are a beautiful red and summer sweet, were only $1/pound! Not only will I get to enjoy actual vine ripened  tomatoes in December, but I paid a very low price and will actually save money.

The whole process took me a couple of hours. Schedule an evening or afternoon and just settle in. I find it meditative to peel, chop and get these amazing vegetables ready for freezing. Taking the time now will provide you with great benefits later – easy dinners, saved money, healthy foods at your fingertips and delicious flavors!

General “Recipe”:

Prepare the veggies for freezing by washing, peeling (if you want to), cutting into the size that you want. Blanch each batch of vegetables and then cold dunk them in a big bowl of ice (lots of ice!) to stop the cooking process. Drain the extra water from them and freeze.

Blanching Times:

Eggplant, 4 minutes
Summer Squash, 3 minutes
Corn, 4-6 minutes
Peppers, 2-3 minutes
Carrots, 2-5 minutes
Tomatoes, 1 minute – just to remove skins!

Suggestions:

  • Find detailed instructions for all kinds of freezing and other preserving on the Pick Your Own website. They even have pictures to follow!
  • Freeze the vegetables in one layer on trays so that they don’t stick together. After they are frozen put them into freezer bags. You can also put pieces of wax paper between the vegetables to keep pieces from sticking (for example if you want to keep your eggplant rounds separate).
  • Pack a variety of veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers – for example) into one bag for an easy meal. Portion them for single or family size servings.
  • Use a straw to suck out the last bit of air in the zip-lock bag if you don’t have a vacuum sealer. It works great!
  • I needed way more ice than I had on hand and ended up going to the gas station by my house at 10pm so that I could finish this process. Ice is important!

Money Spent:

Striped Zucchini, 5.53
Yellow Zucchini, 4.00
Red Peppers, 2.33
Frying Peppers, 1.51
Chantenay Carrots, 2.72
Eggplant, 3.47
Corn (IPM), 2.08
Tomatoes, 4.71

Total 26.35

My freezer is full and I’m going to do what I can to keep my hands off of it until at least December. If I do, I’m guessing I will get about 10 meals out of this batch. Just add some pasta, brown rice or quinoa and protein – in my case beans, tofu or tempeh, but you could add some sustainable meat and these frozen veggies will go a long way!

Sustainable Food: If This Doesn’t Convince You, Nothing Will

So what’s it going to take to get your community hooked on sustainable food? If you are reading this, you probably already know about many of the problems with our food system and you’re probably making some efforts to change your buying and eating habits. But what about your parents? Your neighbors? The people shopping the inside isles at conventional grocery stores in your town? What is it going to take for us to reach out to that next layer of eaters and entice them with sustainable food?

Climate change’s connection to our food system is a big deal (you can read about it here), but it isn’t something that we can see on a daily basis. It’s there, but personally, it doesn’t pop up on my “urgent” radar every day. For some, climate change might be their connection to sustainable food. For others it might be animal welfare, worker’s issues, or water pollution. You never know what will be the enticing issue that leads a person to investigate the problems in our food system. But I do know that there is one thing that none of us can get away from… personal health.

The connection between personal health and sustainable food is undeniable. And my personal health is dr6something that I can’t get away from – I wake up everyday feeling good or feeling bad. Not to mention, I also have to deal with the health of my family and friends – every day. Most people aren’t quiet about their aches and pains either. So for some who haven’t found their way to sustainable food, personal health might be that hook we are looking for!

If I tell you that sustainable food can greatly increase your health, does that get your attention? Do you think that your parents, neighbors, and people shopping at the conventional grocery stores might be more curious about sustainable food if they thought it could help them avoid diseases? Is the fact that sustainable food can greatly influence health enough reason to pay attention? I’d like to think that it is!

Just as the industrial agricultural system is a major influence in climate change, it is also a major influencer in the bad health of our country. We need to address the whole food system, but while that is happening (that is happening, right?), I appeal to you to take your food more seriously based on the simple fact that it will increase your health.

Over the next few weeks, I will go into the many connections between personal health and sustainable food that are worth paying attention to. We are all concerned about our health and the health of our families, and learning how to maintain and increase your health also happens to be a great introduction to sustainable food. Here are some issues I will explore in this series:

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Genetically Modified Food
  • Pesticides/Herbicides
  • Meat Consumption
  • Local Food/Gardening
  • Processed Foods
  • Antibiotics
  • Indulgence/Moderation
  • Food as Medicine
  • Obesity/Disease

I’m out of the office in sunny California next week, but check back the week of the 21st for more!

This new series “Sustainable Food: If This Doesn’t Convince You, Nothing Will” is by Dawn Brighid, marketing manager for Sustainable Table, a program of GRACE.