Easiest Way to Reduce Your Environmental Footprint? Eat.

Yeah right.  Eating will reduce your environmental footprint?  Really?  What about all the noise about how much water and carbon it takes to make a hamburger, a fish fillet or even a salad for that matter.  Well here’s the rub.  Eating as a way to reduce your footprint means you are not throwing food away.  Let’s face it, eating a little less is probably a good idea for an awful lot of us.  But wasting less is a good idea for every one.  Dana Gunder from NRDC details some shocking numbers in her blog (as always, the emphasis is mine).

  • The average family of four in the U.S. throws away $175 of food per month.  In fact,  around 40% of edible food (not counting peels, bones, etc) in the US gets thrown away.  Beyond the financial cost, the environmental implications are staggering when you consider all the water,  fertilizer and pesticide that went into growing that food.  Consider the following estimates of resources dedicated to food that never gets eaten:

25% of all freshwater
4% of all US oil consumption
$90 billion in losses to the US economy (over $40 billion from households)
$750 million a year just to dispose of the food
31 million tons of landfill waste

Holy cow.  $175 a month?  At over $2 grand a year (yes, I do math every now and again), that’s sounding like a pretty sweet vacation to me.  Or donation to your local environment group.  Or deposit into your kids’ college fund.

As with so many things, this waste is part of a bigger systemic issue.  Some of it is lost in the supply chain.  The upside is that because of the financial cost of that, food suppliers are always trying to improve this and of course, the more you buy local, the less of a problem this is.  But inside our own kitchens, it becomes a social issue.  Families have 2 working parents who don’t have time to keep a constant catalog of what’s in the fridge at the top of their mental agenda; people have lost the art of cooking and the knowledge of  how to use leftovers to make a delicious meal, not something your kids will complain about — I’m thinkin’ chicken soup after that pre-roasted bird you bought on five buck cluck Thursdays down at the market.  But you have to know how to make the soup.  You have to know what veggies keep and what go bad quickly, how to shop wisely to make it all last through a week so it’s not all just a wilted mess by Friday that you end up throwing away because you didn’t have time to cook it on Tuesday.  And it’s also a question of ridiculous, changed social relationship with food.  We look at the package and use someone else’s definition of what’s “ok” to determine if we can eat it (I’m talking about sell-by dates here).  If you’re so removed from your food that you can’t use your eyes and nose to tell if that broccoli is OK, or the milk or cheese or ham for that matter, you’re probably going to chuck it if you’re just not sure (ok, ok, I’m like that with chicken, but that’s ’cause it’s chicken).  But if the cheese has a little white bit on the edge, for goodness sakes, cut that bit off, give it to the dog, or the cat or the chickens, or just chuck it.  But don’t chuck the whole thing.  It makes a difference.  It really does.  Go back and re-read those bullet points.  That’s a lot of natural resources consumed for something you didn’t consume.

Easiest Way to Reduce Your Environmental Footprint? Eat. | Dana Gunders’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC.


Meatless Monday : quesadillas

There’s a campaign called Meatless Monday.  According to their website, 30% of people surveyed have heard of it.  Its goal is to make people more mindful of their eating habit and the health and environmental advantage of being vegetarian without having to go whole hog, so to speak.

So a meatless day or two a week is something TealGreen family does on a fairly regular basis anyway, sometimes on purpose, sometimes out of laziness (does cereal for dinner count) and often just ’cause it’s what I felt like cooking or we felt like eating.  I love the Meatless Monday site and the many other foody sites with wonderful vegetarian recipes on them.  But sometimes it strikes me that they could put people off because they are perhaps a bit ambitious and even worthy.  There are plenty of things that we eat all the time that are meatless.  Just being mindful of that might help convince those resistant to the idea of moving away from a heavily meat based diet that it’s not as hard as you might think.  And that it doesn’t mean you have to be eating nut loaf for dinner.  So along with Cooking from the Bottom of the Fridge, I will be doing the occasional Meatless Monday post showing some of the things our family are eating.

Tonight, after a heavy round of Tae Kwon Do for TealGreen hubby and children, the entire family arrived home at nearly 8pm.  And it happens to be Monday.  So what to do for a very quick, healthy, meatless meal (bearing in mind some heavy exercise preceded this meal).  Voila – a pack of whole wheat Tortillas (or 2) from the freezer.  Smother the first is pre-grated mozzarella, top with a second and cook in a frying pan long enough to melt the cheese.  Cut up, pizza style and split amongst the plates to get things going while cooking some more with a bit more nutrition added.  Take a tin of crushed, organic tomatoes (TJoe’s), whiz with the hand blender.  Throw in a teaspoon of crushed garlic (fresh or jar) and an ice cube of pesto from this summer’s basil (jar would be fine).  Simmer for 10 minutes while making a second cheese quesadilla.  By the third round of Tortilla, smother with the cooked tomato sauce and then cheese (ok, so it’s Mexican pizza, but it’s sort of home made, hot, fast, relatively healthy and cheap).  Cut up some raw veggies from the bottom of the fridge while the next tortilla cooks – we happen to have orange pepper, cucumber and carrots.  Eat those on the side as crudité and call it salad.  Doesn’t seem like a very filling meal, and yet it works every time and Teal Green 12 year old, burgermeister boy, LOVES it.  Result.

And if you are feeling more adventurous, here’s a piece for Meatless Monday that manages to include miracles, barley, Hanukkah and both the Old and New Testaments.  Meatless Monday: Some Kind of Miracle.