Greening Up Your Kitchen
March 20, 2015
The mantra of the green earth movement – reduce, reuse, recycle – can easily be adapted in your kitchen. No need to redo your entire kitchen with bamboo floors, the newest energy efficient appliances, counters made of recycled paper and yogurt containers, and locally made antique cabinetry. In fact, the greenest option is to keep the kitchen you already have and adopt some new practices.
Stocking Your Kitchen
“The most important starting point is to stock your kitchen with simple basic foods so you can cook at home as when possible,” says Chef Anthony Mandriota of The Art Institute of Tennessee – Nashville, a branch of The Art Institute of Atlanta. “And try to incorporate locally produced, unrefined, and organic foods into the pantry whenever possible.” You’ll need olive or canola oil, different vinegars, salt, pepper, dried herbs and spices, rice, pasta, beans (preferably dried), and if you intend to do some baking – flours, sugar or other natural sweeteners, baking powder and baking soda (also useful for cleaning). Perishable items include basic vegetables like onions, garlic, carrots and celery, seasonal vegetables (including salad greens) and fruits, milk, eggs, butter or natural margarine, cheese, nuts, bread and meat, poultry and fish. Take reusable bags with you and purchase in small amounts so that you’ll be sure to use your stores before they spoil, and fresh so that you reduce the amount of packaging.
For locally sourced produce, consider joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), which is a group of people who support a farming operation in order to receive fresh fruits and vegetables each week as they are produced. There are many different models; research what’s available in your area with an internet search on CSA. Or ask at your local organic food market. Says Chef Noel Ridsdale of The Art Institute of Jacksonville, a branch of Miami International University of Art & Design, “Locally sourced ingredients, whether from a farmer’s market, CSA, or your local food store, offer great taste and freshness as well as a lower carbon footprint than food that’s been flown across the country or from the other side of the world.”
Cooking at Home
Cooking at home doesn’t need to be overly complex or time consuming. Chef Eric Watson of The Art Institute of Charleston, a branch of The Art Institute of Atlanta, advises, “Most cooking is based on a few foundation techniques. You may wish to take a class or two at a local cooking school or ask a family member or friend to teach you. Even videos or cooking shows on TV can provide you with the fundamentals.” Start with basic knife skills – peeling and cutting up vegetables and fruits, and chopping herbs. From there, basic techniques include mixing, roasting or baking, sautéing, grilling, simmering and steaming. Learn these simple techniques by heart and you’ll be able to prepare a roast chicken with vegetables and salad for dinner in an hour, without a recipe.
A couple of hours spent organizing, planning and doing advance preparation in your kitchen each week can really pay off in making those home-cooked dinners a breeze.
And remember to reuse your vegetable scraps. “Do what chefs do,” says Chef Watson. “Save your vegetable scraps to make stock. You can freeze these until you have time to put them on to simmer for a few hours. Strain and then freeze until you need it.”
Kitchen Clean Up
You don’t need to sacrifice sanitation and food safety to make your kitchen green. “Make sure you avoid cross contamination, “ warns Chef Jim Gallivan of The Art Institute of Atlanta. “Use warm soapy water to wash knives, utensils and cutting boards between preparing poultry, meat or fish and vegetables or fruit.” Cut down on waste by using dishtowels instead of paper products as much as possible, and by recycling what you can’t reuse. Save water by running water only when absolutely necessary. Save energy by letting the dishes in the dishwasher air dry with the door open. And use environmentally-friendly cleaning solutions – they are almost always less toxic to your family and pets, too. Antibacterial soaps are not usually necessary. And did you know that baking soda can scrub pots and pans without scratching?
If you have even a small yard, you can compost vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells and leftover grains. (Don’t include any meat or fish products to avoid attracting pests.) See your local garden center or visit your state extension service’s website for information. Compost is great for shrubs, flowers, and vegetables.
Putting delicious food on the table to enjoy with the people you love – or even just for yourself – is one of the best feelings in the world. “People who love to cook – whether they are chefs or home cooks – love every part of the process. Planning meals, searching out ingredients, preparing the food, the smell of different foodstuffs cooking – all can be immensely satisfying and enjoyable,” says Chef Mandriota. “Cooking is a great antidote to the stress of modern life. And eating seasonally reminds us of the rhythms of nature and of life itself.”