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Ways to Save the Environment While Making Dinner

From the Fall 2007 issue of Girlistic Magazine: Feminism & Food

From purchasing food to cooking to clean up, there are hundreds of ways to reduce your impact on the environment and still make a fantastic meal. Gathered here are 30 of the easiest ways to do just that.

Preparing For The Meal

It is great to make food from scratch. It is often healthier, uses less packaging, and fewer resources from the earth during processing and packing. Here are ways to make the least impact on the earth when prepping for your meal:

Shop locally for food. Go to a farmer's market where the food has traveled the shortest possible distance to get to you and is far more likely to be organically and/or sustainably grown. If you don't have a farmer's market near you, check out a Community Sustained Agriculture (CSA) program that will suit your needs.

Start up a garden. This takes up much less space than you might assume. All spices and many veggies and dwarf fruit trees can be grown in pots on a patio, so you can grow your own food even if you don't have a yard. If you don't have a patio either, consider renting a small plot from a local garden community.

Buy pasture-raised meat. The animals are more likely to be humanely treated and sustainably raised. These farmers know how to keep the earth healthy and clean by following Mother Nature's lead. Pasture-raised meat is also far leaner and contains more Omega-3s (healthy fats) than factory farmed meat. Check out EatWild.com for facts and farmer listings.

Buy cage free eggs. These can often be found from the same providers as pasture-raised meat as chickens have a symbiotic relationship with cows. Farms that keep their hens out in orchards or pastures are usually working with Mother Nature, rather than against her, producing better quality eggs in an environmentally friendly and humane way.

Buy organic dairy, especially if it is local. However, research the organic milk company you buy from. Many claim to be organic but their actual practices prove that they're only organic by a broad stretch of the word.

Shop for products that use minimal packaging. Instead of buying products that have individual servings and use way too much plastic packaging, buy the regular box of your favorite snacks and portion out your food in re-useable containers.

Skip the "convenience" foods. These are usually over-processed and are not necessarily more convenient to prepare than the real thing. Buy a head of lettuce for your salad rather than a bag of greens, or a whole carrot rather than processed and packaged "baby" carrots (which are not actually baby carrots at all).

There's no need to use plastic bags for each type of produce. Just toss your selection in the cart and head up to the counter. You have to wash them at home anyway.

Take your own canvas bags to the grocery store. Some stores even have a reward system when you use your canvas bags, like a discount at the register or entry into a raffle. If you're only getting a couple of items, let the teller know you don't need a bag.

Always make more food than you plan to use during dinner and freeze it or store it for your own fast food. Leftovers use up less energy when you reheat them than if you were to cook an entire meal, plus they're convenient. Which leads us to the next tip:

Defrost your food in the refrigerator. Instead of wasting water by defrosting under the tap or sapping energy by using the microwave, put your food in the fridge in the morning or overnight so it is defrosted when you are ready to use it.

Keep your refrigerator between 38-42 F and the freezer between 0-5 F. A 10 drop in temperature will add an additional 25% to the cost of running your refrigerator!

Cooking Your Meal

Ah, the fun begins. There are gads of ways to minimize your use of energy and maximize your use of resources while cooking. Here are just a few:

Use your microwave as often as possible. You'll keep your house from getting too hot from oven use and will use up less energy during the cooking process.

Use a small electric pan or toaster oven for small meals, which will use one-third to one-half the amount of energy as a full- sized oven while accomplishing the same task.

Don't peek at your baking. Each time you open the oven door, you let out 25-50 worth of heat, making you waste electricity or gas in reheating your oven.

Turn off your electric burners several minutes before the allotted cooking time. They take awhile to cool off and that residual heat will finish cooking your food without using extra energy.

Keep your stovetop reflectors clean. They reflect heat better and save energy, using up to one-third less energy to cook through their heat reflection. If they're beyond cleanability, buy replacements at your local hardware store.

Match the size of the pan to the size of the heating element. A pan that is too small will allow heat to be lost to the surrounding air. A 6" pan on an 8" burner will waste over 40% of the energy!

Cover your pans while cooking to prevent heat loss, and try one-pot cooking. Soups, stews, casseroles and other one-pot meals are perfect for saving energy.

Use glass or ceramic pans for oven cooking, which allow you to turn the heat down by about 25 and still cook your food just as quickly.

Use an electric hot-pot to boil water whenever possible. Water comes to a boil faster and uses less energy than heating it on the stove or in the microwave.

Recycle your water. Instead of dumping water down the drain after using it, put it to use by watering the house plants or your garden.

The Clean-Up

While it is often our least favorite part of the dinner process, you can smile while you clean knowing that you are doing great things for Mother Nature by using what she offers for natural cleaning and giving back the extras.

Store your leftovers in reusable containers. Portion them out in small containers and pack them in a reusable lunch box when lunch time rolls around.

Use natural or homemade cleaners. Baking soda is perfect for counter tops and floors. Lemons are excellent for cutting grease and bad smells on cutting boards. Vinegar is great for glass. In the DIY section of Girlistic.com, there is a list of homemade cleaning solutions that you can make with household products.

Get a better sponge. Instead of going for harsh chemicals, try a better washcloth or sponge. Often this will take care of the problem. Lufa is a great natural alternative for nonabrasive, effective cleaning.

Recycle. Typically, a huge percentage of the packaging encountered during cooking can be recycled, including plastic, glass, cardboard and Styrofoam.

Compost. After recycling, most of the waste from your meal preparation can go straight into the garden. See Girlistic.com's DIY section for how to make your own compost bin so you can feed your currently-growing veggies with those that were used during dinner. Things like tea bags, egg shells, and paper packaging can all go in the compost bin, leaving you with little to no trash going to the dump!

Minimize using your garbage disposal. It eats up electricity and heightens your risk of a sink clog.

Pack your dishes into that dishwasher! Wait to run your dishwasher until you have a full load. Eliminating the pre-soak and second rinse cycles can save up to 19 gallons of water per load, not to mention the energy used in heating and running the dishwasher. In fact, energy star-rated dishwashers are proven to use less water and energy than hand-washing your dishes!

Fill up the sink. If you don't have a dishwasher, be sure to fill up your sink with hot soapy water, wash your dishes, and then rinse them, rather than having hot water run the whole time.

About the author 

Girlistic Magazine is a blend of refined intellect and raw entertainment. Think Ms. Magazine and Bitch Magazine have a threesome with Bust Magazine, and the result is a bouncing baby Girlistic. We provide a well-rounded online magazine that shows what feminism looks like in all its cultures, colors, and climates