Listen to this blog post instead! Less screen time 🙂
Open your kitchen cupboards, your fridge, and your freezer. How many bags of lentils, old bottles of sauce, and frozen veggies do you have laying around, unused? Any on-sale meat you bought in bulk that has since been frozen and forgotten? Or maybe you have a partially used box of couscous that was needed for just one recipe, that you haven’t used since.
If you’re like me, at least one of these is true.
And that’s why my friend, YOU need a CHALLENGE WEEK.
Exactly one decade ago I moved out on my own for the first time. I went from never having to budget weekly meals, to being an unpaid intern in a new city. About once a month, to save money, I committed to not buying any additional groceries for an entire week. Instead I aimed to use up the food odds and ends I already had on hand. I came to realize that all of those leftover ingredients were pieces to a delicious puzzle, just waiting to be solved and served on my favourite dinner plate.
I called these weeks my “challenge weeks,” and ever since then they have become somewhat routine.
Does this sound like something you could use?
What’s holding you back from assembling your own palate-pleasing puzzle?
Challenge yourself for one week to Eco-Eat.
How we eat is hurting our planet, according to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). We need to take action to curb the effect of increasing climate change, which currently is resulting in floods, forest fires, and famine…
My brain immediately goes to thinking about ravaged dystopian futures illustrated in fiction. However, fear of the future has never been a good long-lasting motivator for sustaining healthy habits. So instead, collectively, let’s focus on the benefits for our planet, and our health.
There are clear benefits on a population level to slowing climate change. There are also many individual gains to be made from changing your eating status quo:
- You can save money
- You will waste less food
- You won’t have to clean out gross growing things in your fridge (as often 😉 )
- You will develop important life skills
- You will improve your health
- The planet and our future generations will thank you
One of the action items suggested by the IPCC in their report is to eat more plant-based foods in lieu of animal products. Many have talked about the advantages of shifting to a more plant-based style of eating. Food guides have long recommended including vegetarian meals as part of your weekly rotation. And for individuals who don’t fully subscribe to a vegetarian diet, but who do choose to eat less meat, a new term has been created, known as flexitarian.
Plant-based eating has a lot of potential and has definitely made it’s way into the food and nutrition spotlight. We can also recognize that there are other day-to-day food-related things we can do to help our planet. And different from abruptly changing your eating style, these are things you can more easily start doing today.
So, how to Eco-Eat?
There are three simple steps you already know:
REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE
What you buy
- Get only the groceries you will actually use. Make a list for when you go shopping and stick to it.
- You can also grow some of your own food. From apartment window sill herbs in a pot to lettuce and tomatoes in a community plot. Any food is good food, and the extra plants will help convert those carbon emissions.
The packaging your food comes in
- You don’t need to put your produce in those plastic bags at the store before purchase.
- For all of your groceries, paper bags are still an option at a number of stores. They may not be the default, but are often laying just under the till’s counter.
- Buy in bulk with your own food containers brought from home, where possible.
The containers your food comes in
- You can use these when making your own salad dressings, to store meal leftovers, and to hold food purchased in bulk or at farmers markets.
- You can use yogurt-type containers to pot your indoor plants. Egg cartons can also be used in the spring to start plants from seed before they go into the ground.
- Cereal boxes, other cardboard boxes, and paper bags can be filled with organic waste and pitched in your green bin. Milk cartons can be used to green bin liquid organic waste, like cooking grease, or that sour cream at the back of the fridge way past it’s expiry date (laughingly speaking from experience…)
Tinfoil, parchment paper, Ziploc bags, and plastic wrap
- You can often wipe these clean with a cloth and use them again once, or twice, or more.
- Food scraps by turning them into stock or broth.
- Organic waste into fertilizer with a composter in your garden.
- Avocado and mango pits by planting them to grow your own little indoor avocado and mango trees (I just learned about this and it’s blowing my mind!)
Whatever step you choose to start with, it is important to not judge yourself, nor others
There are a number of Eco-Eating strategies listed above that you could start doing right now. Or maybe you’re looking to the next 7 days and thinking your kitchen can provide you a “challenge week.” Or maybe you’re looking to overhaul your long-term eating pattern with a more plant-based focus. Do recognize that sometimes these strategies are easier said than done. And for health, socio-economic, and cultural reasons, some people may not be able to take on any of these recommendations.
Some people may need packaged items to ensure food safety when their health is at risk, or when clean and safe food is not available. Some cultures rely on meat and animal products to sustain their health, and maintain tradition. Some may not have access nor the ability to reduce, reuse, or recycle in the same way as others.
As clear as it is that changes need to be made, it is also clear that it takes a certain amount of privilege to enact these changes. Strategies that target inequity are also needed for the health of people, and the planet too.
So for those of us who have the choice, we need to step up for those who don’t, and we need to do so judgement-free.
What does stepping up look like? It may sound cliché, but don’t discount small changes
There is much to be done at a population and policy level when it comes to our food and our planet. Many hands and minds will make possible this complicated work.
At the individual level, find empowerment in the small changes you make today. Whether you choose to reduce, reuse, and recycle, creatively put together meals with random leftovers, add a vegetarian meal to your menu, or to recognize the role you play in an equitable future for all. You may not be able to see it, but whatever action you take will have a much bigger impact than you expect.
Or at the very least, the small change you make today may just help you clean out your kitchen 😉
If you need extra motivation, give me a shout.
After all, challenges and puzzles are better accomplished together 🙂
Best in health,
Krystal Merrells, RD
Recipes to support you
Basic Vegetable Broth:
Check out Oh My Veggies blog at ohmyveggies.com for a recipe using some fresh veggies and frozen vegetable scraps from previous food prep!
Homemade chicken stock:
Check out Simply Recipes blog at simplyrecipes.com for chicken broth 3-ways! Explained with photos as well.
Lentil Spaghetti Sauce:
A simple way to take a classic and try it out with a vegetarian twist! Lentils, in my opinion, are the easiest pulse to cook with. They are incredibly versatile. Check out the recipe at Dietitian’s of Canada’s own cookspiration.com.
Shrimp and Cauliflower Curry:
Another great (and quick!) recipe from the Dietitian’s of Canada recipe app. If you’ve never made curry, this is a great introduction. Cauliflower and shrimp go great together, and you get to use up any frozen peas in your freezer! Check it out at cookspiration.com.
Explore food, nutrition, climate change, and sustainable diets further:
IPCC press release: Land is a Critical Resource, August 8 2019, found on their website here.
Dietitians of Canada webinar: Can Healthy Diets be Sustainable Diets? An emerging role for Dietitians, found on their website here.
You can still eat meat!
Although I reported here the current discussion on plant-based foods, my personal philosophy is that all foods fit. Hear a different perspective on cattle and climate change – you will be surprised by this researcher’s compelling argument! Listen to the podcast or read the transcription of an interview with Frank Mitloehner: Cattle, climate change and the methane myth, June 25 2019. Find it here.