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.
#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.
- Know what questions to ask.
- Read labels. This is very important!
Labels/Certifications for animal products:
Ingredients in processed foods:
Pesticides in Produce:
Beware of factory farmed meat full of hormones and antibiotics, preservatives, nitrites/nitrates.
Replace withantibiotic and hormone free meat (organic if possible). Limit your intake of processed meats, but when you do indulge, look for lunch meats, sausages and other processed meats with no added nitrites or nitrates.
Extra credit:Look for meat and animal products from humanely, sustainably raised animals – check out the product website or ask questions at the farmers market, your local butcher or the grocery store.
Beware of antibiotics, mercury, PCBs, artificial coloring.
Replace with“best choice” or “good alternative” from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guides.
Extra credit: Choose from the The Super Green List, a list of wild and farmed seafood that’s healthy for people and oceans.
Beware of rBGH, antibiotics.
Replace with antibiotic and hormone free dairy (organic if possible).
Extra credit: Look for dairy from sustainably, humanely raised animals – check out the product website or ask questions at the farmers market.
Beware of antibiotics, meaningless labels (cage-free, vegetarian feed, etc.).
Replace with pasture raised eggs (organic if possible). This blog post, Not All Eggs Are Created Equal, breaks down the confusion.
Extra credit: Look for eggs from pasture-raised chickens – check out the product website or ask questions at the farmers market or grocery store.
Beware of pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Replace with local, sustainable and/or organic. You can choose which items to buy organic based off of the Dirty Dozen list from the Environmental Working Group.
Beware of GMOs.
Replace with organic and/or GMO-free soybeans.
Beware of preservatives, additives, coloring, trans-fats, sodium, added sugar/HFCS, GMOs, BPA.
Replace with the least processed items you can find with the least ingredients (organic if possible). Always read the labels! Homemade is a great option.
Beware of preservatives, additives, coloring, trans-fats, sodium, added sugar, HFCS, GMOs, BPA.
Replace with the least processed you can find with the least ingredients (organic if possible). Always read the labels! Homemade condiments are a great option.
Beware of added sugar and HFCS, coloring, additives.
Replace with water or seltzer with lemon or other real fruit juice
Other Items in Your Kitchen
Beware of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
Replace with stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic, glass, clay.
Plastic bags, water bottles and containers
Beware of BPA, PVC (Plastic No.3), polystyrene (Plastic No. 6), plastic no. 7, thermoplastic.
Replace with glass containers, BPA-free plastic, corn-based plastic, reusable bags. Use water filters instead of buying water in bottles.
Beware of corrosive chemicals, fragrances, ethylene-based glycolk, terpenes, hypochlorite, crystalline silica, butyl cellosolve (check your current cleaning supplies).
Replace with natural products (read the labels!) and/or homemade cleaning supplies utilizing non-toxic supplies like soap, water, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and borax.
Other Ways to Make Your Kitchen More Sustainable
- Buy in bulk – make food from scratch and avoid chemicals, preservatives, additives, BPA, etc.
- Make your own salad dressings and other condiments.
- Learn to preserve food (canning, pickling, drying, etc).
- Eat seasonally.
Take it slowly and make it happen!