We all eat. It's kind of necessary for our survival, after all. And to survive, we spend a lot of money and energy making food choices every day that impact the future of planet. So this Earth Day, rather than focusing on lightbulbs or hybrid cars, take stock of your kitchen. How can you make it more sustainable, more efficient, or healthier both for you and the planet?
Here are our 10 suggestions:
#1: Eat meatless on Mondays. You may have heard of the Meatless Monday phenomenon that's taken over celebrity-chef kitchens (Mario Batali is a fan) and school lunchrooms alike (the Baltimore school district eats veggie every Monday!). The point isn't to convert the world to vegetarianism, but to show people that going without meat one day a week isn't that hard and can encourage you to try foods you might otherwise pass up in favor of a burger or steak. If everyone in the U.S. ate meatless one day a week, it would be the environmental equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles. Take it a step further and try eating vegan once a week, as well. If every family in the United States vetoed meat and cheese just one day a week, it would create the environmental benefits of taking the family car off of the road for five full weeks or of shortening everyone's daily shower by three minutes.
#2: Save up for a good slow cooker. Your kitchen accounts for a third of your home's energy use, and much of that comes from cooking. Though it seems counterintuitive, a slow cooker is the most energy-efficient vessel for cooking dinner because it heats a small pot filled with food, not all the air around your food, the way an oven does. Plus, they're great for one-pot meals—less energy used, less cleanup for you! If you're cooking a meal for seven hours in a slow cooker, it'll cost you less than half of the energy cost it would take to cook the same meal in an oven for an hour.
If you are in the market for a new oven, consider a convection oven. According to the Consumer Energy Center, these ovens are more efficient in distributing heat, reducing energy use by about a third of what standard electric or gas ovens use.
#3: Rely on the perfect egg for protein. Pastured eggs provide a triple benefit to people and the planet. Eggs are among the most ecofriendly animal protein sources on the planet, creating about six times less greenhouse-gas pollution than beef. According to Penn State University research and other studies, eggs from hens raised on grass pastures contain twice as much vitamin E, 2½ times more omega-3 fatty acids, 1/3 less cholesterol, ¼ less saturated fat, and 2/3 more vitamin A than standard supermarket eggs that come from tightly confined caged hens. Pastured eggs are also known as one of the 11 Mood-Boosting Foods. If you can't find organic pastured eggs from a local farmer, look for organic, Animal Welfare Approved, or Certified Humane eggs at your grocery store. Earth-friendly animal protein sources also include organic yogurt and organic 2 percent milk, according to Environmental Working Group.
#4: Upgrade your pots and pans. Pans with warped, wobbly bottoms can waste just as much energy as an old, outdated refrigerator. Why? When your pots don't come into contact with the burner on your stove, most of the energy from the burner gets wasted. Buy new cookware made from either clad stainless steel (these pans have three layers of metal on the bottom) or cast iron, both of which are less prone to warping. Cast iron is a great heat conductor, as well, which means you can shut off the burner or stove a few minutes before your food is finished cooking and let the pot do the rest. Finally, match your pots and pans to the right burner size; using a six-inch pan on an eight-inch burner wastes 40 percent of the burner's energy.
#5: Go cook-less one day a week. To vitalize your health and eliminate the need for stovetop or oven energy, eat raw at least one day a week. Since most of our electricity comes from burning coal, and natural gas is now tapped through risky, unconventional hydraulic fracturing, you're doing a service to the earth by going raw once a week. Plus, raw food is bursting with vital minerals and nutrients. For something different, try fermenting food. The end result is loaded with immune-system-boosting probiotics.
#6: Waste not, want not. Food waste in the U.S. has reached staggering proportions, with 1,400 calories of food wasted per person per day. It takes a lot of oil to grow all that food—185 million barrels every year. That's 46 times the amount that gushed out of the Deepwater Horizon during the 2010 oil spill. Reorganize your fridge so you keep leftovers and perishable goods in plain sight, and retrain your nose so you can tell if something smells safe or rancid (those use-by dates on food packages have to do with product freshness, not safety).
#7: Love your lentils! Lentils are the most climate-friendly form of protein on the planet. To make sure that your body is primed for maximum protein absorption when eating this super-healthy legume, pair a lentil-based meal with a whole grain, such as brown rice. A cup of cooked lentils offers a whopping 18 grams of protein, about a third of what you need in a day.
#8: Look for green meat. When you do opt for meat, look for greener meats from animals raised on grass. Ask a farmer how his animals were raised or look for reliable certifications such as Certified Organic, Certified Humane, or Animal Welfare Approved. And choose ocean-friendly, omega-3-rich fish from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Superfish list. All consume less energy to produce and emit fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than their factory-farmed counterparts.
#9: Eat dinner as a family—or with lots of friends! Aside from the obvious emotional benefits of eating a dinner with loved ones, family dinners breed more emotionally stable teenagers and children who maintain a healthier weight, according to published research. And they save the planet. Eating as a group means you're only cooking once, using less energy than if everyone in your home cooks an individual meal.
#10: Eat organic as if your life depends on it. Some of the biggest energy hogs in agriculture are avoided in organic farming systems, in which energy-intensive chemical pesticides and fossil-fuel-based fertilizers are banned. In fact, organic farming uses 45 percent less energy and creates 40 percent fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than conventional framing, according to data from the Rodale Institute's 30-year farming-system trials. Organic farming is much healthier for people, too. The most commonly used pesticides, glyphosate and atrazine, have been shown to damage DNA and lower child IQ, and in animal studies are linked to infertility, low sperm count, and prostate and testicular cancer.