How to Have a Conscious Kitchen

When I began establishing a home with my husband (and by home I actually mean tiny apartment), I decided ours would be a conscious home – one where we set intentions that guide us to living more balanced lives. As a couple, we set intentions that would result in decisions that were healthy for our bodies and decisions that didn’t result in excess garbage -- to be healthful and zero waste.

Setting these intentions together would get us both on board for a somewhat non-conventional lifestyle that often requires some sacrifices. They would help us challenge each other to be stronger people by holding us accountable to one another.

We first started making changes in our kitchen where we were able to feel the biggest impact from both of our intentions. First of all, the food in our kitchen is making its way into our bodies so we needed to take a close look at what we are bringing into our cupboards and fridge. Also, there is a lot of stuff coming in and out of a kitchen, so it was naturally the first place to consider reducing our waste. 

Here are some ways we are working to maintain a conscious home through our kitchen:

Waste-free storage made of sustainable materials.
My intolerance for plastic food containers can be compared to Joan Crawford’s aversion to wire hangers. Actually, make that plastic anything! Not only is the possibility of those chemicals soaking into my food enough to give me nightmares, so much carbon is produced to make those containers. They aren’t even made to last, but will still take a gross amount of time to break down in a landfill.

This is why my kitchen is full of glass storage containers for saving fresh greens and leftovers. They are microwave and even oven safe so I don’t have to worry about transporting them into another container for reheating. Needless to say they are also dishwasher safe and you never have to worry about discoloration. They do tend to be on the heavier side, so packed lunches are a little less convenient (and I jingle on my way to work), but having a collection of these makes it so easy to meal plan and sort out leftovers.

For snacks, we have reusable cotton sandwich bags that can be run through the washing machine or wiped down with dish soap. We even have reusable cups for trips to the coffee shop that are made with bamboo, which is great at keeping in the heat and 100% sustainable.

Saving Food Scraps.
Unfortunately for me, and a lot of other apartment-dwelling Millenials, composting isn’t an option. As much as I would love to be growing my own soil, I have yet to find a method that fits my lifestyle. Some municipalities offer compost pick up or drop off but that’s not the norm across the country. Luckily, I have found easy ways to reuse parts of vegetables that reduces this waste ever so slightly. 

First, I save vegetable scraps and cuts to make my own vegetable stock. While cooking, I pull out parts of onions, garlic, celery, carrots, mushrooms, and bell peppers that I would normally toss and put them in a bag in my freezer. Yes, it’s a plastic freezer bag that I have been reusing for about three years, way back in my plastic days, but a metal bowl is a great sustainable option. Once the bag is full, I place the scraps in a pot with about 6 cups of water and some salt and soak in medium heat, the strain into a mason jar (click here for the full recipe) . It is the best tasting veg stock I have ever had, and this process means one less container I have to get from a store and throw away.

I have also started saving vegetable scraps to make natural dyes. Confession: I’m a total crafter and hand-dying fabric with my own dyes is my idea of a wild weekend. Scraps like avocado pits and skins, onion skins, beets, and spinach make beautiful, natural hues. Even if you aren’t a crafter, avocado pits turn fabric into the prettiest light pink; a great idea for stained sheets or old t-shirts. These scraps are also saved in the freezer so they don’t go bad or get stinky.

Buying Local.
This isn’t news. We are already buying local because the produce is so much fresher and full of nutrients. 

Buying local means eating what’s in season in your area... with the exception of our favorite tropical fruits, like avocados and bananas. It means skipping the blueberries shipped from Chile in the dead of winter because they will be better when they’re grown in your back yard in a couple months. 

Local also means your food is spending less time on a truck, or barge, that is burning fuel. 

Shopping at the farmer’s market and co-op.
Take a look around the next time you are in the supermarket (I’m looking at you too, Trader Joes) to observe how much packaging is suffocating your beautiful vegetables. A good portion of that plastic can’t be recycled, and most municipalities don’t have the resources to recycle the “recyclable” Styrofoam (good, in theory). Even the stickers on your apples have to be thrown away and sent to a landfill. That doesn’t happen at a farmer’s market where the goods are fresh-picked. Bonus points if you BYO cotton bag for greens and other wet produce.

For pantry items like pasta, grains, beans, and seeds I head to the co-op (WholeFoods if you’re fancy) where these items are available in bulk. You can bring those cotton bags so you don’t have to use their plastic ones, or be like me and bring glass jars. If you bring jars, just be ready to tare them with someone at checkout first – they’ll weigh the empty jar so that weight can be reduced when it’s full, just keep a marker on hand. 

How do you maintain a health or eco-conscious kitchen? We’d love to know!

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