Saving the planet from home

Climate change, dear reader, is real. What can we do? While it’s clear that many of the drivers of that change are beyond our individual control, that doesn’t mean we can do nothing! Collective action is a remarkable thing, and there are any number of tiny actions each of us can take to help. A few of mine centered around home economics are listed here.

Some readers are no doubt doing some of these things already. Others of you will look at this list and think every item is just too burdensome — in that case, please pick the one that has other benefits that appeal to you (saving money is always favorite) and commit to trying it for a month. Everyone has to start from where they are, but, at this point, everyone really needs to start!

Coffee

* Choose your coffee wisely! Shade-grown ethically sourced coffee may sound like overkill, but your support of companies like Pachamama and Equal Exchange can have far-reaching environmental and socioeconomic effects in other countries. This is one of the places we can use our privilege to advantage everyone.

* Change your coffee pod. Both K-pods and Nespresso pods are technically recyclable. Nespresso has a mail-back program for their pods, which are aluminum and so fairly desirable in recycling terms. K-pods have to be taken apart so you can throw the plastic in the recycling, and sales of plastic from recycling are pretty bleak now.

If you have a Nespresso machine, order a mail-back bag and carry on. If you have a Keurig, consider switching to a reusable pod, which will also save you money and let you use your choice of coffee.

* Return to drip coffee. When it’s time for your next coffee machine, consider opting out of machines, which tend to break down quickly. An appropriately sized drip filter-and-thermos combo will provide excellent coffee for decades. Paper filters with the grounds can go straight into your compost bucket.

* Take your coffee with you instead of buying it. If you stop for coffee at Giant Coffee Shop on the way to work every day, you’ll end up generating a lot of landfill. You’ll also spend about 30 hours a year waiting in line, and who has that time? Fill up that travel mug and sleep an extra 10 minutes!

Food waste

* Shop in bulk, for coffee and anything else you can. Not only are you saving on packaging, but you can get exactly the amount you need to avoid waste. Nugget Market and the Co-op both have large bulk food sections. The Davis Refillery has an extensive selection of cleaning and beauty products as well as some fantastic housewares, and they’ll deliver.

Next time you’re in Sacramento, check out Of Land and Sea Co., which has a great selection of bulk items as well as many sustainable options, and The All-Spicery, which has an absolutely stunning array of spices, teas, dried vegetables and more.

* Invest in a vacuum sealer and reusable bags. We have a tiny one that charges via USB, and have thrown away exactly 1 bag in the 16 months we’ve been using it. All twelve kinds of cheese in the cheese drawer are stored in vacuum sealed bags, and we no longer have to toss cheese because it’s moldy.

Opened crackers, cookies and cereal get sealed so they never go stale; leftovers and excess fruit are frozen then sealed to prevent freezer damage. As a bonus, these are sous vide bags, which means leftovers can go into a pot of hot water to reheat.

* Check your refrigerator temperature. Use a thermometer and check multiple areas. A fridge that is too cold can freeze and ruin food (alas, poor lettuce). A fridge that’s too warm means milk going off before its best-by date, or even food poisoning. Aim for 36-38 degrees.

Shopping

* We are insanely fortunate to have the Davis Farmers Market. There’s nothing better for the environment (or your mouth) than buying directly from local farmers. An hour spent Saturday morning can net you bread, all the veg and fruit you can hope for, locally raised meat and untold happiness side effects. Again, this is a place where we can use our privilege to best effect – the more people shop at the Market, the more profitable it is for the farmers, the better they can supply us.

* We’re also madly lucky that local restaurants are booming and new restaurants are coming online. Locally owned restaurants have a vested interest in using local goods, buying from local farmers, and keeping money local. Hikari Omakase opened recently with a real commitment to both sustainable seafood and fantastic cooking. Bones Craft Kitchen is also new to the Davis scene, and has regular items sourced from the Farmer’s Market as well as vegan options.

Mabel’s Farm Box, found at the Saturday Market and Thursdays in the Davisphere, does a fantastic job of sourcing local picnic boxes with increasingly sustainable packaging – even going so far as to hand-make the wood cutting boards. (Advanced work: carry a container in your backpack for leftovers when you go out.)

* When you go to the grocery store, consider packaging. For example, conventional milk cartons can be used to hold composting scraps and go right into the compost; plastic milk jugs can go in the recycling; glass milk bottles can be returned for reuse; aseptic cartons have to go in the landfill.

* Sometimes the most sustainable choice is to Buy Nothing. Yolo County boasts several Buy Nothing Facebook groups where people donate things they can no longer use. It’s a friendly way of sharing abundance instead of filling up the landfill. I’ve managed to give a couch and an abundance of food my cats couldn’t eat.

Food choices

* See what processed foods you can eliminate. The more processed a food, the harder it is on the environment in factory emissions, transport, and packaging. Most of us are not going to eliminate processed foods, but maybe we can make biscuits instead of buying a tube of them.

* Reduce the meat in your diet. Reduce it a lot. Not only is it healthier for you, it’s healthier for the planet. Try not to replace it with “meat-alternatives” which are (all together, now) processed foods. Beans and whole grains are fantastic protein sources just loaded with nutrition. Eggs and cheese are less sustainable, but good buying choices can make them viable sources of protein.

* Date your leftovers. We keep masking tape and a pen by the fridge. Leftover takeout or restaurant food should be eaten within two or three days. Foods you make at home are generally good for a week if you refrigerate them promptly.

* Learn to cook. Or at least develop a few recipes that use up leftovers. One of my friends uses leftover French fries as the potato element in breakfast tacos. Little bits of cheese can make a fantastic Macaroni and Cheese, and you can throw in leftover broccoli or cauliflower as well. A quiche or frittata uses up all sorts of odd bits of leftovers.

Use energy wisely

* Now that it’s almost cooked, remember to fill the oven whenever you use it. Why waste perfectly good heat when you can bake potatoes (twice-baked potatoes, gnocchi), roast vegetables (toss with dressing for a salad, stuff enchiladas), cook rice (fried rice, arancini), etc.?

* I work in a large building, and I’m always shocked when people run the water while they wash their hands. Develop the habit of turning off the water any time you’re not actually using it. It’s simple and increasingly critical. Advanced work: google Navy Shower

* Turn off the lights. Put on a sweater. Stop idling your car in line for coffee. Ride your bike. You got this!

— Email Julie at jacross@dcn.org hrs visit her on Facebook at The New Home Ec.