Happy Earth Day!
While there are loads of complicated and life-changing ways to consider the environment in your daily life choices, here are a few easy wins for anyone who loves food and wants to do right by the Earth.
1. Reusable cups
For the longest time, I had a terrible track record with reusable coffee mugs. They leaked, didn’t close well or were an absolute pain in the ass to keep clean. All those nooks and crannies attract sticky residue that’s hard to get rid of, and it winds up making your coffee taste gross.
Then I found my Keep Cup (affiliate link!) and everything clicked. I use it most days at my local Starbucks, it keeps my coffee warmer for longer and it saves me a dime every time I fill up. And it doesn’t have any enclosed bits where bacteria and stale coffee can hide. Totally worth it.
2. Insulated water bottles are awesome
Last year, I wrote about the revelation that was my first Swell water bottle. Unlike a plastic bottle, it keeps water cold for ages and can be used over and over again. You don’t necessarily need to buy the brand-name Swell (affiliate link!) if you don’t have the cash – just be extra careful about leaks. An insulated water bottle that can be filled from a tap is a glorious addition to anyone’s life.
3. Buy what you’ll eat, and eat what you buy
Don’t buy more than you need and will use before the item goes bad. Simple, right? But how many of us wind up throwing out cheese, lettuce, veggies, fruit and bread that went bad before we could finish it?
If you’re single and shop at Costco, by all means stock up on canned tomato paste and toilet paper. But will you REALLY use all those strawberries? Will you make it through that entire sack of pears? It’s only a good deal if you actually eat it and don’t throw half of it away.
Consider this: those bananas were grown somewhere by someone very far away from here, then picked and shipped to the grocery store, then purchased and placed in a fruit bowl. Will all that effort result in the banana being enjoyed and eaten? Or will all that work and effort be for nothing when it turns to mush and lands in the trash? It takes an enormous amount of energy to grow and ship food to you, and it’s downright disrespectful when you buy it and fail to eat it.
4. Pay attention to packaging
Last week, while looking to buy eggs, I was faced with the wall of choices now common in Canadian egg coolers. Free range, organic, omega-whatsits. What wound up being a major factor in my choice? Some of the egg cartons were plastic, while others were cardboard. I chose the free-range eggs in cardboard. Why? Because I don’t need a single-use non-renewable petrochemical product wrapping my eggs, thanks. While I’d recycle it, it’s better to avoid the plastic in the first place.
There are so many examples of products that have unnecessarily elaborate packaging. Do we really need to mine ore to make the metal in a single-use Altoids tin? If you can buy bulk, why not try? Some shops are happy to let you bring your own bags or containers to fill and reuse. Just make sure you check with the shop before filling anything.
Because it’s hard to get away from all packing, think about buying products that are packed in materials that can be recycled in your local recycling system. Check with your community waste management department to figure out what can be recycled and what can’t. And don’t fall victim to aspirational recycling – a great term that means tossing things into the recycling bin because you assume they must be recyclable.
5. Where did it come from?
Strawberries in January? Apples in May? Where is your fruit and veg coming from? Do you think a watermelon just magically arrives in your supermarket? All food has a carbon footprint associated with it, and it’s worth considering the place of origin when buying something. Do you need those fresh blueberries from Chile when frozen Canadian blueberries from last year’s harvest will do in your muffin recipe?
There’s always plenty of debate in eco circles about the comparative benefit of eating local non-organic produce versus organic produce that’s been diesel-trucked several thousand kilometres to get to your table. Long story short, at least consider eating things from closer to home and that are in season (or that store well over the winter).
6. Drink local beer
Like you needed an excuse, right? But seriously, it takes a lot of fuel to move container loads of heavy liquid from across the ocean to North America. Similarly, if you’re on the east coast, why drink a beer from the west coast if a similar beer is available from a brewer far closer to home?
While there’s much to be said for trying beer from all over the world, don’t discount the products coming from your own backyard. Don’t think an import is somehow better than the local product. And it takes a whole lot less carbon to get it to your pint glass.
7. Start a garden
Big on local food? It doesn’t get much more local than 20 feet from your kitchen. If you have a backyard, give gardening a try and learn a whole new respect for the food you eat. Even if you don’t have a backyard, you can still garden. My old apartment building had a flowerbed out front, and the owners cheerfully encouraged us to grow herbs and tomatoes in the space. (One of these owners was born in Italy, and he was very excited to see tomatoes and basil on the property.) Even if you only have a balcony, it’s crazy easy to start a container garden to grow fresh herbs to use for cooking and baking.
These days, food is cheap enough that gardening has become less about any economic benefit and more about maintaining a connection with the land. If you care about the Earth, you should get to know its soil.