Friday, August 31, 2012

Step Thirteen and a Half: Evaluate Your Food

In Step Thirteen: Set Up Your Pantry, we took time to clean out, refresh, and organize our pantries (or other food storage areas), but since our goal is a zero waste pantry, not just a clean one, now we'll take the time to evaluate our food and eating needs. Doing this allows us to find out what foods work for our families, what we'd like to change about our eating habits, and helps us prioritize our hunt for bulk food. Let's jump right in.

Get some paper and a writing utensil, and take stock of your food. What does your diet look like now? What will and won't your family eat? Would you like to make any changes to your diet? What are you comfortable cooking? What would you like to learn to make yourself (cookies? ketchup? dinner rolls? mayonnaise?)? Most importantly (for our specific purpose of going zero waste), what kinds of garbage do you make most, and from what kinds of food? Are there a lot of plastic bottles from juices, teas, and sports drinks? Plastic bags from frozen vegetables and finger foods? Soy milk containers? Soda cans? Plastic Ramen wrappers or styrofoam cups? Milk jugs? Boxes from quick meals? Frozen dinner trays? Granola and power bar wrappers? Yogurt cups?

These questions aren't to make you feel guilty, just to help you evaluate what you have, what you can replace, and what you can't do without. I used to live on Ramen noodles, until I decided to go zero waste. It took me a while to break the habit, but once I realized I ate them because they  were fast and convenient, I started keeping other snack food on hand, like raw almonds, home-made yogurt, chocolate squares, avocados, home-cut carrots, bagels, and celery with peanut butter. I like all of these foods as much as Ramen noodles, they're all just as fast to make/serve, and I feel better when I eat them because I know they're healthy for me and the planet. Try evaluating a favorite family food in the same way to see what it is you like about that food, and what you can replace it with that will create less waste.

Almost everyone I know has "eat better" on a goal or to-do list somewhere, and zero waste makes that almost effortless. Because so many processed foods come in packaging, and packaging creates waste, running a zero waste home, or at least a zero waste kitchen, will largely eliminate your consumption of packaged foods. There isn't any added salt when you chop and steam vegetables yourself, you don't have to worry about how much sugar is in the spaghetti sauce you made, and there's no worry about what kind of preservatives are lurking in homemade cookies. If you want to improve your family's eating habits, now is a great time. Again, write down what it is you want to change or modify. More vegetables? Less starch? Less junk-food? More time spent around the dinner table together? Eating zero waste food will naturally solve a lot of problems, but you still need to be aware of what it is you want to change, and why.

Lastly, we're going to make a list of foods that we need to find in bulk, stat. We all need to eat, and it's nice to eat things we like, so it's important to find zero-waste ways to make food you and your family enjoys, or you'll meet with a lot of resistance. It's also important to make sure that you're not putting too much work on yourself to eliminate garbage from your kitchen. Frozen vegetables used to be a staple in my diet, but the plastic bags they come in are notoriously hard to recycle, so now I just buy them fresh at the supermarket. In the winter-time, this means I'm buying produce shipped in from California, South America, or even Africa, but that's the compromise I make to have vegetables and fruit in my diet. I could can or freeze these things while they're in season and eat more locally, but that just doesn't work for my lifestyle right now, so I don't stress about it. If your baby needs formula, you could save yourself a few temper-tantrums by buying your kids fruit snacks, or your significant other will buy himself bottled tea on the down-low anyway, don't worry. They may come around in time, but for now it's better to keep yourself content than it is to blow all your energy on achieving perfect zero-wasteness.

Let's take a look at the things you wrote down. Ideally, you'll have a list of snacks and meals the people in your household gladly eat, a few goals for your diet, and maybe some items that create waste but are not on the bargaining table at this point. You'll also likely  have written down some foods your family doesn't like, food waste you make on a regular basis, meals you'd like to have but don't know how to make, and a list of foods you have no idea how to find in bulk.

This last item is the one most people have a hard time with. If you have a Winco or a Whole Foods in your area, pat yourself on the back; your bulk food quest is over. If not, it's okay, we'll go on a little adventure together in the next post and find the best, and easiest way to zero waste together. In the meantime, use the other items you've listed to help guide you in your shopping, cooking, and researching processes. A few minutes with Google will help you find new recipes, time-tested techniques, and the inspiration you need to transform your kitchen to zero waste.

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

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