ashley english by 40

small measures with ashley: earth day eating, every day


[image sources, clockwise from top left: lemonlight, pretty green living, renee's roots, country living, eat drink better, food storage girl, the weather store, unh]

Food is hot, folks, and I’m not just talking in the Sriracha-sense of the term. From Jamie Oliver’s prime-time Food Revolution, to the Huffington Post’s new food section, to the newest offering from the folks who brought us the Food Network, the The Cooking Channel (described as “a little grittier, a little edgier, a little hipper” than it’s older cousin according to senior vice president for programming and production, Bruce Seidel), you can’t turn around without reading or hearing about free-range eggs, truffle-hunting, DIY beer, home-butchering, and everything else under the culinary sun.

Yesterday’s 40th anniversary of Earth Day (founded April 22, 1970 by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson) brought home to me just how essential a healthy, vital, thriving global ecosystem is to food production, not to mention food security. As someone whose life and career revolve around food (from writing about it, to cooking it, growing it, talking about it, studying it academically, and beyond), I decided to examine how my food choices and actions dovetail with the overall ethos of Earth Day as its founders envisioned it (a 1969 visit to a huge oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA prompted Nelson to envision a series of “teach-ins” on the environment, mirroring those already happening on college campuses nationwide working to raise awareness about the Vietnam War).

For today’s “Small Measures with Ashley”, I’m listing all of the food-related actions I take on a daily basis in my kitchen, as well as outside of my home, to nurture, protect, and sustain the environment. These are real, tangible, hold-in-my-hands choices, the results of which offer an immediate, observable return. While global climate change, endangered animal species, melting ice caps, ocean gyres full of waste, and other environmental issues often feel remote and divorced from my everyday, lived experiences (although I know science points to their existence), the choices and actions I take in my kitchen and with my food supply bring an immediacy to the issue.

Many of these “small measures” have been chronicled in this column since its inception in July 2009. More of a “round-up” than anything, looking at them in totality makes me see just how much the actions of one person truly do add up over time. So much of the waste that would otherwise be generated in my home’s kitchen (think of just how much potential trash our kitchens hold, from glass, plastic, and aluminum containers to vegetable debris, cleaning products, and even pet foods, not to mention the manner in which the foods are grown, processed, and transported themselves-Michael Pollan, in a 2008 NYTimes Magazine open letter to the future president of the U.S. listed the food industry as the largest consumer of fossil fuels, gobbling up around 19% of total usage annually) is repurposed, reused, recycled, and re-thought. And that sounds delicious to me.

CLICK HERE for 25 “small measures” you can take every day in your kitchen to help the earth (after the jump)!

Here are twenty-five “small measures” I take every day in my kitchen (many of which I’ve discussed in greater depth in small measure archives ):

*Composting kitchen scraps
*Keeping a kitchen garden (no matter the size, and keeping toxic substances out of it)
*Canning & Preserving
*Keeping chickens
*Keeping bees
*Making my own dairy products
*Recycling all paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum products
*Repurposing used glass bottles into homemade vinegars and oils and more, for personal use or as gifts
*Bringing my own containers to the meat & fish counter at the market
*Supporting CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture)
*Patronizing farmer’s markets
*Visiting pick your own farms in season
*Carrying my own shopping bags to the market
*Reusing plastic food bags (I’ve had some for years)
*Seeking out locally grown and processed foods
*Buying/eating foods in season
*Forgoing the use of plastic wrap
*Using biodegradable trash and pet waste bags
*Purchasing prepared foods only if they are in recyclable containers
*Running the dishwasher only when full
*Using homemade and/or non-toxic cleaning supplies
*Line-drying cloth napkins and cloth towels (and using only cloth napkins and towels as opposed to disposables)
*Seriously minimizing the use of paper towels (used mainly for pet-related “mishaps”)
*Storing foods in glass, ceramic, or metal containers instead of plastic
*Buying mineral water in glass bottles (if at all)

What about you? How do you get your “eat on” in an Earth Day-approved manner? I’d love to hear your tips! The more you know, the more you can do, and share. Here’s to promoting Earth Day eating, everyday! -ashley

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40 Comments

jen a

every time i am totally convinced that i am a city child, i read ashley’s column and feel like my heart belongs in asheville. i loved this piece and i am going to print the list as a reminder of the changes i can start making – one of her best! xo

Krystle Rose

This is an impressive article that gave me some great ideas to try at home. I especially love the idea of buying local foods when possible and picking your own in season produce.

DH

Ashley, I love your posts and have made recent reference and use of them recently. You bring so much integrity and presentation with your
subjects, it is very inspiring.
I am so with you on these ‘small measures’ but way behind. I never even thought to bring my own containers to the market- I missed that post! My new mission? Non disposable containers, thank you.
Cheers!

jenn

great tips! the mr and i already do a good number of these and we’re always trying to include more. another great thing you can do to help the earth is to try making a vegan meal every now and again, or making a point to eat only organic/free range meats. factory farming is a HUGE contributer to air pollution. just a little something to keep in mind :)

Cat W.

Love it, and I love that many of these things are available to everyone! We begin planting our kitchen garden tonight! And jen a: Of course your heart belongs in Asheville, we all do!

BaltimoreDIY

Holding rainwater & reusing sink rinse-water to water my plants

Also, using grapeseed oil + essential oils instead of lotions or deodorants

(well, if it’s a fancy occasion I’ll use deodorant, but tea tree oil is great for daily use!)

JP

What a great list of simple things! We try to do as many of those as possible but have yet to start composting. Since we just started our little garden can you suggest a brand or type of composting bin for us. We live in a townhouse in southern Cal (not much room for the garden or backyard) so we don’t need a behemoth….

Melanie J.

YES, YES, YES! Thanks for this…it’s a great primer. The desire to change has been brewing for a month or so, and watching Food Inc. on PBS this past week pushed that desire into action. It may be more expensive, but I’m through feeding me and my husband on crap and killing the earth in the process.

Alix

This is a great list, but I really wouldn’t consider keeping bees and chickens, and making one’s own dairy products to be “small” measures. Even canning, preserving and gardening take considerable effort. Intermediate measures, perhaps?

Jill Hathaway

I’ve been slowly switching from plastic Tupperware to glass containers, and I just read about making your own cheese in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Between that book and your column I’m convinced, I’ll definitely try it!

Tara

I do many of these things. One really awesome idea I just came across for reducing water waste: have a bucket in the shower for when you are warming up the water before you get in. Use that otherwise “wasted” water to water the garden. In my household, that’s 2 people x 2 gallons for the entire growing season!

And I second jenn’s comment. Eating lower on the food chain is environmentally sound! Less beef, more vegetable/grain/bean based. I ate tofu tacos for earth day. Raw tomato, onion, avocado, shredded cheese, on a taco with homemade scrambled tofu (thyme, chili powder, paprika, salt, pepper, sauteed onion, all in a little olive oil). Love the column!

Kelsey

What about cutting back on or eliminating meat in your diet? I realize that one can be conscious about where their meat comes from, but I would encourage people to explore moving toward diets based around whole grains & other plants. Raising of animals, even when it’s more sustainable, still uses a lot more of our precious resources (like water) to ‘grow.’ The gradual reduction/elimination of meat is arguably an easier step to take than raising chickens or learning how to can & preserve food.

Pink Sister

Love these ideas.
Also uses a lot of energy boiling the kettle so I try to boil the minimum amount or use the leftover hot water in the washing up.
Similarly washing machine goes on 30C
And I load the oven with vegetables to roast for soup so it’s never running less than full.
Lots of fridges run fine a bit warmer than you’d think and positioning freezers and fridges somewhere darker / cooler or at least away from direct sunlight saves lots of energy.

Zoe

These are some great suggestions, but what about minimizing car use for food shopping? I realise that for alot of people, especially in the States, this is hard when lots of people live in rural areas with little or no public transport, but driving to the grocery store (or farmers market) isn’t good for the environment either. Somewhat paradoxically, it is much easier for city folk to access farmers markets, etc. cycling, walking or using public transport than those “closer” to the fresh food itself out in the countryside.

Charlie

Keeping chickens would be hard for me in my little city apartment, but making my own dairy products is a great idea. I would love knowing EXACTLY what is going in my food.

sydney

Just wanted to comment on the bee and chicken sections of the list. I would consider them to be more than “small measures”. I don’t know about bees but I do know that chickens require time, energy, and a responsible owner who can protect them from predators. They are not herbs which can be ignored for days at a time. Otherwise, great list…

Pam

Rain barrels- easy diy project. We only had to use the garden hose twice last year!

gayle australia

i have been a vegetaraian for forty years and a vegan for just over 10 years. i also eat 90% organic and buy my fruit and vegies from my local organic market stall. we also sprout at home, i make my own bread and pretty much prepare each meal from scratch – ie from paper bags of beans and grains from our local food co-op etc. buying organic means you can safely use all of your vege scraps so i have a bag i keep in the freezer and all my cutting scraps go in there and when its full i make vege stock and delicious meals from it. the boiled scraps leftovers go into the compost. nothing is wasted. at our table our “grace” is “thank you to the planet, thank you to the farmers, thank you to the cooks”.

Morgan

Love the list Ashley! One thing I haven’t figured out is not using plastic wrap – we make our own bread and I always cover the bread with plastic wrap while it rises – do you have another suggestion for making bread w/o plastic wrap?

kareno

* Avoiding buying food that comes in small containers, when the garbage-produced-to-food ratio is high. Example: snack packs and soda cans.
* Buying less food in general. Less waste, less garbage.
* Washing dishes by hand instead of using a dishwasher. It doesn’t take that long, and is calming to do with a radio on.

tigress

great post ashley! i do much of what you do. seeing it all in one place made me realize that it’s more than i thought!

one thing i am looking into on a larger scale, because i produce large events, is to offer ONLY grass-fed, humanely raised, non factory farmed meat at the concession stands. it is slow going but i am determined to make it happen this year.

Laura

I would love to keep bees, but we live in the city. Otherwise, great tips. We line dry all our clothes, so no clothes dryer to use energy.

Glenn

For what it’s worth… A veggie option is often a great small step, but in some cases, a local, sustainably raised piece of meat or fish can actually have an even lower carbon footprint, especially than that of processed soy food shipped from hundreds of miles away, and actually saves resources such as water. The water runoff of a plowed field is almost as bad as a parking lot, causing massive soil erosion and desertification. Conversely, organizations such as Holistic Land Management International are having amazing success in pasturing ruminants to stop water runoff, revitalize the soil, and prevent desertification of the grasslands that are essential to our planet’s survival.

Any small step that works is great, so if vegetarianism is your route, more power to you, but I think that eating sustainably raised meat is every bit as environmentally responsible, if not more so in some cases.

Abigail Jane

Ashley,
A quick, slightly unrelated question… I have a friend who is getting married soon and starting her own CSA with her soon to be husband. For a wedding present I would like to get them canning equipment, but I would like an experts opinion on what you think is the best. Also, I live in China so finding these kind of resources (like your new book) is hard to come by. Thanks
-abby

Steven

Keeping chickens would be hard for me in my little city apartment, but making my own dairy products is a great idea. I would love knowing EXACTLY what is going in my food.

Robin

I am very interested in Michael Pollan’s work and would like to direct anyone who wants to hear more of his thoughts to the free podcast of a talk he did for the Long Now Foundation. That particular podcast is from May 5th, 2009.

Johanna

Morgan, I once bought a set of kitchen bowls from IKEA that have flexible lids – they are great for letting dough rise in the fridge as you can put them on “lightly” and they will let a bit of air in and out (but of course, these are plastic). Kitchen towls are great for shorter rises, too, you can even use damp towls if you want to make sure your dough doesn’t dry out.

Haley

In reply to JP, who asked about composting: we live in an urban apartment and have found that a worm composter is a great solution! We have the can-o-worms system and it has been easy and smell-free. Plus you get good liquid fertilizer out of it. good luck!

Elana

My birthday is April 22, and it was my first birthday in our home that we own! I celebrated by spending most of the afternoon working in our garden with my guy. We planted a fruit tree ( my birthday present), raspberry bushes and some plants to attract butterflies and birds. I have already started my first shot at a veggie garden, which will help us eat more sustainably this summer. Next step, compost!

ashley english

Abigail Jane-Amazon.com has a really extensive offering of canning supplies: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_sq_top?ie=UTF8&keywords=canning%20supplies&index=blended&pf_rd_p=486539851&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=B000A387XY&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=1F6RDVBFAYTZZ5EAHKYM. Aside from a stock pot, which your friend may already have, all she and her husband-to-be will need are some canning-appropriate jars (available also on the Amazon site, from trusted brands like Ball, Kerr, and Leifheit), lids, screw bands, and extras, if you’d like to include them, like a jar funnel, lid magnet, and jar lifter (many canning supplies are sold in “kits” or “packages”-also on the Amazon site). From my understanding, shipping to/from China is an option on Amazon (at least it was when I just experimented with checking out and shipping to that country).
Best of luck to you and your friend!

JP-Many city dwellers have met great success with, in addition to Haley’s suggestion of a wormery, the Bokashi, ideal for small spaces like apartments lacking a yard: http://www.gaiam.com/product/eco-home-outdoor/household/kitchen/all+food+recycling+compost+kit+with+bokashi.do

Morgan-In addition to Elyse’s suggestion of a tea towel, I would say to simply invert another bowl of equal circumference atop the bowl containing the resting bread dough.

Simon

great post ashley! i do much of what you do. seeing it all in one place made me realize that it’s more than i thought!

one thing i am looking into on a larger scale, because i produce large events, is to offer ONLY grass-fed, humanely raised, non factory farmed meat at the concession stands. it is slow going but i am determined to make it happen this year.

Simon

I am very interested in Michael Pollan’s work and would like to direct anyone who wants to hear more of his thoughts to the free podcast of a talk he did for the Long Now Foundation. That particular podcast is from May 5th, 2009.

Miz.Jo

Ashley, great post, as always. This year I am trying to find natural ways to control pests in my yard and garden. Right now I am collecting egg shells to crush and spread around my plants to keep the snails out.

Eileen

What a great post! I linked it on my blog!
I write about eating whole, local foods, and I love your suggestions, Ashley!

Kelly

For what it’s worth… A veggie option is often a great small step, but in some cases, a local, sustainably raised piece of meat or fish can actually have an even lower carbon footprint, especially than that of processed soy food shipped from hundreds of miles away, and actually saves resources such as water. The water runoff of a plowed field is almost as bad as a parking lot, causing massive soil erosion and desertification. Conversely, organizations such as Holistic Land Management International are having amazing success in pasturing ruminants to stop water runoff, revitalize the soil, and prevent desertification of the grasslands that are essential to our planet’s survival.

Any small step that works is great, so if vegetarianism is your route, more power to you, but I think that eating sustainably raised meat is every bit as environmentally responsible, if not more so in some cases.

TeaButterfly

Great post, very inspiring!

I live in a small city apartment, but I’m not far from the countryside, where my Mom resides, so I benefit from both worlds!

Earth day is everyday!

And i’m definitely considering the Bokashi composting system for my small apartment.

-Vic

ALM

Great post; we use all the inevitable plastic bags in cereal boxes as small garbage bags. Also, in response to a comment here: Most of the time dishwashers use less water than washing by hand. Do some research on your method of handwashing vs. the dishwasher model you have. In my case, our dishwasher uses FAR less water than handwashing.

meg

To get rid of slugs and snails in the garden, fill a small container (jar lid works best) with little bit of beer. Set the container in your garden. Slugs like it and it kills them.

geek+nerd

Great list! Mine is very similar. I especially agree on the paper towel issue! Oh pets…

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