Inside My Kitchen
Come on in, I’d like to walk you through my kitchen. I’ve been thinking about ‘intentional living’ for a few years now and I’ve learnt that there are billions of sub-topics within the conversation. There’s recycling, food waste, throw-away culture, clothing, minimalism, ethical buying, ethical banking, clean energy and more, all able to unfold into conversations of their own. Today, I want to home-in (pun intended) on just one corner: the kitchen. Whether we cook a lot or not, this world of ‘kitchen’ is a big one (ahem, we need food to live). Here I’ll talk you through the ways my kitchen habits have consciously changed for the better. I’ll resist listing illusive ideas that I don’t even do and instead tell you the stuff that’s been working for me.
This can mean one of two things: Buying from bulk-bins in stores where you pay for dry ingredients by weight, or buying large-sized products. The idea here is to reduce the amount of packaging we’re buying, which tends to be stuff we throw out as soon as we’re home from the store, or once the product has run out. I buy from bulk bins a lot - find out if there are any in your area. I use flimsy store-provided plastic bags, which I rewash and reuse each time (yes, I carry them bundled to the store each time). I buy oats, lentils, nuts, dried fruit, flour, baking power and spices. If you don’t have access to a bulk aisle, buy items in their largest available size (of course, not beyond what you’ll consume). I do this for things like Greek yoghurt, cheese and toothpaste.
Tip #1 - If you value certification labels, avoid bulk-bin products like sugar, chocolate, coffee, tea leaves and banana chips. These are items commonly related to worker exploitation and bulk bins tend to give no information about how the workers were treated.
Tip #2 - Buying from bulk bins might be more expensive. I budget more for my food shopping now so I can buy from bulk bins, and prefer loose veggies over packaged veggies (which tend to be the ones on sale). A while ago I stopped buying meat (as a way to avoid styrofoam) and I’ve been happy to find that this freed up some money for me.
Tip #3 - Keep a list on your phone of the dry ingredients you have in your kitchen. That way, when you’re shopping you know what you already have versus what you still need. I’ve found this really necessary!
Tip #4 - Delicious things I’ve been making from the bulk aisle: Homemade granola, overnight oats, baked treats and soups. Try it too!
Be Picky With Packaging
…and I’m not just talking about avoiding single-use plastic. One of the greatest mindset shifts I’ve gone through has been teaching myself to see all packaging as valuable and not as destined for the trash. It completely changes how I shop. Now, when I’m buying things, I think of how I can use the packaging too. I never really choose the cheapest product anymore, instead I choose what comes in conscious or useful packaging (as well as what’s certified). For instance, I’ll always choose a glass jar over a plastic tub, and then I can reuse the glass jar as storage for my bulk-buys.
Tip #1 - Glass jars are your best friend - whether it’s jam, pasta sauce or peanut butter, these are all great jars to eventually store your own dry ingredients or spices. Be picky with the style of jar - some have branded lids that I find ugly, so I avoid those.
Tip #2 - Does a food product have unnecessary packaging (like teabags wrapped individually in plastic, grrr)? Switch brands next time you shop.
Tip #3 - Keep plastic tubs and use them as Tupperware. I know these can technically be recycled, but they’re very functional to hang on to. I find tubs helpful for freezing big batches of soup, or for sending friends home with leftovers after they come for dinner.
Tip #4 - Buy soda in cans, not in plastic bottles. When tin cans are recycled, the tin doesn’t lose its value, but when plastic is recycled, it does (it reduces in size).
Have An Upcycling Nook
Hang on to a few small cardboard boxes and make yourself a recycling nook tucked away in your kitchen - any odd cupboard or deep drawer will do. This is where you can store the packaging you’re hanging onto for some inevitable purpose, whether it’s plastic tubs, glass tars or rinsed plastic bags ready for a future bulk shop. I also keep freshener tags from bread bags, elastic bands, bulldog clips, used Ziplock bags and rinsed tin foil or cling film.
Tip #1 - Under the sink makes a great place for a recycling nook.
Tip #2 - Rinse used Ziplock bags, tin foil and cling film to use later. I suspect you can probably afford not to reuse these items, but that’s not really the point. They cost the planet to make and it’s responsible to get as much use out of them as they can offer (which is usually more than one use).
Tip #3 - If you separate food scraps from your trash (take my word for it - this is good to do), line your countertop compost bin with old newspaper. This soaks up the liquid and some of the smell too.
Conscious Kitchen Tools
Of course, we all know this, but just to be on the safe side… Replacing your kitchen utensils with glass and bamboo alternatives isn’t actually very sustainable - using utensils for their full lifespan is. That means the ugly black plastic spatular I have (which doesn’t match my cute wooden spoons) will stay in my kitchen family. When you do need to replace or buy a new kitchen item, ask around if anyone you know has one they can give you. I find that lots of people have kitchen cupboards brimming with tools they rarely use. Thrift stores also have a lot of kitchen stuff to offer, and some of it isn’t too shabby. Otherwise, invest in quality products that promise to serve you for years.
Tip #1 - Bamboo is the world’s fastest growing natural resource, which is why it’s quite common in sustainable kitchens. You can get things like bamboo chopping boards and bamboo stirring spoons.
Tip #2 - Avoid plastic utensils - I promise you’ll grow weary of them before they begin to decompose!
Tip #3 - Care for what you own. If you stain a pan, wash it with vinegar and soda. Even if you can afford to replace your kitchen kit semi-regularly, buyers at thrift stores will be grateful you took good care of the pots and pans you donate.
Eat In Season
Confession time, I’m not overly knowledgeable about this. I’m very urbanised when it comes to food and only in recent years it occurred to me how bizarre it is that, in the Northern Hemisphere, I can buy a mango year-round whenever I want. I’m trying to learn what foods are in season in the region I live and then start finding recipes to cook that rely on those ingredients. Eating in season is great: they’re often the cheapest fruits and veggies, and the ones richest in vitamins and nutrients. Plus, it means Greenhouse gases weren’t overly used to grow them or ship them - win.
Tip #1 - We’re heading into Spring, why not refresh yourself with what’s in season in your region? Here in the Pacific North West it’s asparagus, kale, spinach, rhubarb, and soon to be plenty of fresh berries.
Tip #2 - Keep a list on your phone of the fruits and veggies that are in season. Then when you’re food shopping and looking for some fresh snacks, you can grab what’s in season.