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 Here are eight easy ways you can make your kitchen more sustainable today.

By Emily Monaco
March 08, 2021
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Sustainability is a top kitchen buzzword these days, and it's no wonder: food production accounts for about a quarter of the total greenhouse gas emissions around the world. But what does sustainability really mean for your kitchen? Do you have to stop eating meat entirely, or shop only at the farmer's market?

The truth is that every little bit counts, and small steps are a great start. Shifting to a more sustainable diet can seem overwhelming at first, so here are some simple swaps to get you started.

Instead of Almond Butter, Try Sunflower Seed Butter

Almond butter may be a health food store staple, but don't be fooled: almonds demand a lot of water to grow, and since over 80 percent of the world's almonds are grown in drought-prone California, they're not exactly a sustainable choice. Instead, try sunflower seed butter, which is just as delicious and demands a fraction of the water produce (about 46 gallons per pound of sunflower seeds, as compared to a whopping 902 gallons per pound of almonds.)

Homemade Honey-Sunflower Butter
Homemade Honey-Sunflower Butter | The dailygourmet
| Credit: thedailygourmet

Instead of Meat Sauce, Try Lentil Bolognese

In the shift to more sustainable fare, meat is often one of the first culprits to arise – and that's no surprise. The meat and dairy industries account for about 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization, so phasing out or even reducing your consumption is a great way to lower your carbon footprint. In fact, the author of one 2018 research review from the University of Oxford dubbed a vegan diet "probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth."

This never more true than when it comes to beef, which is one of the least sustainable things we eat. Last year, UK climate change website Carbon Brief shared data showing that beef production generates 60 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of meat produced – more than twice that of the next most polluting food, lamb. This is due in large part to the methane production of the animals themselves, which is only compounded with the deforestation associated with the factory farming industry.

In some recipes, nothing but beef will do, but in others, a more sustainable choice is possible. Consider making a traditional lamb Shepherd's Pie instead of beef-based Cottage Pie, or go one step further and top your spaghetti with a Lentil Bolognese – no meat needed.

Lentil Bolognese in a ceramic bowl
Lentil Bolognese
| Credit: Buckwheat Queen

Instead of Steak with Chimichurri, Try Char-Roasted Vegetables

If you're craving that perfect marriage of a char-grilled steak and a zesty, herby chimichurri sauce, consider this: what if there was no beef?

Hear us out: yes, a carrot is nothing like a steak. But the combination of those lovely bitter, charred notes and bright herbs can be achieved by roasting vegetables instead. And what's more, opting for "misfit" veg is a great way to cut down on food waste.

An estimated 72 billion pounds of food is wasted each year in the U.S. before it even gets to your home, due in large part to the destruction of perfectly good food that doesn't meet aesthetic or size requirements for major retailers. Companies like Misfit Market send that food to folks at home. So what if your carrot is a little wonky or your rutabaga is too small? It'll still be delicious.

We like roasting cauliflower steaks, thick slabs of sweet potato, and whole carrots until they're blistered on the outside and tender within. Pair with homemade chimichurri or salsa verde, and it's a delicious plant-based dinner.

Roasted Cauliflower Steaks
Roasted Cauliflower Steaks
| Credit: bd.weld

Instead of a Cheeseburger, Try a Plant-Based Alternative

It used to be that if you wanted to steer clear from meat at a cookout, your only options were veggie burgers. And don't get us wrong – a well-made garden burger or bean burger is a delightful thing. But it's really not the same as a cheeseburger, is it?

Luckily, in recent years, a number of companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have been creating plant-based burgers that emulate the taste and texture of beef. Beyond, founded in 2009, requires 99 percent less water and 93 percent less land than a beef patty to produce, according to A Life Cycle Analysis conducted by the University of Michigan, while Impossible claims its production uses 95 percent less land and 74 percent less water than a beef patty. Pair it with a grass-fed cheddar for a cheeseburger that can stand up to beef.

You might also like Impossible™ Street Tacos.

Overhead photo of 4 Impossible Tacos.
Impossible™ Street Tacos
| Credit: Allrecipes

Instead of Chicken Breasts, Try a Whole, Sustainably-Raised Chicken

Of course, you don't have to eat 100 percent plant-based to up the sustainability factor of your diet. Sometimes, it's just about choosing where you get your meat and cutting down on waste. So instead of opting for pre-cut breasts of chicken, seek out a local chicken producer and buy a whole chicken instead.

The advantages of this strategy are many, but one is certainly the fact that a whole chicken feeds your family for longer. Roast the chicken the first night, shredding any leftover meat. Simmer the carcass with veggie odds and ends like carrot ends, onion peels, and celery leaves (store these in a freezer bag as you go for easy access), and you've got homemade chicken stock. Serve the leftover shredded chicken in Chicken TaquitosChicken Pot Pie, or a classic Waldorf Salad.

whole chicken in a roasting pan with carrots and orange slices
Roast Chicken
| Credit: Meredith


To get more cluck for your buck, here's How to Cut up a Whole Chicken.

Instead of Bacon, Try Smoky Mackerel

While pork doesn't have the same devastating climate effects as beef, pig farms are known for their environmentally hazardous waste lagoons, which off-gas toxic compounds like ammonia, carbon dioxide, and methane. And bacon isn't the healthiest choice either, with the World Health Organization associating it and other processed meats with a heightened risk of cancer.

For the smoky flavor of bacon without the health and environmental risks, try smoked mackerel, rich in omega 3 fatty acids. It will add rich flavor to pasta sauces like carbonara, omelets, sandwiches, and more. For more, check out 3 Reasons We're Hooked on Mackerel.

Broiled Spanish Mackerel
Broiled Spanish Mackerel | Photo by WhitneyJ

Instead of Tuna Salad, Try Chickpea Salad

Larger fish like tuna and salmon are not the most sustainable choices: overfishing has contributed to widespread shortages, and the fish farming industry is rife with animal rights and pollution issues. Little fish like sardines, mackerel, and anchovies tend to be far more sustainable choices, but consider using a resource like Monterey Bay Aquarium to identify the fish that are the most sustainable where you live. You may discover a new favorite.

As for that old stalwart tuna salad, did you know that there's a plant-based alternative? This Mock Tuna Salad uses nori to recreate the familiar briny flavor of tuna. Along with the usual culprits like fresh herbs, mayo, and celery, it's surprisingly close to the real thing – and far more environmentally friendly.

Chickpea "Tuna" Salad Sandwiches
Chickpea "Tuna" Salad Sandwiches
| Credit: Allrecipes Magazine

Instead of Avocado Toast, Try Beans on Toast

Avocado toast has been in the limelight for a while, now, but in reality, the Millennial fave isn't all that sustainable. Most avocadoes are produced in Central and South America, where they not only contribute to deforestation but are picked before they're ripe and shipped in temperature-controlled storage, only adding to their climate sins. Carbon Footprint Limited estimates that two small avocadoes have the same carbon footprint as a pound of bananas.

If you crave the comfort of avocado toast, why not transition to a British favorite: beans on toast? Be it classic Vegetarian Baked Beans, lighter Tuscan Bean Salad in summer, or spreadable Refried Beans, you'll love this hearty swap.

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