Zero Waste Food Shopping

Zero Waste food shopping probably sounds much more daunting than it is. One would assume it involves excessive preparation, a lot of hard work, and hungry days. This could not be more untrue. Zero Waste food shopping could not be easier for me. First of all I have a relatively regular schedule and know exactly what I like to eat so preparing a shopping list and thus shopping supplies is easy and predictable. Secondly, I bring my own jars and produce bags to the market and I buy in bulk so I leave the market with absolutely no packaging and can take the food from my reusable bag and put it right on my shelf at home.

When food shopping, I always bring around four to eight jars and two bags depending on what I am purchasing. See my post on Zero Waste shopping essentials for a detailed list. I keep one bag for jars, and the other for fresh produce like tomatoes or kale so that it doesn’t get squashed. This method also helps me save money. By thinking about the containers I will need, I also think about the food I will be buying which prevents me from making impulse purchases (however I always bring one extra jar because markets often have bulk items on sale and it is nice to stock up on things while the price is lower).

Shopping without purchasing any plastic is very easy once you get used to it, and then the process just becomes routine like setting your alarm before you go to bed. This experience was expressed in the documentary Trashed. It was stated that it usually takes a shopper about three times forgetting their Zero Waste or eco shopping supplies before they finally remember and prepare adequately, and after that it just becomes routine. The same thing happened to me. I used to go to the market three times per week because I was not prepared for what I was purchasing and did not plan ahead. This resulted in the use of plastic bags and the purchase of packaged products. I usually bought more than I needed and fewer of the things that I actually used. After two times of gauging how much I purchased and in what quantities, I was able to prepare for the market. Now I only have to go to the market once per week and do not buy anything in plastic because I utilize the bulk section of my market.

The photos below show my experience at Integral Yoga Natural Foods. My favorite market in the city! Integral has a huge variety of bulk foods ranging from amaranth to yeast and they even sell mason jars! I recently found out that the 4th Street Co-Op in NYC sells bulk oil and vinegar which I am not able to purchase at Integral.

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How to Store Vegetables So They Last Longer

I love carrots. Before I started my Zero Waste journey, I bought baby carrots without really taking into account that they are packaged in so much plastic and washed in chlorine or other detergents YUK! So I switched to raw, whole carrots with the stems on or loose unpackaged carrots. For the longest time I would buy them and have to eat them in the same day because within days they would shrivel, brown, and go totally limp, not fun. I recently found a trick that works absolutely perfectly and keeps carrots bright and crisp. It is so simple. You just take carrots, cut off the tops (the leaves suck moisture from the root aka the carrot) and put them in a jar of water. Voila. The same thing works for celery and keeps it nice and crunchy.

More Zero Waste food storage tips here!

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The BEST Zero Waste Granola Recipe


I love granola and eat it every week. So, I decided to make my own Brown Sugar Winter Spice Granola. Yes, I know it is summer, but I am so nostalgic for the crisp, cold weather, warm chunky scarves, anything pumpkin, sitting in small village bars in front of a fireplace, and oversized sweaters.

I usually avoid making my own by buying bulk Organic granola from my local store, but when gathering snacks for my road trip to Chicago I realized that the 100% Organic granola that I used to purchase was now “made with Organic oats” and the rest of the ingredients were conventional, so I decided to try it out.

The recipe called for walnuts and pecans which were unfortunately the most expensive nuts at the store right now. I also added chia seeds, dried cranberries (after baking) and maple syrup to mine. I think adding shredded coconut or dried cherries would be great. The beauty of granola is if you keep the amounts stated in the recipes consistent, you can really experiment with what you put in it. Plus it made my apartment smell AMAZING.

I saved over five dollars making my own and the whole batch cost me a little less than ten dollars. I still consider  ten dollars to be expensive so next time I will alter the recipe and put in cashews, almonds, and some pepitas in which are much more affordable and will probably lower the cost to 6 dollars bringing the price down from $1.25 a cup to about $.75 cents per cup.

Brown Sugar Winter Spice Granola:

  • 1 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 4 cup rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cup almonds chopped
  • 1 1/2 cup other mixed nuts or seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower, cashew etc.
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup canola oil UPDATE: I like using 1/3 cup Organic coconut oil instead of canola
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 250F
  2. Combine the water and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly until it boils and the sugar is completely dissolved
  3. Let the mixture cool to room temperature
  4. In the meantime combine the oats, almonds, other nuts and seeds, cinnamon, and salt and mix well
  5. Once the sugar mixture has cooled, add the oil and vanilla extract and stir until combined
  6. Pour the sugar mixture into the oat mixture and combine with your hands
  7. Transfer to a baking sheet and pat down in an even layer
  8. Bake for 60 minutes and then remove from the oven and using a spatula flip the granola
  9. Return to the oven for 60 minutes until the granola is completely dried
  10. Let cool before serving and store in a tightly sealed container. It will keep for 2 weeks.

UPDATE: I have been playing with this recipe and I have stated to add a few things to it:

  • Add 1/4 cup Organic chia seeds to the mixture in step 4
  • Substitute Organic coconut oil for the canola oil in step 5 (I think it makes a sweeter granola)
  • Add 1/4 cup real maple syrup to the oat mixture in step 6 (I use Organic grade A)
  • I like to add Organic dried fruit to the granola after step 10. I use either Organic dried cranberries or Organic raisins. (I use Organic dried fruit because non-organic is said to use petroleum based sulfites to preserve them, YUK)

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Why You Should ALWAYS drink Organic Wine

Have you ever heard that cheap wine gives you headaches and hangovers? Well, it might be an old wives tale, but it has some actual legitimacy for a very simple reason: Sulfites.

What are sulfites?

Sulfites are chemical compounds of sulfur. They are used as food preservatives and have antioxidant and preservative properties 1. They are used on fruits and vegetables to prevent browning, on shrimp and lobster to prevent melanosis or brown spots, wines to prevent bacterial growth, in dough as a conditioner, and to bleach food starches and cherries. They are also used in pharmaceuticals to preserve stability and potency of certain medications.

Please note: Sulfites are different from sulfur.

Sulfur can be a naturally occurring and essential element for humans found around volcanoes and hot springs. “Elemental sulfur was once extracted from salt domes where it sometimes occurs in nearly pure form, but this method has been obsolete since the late 20th century. Today, almost all elemental sulfur is produced as a byproduct of removing sulfur-containing contaminants from natural gas and petroleum” 2.

While Sulfur has been used in winemaking for centuries, sulfites recently became a major ingredient in wine as an additive to stop bacteria oxidation a.k.a. a preservative and as a sterilization tool.

Sulfites absorb oxygen and prevent aerobic bacterial growth that would otherwise convert ethanol into acetic acid, souring the wine.

While some sulfties naturally occur in the fermentation process, added sulfites used in winemaking are a residue of natural gas and petroleum crude 3.

Okay, so drinking natural gas sounds gross, but is it bad for you?

Sulfites have been used as a food additive since 1664. The problem? Sulfites, in many cases, are used excessively and are known to have adverse health consequences. It has been suspected that a percentage of the population has a sulfite sensitivity that can induce reactions that range from mild to severe 4.

The FDA estimates that 1 out of 100 Americans or around 3,139,000 people are sulfite sensitive and that 5 out of 100 asthmatics are sulfite sensitive.

Sensitivity to sulfites can develop at any time during a person’s lifespan with some reactions being delayed and not showing up until a person’s forties or fifties. Sulfite sensitivity can manifest in many forms including dermatolical, pulmonary, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular symptoms 5.

Is sulfite usage regulated?

The legal maximum sulfite level for U.S. wines is 350 ppm, with most wines averaging about 125 ppm. Naturally occurring levels of sulfur dioxide in a wine, without chemical additives, would weigh in at around 10-20 ppm.

On July 8, 1986 the FDA banned the use of sulfite preservatives in fresh vegetables and fruits that were intended to be served raw because they were linked to deaths and many illnesses 6. Additionally, Sulfites cannot be used in
products such as meats that serve as a good source of vitamin B1 because sulfites can scavenge that vitamin from foods.

Since 1987, the FDA has required that sulfites must be declared in cases when concentrations exceed 10ppm 7. According to the International Center for Alcohol Policies, the USA is required to disclose or declare sulfites in alcohol 8.

(They are also required to do the same for aspartame, a known carcinogen, which I didn’t even know was in alcohol).

Food products that contain undeclared sulfites above 10 ppm will be subject to the following potential recall actions 9:

Class I (greater than or equal to 10mg) recalls are the most serious and involve situations where there is a reasonable probability that exposure to the violative product will cause serious adverse health consequences or deaths. FDA is aware of deaths occurring among sulfite-sensitive asthmatics

Class II (3.7 -9.9 mg) recalls include situations where exposure to the violative product may cause temporary or medically reversible adverse health consequences or where the probability of serious adverse health consequences is rare

Class III (less than 3.7mg) recalls includes situations where exposure to the violative product is not likely to cause adverse health consequences.recalls includes situations where exposure to the violative product is not likely to cause adverse health consequences

Is one wine safer than another?

Sweet white dessert wines contain the most sulfites, then blush wines and semi-sweet white wines coming in at a close second. The middle ground is a dry white wine. Dry red wines have the lowest sulfite levels. Additionally beer, cocktail mixes, and wine coolers also may contain sulfites.

My advice, avoid anything with sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, or sodium sulfite on the label and go with Organic. Organic wines, by definition, do not have any added chemicals, including sulfites so you can rest assured that you are not drinking natural gas or putting yourself at potential risk of sulfite induced illness.

*NOTE: The FDA regulates the use of sulfites in drugs and food, while the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the use of sulfites in meat and poultry. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) regulates the use of sulfites in alcoholic beverages and the use of sulfur dioxide as a fungicide on grapes comes under the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

*NOTE: When you try to SEARCH sulfite on the ATF website, nothing comes up.

*NOTE NOTE: On the FDA Food Additivies and Ingredients list, food starches contain sulfur dioxide, sodium metabisulfite is found in fruit
jellies, sodium sulfite is is also used as a boiler additive.

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How to Store Your Vegetables Without Waste

I used to bring produce home from the market and throw it in my refrigerator unwashed. Unfortunately, after one day, ready to eat a salad, I would pull my lettuce, kale, or spinach out and it would be wilted and crunch-less. The technique I am about to show you keeps my leafy greens fresh and crunchy longer than any other storage method I have tried and it is completely waste free!

Step 1: Wash your greens and leave them to dry in a colander 
Step 2: Lay out a cotton/linen napkin and put your greens in the bottom right corner
Step 3: Fold the bottom right corner of the napkin and tuck the greens in
Step 4: Begin to roll the greens towards the top right corner
Step 5: Roll until you meet the top left corner of the napkin and put the corner on top
Step 6: take the two outer edges and bring to the center
Step 7: Knot the outer edges of the napkin and pull tight and you are done!
Storage Option 1: Store on your shelf in the refrigerator
Storage Option 2: Store in your humidity controlled crisper drawer

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A Week of Organic Food for Under $40.00

I have made a decision to only bring Organic, fresh food products into my home to decrease the amount of synthetic pesticides and herbicides and plastic I am exposed to in my daily life. Many people get the impression that comes with a very high price tag, especially in New York City. However, with some preparation, some kitchen staples, a good market, and a little bit of effort you can easily feed yourself for the week without draining your bank account.

**Please note, I am a vegetarian which cuts my grocery costs exponentially**

Here is what I recommend as Kitchen staples:

  • Bulk Brown Rice. There are lots of different shapes and sizes, I like short grain sweet
  • Bulk Quinoa 
  • Bulk Beans: black beans are my favorite
  • Olive Oil 
  • Apple Cider Vinegar 
  • Salt (I buy this in bulk too)
  • Pepper (I buy this in bulk and put it in a grinder)
  • Eggs – good protein, perfect for breakfast!

Kitchen Luxuries (but staples for my home):

  • Bulk Coffee- I love Equal Exchange
  • Bulk Tea- I use chamomile
  • Bulk Sugar
  • Honey- while not necessary, I think it adds something extra special to salad dressing

This is what I bought this week:

  • Kale– Lacinato
  • Kale– Green
  • Spinach
  • Mushrooms
  • Avocados (3) 
  • Carrots 
  • Tomatoes 
  • Green Beans
  • Apples
  • Bananas 
  • Grapes
  • Ginger
  • Dried Cranberries 
  • Almod Butter 
  • Bread
  • Garlic (left over from my dad’s house!) 

Watch throughout the week as I transform these ingredients into my daily meals!

***Note: I saved $3.53 because of a student discount that the store I shop at offers***

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Homegrown Food

I used to lead an education program for New York City kids on water. One of the first questions i’d ask to them was “does anybody know where our water comes from”? Some of the more spunky kids would raise their hands, waving them around, getting up on their knees in their chairs, making weird shapes with their faces, practically busting at the seams to answer, and i’d call on one of them. “Where?”, i’d say. “THE SINK!” they’d belch out proudly. The sink everytime.

It is adorable and so innocent but my job was to let them know that our daily conveniences are not so convenient. No. Water does not come from the sink. It comes through the sink, but it takes a long time and a lot of work to get there. Water is a product of rain. Just like food does not come from the grocery store. It too is a product of very hard work and a lot of travel.

This lesson is why I am so proud to have a father who is captivated by the art of growing his own food and why I, as a daughter of a very picky eater, am happy to see him consume the bounties of his labor. Moreover, I am excited that my two younger sisters have an image to put in their minds when they think of the origins of food: our little, but fruitful garden. Here it is:

 

 

Fresh, Organic strawberries, garlic, and garlic scapes!

My take-home bag to NYC. This bag has been used for more birthday gifts than I can count!

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