Would love some help with my work in progress: eco-friendliness.

Hi there! Ella here—I’m a writer on the Food52 team. I’ve been making little changes in my home and lifestyle to go a bit eco-friendlier, every day. And I’m wondering if others have ideas they can share: what are the big (or small) things you do for the environment? What about being eco-friendly is important to you, and why?

Ella Quittner


Stephanie B. August 5, 2019
I try to use as much as I can of cooking scraps, buy food that's grown close to home, and while I'm not vegan I make a real effort to limit my intake of animal products. When I do buy meat, it's from a local butcher working with a couple local farms - they're a recent addition to my neighborhood and I'm so happy they opened up. I try to re-use disposable things too, which when I was little scoffed at my parents for doing because I thought they were being cheap, but somehow when Alice Medrich says she re-uses plastic wrap and washes plastic bags it sounds thoughtful lol.

I'd love to hear other tips for living in an urban setting though. When I lived in rural PA, we composted, easy peasy. In Los Angeles though, I don't know how to do that living in an apartment with no green space on the premises. The city does have these "green bins" for grass/landscape clippings but I don't think they're willing to take on food compost. As we're on track to have about 3/4ths of people living in urban areas by 2050 (compared to something like 10% in the early 1900s I think?), how to sustainably accommodate this shift is super important.
BerryBaby August 5, 2019
Of course, I recycle and reuse whatever possible.
One thing that I do is not over buy perishables. Many tend to buy too much because it was a 'bargain' or 'thought' they'd use it only to end up tossing it because it spoiled.
Make a list and stick to it. Plan meals out. If you have leftovers play Chopped and make them into something else. Food waste is huge. Don't recall how many pounds and dollars are thrown away each year.
Sarah H. August 2, 2019
Compost and recycle. I grew up composting and it was this super annoying, endless, smelly chore and I didn't do it in my 20s -- but I've started in the last few years and with compostable bags and dedicating freezer space to it, as long as there is a place to drop it off somewhere near you, it's really easy.
Eat the food that you buy.
One of the very small parts of The Omnivore's Dilemma that always stuck with me is a mention of grapes for sale in the US that were grown in Chile and the amount of gasoline that it takes to transport fruit from Chile to North America and that idea that the grapes are literally coated in gas. So while there are times when I'm sure you need grapes (or ingredients from other continents) and I understand that. But I think thinking the distance that something travels and what it takes for something to travel that far -- I mean, I've never been to Chile -- but my grapes have been.
Use plastic bags as a last resort. And wash and re-use your plastic bags.
This will probably be unpopular here but the amount of totally gratuitous kitchen and household plastics are just absurd. That's all just stuff that it going to go in a landfill one day. I think asking yourself if you really need or will really use something before you buy it is really important. I think about the environmental impact of consumerism a lot. Just because they can make a special device to ... again ... I realize this will likely be an unpopular response here but to pit cherries, slice apples, form ice in a new shape, freeze cookie dough, hold toilet paper, do I really need this? In some cases, sure, people do and really use items like this. But in many cases, it's just something that was barely used that will then take thousands of years to decompose in a landfill.
Lori T. August 2, 2019
I try to be eco-friendly for many reasons, but the most important, top 4 reasons, are my four children. They will inherit the world I leave behind, and I'd like to leave it in good shape. I'd also like to instill the sense of stewardship in them, which can only happen if my husband and I lead by example. Our parents and grandparents were frugal by necessity, and I learned to can and preserve, repair, re-use, and re-purpose from an early age. It was considered economic sense at the time- and now it's that and the desire to be eco-conscious that keeps me trying to improve. I can and preserve most of what we eat, either using what I grow myself or buy at the Farmer's Market. My pantry dry mixes are all made by me, stored in glass canning jars or those I re-purpose and re-use. When I shop, I try very hard to buy ingredients only- no convenience items in small packets or boxes. I do my best to avoid excess packaging, and to pick things in containers that can at least be recycled. Daily lunches are packed in bento type boxes, with a napkin that can be washed. Mostly I try to just remain conscious of my choices, buying what I need with an eye to what I'll do with it when it's no longer suited to the original purpose. I can crochet and knit, so I make a lot of the household items like rugs and potholders myself, using old worn out clothing for the strips. After developing multiple chemical sensitivities due to my military service, I've had to avoid pesticides, a lot of the usual cleaning products, all kinds of spray can items, and even the perfumes we add to washing detergeants, perfumes, and soaps. We've had to find alternatives instead. As a result, the family home is eco-friendly by default and circumstance. However, it's had the added benefit of making a lot of other people aware and inclined to change their own habits. I come from a long line of gardeners as well, so composting always seemed a natural thing to do. It only became a challenge when we moved to a northern tier state where the barrel goes inactive for several months in the winter, and access is impossible due to snow. I hated putting scraps in the trash, which is how I discovered red wigglers. Now they live quietly and productively in a corner of the laundry room, and come spring I've got beautiful soil to start garden seedlings in. I don't worry so much about the big picture, because you can easily feel your efforts are insignificant and useless. I focus mostly on my part, and my small patch- and that's what I tell my kids to do. As long as you leave your patch a better place, and if you can inspire somebody to do the same with their patch- we will all make a better world in the end. Making little changes is probably more important that worrying about making huge ones all at once. After all, the ocean is filled with water that started as small drops of rain.
Arati M. August 2, 2019
Great question, Ella, and discussions like this are so important to me. Just the other day I was trying to think back to when I started to become 1. An aware consumer and then 2. Making things actionable. Maybe it started with growing up with parents who believed our education in school should be supplemented with trips to national parks, knowing/tracing where our food came from, and learning the importance of recycling (my mom saved and re-used EVERYTHING). Maybe it was the regular diet of Attenborough on BBC. But, it really wasn’t 7-8 years ago that it all started taking concrete shape in my head—helped no doubt by clarion calls issued by the scientific community. Still, turning awareness to action took time. At some point I realized it was time to stop my lazy dependence on the government, corporations etc to drive change, and become a proponent of individual action. So here’s what I’ve done: I’ve made myself a list of changes, split up into low-hanging fruit, half-way goals and the big stretches. Low-hanging: recycle like crazy, buy local, eat seasonally, buy recycled paper products (toilet paper), conserve electricity, buy package-free produce, switch out to a renewable energy provider, donate to environmental causes. Halfway: avoid online shopping (because, packaging and carbon print), take public transport, reduce dependence on dry cleaners, eat meat rarely. The big stretch would be to cut out single-use plastic almost completely (is that even possible?) and/or actually joining a movement for change/action and influencing it in a very real way. I think of ways to keep adding to these lists. Right now, I’m on a mission to buy no new personal items (clothes, shoes etc) for six months (I’m on Month 3 and realizing it’s not easy). Wish me luck.
Wendy August 1, 2019
I am happy to share my thoughts and actions with you.
I am 60 years old now and became a grandmother when I was 50. I have been concerned about the environment and my impact on it for many, many years but becoming a grandmother really started me thinking about my own grandparents. They lived through the Great Depression and when I was younger, they would be considered frugal but now they would be environmentally conscientious.
They saved and recycled every piece of string, elastic band, wrapping and packing paper, even envelopes. They were the only people that I knew that composted until about 25 years ago. They grew their own fruit and veg and pickled and canned it for the winter. They also did not buy a single item that they didn’t absolutely need!
I have a few special memories of them:
Asking them why they use tooth powder. Answer: It lasts longer than many tubes of toothpaste.
Their naive wonder at how much garbage people put on the curb and where it all goes. Human civilization won’t be able to do that very long.
Their horror that people (without any apparent common sense) would purchase disposable razors and pens.
Their advice that I should never, under any circumstances have a credit card because it would be like taking a mortgage that I would never be free of.
So these last 10 years I make a New Year’s Resolution and every year I have successfully changed my lifestyle.
I make my own household cleaners, I use no plastic bags or disposable coffee cups or paper towels. I compost, grow some of my fruit and veg, buy very few processed foods. I make my own pickles, jams, ketchup, ice cream (vegan or dairy.) I don’t believe that I would have had success if I had tried to change everything at once.
I have done this for two reasons, I have had a fine example and I must be a fine example.
Ella Q. August 2, 2019
Hi Wendy,

Thanks so much for sharing this. I love what you said: "I have had a fine example and I must be a fine example."

boulangere August 1, 2019
I make my own yogurt (I eat and use a lot of it) so I'm not buying it in plastic tubs. And for many years I've hung my clothes to dry on foldable wooden racks.
Ella Q. August 2, 2019
Yum! And three cheers for handing clothes to dry!
Brinda A. August 1, 2019
Such a good topic, Ella! I'm excited to follow along and learn from folks. As for me, I've been trying my best to be intentional about my shopping habits, trying to buy from the bulk bins as much as I can and bring my own glass bottles and storage bins to keep them in. And when I'm not able to do that, I try to either go without packaging (like for fruit and veg) or identify items with carbon-neutral packaging (like today, I bought a kale and sweet potato wrap that had a paper wrapper around it, rather than a packaged salad in a to-go plastic tub). Working my way up to having the foresight to do this 100% of the time, but hoping this is a (teeny, tiny) step in the right direction.
Brinda A. August 1, 2019
Also, to answer your second question (got too excited by the first, haha!), changing my lifestyle in big and small ways to be kind to the planet is of huge importance to me for two main reasons: Not only will I personally benefit from it in my lifetime (it will lead to overall less volatile weather patterns; it will allow us to continue growing and supporting our food systems on arable land; it will give me the option to enjoy beautiful natural surroundings), it will allow future generations to do all these things, too. And it can all be very overwhelming when you think about it that way—I just try to remember that every small thing I do adds up and together can make a bigger impact than I realize.
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