To kick things off as I get back in the routine of posting regularly, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on some of the most significant things you can do to help green things up this year. Most of these ideas not only save you money, but they also ensure you have a less toxic home, an increased amount of self-sufficiency, and are actively engaged in planetary stewardship through sustainable efforts.
All of which should make for a pretty rewarding 2014!
The idea here is to keep it simple and take it slow. All of these will hopefully feel like relatively easy things to work into your existing habits and routines. Don’t feel like you have to take it on all at once! You’ve got a whole year to explore your options and build new skills (and knowledge). Take your time, enjoy the journey, and share your successes with others.
And… if you’re already doing some or all of these – first of all, congratulations! That’s awesome. But why stop there? Consider stepping up your efforts. There is always room to expand (particularly in the make vs. buy realm). Challenge yourself to go even further, whether that means meatless weeks, homemade makeup, or full-on activism. Increasing your efforts means inspiring even more people, sharing even more knowledge, and building an even greener existence. Win-win-win!
1. Buy, eat, and prepare more healthy whole foods.
At this point, I think most people would agree that some of the hyper-processed foods we’ve worked into our regular diets aren’t doing us any favors. There is growing emphasis on buying organic to avoid harmful toxins, and lots of debate as to the best way to eat. Here are a few ideas to help navigate the noise a bit:
- Use the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen/Clean 15” list to help determine where to put your dollars. Not everything has to be organic. (If you have the cash to go all organic, by all means… go for it! But I’m guessing most don’t. This list helps in making smart choices about the price upgrades you choose to make.)
- Buy seasonally, locally, and sustainably. Not sure how to do that? Eat Wild can help you find local grass-fed, free-range meat, eggs, and dairy. Local Harvest can help you locate farmers’ markets in your area (sometimes year-round), as well as CSAs (community-supported agriculture) and “slow-food” events.
- Don’t hesitate to use cookbooks, recipe sites, and recommendations from friends if you’re feeling stuck. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes moving from heat-and-serve eating to cooking from scratch feels like learning a whole new language! There are loads of amazing resources out there, including ones targeted to people with limited time in the kitchen. Seek them out and make a commitment to increase your cooking by one additional night each month. Figure out what your ideal balance is, and try out at least one new whole food (fruit, vegetable, grain, etc.) every few weeks.
- Consider growing your own food. Even the smallest of dwellings can provide space for a bit of gardening (like growing citrus trees indoors!). I’ll be including more gardening posts as we approach spring, but some great resources include Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew and Vertical Vegetables & Fruit by Rhonda Massingham Hart.
2. Consider going meatless – even if only one night a week.
I am a firm believer that everyone has to figure out the optimal way of eating for his or her body. I don’t expect everyone in the world to go veggie, but at the same time, there is increasing research confirming that unlimited meat consumption is very dangerous for one’s health. Add to that the environmental stress factory farming of meat puts on the planet, and the lack of sustainability in any meat-farming methods, and you’ve got a compelling argument to eat less meat (if not eliminate it entirely). Hopefully this will make it a bit easier:
- Get yourself a good veggie cookbook. I highly recommend anything by Heidi Swanson, as well as How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. My personal favorites can also be found in this post.
- Get to know some great vegetarian cooking sites and bloggers – and choose your favorites. I’d recommend 101 Cookbooks, The Post Punk Kitchen, Chocolate Covered Katie, Vegetarian Times, and Meatless Monday to get started.
- Already vegetarian? Consider going vegan or even “slightly vegan” to curb your consumption of eggs and dairy – both of which are typically caught up in the factory-farming, watch-out-for-crazy-hormones, animal-cruelty debacle. It’s easier than you think! And when you do buy milk, cheese, eggs, etc. – consider buying from a local farmer or hunting down store-bought options that ensure safety for you and human treatment for the animals involved. (See #5 below for more info on locating helpful info before you shop!)
- Make things you would normally buy. I’ve already shared recipes for homemade cheese, jam, sausage, and seitan… and this year, I’ll also be adding more breads, preserves, meatless meals, and even some vegan cheeses!
3. Make your own cleaning products.
Believe it or not, this is a big one. Homemade cleaning products benefit you in numerous ways: they are WAY cheaper, they are free of crazy chemicals that might hurt you, and they are safer for the environment. In most cases, you only need a few ingredients – and most are easy to find. Here are a few ideas to either get you started or get you expanding your efforts:
- Check out EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning to search for safe store-bought products and learn what to look out for when reading labels.
- Find some awesome blogs with great recipes and info for DIY cleaning products. I like Wellness Mama, DIY Natural, and Keeper of the Home.
- Consider making your own dishwasher detergent, laundry powder, or hand soap… and make your own citrus vinegar (which you can use as a rinse aid or chemical-free toilet bowl cleaner).
- Watch for more recipes from me this year… including a safe all-purpose vinegar cleaner, homemade laundry soap, and how to clean a ceramic cooktop without chemicals!
4. Make your own personal care products.
Much in the same way chemicals in cleaning products can cause harm, so can all the extras in personal care products. More research now supports the need to beware of SLS (sodium laurel sulfate), parabens, and pthalates (among others). Taking a DIY approach ensures you know exactly what’s in anything that touches your skin. Here are some ideas:
- Get to know the Skin Deep Database. This will help with any purchasing decisions you might make, as well as helping you get more familiar with the concerns related to specific ingredients.
- Think of something you regularly use and try googling it with DIY, homemade, or natural. For example, cosmetics. You’ll be amazed at all the resources you find. (Check out Simple Life Mom for a bit of inspiration!) The more informed you become, the easier you’ll be able to navigate the sea of information and choose recipes (or companies) that are right for you.
- Consider making your own toothpaste, bar soap, or face wash and see what you think. In the coming months, I’ll also be posting recipes for homemade deodorant, shampoo soap, deep-cleaning shampoo, conditioner, and shaving soap.
5. Become a more informed consumer.
One of the hardest things about greening, or living a more eco-friendly/sustainable life is the amount of information (so much of it conflicting) one must trudge through when making what should be the simplest of decisions. As I’ve gotten more and more committed to a make vs. buy lifestyle, I’ve also encountered a ton of research, opinion, and activism on all sides of each debate. Here are some of my favorite resources in each area that hopefully will leave you feeling more armed with helpful info as well:
- Food + Water: Things to focus on with food include safety, how humanely animals are treated, and the health impact of eating certain foods or genetically engineered foods. Resources like The Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Egg Scorecard or EWG’s Water Filter Buying Guide can help you make purchasing decisions. Loads of documentaries focus on the impact of modern agriculture and farming processes, as well as water consumption and safety – I’d highly recommend Food, Inc., Forks Over Knives, and Tapped.
- Health + Home: Things to consider include environmental toxins, ingredients and their impacts on your body and environment, and long-term safety/sustainability. I highly recommend the documentary Chemerical, the website Sustainable Baby Steps, and the book Super Natural Home by Beth Greer.