Sustainability in our agriculture industry is a complex issue.
If there is one thing we can all agree on, however, it is that eating closer to home and becoming more aware of where our food comes from is one of the best ways we can create a healthier and more sustainable food system.
As a sustainability-focused dietitian, for me this means encouraging more people to reconnect with their food beyond just what is “healthy” or “tastes good.” I encourage people to start thinking about our food from a local, seasonal, and cultural perspective — and a lot of that starts in the kitchen.
Cooking and baking are incredible ways for us to find community and meaning in the food we choose to nourish our bodies with. By cooking for ourselves and others, we are able to better control the type of food — and the companies/farmers — we choose to support.
While many of us may have begun to consider where our dairy, produce and meat products are coming from, often times we do not account for all the other food staples we consume on a daily basis. But just like our fruit and veggies, pantry staples such as coffee, sugar, tea, oil, nuts and spices should also be considered in regards to how they are grown, as well as the positive (or negative) impact they leave behind.
How To Stock A Sustainable Pantry For All Your Cooking and Baking Needs
Commence by considering what items you usually need to have in your pantry to bake or cook the dishes you like to make. While this list will vary from household to household, to help you get started I have compiled a short list of some pantry staples and how you can choose the most sustainable options.
Opt For Local Grains and Legumes
Dried grains like oats, wheat flour, beans, barley, brown rice, white rice, quinoa and corn are all common ingredients I like to have on hand in my pantry, and often you may be able to find some of these grains being grown right within your local region. Farmers markets are often a great place to seek out locally grown grains and legumes, but it is still important to always ask about how the grains were grown and, whenever possible, opt for organic options.
Choose Organic Chocolate and Coffee
Chocolate and coffee are two pantry staples you will find in most households. But as much as many of us love these two foods, they are often grown and sourced using unethical labor and environmental practices.
For these reasons, it is important to look for coffee and chocolate that have been grown organically and are fair trade certified. These regulations help ensure that ethical labor rights were supported and the environment was protected from harmful pesticides during the growing of some of your favorite foods.
Sweeteners are a common ingredient found in most pantries, and they are one of the first places where I always recommend people make a simple swap to more sustainable and health-conscious items. Instead of stocking your pantry with highly processed cane sugar, choose local sweeteners such as raw honey and maple syrup that you may be able to source right in your own community.
Honey and maple syrup are perfect substitutes for white cane sugar in many recipes. Nonetheless, if you do need to use cane sugar or brown sugar, look for raw, organic and fair trade options that haven’t been bleached and are supporting a more ethical sugar industry globally.
Flavor With Sustainable Spices
Spices like all other foods are grown and harvested, which means that they can also be sprayed heavily with pesticides and grown using unethical labor practices. Fortunately, I have found that many of the spices I like to use when cooking are ones I can grow myself or purchase from local farms. For those I cannot buy or grow locally, like cinnamon, I always make sure to look for organic options.
Opt For Healthy Oils
Stocking healthy oils in your pantry can be a great way to improve the health of the foods you are cooking and baking, while also supporting a more sustainable and less processed food system. Today there are so many processed vegetable oils that are cheap to buy and incredibly inflammatory to our bodies. For these reasons I always recommend choosing high-quality organic oils with beneficial fatty acids, such as those found in extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil.
Can Your Own Tomato Sauce, Salsa and Pickles
If you really are committed to creating a more sustainable pantry, then learning how to can your own fruits and vegetables is a great skill to learn. By mastering this craft, you can harvest ingredients from your local garden or farmers market to then preserve for winter use.
Once you get the hang of canning, it actually is quite simple. Nonetheless, always be careful to follow canning approved recipes. Pay attention to safety best practices, which can be found on the National Center For Home Food Preservation website.
The Best Kind of Stocking
By making these simple swaps in your pantry, you will exponentially improve the impact your food choices are having on both your health and the planet. You’ll also be well on your way to cooking or baking delicious recipes filled with the very best ingredients that support a more sustainable global food system.
Bio: Megan Faletra (MS, MPH, RDN) is a global health dietitian, sustainability advocate, and the founder of The Well Essentials. Her mission is to help others discover what it means to reconnect with their food, culture, and daily choices to create social change in our global food system, and sustainable health equity globally.
Megan has a Master of Public Health from Tufts University School of Medicine and a Master of Science from Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition. As a global health professional, Megan has worked both domestically and abroad to address social justice in our food system, and health equity globally.
When Megan is not working, you will find her living in Vermont with her husband, where she loves to cook seasonally from her garden and be outside in nature as much as possible.
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