For a basic green living project with benefits to your wallet and the environment, consider revamping the kitchen pantry. The cupboard is the starting point for most kitchen activity and is more than just a storage space. Develop good buying habits and build a strong foundation and you can avoid the waste of food and money. Here's how to tackle the task at once or little by little.
When you are not in a rush to whip up a family meal or put away loads of groceries, take some time to really look at the items in your pantry. What is in front? What is hidden in the back? What's used most frequently? What is expired?
“Be more aware of your consumption habits,” suggests Cory Schreiber, a chef instructor at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Portland. This awareness is a simple step to greener living. “Avoid impulse purchases by being more mindful of the emotions that can be involved in food shopping,” he adds. “Not only do you avoid waste this way, but conscious consumption is more cost effective too.”
Another cost-effective method that Joshua Joe, storeroom manager at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of California - Los Angeles, a campus of Argosy University, recommends is a common inventory and accounting process used by schools, hotels and other food service providers. “Practicing a first-in, first-out method of consuming your pantry goods is a true way to save money and prevent food waste,” says Joe, who purchases the school's food supplies. With approximately 500 culinary arts students regularly coming through the school's dry storage area, Joe encourages the students to use the earliest bought, or oldest, goods first. “The tendency is to go for the freshest or A+ product when the A grade item will do,” he says. “You don't want to let perfectly usable goods go to waste.”
Once you have a handle on what you are buying and how you are consuming it, it is time to stock up.
Schreiber proposes buying high-quality essentials and purchasing goods in bulk. “Buy the highest quality staples you can afford,” recommends Schreiber. For example, six pounds of a good butter can last you a solid five months. Other items where quality counts and the products can endure include oils, vinegars, salts, dried herbs and spices. “When possible, buy dry goods in bulk too,” he adds. Grains, rice, legumes and pastas are all good products to shop for in a food store's bulk department.
To store the loose pasta or grains, look for containers with a lower environmental footprint. “Using glass, metal and ceramics is the easiest solution,” says Chris Stanley, an Industrial Design instructor at The Art Institute of Seattle. Stanley, who has taught courses on the history of industrial design and in materials and manufacturing, adds “choose something classic in design so you won't be tempted to throw it out in two years. Or, you can re-use glass jars and that fruit cake tin your aunt sends you each year.”
Not only is buying in bulk less expensive, but less packaging means less energy used to create the materials and less garbage to throw away - all of which are more friendly to the environment.