Posts filed under ‘Eco-friendly food’

Grocery shopping: avoiding plastic packaging

Pesky plastic is hard to avoid

I’ve had a few things to say in previous posts about avoiding plastic bags while grocery shopping. As I hit my local market last night, it occurred to me that I could shop differently to avoid a lot more plastic. It just means being open to different choices.

You’re going to be thinking “Well, duh!” here, but it was a bit of an Aha moment for me when I thought I’d just look around the veggie section for things that aren’t packaged. So if I want tomatoes, sometimes I’m going to buy tomatoes on the vine, not grape tomatoes (pesky plastic boxes). And if I want mushrooms, I’m going to skip button mushrooms and go for cremenies or portobellos, and put them in a produce bag or paper bag, not buy a little blue box of them covered in plastic wrap. The store has lots of choices, from celery in a plastic sleeve and naked celery, temping Californian berries in plastic boxes or loose local apples, to even cheeses in paper wrapping or cheeses in plastic and meat in butcher paper instead of on foam trays (wrapped in plastic, sometimes two layers!).

It isn’t always easy to shop plastic-free, since sometimes there just aren’t any good choices, particularly at smaller stores that shrink-wrap everything to try to preserve freshness (and therefore reduce waste). Food packaging so quickly becomes recycling or garbage, it’s great for the earth if we can find ways to do without it.

How are you reducing the waste you bring home? Have you swapped one food for another to avoid waste?

November 17, 2009 at 5:39 PM Leave a comment

Ack! Wasted food!

rotten tomato food wasteTry as I might, I can’t help but waste food. Every week there’s something that I should have used up earlier, something that ripened… and beyond… when I wasn’t looking.

Maybe it’s my somewhat erratic schedule — I’ve given up planning more than a couple of days in advance — or maybe I’m just not a great strategist.

I do like making “kitchen sink” vegetable soups and stews to use up what I have in the fridge, but I think I need other ways of dealing with aging produce.

First, I guess I need to know what I have on hand so I don’t buy the wrong things, or too much of a good thing!
Second, when I have too much I should try to freeze a portion to use in a recipe later. Can you freeze mushrooms though?
Third, I should try to be more inventive in using up food. Let’s see, omelettes, novel pasta sauces, roasted veggie surprise…

Do you have strategies for reducing food waste?

November 9, 2009 at 2:19 PM 4 comments

Another blow to plastic bags

Produce Bags with FruitI recently heard that at the end of November, Metro grocery stores will offer their customers reuseable mesh bags for their produce (four for $5) as an alternative to conventional thin-film produce bags. Metro has 484 stores across Ontario and Quebec, so there’s potential for a lot of plastic savings. The bags are reusable, washable and stain resistant, not unlike these Canadian-made bags I blogged about earlier.

Thin-film plastic is considered the worst offender among plastic bag material, since, among other reasons, it isn’t durable enough for multiple use.

I hope grocery chains will take additional steps, such as offering starch-based biodegradable bags, so they break down safely in soil, and allocate fewer rolls of bags around the stores to discourage people from using them for everything. After all, veggies should be washed before you use them anyway. (I use a tiny smidge of dish soap.)

Metro revealed results of a customer survey showing that 77 per cent are making efforts to limit their use of plastic bags when buying fruits and vegetables, while 76 per cent said they would be interested in buying reusable produce bags. According to the same survey, 87 per cent of customers prefer to buy individual fruits and vegetables instead of pre-packaged ones. I certainly think we could do without the plastic bags on celery, bell peppers heads of lettuce and more, and I really dislike buying packs of mushrooms, since they’re in a type of plastic that many municipalities don’t recycle, topped by cellophane.

I don’t blame food producers for wanted to add something to their products. Homemakers‘ nutritionist, Rosie Schwartz has mentioned that one the reasons we have a hard time eating healthily is that packaged foods have lots of enticing images and marketing copy on them, while the healthiest food – produce – does not.

How would you reduce shopping-related waste?

October 30, 2009 at 2:42 PM 2 comments

Ripening tomatoes, the last of summer’s fruit

ripening_tomatoesIn mid September I shared an image of the most perfect (and just about the only) tomato to come out of my garden. My doting on the little red fruit must have stirred something within the plant, because not long after, much fruit sprang forth. Well, about a dozen green tomatoes appeared on the vine. And that’s how they remained, until I picked them a week ago, fearing frost.

I tried ripening the tomatoes by wrapping them in newspaper. I tried leaving them in mild sunlight. Finally, I tried wrapping them in newspaper, then putting them in a plastic bag. Presto, they began to ripen overnight. And as this University of Minnesota fact sheet says, “To speed up ripening, place green or partially ripe fruits in a bag or box with a ripe tomato.” That’s because ripe fruit emit ethylene gas. Yes, I think the first to ripen will lead the way for the others.

Did you have some fruits and veggies left on the vine as the temperatures began to drop? Did you find a way to ripen them for one last summery feast?

October 27, 2009 at 11:12 AM 4 comments

Ocean Wise: help prevent overfishing

ocean wise text-icon white2 [Converted]Thanks, but I'll pass on the swordfish

Thanks, but I'll pass on the swordfish

The Vancouver Aquarium’s conservation program, Ocean Wise, now has over 2,000 restaurant partners who use the Ocean Wise logo on their menus alongside better fish and seafood choices. It can be hard to make a good menu choice — after all, if it’s on the menu, how can a species be threatened? But according to the Vancouver Aquarium website, about 90 per cent of large predator fish from the world’s oceans have been harvested. So much depends on the interrelationships of species within the ocean, from healthy conditions for plankton and zooplankton growth all the way up the food chain to responsible, sustainable fishing practices. I think that if we make good choices for dinner, whether at the supermarket or at the neighbourhood bistro, we can steer the food industry to better practices.

“Sustainable seafood can be defined as species that are caught or farmed in a way that ensures the long-term health and stability of that species, as well as the greater marine ecosystem,” says the Aquarium site.

Bottom trawling and dredging are two of the most harmful fishing methods, because they produce a lot of bycatch and can harm the ocean environment, including damage to coral reefs. But improvements to seafood farming techniques, including inland farms that are closed to natural waterways, are offering better fish options. Looked for farmed tilapia, sturgeon, rainbow trout and Arctic char.

October 14, 2009 at 6:27 PM Leave a comment

Corn HarvestSunday’s Toronto Star featured a story by Margaret Webb, author of
Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover’s Tour of Canadian Farms
. Webb’s piece, linked here, shows the connection between food grown as inputs for low-cost, low-nutrition fare and unsustainable agriculture practices.

“…the demand for cheap food also puts pressure on farmers “to work every corner, every square inch” – eliminating woodlots, wetlands and buffer strips near vulnerable waterways. He knows that current farming techniques – growing too few crops in limited rotation, with chemical fertilizer, and returning too little organic matter to the soil – is mining his land of fertility, and that the current methods will not feed increasing populations.”

The causes – and solutions – are complex, but one thing seems clear to me: individuals need to face paying more for food, and demand nutritious food over fare with shelf life. And farmers need to get a bigger portion of the money that individuals fork out.

October 13, 2009 at 1:14 PM Leave a comment

The perfect home-grown tomato

My perfect tomato

My perfect tomato

This is the most perfect tomato in the world. Everything about it is ideal. It’s just the way I want it. If only it had more friends. After a spring of careful seed starting and a summer of nervous watering, this German Strawberry grape tomato is one of about 20 tomatoes I’ll harvest from my tomato plants.

I learned a few things from my first attempt at growing the saucy little red fruit:
– Sunlight. Lots of sunlight. Don’t bother with a partly shady location!
– Water. Lots of water.
– Apparently human water is good too (see earlier post)
– Fertilizer. Compost. Don’t be stingy
– Pruning / pinching off. I didn’t know that the tomato’s leaves compete with its own fruit for livelihood. I did not know that to have fruit-laden, disease-free plants I needed to pinch off some of the little branches. Once I did that, tomatoes sprang forth.

Do you have any tomato-growing tips to share?

September 15, 2009 at 12:44 PM 3 comments

Managing your organic food delivery

Organic foodFollowing my recent post about organic food delivery, a friend of mine thought I should start a discussion on managing the order of said delivery. He noted that everyone he has talked to about it says they quickly realize that they need a strategy to make sure they use all the food before it spoils. (And before money goes to waste!)

Asking around, I heard another friend’s story about an organic food delivery service that wasn’t, well, big on service. As much as she loved the fresh organic vegetables, she had to pick them up, weekly, then try to get her 10 lbs. of veggies home on the bus without bruising them. Because she could only pick up her food on Thursdays, she’d have to plan her social life around her groceries — she would much rather have received the food on the weekend. For now, she’s back to perusing farmers’ markets.

Even if you’re using home delivery services, you do need to plan what you’re going to do with that fridge full of food.

I chose a smaller-sized box, and I receive it every other week. Front Door Organics allows me to choose what goes in my box using a terrific online tool, so I can be very specific about what I want, and how much. Even then I’ve realized that, after a night of eating all the yummy perishable stuff just so it doesn’t spoil, I have to select a mix of food with a range of longevity, and in a mix that actually works in a recipe. That means choosing one or two perishables, such as raspberries, yellow beans or peaches, a few items that will last about a week or more, such as plums, mushrooms and broccoli, and then a couple of longer-term items, such as potatoes and onions. When it comes time to place my next order, I can switch the less perishable items if I still have some left.

Of course, there are lots of ways to use the delivery. If you’re keen on “putting up” then you might want a lot of one thing, so you can spend an evening canning or freezing carrots, for example. My delivery service will even sell you the supplies for that, and include them in your box. Or you might be having a dinner party, and you’ll want to order everything you’ll need for that menu, including some extra organic items that wouldn’t normally come in your box.

Within all this is another marketing opportunity for the organic food delivery services. The friend who suggested this discussion came up with a few lifestyle-specific delivery options, where the service would assemble a box based on your needs, such as “single person who only cooks on weekends,” or “for the person who’s into batch cooking” or “for the individual/family who wishes to have salad-type things only.” Great idea!

What do you think – what would make a food delivery service work for you? How have you planned food purchasing to make it convenient without risking food spoilage?

September 14, 2009 at 12:31 PM 5 comments

The mysteries of real, local, organic food

fractal_cauliedamame_vineI’ve been receiving a delivery of organic food for a few months now, and I’ve been impressed with the local food available, particularly its intense flavour. Once in a while I pull back the box lid to find something I’ve never seen before.

A couple of weeks ago it was this crazy cauliflower, a fractal design in a harsh yellow green. Large and spiky, I was a little intimidated by it. What would I do with it? Too aggressive for a salad. Rather harsh for crudités. A couple of days went by while I thought about it, but this hardy cauliflower was in it for the long haul, and has survived long enough to get into stir fries, tossed into pasta and more. Because it doesn’t spoil easily and was fairly tasty, I’d order it again.

Yesterday  when I cracked open my veggie box (it’s from Front Door Organics) I stared back at the contents in total surprise. I’d ordered edamame – green soybeans. I usually buy edamame in the frozen veggie section of my grocery store, so I thought it’d be fun to get them fresh. And fresh they were, still attached to the stem! Now I’m glad I didnt’ have to stuff the rest of the plant into my green bin during the garbage strike, but as I sat there clipping off the soybeans into a container, I realized just how conveniently our food is served to us. Considering how much work goes into producing healthy food such as soybeans, it’s only fair that I would do the easy final preparations. And hey, not a plastic bag in sight.

What’s your favourite local food?

September 11, 2009 at 9:35 AM 2 comments

Delicious local corn

corn_iStockphotoIt’s messy. It gets all over my fingers and in my teeth. It comes with a lot of waste material built in. It’s incredibly delicious.
Yes, it’s corn season again, and in spite of the cool weather, Ontario farmers have come up with some incredibly sweet cobs. (And, unlike in the grocery store, they don’t shrink wrap their cobs onto foam trays.)

While in the Frontenac Arch region of Eastern Ontario this weekend, I stopped by a roadside stand to pick up some fresh corn from the Kemptville area. I’d enjoyed some of this delish corn at my parents’ place the night before, so I knew it was great. Driving home to Toronto in my little hatchback, among heavy traffic, staring at tailpipes, I got to thinking about biofuels.

I can understand the controversy around using corn as fuel. After all, it’s fuel for our bodies, and it’s delicious. But what if we can use the husks and the spent cobs? Here’s an article showing that the U.S. Air Force is trying to develop such a fuel.

To help you enjoy the season’s bounty, here are some corn recipes from our Homemakers Test Kitchen at to get you beyond butter, salt and pepper. If you need to.

Black Bean and Corn Salsa
Corn and Canadian Cheddar Souffle
Spicy Grilled Corn on the Cob
Chipotle Corn, Green Beans and Sweet Peppers

What’s your favourite way to eat corn?

September 8, 2009 at 10:52 AM Leave a comment

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