Many who practice Witchcraft proclaim an affinity for Nature and many proclaim belief in her divinity. It is my belief that those who revere nature should do our best to nurture her as well. The kitchen provides us with many opportunities to perform small actions that can add up to a big difference in your environmental footprint.

The places you choose to shop and the items you buy impact your environmental footprint in a significant way. Unfortunately, for most of us, where our food comes from is not something we have any say in. The food comes to us from the store in little packages. Some of us do not have a lot of options. Some of us, faced with a choice of two items with different price points, do not have the budget to purchase the one produced in a more environmentally friendly way. You must do what is best for your situation and take comfort in knowing that the way you handle your food after you bring it home can be just as impactful as where it came from originally. I have a large lists of suggestions here for reducing your environmental footprint. Take what is feasible for you and leave the rest for someone else to pick up for now.

Where Does Your Food Come From?

For most of us, our food comes from the grocery store, we don't get much information beyond that and we don’t have much choice in the matter. Geography, budget and time can limit our food choices. While we all have our own unique situations to work from, it is a good idea to keep in mind where our food comes from. None of us can make all the best, most sustainable choices all the time, but by keeping sustainability in the forefront of our minds when we are making our choices, we can sometimes at least choose the lesser evil, so to speak.

Much of our food comes from monoculture. That is, the intensive growing of a single crop. Huge fields are stripped of their native vegetation, plowed, disturbing the natural bacterial and fungal colonies that support the native fertility of the land and planted with a single crop that is then doused with chemical fertilizers designed specifically for that crop and sometimes with pesticides and herbicides designed to kill everything that isn't that crop.

Genetically modified crops might be designed in a laboratory to resist certain herbicides that might otherwise kill the plant to make the whole process easier. At the end of the growing season, the field is stripped of the crop and all the nutrients and moisture retention capabilities stored in it. These grain nutrients may then be shipped over to overcrowded feedlots to be fed to grazing animals, who were designed by nature to forage on grass, causing them to gain excessive weight too quickly for their health. These animals are then killed, chopped up, and sent to your local grocery store in neat little Styrofoam trays covered with plastic film. Vegetarian eaters get to skip the whole animal step, which lowers their food carbon footprint significantly, but the majority of their food comes from Earth-stripping monoculture too.

Okay, this is an extreme, worst-case scenario example. Many farmers do use common sense methods to maintain the fertility of the soil and we do have animal welfare laws. But there are crops and animals that are raised like this because it is marketed as the cheapest, most reliable way to get a lot of product to the market quickly and it is extremely damaging to the environment. Unfortunately, these are the foods that are most accessible and least expensive for the average person. If you want to step into more sustainable foodways, you’re may have to spend some extra money and/or time to do it.

Grow Your Own

The absolutely most Earth-friendly way to feed yourself is to grow your own food, provided you do it in a sustainable way. This means using natural fertilizers preferably produced on-site from waste products to build nutrient-rich, moisture-retaining soil and, if you are raising meat, providing them as natural a diet and lifestyle as possible, also preferably sourced on site. While I am convinced that a family of four can be fed on an intensively managed acre, I think it’s about a 5-year process to get to that point and it won’t fit in this book. The best most people are going to manage is a bunch of really good salad in the summertime and maybe some canned tomatoes, pickles and sauerkraut to enjoy during the winter. That is something though and something is always better than nothing. Every tomato you pick from your garden is one that isn’t shipped across the country and doused with unknown chemicals- not to mention the huge improvement in taste.

As an added bonus, a garden takes up lawn space, which means less mowing and more flowers for butterflies, bees and other pollinators to enjoy and a more alive yard for you. Gardeners also are driven by necessity to observe the rhythms of nature, which I find enhances my own spiritual practice immensely. So even if all you can manage is a tomato in a bucket or a little patch of herbs (I recommend sage, parsley, Roman chamomile and thyme as easy keepers) in your side yard- grow something. It’s good for the Earth and your soul.

If this seems like an extreme challenge to you, just pick one thing you eat often and start with that. Do you love fresh tomatoes? Do you often eat salads featuring romaine lettuce? Perhaps you are a huge fan of fresh basil? Any of these can be grown quite easily in a small space outdoors or in a pot or two inside or on a patio. Choose one plant, grow it. If you kill it, do some reading and then try again until you get it right. When this becomes easy for you, add another plant to your repertoire.

Connect with Local Growers

The next most sustainable way to feed yourself is to buy direct from the producer. A search on Google or Facebook will find farms near you, and remember that urban and suburban farms are on the rise these days. Facebook hosts many homesteading and urban farming groups that may give you access to farmers who don’t sell to the general public but might be willing to deal with you on an individual basis. Many urban and suburban farms also operate as Community Supported Agriculture, which allow you to pay an upfront fee for a share of the year’s harvest. Buying locally gives you the opportunity to actually observe the farm’s operation and connect with the growers. You can see if the farm conforms to your standards of ethics regarding food production and put money directly into the hands of people with similar values.

If you can’t find a local farmer to buy from, you may be able to purchase food directly from a farm online. Often you will have to buy in bulk to make shipping the product worthwhile for the farmer. Some warehousing sites, like Amazon will act as a go-between to make it easier for both you and the producer, allowing the farmers to sell to you in more manageable quantities.

You will also want to look into visiting your local farmer’s market. Most municipalities hold a farmer’s market at least once a week through the summer months into the harvest season. Even if you do get most of your groceries elsewhere, it’s worth a trip to your local farmer’s market. Here you will find small farmers as well as crafters selling their goods, usually at reasonable prices. You can ask questions about their process and sometimes even make requests. If you are making your own foray into gardening, the producers at the farmer's market are often willing to chat about their favorite varieties and how they deal with problems unique to your growing area- provided you aren't trying to ask them questions while they are swamped with customers!

Grocery store choices

Even if you are able to do all of the above, you will likely find yourself at the grocery store at least once in awhile. If the grocery store is the only place you ever get your food, you’ve still got very good options. Looking at labels can tell us a lot about what we’re eating, even if it’s difficult to get the whole story. I like to look at the origin of the product, as I prefer one that is locally produced. This means it has had less distance to travel than other products might have and that lowers its carbon footprint.

Other labels tell us a bit about how the product was grown. Unfortunately, some of this labelling costs the food producer money in the form of certifications, inspections and other red tape and that cost gets passed on to us. Some labelling means nothing yet increases the price anyway. Let’s take a look at some common food labels.

Hormone Free - indicates that hormones were not given to the animal for any reason during its lifetime. It is illegal to give hormones to hogs or poultry, so this label means nothing on pork and poultry products.

No Antibiotics- Means that the animal did not receive any antibiotics in its lifetime.

Free Range is a standard applied to egg laying poultry only, so it means nothing applied to anything else. It means that the hen had some access to the outdoors, but does not specify how much.

Cage Free - means that the animals were raised without cages. It does not imply how much space they had or whether they were raised indoors or outdoors.

Natural and All Natural - “Natural” means that the product does not contain artificial preservatives, coloring or flavors. It does not say anything about how the animal was raised. All natural isn’t defined by the USDA. We can assume it means the same as Natural, but not necessarily.

Pastured- Means that the animal spent at least some time in its life outdoors on pasture.

Grass Fed- means that the animal spent some time eating grass on pasture. This does not necessarily mean they weren’t fattened on grain as well and it says nothing about the amount of space they are given to graze in.

Organic and 100% Organic - Foods labelled organic must contain 95% organic ingredients and 100% organic must contain all organic ingredients. Producers must be certified to use this label, and periodic inspections are done to ensure they are meeting requirements. They may not use any petroleum or sewage-sludge based fertilizers, bioengineering, growth hormones, antibiotics, or ionizing radiation. For meat products, the feed fed to the animals must also meet organic requirements and the animals must have access to the outdoors. Foods carrying the organic label often cost more to offset the cost of certification, but costs do go down in time and some certified organic foods are very reasonably priced.

There is no organic standard for seafood. Thus the organic label on seafood could mean anything or nothing.

It is important to keep in mind that you are not going to find a lot of certified organic producers at your local farmer’s market or your local small farms. Many of them do follow organic principles but simply haven’t certified. My own crops are not organic because I only use compost and manure for fertilizer and not all of the food that ends up in my compost is certified organic- the alternative is to buy organic fertilizer and I won’t be doing that. I don’t sell in enough quantity to make certification cost-effective anyway and I am really not comfortable with the idea of the government popping in to inspect my property.

Made with Organic Ingredients means that at least 70% of the ingredients in the product are certified organic.

Fresh just means it wasn’t frozen.

Non-GMO Project Verified - Means that the product was created without using genetically modified organisms and that it was tested and certified. For animal products, the animal’s feed was tested. The certification for this label costs money and the cost may be passed on to consumers. There is no labelling requirement in the US for products containing genetically modified organisms.

As you can see, product labels alone do not tell the whole story of our food. You can often find more information about a company’s practices if you look on their website and you can always call them if you have more questions. But don’t get so hung up on the sourcing of your food that you start to obsess or feel paralyzed. You should buy what tastes good that is in your budget and please read on. There are other, less costly ways to lower your ecological footprint in the kitchen that you can apply to just about anything. Some of them will even save you money.

How is your food packaged?

One of the biggest problems with food we buy at the store is the waste associated with it. Not only do we in the US throw away almost half the food we buy, nearly 45% of our landfills consist of food packaging waste. Food packaging is necessary to maintain the quality of the food from its journey from the supplier to your table, but some packaging is more environmentally friendly than others and this often has no effect on the price of the product. You can, therefore, choose based on other factors such as availability of recycling, whether you are able to reuse the packaging and the sustainability of the processes that were used to create the packaging in the first place.

Food Packaging Origins

One of the first and most obvious questions we can ask ourselves is where the packaging came from and what impact its creation had on the environment. Both plastic and Styrofoam are made of petrochemicals and you should have this in mind when choosing to use them. Paper and cardboard are often made of wood fiber and toxic chemicals are sometimes used in their processes, but most paper and cardboard packaging are now made of recycled material. The production of glass containers pumps out quite a carbon load, but they do tend to be recycled over and over, as do metal containers.

Many companies will label their containers if they’re recycled, but just because they aren’t labeled as such doesn’t mean they aren’t. If your favorite product is lacking this information, visit their website and, if it doesn’t say, shoot them an email inquiry.

Recycling food packaging

Most food packaging can be recycled, but not everywhere. Styrofoam, single use pouches and plastic bags are especially problematic while hard plastic, metals and paper and cardboard products can be recycled at most facilities. If you have a recycling service or a drop off area near you, study their list of acceptable materials carefully and ask questions if needed to make sure you understand clearly what they accept and what needs to be done to each item to make it suitable.

Plastic bags and films are often not accepted in regular recycling pickup as they tend to get caught up in the conveyor belts, but there may be special drop off locations for them. If you can’t find the item you need in a container other than a plastic bag or without plastic film, buy the biggest package you can afford. Then you will have fewer bags to deal with. And be sure to reuse plastic shopping bags or bring them back to the store for recycling. Better yet, bring your own bags or ask for paper.

Single-use pouches and cartons are often not accepted by recycling services. I prefer to buy (or make) larger quantities and package them in smaller containers for the road.

Styrofoam is also not accepted at many facilities even though it takes up more space by weight than most other things that end up in landfills. I avoid Styrofoam packaging as much as possible and if I order something to be shipped to me and it shows up packed in Styrofoam, I will not order from that vendor again. It is just too hard to dispose of properly. At the grocery store, most meat is packaged in a Styrofoam tray, but if you go to the meat counter you an get it wrapped in paper. Unfortunately, the meat on sale is usually the meat in the Styrofoam and you’re going to pay more at the meat counter. Eggs are occasionally packaged in Styrofoam, again, unfortunately, usually the cheapest eggs. I raise my own meat and eggs and buy very little meat in the store, but I know this isn’t an option for most people.

Metals, including aluminum foil containers, are the easiest things to recycle. Glass and hard plastic are also very easy to find a recycling facility for. Plastic labelled #6 is most commonly accepted, and plastic that has been laminated is not accepted at most locations.

Paper and cardboard that hasn’t been saturated with food/filth or covered with plastic is also pretty easy to recycle. Even “shiny” paper can be recycled, as long as it’s not made shiny by having something extra glued on top of it (like glitter). This includes card stock, corrugated cardboard, brown paper bags, and cardboard egg boxes.

Re-Using Food Packaging

I am a habitual re-user. When we first got together, my husband laughed at me because I will sometimes pay more for an item that came in a pretty package that I could re-use. Now he points out the cool packages. Re-purposed glass jars (with a strip of black chalkboard tape, neatly labelled in white) make up the majority of my kitchen food-storage. This is a result of a frugal matriline. I recall a childhood full of uncertainty about whether the cottage cheese container contained cottage cheese… or something else. I too reuse cottage cheese containers, but I don’t usually put them back in the fridge because I have heard that not all plastic is safe for reuse with food.

When shopping for products for an eye toward re-purposing, look for products that have durable containers with lids that can be replaced. A sturdy container with a lid that peels off and can’t be reattached is probably of no used to you, except maybe to hold your pencils, and the peel-off lid probably isn’t even recyclable.

You don’t have to keep the things you re-purpose forever. Sometimes it’s nice to have something we can use a few times before we recycle it. I use old coffee cans (both metal and plastic, we get what’s cheapest) for scooping things, mixing up stuff for the garden and kitchen scraps in waiting for their trip to the compost or the barn. These tend to get lost, chewed on and otherwise abused and eventually end up in the recycling bin and I didn’t spend money on a special container for kitchen scraps I’m going to cry over. I also use them, and various plastic food containers, as scoops in big feed buckets. Likewise, big plastic vinegar jugs- I use these for hauling water around. Before long they start to look a little unclean and into the recycling bin they go. I buy grains for human and animal consumption in large 35-50 lb bags - the paper ones get recycled or used for sheet mulching in the garden, the plastic ones get reused as garbage bags, sometimes I sit on them when I’m working in the garden on a wet day to avoid a soggy bottom, and they can also be made into bags. A plastic mesh bag, the sort onions come in, can be placed over a washcloth to make a handy pot scrubber that you can dispose of after its usefulness has waned.

There are, of course, hundreds of really creative and crafty ways to make use of food packaging material you would otherwise throw away and I’m sure I can’t list everything here, though I invite you to check my blog (at sacredhearth.com) where I will continue to explore this subject. I am also interested in hearing your ideas and what you find in your online searches.

Reducing Food Packaging

Unfortunately, reducing food packaging often comes at an expense. The apples that are on discount are usually the ones in the plastic bag, not the ones in the bulk bin that you can put in your reusable produce bag. Likewise, the meat at the counter that comes wrapped in paper generally costs more than the meat in the Styrofoam coffins displayed under the “Sale” sign. Sometimes buying in bulk saves money, but it comes at a larger upfront cost. Still, we are going to talk about it.

Buying in Bulk

One method for reducing food packaging is buying in bulk. This can also save you money in the long run, though it often requires a larger upfront expenditure. Sometimes buying in bulk means filling your own container from the bulk bin, thus eliminating the food packaging issue altogether, but often it means buying a larger package. Still, a larger package is less wasteful than several small packages. You should buy the largest package you can afford, but only if you have the means to store it and will use it up before it spoils. Bulk food packaging should be subjected to the same critical eye toward recyclability and re-usability as other packaging. I find bulk grain bags make good garbage bags, after a bit of a trim with the scissors.

Buying direct

Another method for reducing food packaging is to purchase your food directly from the producer, or as close to as possible. Sometimes this requires purchasing in bulk, but not always. Many small farms have little shops or stands where you can purchase items and place them in your own container. Some dairy farms will even collect deposit on their containers so you will return your empties to them. Most fruit sellers will also take back berry baskets and other containers. Even those who don’t often package their produce in paper so you can at least recycle or compost it.

If you do not have a farm within a reasonable distance to you, there is probably a farmer’s market. Most towns or counties maintain one. Unfortunately, farmer’s markets tend to be scheduled within a very limited time frame and have a reputation for being very expensive, but locations and individual vendors vary and you might get lucky.

Get Loud

If you are not pleased with the packaging choices your favorite food supplier has made, write them a letter, give them a call, shoot them an email or all three. Let them know that you are a customer and you care about their packaging choices. If you get to talk to a human in this process, ask them why they choose the packaging they do.

Where Does Your Food Go?

It is estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of food is wasted every year in the United States. Imagine that for every three bags of groceries you buy, you just toss the largest in the garbage on the way to the kitchen. That is almost as much food as the average household buys and throws away in this country on a regular basis. Grocery stores and restaurants throw away even tons of food that is past it’s prime and way too much based on attractiveness- because ugly food doesn’t sell well, but not nearly as much food as is wasted on the consumer end. While many producers also throw away quite a bit of food, most sensible producers find a use for unattractive food and the leftovers of food processing or sell them to someone else who can use them. While it is frustrating to know that we can’t do much to change the behavior of businesses who engage in wasteful practices, the only behavior we can reliably control is our own. More than half of all food waste is on the consumer end anyway.

When we throw away food, we are wasting all the land that was harnessed into growing it. We are disrespecting the living beings whose literal bodies went into that food. And we are wasting the money we worked hard to earn so we could buy that food.

The good news is that you can reduce food waste in your household with simple habits that also save money and time and make food preparation easier and more organized. In fact, I am afraid that you’re going to be annoyed with me when you read other sections of the book where I repeat myself. Just consider that the more I mention something, the more important it is.

Good Shopping Habits

We can start reducing food waste at the grocery store. Begin by making a list of the items you need and only buying those items. Excess items bought on a whim are more likely to be wasted, unless they are the sort you eat on the way home. Be honest with yourself about what you will definitely use up right away and what you’ll likely store for awhile. Sometimes choosing to buy frozen or canned food is the difference between having green bean casserole and having moldy green beans if you aren’t able to cook a meal for a few days.

If, however, you know you’ll be able to cook something within the next day, it might pay to see if your store has a less-than-perfect vegetable rack, or a day old bread section. Overripe bananas can go right in your freezer for adding to banana bread recipes or smoothies later (they turn completely black, but they’re still okay). Bad bits can be cut off of most fruit and bread, as long as it isn’t moldy, can go into bread pudding or stuffing- and you can just pop it in the freezer if you aren’t going to use it right away. If you store doesn’t have a discount rack for its aging merchandise, ask them why not and what they do with it instead.

On the other hand, if you want the freshest and best quality food, shopping in season is the way to go. Food that is purchased in the same season it is harvested not only tastes better, it usually costs less, has been through less processing and has had a much shorter distance to travel than food that has to be shipped in from far away. I often hear people complain about the flavor and price of oranges in June. June is not the season for oranges. Don’t buy oranges in June. Buy them in November through March. If you must have oranges in June, buy canned oranges. Likewise, tomatoes in November- canned is the way to go. A tomato in November is an affront and pomegranates or roasted beets are great on winter salads. Often, when food is in season, you can get such a good deal that it is worth it to buy a large amount and freeze, dehydrate or can it for out-of-season eating.

Proper Food Storage

An important step in reducing food waste is making sure your food is properly stored in the first place. Food that is properly stored will last longer than food that isn’t. Labelling and dating food as it goes into your house or goes into storage will encourage you to use it up in good time. In the food section of this book, I will discuss proper food storage techniques for all the foods I discuss. Learn them and follow them. Anything you bring home that isn’t on the menu for this week should be put into long term storage immediately. And don’t forget to label them!

When you buy large quantities of food at one time, like that 10-pound package of ground beef that was 99 cents a pound or a 50-pound bag of flour, divide the large package up into smaller single-use packages immediately upon bringing it home. Meat, for example, should be divided into freezer storage containers in the amounts you need for a meal, for my family this would consist of four portions. 1/4-1/2 pound of meat suitable portion for an adult. If I’ve got a big container of ground meat, I might make a huge batch of fully cooked meatballs and freeze them in aluminum foil pans for a dinner shortcut one day. Flour and other grains should also be frozen if you won’t be using them within a month as their oils can go rancid or the bugs can find them (sometimes the grains bring the bugs with them!). I fill up the canister that lives in the kitchen and store the rest in the freezer. I even do this with my animal feed, because grain moths are terrible things! My favorite containers for food storage are aluminum trays, freezer safe deli containers and canning jars.

Pre-Prepping

While you’re making sure all of your groceries are properly stored for maximum freshness, you can take the time to pre-prep for your meals. You can chop some vegetables and store them in the fridge for meals you’ll be cooking the next few days and save yourself the trouble of doing it after a hard day’s work. I like to boil a few potatoes (in their skins) and also boil some eggs. Pre-boiled potatoes fry up quick, and are ready to mash and they keep in the fridge about 3 days. Boiled eggs make good, quick snacks and can be sliced into a salad, made into egg salad or a sandwich, or combined with those potatoes into a potato salad.

Beans can take some time to prepare, so soaking and boiling them now will save me time later. Likewise, yeast bread dough can keep in the fridge for about two days before you need to do something about it and pie crust can sit for a day. While I’m mixing dough, a batch of homemade pasta can go straight into the freezer after cutting and directly from the freezer to a pot of boiling water whenever.

Plan Your Meals

One of the simplest ways to reduce food waste is to plan your meals ahead of time. Some people really find this task to be a fun half-hour of me-time once a week. I do not like this chore, but I am always glad later that I took the time to do it. And I am always annoyed with myself when I skip it!

When I have an established menu that has taken into account what I have on hand, the food will get used up and it will not go to waste. Having a menu planned ahead for each day also eliminates those annoying evenings when it’s nearly dinnertime and I haven’t a clue!

Clean out Your Fridge (And Pantry and Cupboards and Freezer)

I try to make it a habit to clean out my fridge once a week, my cupboards and pantry every few months and my freezer at least once a year. This ensures that whatever is in there that I’ve forgotten about, I can be reminded and make use of it before it’s too late. I just empty everything out, wipe it down and put it all back neatly.

Managing Leftovers

I know people who don’t eat leftovers. I can’t wrap my head around that. If you don’t eat leftovers, then you should carefully plan your meals so you don’t get leftovers. Otherwise, it pays to learn to deal with leftovers.

First, your leftovers need to be stored properly. If you are going to eat them within a few days, they should be refrigerated within an hour after you’ve prepared them. That is, right after dinner. Use a marker that you can wipe off later, but not one that is going to wipe off if it’s just brushed casually, to mark the date on your leftovers. Eat them quickly. If you do not think you’re going to get to your leftovers within a few days, they should go into the freezer.
If you have enough leftover to make a complete meal, consider putting an entire meal, complete with sides into a freezer-safe container to make a sort of TV dinner. If you have a microwave, or someone in the household works in an office with a microwave, you can package these in containers that are also microwave safe for quick lunches. Otherwise, they can go in foil pans for heating up in the oven.

If you meal plan, you can plan your meals to make use of leftovers from other meals during the week. Leftover rice can be used to make fried rice. A chicken carcass can be picked clean and used to make bone broth and soup, or use the meat to make chicken salad sandwiches. Leftover mashed potatoes can be used to make pierogies, or potato bread or potato pancakes. Lots of things can be stuffed into raviolis or dumped into a stew.

Find a use for your scraps

No matter what you do, you are going to have food waste. Even if you never let anything spoil, you are still going to cut bits off of things and you are going to peel things. If you embrace ugly food, windfall apples for example, some of that food isn’t going to be fit for human consumption and you’ll be cutting off insect damaged and bruised bits- but what will be left is good food that didn’t need to go in the garbage just because it had a funny spot on one side. No matter what, you will have food waste. But putting food waste in your regular garbage sends organic material to the landfill and this accounts for 10% of our greenhouse gas emissions. So, it’s best to avoid throwing away your waste and put it to good use instead.

In my house, we have several places our food waste goes. Much of it gets used to make other, different food. That which can’t be used that way goes to the animals, composting worms and the compost pile. Where it goes depends on what it is and whether its gone bad.

Bones, ends cut off vegetables, leaves too tough to chew and most vegetable peels, including onions and garlic, can go into the stock pot. Simmer these in pure water for several hours with a bay leaf, maybe some rosemary and sage, and I like to add a bit of astragalus root, and the resulting stock can be strained off and frozen for future use for making soups or cooking rice or quinoa for extra flavor and nutrition. Yes, you will still have to throw away the well-cooked mushy vegetables and soft bones you are left with, but at least you know you’ve sucked all the nutrition you possibly can out of them first. Cooking water and canning liquid can also be stored as a soup base or cooking liquid.

If you have animals, there may be some items you can give them from among your kitchen waste. You should research what foods are safe for your animals and remember that your animals should never be given anything slimy, smelly or moldy. There are laws in some areas regarding feeding kitchen waste to animals, particularly those raised for food. Take the time to find out what laws apply in your area.

Composting worms are fun little squigglers who enjoy feeding on bacteria who feed on decaying plant matter. This turns the whole mess into the finest soil amendment you can get- worm castings. There are lots of websites devoted to vermiculture and vermicomposting and, if this sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to check them out. Some sites suggest that red wriggler worms can process huge amounts of compost in a short time. I find that this is not the case. There needs to be a huge population of worms to handle a significant amount of compost in the span of a month and these boxes do attract fruit flies and other pests. But I keep multiple boxes and rotate through them and find that my worms are well worth the work, even if they aren’t as productive as advertised.

A compost pile or bin will take care of most of the rest of your waste. It can also handle paper, cardboard, lawn clippings and garden waste. Many people recommend not including meat, bones or fats in your pile because these break down slowly, can cause unpleasant smells and can attract predators. I have ignored this advice with no problems and have discussed the matter with many other people who do as well. However, we are all farmers and out compost piles are HUGE, containing lots of farm waste as well as kitchen waste. I think the average compost bin probably couldn’t get away with it.
If you have no place to set up a composting bin, you may be able to dispose of your scraps elsewhere. Some municipalities have composting collections. A quick online search or a phone call will let you know if yours is one. Otherwise, consider asking around to friends and neighbors to see if they will take your compost. Avid gardeners may be eager to do so. I would happily take your compost.

Get Loud

Ask your grocery store what they do with their less-than-perfect merchandise. Do they have a rack for nearly expired things? Do they donate their nearly expired packaged food, or send their less than fresh produce to a composting facility? Ask some questions and research solutions to suggest.

Cooking from Scratch

Cooking from scratch, is the main focus of most of this book. It doesn’t just enhance the magic in your meals, it reduces the carbon footprint of your food at every level. I am not going to tell you how to do it in the section because I spend so much time telling you how in other sections. Instead, I’m going to try to make an argument for why you should.

First, we know that a certain amount of food and packaging waste takes place at every level, from production to manufacturing to distribution. We also know that your producers have to ship their products out to either distributors or manufacturers who will then turn their products into more convenient foods. At each level the product is picked through and less than ideal specimens are discarded, it is packaged, then it is shipped again where it is unpacked, picked through, processed and repackaged before it is shipped again. For every processing stop, the footprint goes up and the more ingredients are involved, the higher its environmental footprint becomes. Minimally processed ingredients have had less travel, less handling (and thus fewer options to become contaminated) and have been repackaged fewer times.

Minimally processed foods also tend to come in packaging that’s easier to dispose of in a sustainable manner. Flour comes packaged in paper versus bread which comes in a plastic bag (unless you get it direct from the bakery). Most greens can be purchased un-packaged, and put in your own bag reusable produce bag for the journey home, while salad kits are packaged in plastic bags, often with a little non-recyclable pouch of dressing or bacon bits inside.

There are, of course, degrees of cooking from scratch. You can buy chili, or you can buy ground meat to make chili, or you can buy a chunk of meat to grind up into chili. I do not have a meat grinder at this stage of my life, so I am not going to be doing the latter (though I might shred some leftover meat to make something like chili.) I also do not grind my own grain just now and though I really enjoy doing my own, I also think our local bakery makes some amazing stuff. We have do what we can with the tools and the time we have available to us. I prefer to make my own sauce bases, rather than resorting to the old cream of mushroom soup and canned marinara sauce that were staples of my mother’s kitchen, but I am not a huge fan of canning, so, unless it’s tomato season or I’ve been gifted from someone’s stash, I’m probably going to use store-bought canned tomatoes. And if the sliced mushrooms are cheaper than the whole mushrooms, I might just buy the sliced mushrooms. I also don’t make my own crackers or butter or yogurt. I can, I have, I don’t. I find the best quality I can afford in the most sustainable packaging I can find and I store them carefully so they don’t go to waste.

Dining Out and Carry Out

I really enjoy dining out at a good quality restaurant and sometimes I have a hankering for classic fast food as well. Unfortunately, many restaurants provide their diners with pre-packaged convenience food served on styrofoam plates and cups with plastic silverware. There are some restaurants that do better and I am inclined to believe that restaurants that give a thought to sustainability also give more thought to the selection and preparation of their ingredients. It goes hand in hand. Our own attitude toward dining out and carryout makes a difference too, and while giving up restaurants, carryout and fast food entirely is not practical or desirable for most of us, we can take steps to reduce the impact of our occasional, or even frequent, indulgences in someone else’s cooking.

Eating in a restaurant, you may not have a lot of options for greening your experience as the restaurant is in full control. You can opt out of the straw you will likely be offered. I personally find it difficult to drink from a glass with ice in it without a straw, but requesting no ice seems to give the servers a bit of a problem when they’re going around to tables with their water jug full of ice, so I try to bring my own straw, if I can remember. There are quite a few options for reusable straws on the market, I like to use a silicone straw. You’ll need a special brush to clean it, but a pipe cleaner works in a pinch and the kids art supply stash always seems to have some.

Most restaurants serve you on reusable plates, coffee cups and glasses with metal silverware but some are still using disposable serveware. I tend to avoid these when I can, but places that serve a lot of takeout especially still use these often. If it’s a place you really love, I suggest you mention it to the manager. If you’re a regular and you say it enough, they might start to listen.

Another option, especially with takeout, is to bring your own container. This feels weird, but it’s becoming more popular and some places will even give you a discount for doing so. When you are bringing your own container, you often will need to order at the counter, rather than on the phone or at the drive-through because packaging the food is often part of the preparation. You can call your favorite takeout place and discuss your options here, or just show up and work it out with them in person.

When going to a fast food restaurant, the most sustainable option is to go in and order it “for here” and package it yourself. You will still end up with a bunch of garbage, but it will be less than the alternative. They will often give you a cup to fill at the fountain and you can tell them you don’t need it and fill the reusable cup or bottle you’ve brought yourself instead. Sometimes they even have big condiment pumps and little paper packets you can use, instead of throwing those non-recyclable pouches in the bottom of the bag. Then when they give you your food on a tray, you can take it off the tray and put it into the insulated lunch box you’ve brought along and be on your way. Sometimes this takes longer than the drive-through, but I’m not sure it often does. And as an added bonus, you can wash your hands while you’re in there and your car isn’t idling and wasting gas while you’re waiting in line.

Cleaning Green

Much of the waste and toxins that go into and out of our homes do so in the name of sanitation. Our obsession with disinfecting has been driven largely by product advertising, even though many studies have shown that many of them leave our hands and surfaces no cleaner than plain old soap and water. Keeping your home clean is important to your health and your magick (clutter interferes with energy flow) and it can be done sustainably.

Go paperless, but only if it’s practical.

One simple step to reducing the amount of garbage going out of your house is to replace all of your paper towels, napkins and handkerchiefs with reusable fabric versions. Making these are easy and might only require cutting up and possibly hemming some fabric you got at the fabric store, some worn out t-shirts and old linens. However, if you live in a place that experience frequent water shortages or you have to schlep your laundry down to the laundromat every week, you might find it makes more sense stick with the paper. There can be a lot of laundry involved in a paperless household.

Many paper products now are available in recycled versions at little to no added cost and you may wish to choose these instead. Paper is recyclable and biodegradable and paper towels and napkins can go in your compost if they were used to clean up food messes- but not if they were used to clean up chemical messes.

Do not use pre-moistened towelettes. This includes “flushable” wipes which wreak havok on sewer systems and do not break down the way paper does, baby wipes and disinfecting surface wipes. They can’t be recycled or composted. They also tend to come in non-recyclable containers. Obviously, there are situations where these wipes are necessary. I have worked in healthcare for some years where these wipes are as ubiquitous and necessary as disposable gloves. But at home, a wet washcloth or a spray of cleaner followed by a wipe of a paper towel or washcloth are quite sufficient.

I also avoid sponges. They are wonderful for breeding bacteria and spreading it around surfaces and need frequent disinfection to be anything but counterproductive. So I prefer the good old fashioned wash rag which can goes in the laundry at the conclusion of the evening kitchen cleanup.

Make your own cleaning products.

Many people make their own cleaning products because it means there are less mysterious chemicals coming into the house and because it saves money and if you use the same container each time you refill, you are also saving on waste. As a bonus for the Kitchen Witch, you can choose what herbs you use to scent your cleaning products based on the energies you want to bring into your home. Basil for harmony, rosemary for making good memories, sage to keep good energies flowing in, cinnamon for abundance, allspice for luck. (See the Lotions and Potions chapter for more on this.) I use vinegar and water for most everyday cleaning and diluted alcohol (vodka works best) for deep cleaning these can both be scented, though the alcohol leaves the freshest scent at the end. Baking soda makes a wonderful scouring powder.