Saturday, April 30, 2011

Green Your Pantry: 10 Do's and Don'ts


From safe, nontoxic food storage and green cleaning to the basics of whole bulk foods and integrated pest management, get started on a healthier Earth-friendly diet today with these tips. By Dan Shapley

Do: Stock Bulk Whole Foods

The pantry is the place for go-to foods you need to make meals. Most of your stores should be real foods – unprocessed whole foods, like grains, root vegetables, legumes, dried fruit and nuts – and minimally processed foods like pastas. A good rule of thumb: Foods without ingredient lists or heavy-handed health claims on their packaging (or without packaging at all) are the best choice. Those foods with short ingredient lists made up only of items you recognize and can pronounce are good, too. Anything else is best thought of as "food" in name only.

Don't: Stock Processed Foods

It's often true that whole foods take more time and expertise to cook well (though couscous will rival even the quickest of quick-fix meals) but it's also true that processed foods tend to be loaded with high-fructose corn syrup and other calorie-heavy ingredients, preservatives and an array of artificial colors – including some linked to attention deficit disorder, cancer and allergic reactions.

Don't: Use Plastic Food Storage Containers

Plastic may be versatile, lightweight and cheap, but some types of plastic also leach chemicals into foods. If you're keeping some plastic around, purge anything marked with a recycling code No. 3 or 7 first. Those numbers are used to mark hard plastics that often have the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A. Whatever you use for food storage, avoid microwaving or cooking in plastic, and avoid using plastics that show signs of age, since these conditions make chemical leaching more likely

Do: Use Nontoxic Food Storage Containers

Choose glass, ceramic and stainless steel over plastic whenever possible. These materials are long-lasting, can often be transferred directly from the pantry or fridge to the oven or microwave, and – most importantly, they won't leach chemicals into your food.

Don't: Overstock Canned Foods

Unfortunately, plastics aren't the only packaging that leach chemicals into foods. The lining of cans also contains the suspect chemicals bisphenol-A and phthalates, both of which can mimic human hormones. A recent analysis found that families can reduce their exposure to the two chemicals by more than 50% simply by steering clear of canned foods, like soups, tuna and beans. Canned foods are an important part of emergency preparedness, though, so you'll probably want to keep some on hand just in case. Eden Organic is one brand that uses BPA-free cans.

Do: Make Your Own Green Cleaning Products

Save space in the pantry by stocking just a few simple cleaning agents: baking soda, vinegar, alcohol, club soda and lemon juice. That, a little knowhow and some elbow grease are all you'll need to clean just about anything in the house, from the kitchen counters and the oven, to the windows and the toilet bowl. Best of all – unlike most toilet bowl cleaners – these ingredients are useful in cooking, and relatively safe around small children and pets. (Not up to the task? Try an off-the-shelf green cleaner.) If you're making the switch, don't dump those cleansers down the drain! Check with your local waste hauler, municipality or with Earth911 to find the nearest hazardous household waste drop-off location and time. (That's right: Many are so toxic, they're considered hazardous waste.)

Do: Stock Reusable Items

Whether it's cutlery, flatware, napkins or towels, the rule of thumb should be: Wash and reuse. If you're using disposable paper plates and napkins, or plastic forks and knives, they're not only cluttering your pantry but also cluttering our landfills. Don't be too quick to be taken in by marketing about biodegrable or plant-based items, either; the Earth-friendly choice is reuseable, and – in the long run – far cheaper. If you're in the market for reusable napkins and towels, check the vintage styles at to kick your reuse up a notch.

Do: Check Food Safety Recalls

Even if you are a conscientious health nut who buys only organic food, your shopping trips may not be immune from the dreaded food safety recall. In recent months, everything from organic alfalfa sprouts to organic ground beef has been recalled, along with the usual sad litany of industrially processed meats and "foods." Check for relevant recalls, or sign up for e-alerts from

Don't: Use Toxic Pesticides

Anyone who's stored food knows that nature is never far away. Whether it's mice in the rice or moths in the oatmeal, critters are sometimes hard to keep away, and harder to get rid of. Before resorting to the strongest poison on the market, try integrated pest management techniques – which range from sealing cracks where mice might enter to sprinkling cayenne pepper to deter ants. Consult with this list of natural pesticide alternatives compiled by Beyond Pesticides before resorting to commercial pesticides.

Do: Stock Good Cookbooks

There is no shortage of excellent cooking guides that aim to help you eat a more vegetable-based seasonal and organic diet. Some of our recent favorites include:

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