Eco-Saturday: Cook at home

Eating at home is a great way to save money and shrink your environmental footprint.
Eating at home is a great way to save money and shrink your environmental footprint.

As I was unwrapping a drive-through burger the other day on my way back to the office, I got to thinking about the ridiculous amount of trash generated by the fast-food industry.

We used to eat out all the time, but we’ve cut back lately, mostly for reasons that have nothing to do with the environment. But since this is Eco-Saturday, let’s look at the environmental impact of dinner out first:

* More packaging. Fast food comes with all manner of wrappers, cups, napkins, bags, packets, straws, lids and plastic silverware.
* More meat. I think we’re all well aware of the environmental issues created by factory farms. Most restaurant menus are heavy on meat and light on vegetarian options; one of the primary obstacles for most would-be vegetarians is the difficulty of finding suitable meals. Cooking at home solves this problem, and for me, it happens almost automatically: I learned to cook during a vegetarian phase in college, so that’s my default mode in the kitchen. We eat way less meat when I cook.
* More fuel. If I stay home, I’m not driving to a restaurant or idling in a drive-through lane.

Other advantages:

* Cost. I could have bought a station wagon with the money we’ve blown in restaurants over the past five years. Literally.
* Quiet. The older I get, the less patience I have with noise, crowds, loud music and slow service — and around here, you’re virtually guaranteed to encounter some or all of that wherever you go. No, thanks.
* Health. Restaurants are notorious for huge portion sizes packed with excess fat, sugar and salt. I lost 15 lbs. during the six weeks after I moved last year, when I was too broke to afford dinner out. The weight came right back when we started eating at restaurants again.

I’m not suggesting you should abandon restaurants entirely. But make them a treat, not your default mode. If you aren’t craving a specific food, and you don’t have your heart set on a particular restaurant, look in the pantry and see what you could make yourself. Below the fold is a basic grocery list to help you get started.

In the freezer:
Veggie “meat” (burgers, “chicken,” crumbles)
Assorted vegetables
Roasted green chiles

In the fridge:
Greek yogurt
Shredded cheddar
Grated Parmesan
Juice (orange, lemon, lime)

In the pantry:
Flour tortillas
Canned beans (black, pinto, garbanzo)
Canned tomatoes
Pasta (rotini, capellini and couscous)
Spaghetti sauce
Olive oil
Tortilla chips
Ranch seasoning mix
Dried TVP and/or Soy Curls
Hamburger buns

Fresh items:
Fruit (bananas, apples, oranges)
Vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, celery sticks, baby carrots, onions, garlic)

Your list may vary, but those are the items we use on a regular basis. From that combination of ingredients, I can throw together quesadillas, burritos, chili, pasta, pasta salad, hummus and several other dishes in a matter of minutes.

Need recipes? Follow my Vegan Friday Pinterest board for pictures and recipes I’ve posted this year. Besides being vegan, many of my recipes are designed to go together in less time than you’d spend in the drive-through. If you prefer meat, check Pinterest or Google “easy [insert ingredient here] recipes” to satisfy your cravings. And learn to steal recipes. If something tastes good, eat slowly, with a pen in hand, and write down everything you taste so you can recreate it at home.


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