Sure, processed foods can save you a little time. But what you gain in convenience, you lose in money, environmental impact and maybe even health.
That’s because processed foods require more labor to convert them from their natural state to something that fits in a box, bag or tub. You’re also paying for the chemicals added to the processed food to keep them fresh. You’re paying for the packaging, too, which is totally worthless once you get it home. Indeed, $1 out of every $11 you spend at the grocery store you spend on packaging you throw away.
Speaking of that packaging, it’s probably the biggest source of trash in your home. Think about the pile of empty boxes, bags and wrapping you’re left with after you unload your groceries and put them in the refrigerator or cupboard. Plastic waste is especially egregious since many communities still don’t recycle and it doesn’t biodegrade. Instead, it turns into millions of pieces of microplastic that get in the oceans and soil and that animals mistake for food.
Here are eight processed foods that normally come wrapped in paper or plastic that you can easily make at home. They’ll be fresher, cheaper and waste-free if you skip plastic produce bags and take your own when you shop.
Yogurt couldn’t be easier to make at home. Heat a half-gallon of milk to about 180 degrees, using a candy thermometer to test the temperature. You can heat it on the stove, but I usually do it in the microwave to prevent scalding. Let it cool to 110 degrees. Put a quarter cup of the milk in a glass or small mixing bowl and add a couple of tablespoons of powdered milk if you want thicker yogurt (this step isn’t essential). Add the mixture back into the bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of yogurt and whisk into the milk. Cover the bowl with a towel. Some people then put the bowl in a warm oven. I wrap mine in a heating pad, which I set on its highest setting for a couple of hours and then turn down to low for a few hours. It will take 4-6 hours for the milk to become yogurt. You can spoon it into individual serving jars or keep it in the bowl. Use the whey that collects in the bottom of the bowl in pasta sauces, salad dressings or just stir it back into the yogurt.
Buy raw chickpeas in bulk at your grocery store or food coop. If possible, use your own reusable bag to hold the peas. At home, soak them in water to cover overnight until soft. Or simmer them for a couple of hours until soft. Drain the chickpeas, rinse under running water, then drain and toss into a food processor with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 3 tablespoons tahini, salt, pepper, a clover or two of chopped garlic and the juice from at least half a lemon. Process until smooth. Season to taste, adding more lemon, garlic or tahini as desired.
3. Shredded Cheese
Pre-shredded cheese always comes in a plastic bag or tub along with chemicals to prevent mold growth and even the dust from wood pulp which is added to prevent the cheese from clumping. Why not grate your own cheese instead? It will be fresher, cheaper and you can minimize packaging if you buy a chunk of cheese from your deli counter rather than in the dairy aisle.
4. Salad Dressing
Most salad dressing is sold in plastic bottles which are hard, if not impossible, to recycle in most communities. Yet, DIY salad dressing couldn’t be easier to make and it’s tasty, too. For a simple vinaigrette, combine 1 part olive oil to 3 parts red wine vinegar in a clean jar with a lid. Add minced red onion, a sprinkling of salt, pepper and garlic powder and 1 or 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard. Stir vigorously until well combined. Adjust seasonings to taste. You can replace red wine vinegar with fresh lemon juice, add finely chopped basil or fiddle with it in other ways you like. For more ideas, see 7 Fantastic Salad Dressings You Should Make Today.
If you’ve never made your own mayonnaise, you’re in for a real treat. It’s fresh, flavorful and very creamy. Check out Alton Brown’s recipe, which whips together an egg yolk, salt, dry mustard, a bit of sugar, lemon juice, white wine vinegar and of course, oil. Double or triple the ingredients depending on how much you need, keeping in mind it will last just about a week in the fridge. Store it in glass jars with tightly fitting lids. And don’t miss this great Care2 post, 12 Surprising Uses for Mayonnaise.
I find most processed ketchup contains way too much sugar. You can dial the sweetness down and turn up the spices and flavor if you make your own. You can make it from canned tomatoes, but to skip the packaging, use fresh plum tomatoes you get at the grocery store or farmers market. Peel, seed and dice the tomatoes, add a tablespoon or so of minced red onion, a tablespoon or so of apple cider vinegar, minced garlic and hot sauce if you want some spice. Process in a food processor. If it’s not as thick as you’d like, simmer it on low until some of the liquid evaporates. You can also play with spices like ground ginger, cinnamon, honey and cloves. The beauty of making it yourself is that you can make it exactly the way you like it. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Why buy this in plastic tubs when it’s so much better made fresh? Chop fresh tomatoes into a small dice until you have about two cups. Add around a quarter cup chopped red onion and a smattering of diced green peppers or cucumbers if you want more veggies. Flavor with lime juice, chopped cilantro leaves, a teaspoon or so of ground cumin, a couple of cloves of garlic minced and something hot—Sriracha, Tabasco, chili pepper flakes or chopped chili peppers. Add the heat incrementally so you don’t overdo it.
Most juice comes in plastic throwaway bottles or jugs. You can make your own orange, tangerine and grapefruit juice simply by cutting the fruit in half and using a hand juicer to press out the liquid. For vegetable juices and apple or pear juice, you’ll probably need an actual juicing machine (most food processors will simply puree the fruit or veggies, not juice them). But if you drink a lot of juice, it might be worth the investment to buy an electric juicer.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.