As someone who is staunchly anti-diet with extreme energy limitations herself and as someone wants to put the fun back in food, I prefer to show rather than tell. But there’s always a big but… So here we are.
What even are sustainable ingredients?
There’s a lot of shit going on with the planet and everyone’s ability to keep living on it, so if you can afford to shop sustainably from both a financial and and energy perspective, it’s nice if you do.
Sustainable to me means:
- Everything living on this planet can keep living there comfortably
So no underpaid and abused workers, no horrifying living conditions for animals and no pollution (and no offsetting).
What even are accessible ingredients?
While I mostly try to focus on ‘accessible’ ingredients I am also half-Indonesian. This means I’ve spent time in toko’s* since before I was born, so to me Asian ingredients are accessible, whereas to you they might not be.
Google ‘replace [ingredient name] in cooking’ to figure out what might be easier to source for you.
I’m here, you’re there
A lot of the issues with access and sustainability are hard to cover on the English-section of the world wide web. The EU has fairly strict regulations on what can be sold as food, whereas the US tends to be a bit more slapdash with what is allowed to be sold for consumption. In that sense the information I have about which ingredients to use and which to avoid is extremely limited. Also, I’m not getting paid to do this and my energy levels are a dumpster fire, so not everything is as well-researched as it could be.
If you have questions: do your own research. Just be sure to dig deeper than the first search results on Google, between anti-vaxxers, the diet industry and racism the information you find on Google’s frontpage can be extremely off.
Don’t feel guilty, we can’t shop our way out of capitalism
I understand a lot of people aren’t in a position to make the choices I can make and don’t have access to the information I’ve had access to. As embedded as I am in food, food journalism and intersectional activism the below are things I’ve learned about over time, and things where my finances and access have changed to where I’m in a position to make different choices.
The least I can do is pass on what I know so you have a better understanding of what might work for you, but please do feel free to dismiss all of the below if none of it works for your particular situation.
Ultimately we live in a exploitative system that is draining all of our resources (some just at a faster and more visible pace than others) and I don’t believe we can shop our way out of capitalism. Our only chance for real change is activism and trying to get as many people in place that will fight to create changes and laws that promote sustainability, animal welfare and fair, healthy and comfortable living conditions for all.
What I do
Some of the basic things I do:
- Check out this walk-through the New York Times made a few years ago to help you understand what choices you can make from an environmental perspective
- I am lactose intolerant and use unsweetened soy or oat milk, most nut milks require a ton of water to produce which makes them unsustainable (see NYT link above). Unsweetened is just a personal preference
- If I shop at a supermarket I try to buy things with Bio-certification, this is an EU-certificate for things that are grown organically. It does have its issues. For example this label does not take into account the welfare of animals or laborers, they try to pressure bakers who use bio-flours in their products to get certified at a high cost or risk of a fine, and some sustainability issues are poorly covered. Getting certified is extremely costly, leaving some farmers to decide not to get certified while being more sustainable than the EU requires, but at least it’s something and in the Netherlands it’s usually not that much more expensive than ‘regular’ produce
- I buy canned Mutti- or Cirio-tomatoes, most other tinned tomatoes in Europe are produced using abusive labor practices (think indentured servitude or modern slavery) so I avoid those
- I rarely eat octopus anymore. It’s literally one of my favorite foods but has become so popular (in part due to its image as a sustainable choice) that it’s being overfished and no longer sustainable
- I love prawns but rarely eat them anymore, the carbon footprint for prawn farming is off the charts and prawns farmed in Asia are farmed using abusive labor practices (more indentured servitude and modern slavery)
- I try to eat meat or fish once every 2 weeks max and try to buy from local butchers and fish mongers, who source from local farms or fisheries. This is more expensive, but less of it means I can spend more on it so for me it evens out
- We all know the history of sugar is rooted in slavery, I wasn’t aware until recently that sugar production has clung on to these roots so I try to buy Fair Trade sugar now (though Fair Trade has its own problems, again: at least it’s something)
- I’ve stopped buying crappy supermarket cheese and buy fancy artisanal cheeses instead, supposedly these are more sustainable as they tend to be more seasonal. Bonus for me is I fucking love a good cheese, whereas supermarket cheeses just depress me. French and Swiss AOC-certified cheeses tend to be okay (and in Europe you can get some of those in supermarkets too). I’ve wrangled my budget around so I afford this, but it helps that I don’t like to eat cheese every day (who am I?)
- I’ve stopped buying crappy supermarket chocolate (again with the abusive labor practices) and order bean-to-bar chocolates. Again with the expensive and the budget wrangling
- The majority of the recipes I share here as of December 2020 are vegan or vegetarian. I don’t feel comfortable promoting the idea of ‘doing what you can’ to bring joy back to eating when that means buying cheap meat that was produced under horrifying conditions for animals and immigrant workers in slaughter-houses alike (both in the US and Europe), so here we are**
I may adjust the above as and when I learn about other disturbing bullshit, feel free to tell me if I’m wrong about anything or am missing something crucial.
* Toko’s are shops where the Dutch-Indonesian diaspora shops that have since expanded to cover ingredients for all Asian diasporas in the Netherlands
** Because I wrote it last year my book Nomnomnom coming out in 2021 in Dutch still contains meat recipes, it also comes with a plethora of vegan and vegetarian recipes and variations