Zero-Waste Kitchens and Low-Energy Cooking

Food is the single largest source of waste. Worldwide, we throw away about a third of our food. More food ends up in landfills than plastic or paper. The enormous amount of wasted food depends on our cooking and eating habits.  Generally, it is easy to be sitting at home, in front of your television, consuming whatever you want then throwing every‑thing in the trash. But have we ever thought, where does the garbage go?

Zero-Waste Kitchens

Given that most of the domestic waste originates in the kitchen, a green home should definitely include a zero-waste kitchen. Zero waste kitchens is not about recycling more of our kitchen waste from plastics containers, metal cans and glass jars. It is about acting on needless waste and stopping it from coming into our homes in first place. Bea Johnson  introduced the concept of the 5Rs in her book Zero Waste Home which are Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. The first and the second R address the prevention of waste, the third R encourage thoughtful consumption while the fourth and fifth Rs are the last stage processing of discards.

The Egyptian cuisine is considered one of the most time consuming and tiring kitchens with a lot of organic wastes. On top of that it is not energy efficient because of long cooking time. A lot of initiatives in Egypt started to promote for the idea of zero waste food. They collect food leftovers and pack them nicely and give them to needy people. Other NGOs can come to your door step and take for example cooking oil. Some also pay for it as incentives to encourage people not to throw it away. Throwing oil is not only a waste but also cause blockage for the sewage system. Food waste can be transformed to several sources of energy like biogas and biodiesel or even can be transformed to liquid fertilizers and compost.

Low Energy Cooking

Every winter we notice an increase in demand for gas cylinders.  Gas consumption increase during winter season due to long cooking time to prepare warm meals. It is not only waste of energy but waste of time as well.  We can reduce cooking time by following some simple practical tips.

  • Marinate the meat that we will consume along the month or even a week and then freeze them. They will take less time when cooked grilled or baked.
  • Another simple tip that is often overlooked way to reduce cooking time. Cook items you eat often in bulk – such as beef, chicken, rice and beans, or pasta – and freeze the leftovers for later use. If you’re freezing cooked pasta, drizzle a little oil over it to prevent sticking when you defrost.
  • Always make essential food components in a large quantity and freeze them. Like chopped onions, garlic, tomato sauce, broth etc.
  • It is important to match the size of any pot or casserole you use on the stove top elements.
  • Turn the heat down to the lowest setting after reaching boiling point. Higher heat just escapes round the side of the pot or boils the liquid faster but doesn't cook its contents faster.
  • Optimize the use of a preheated oven by cooking several dishes, either at once, or in a row.
  • Don't turn on the oven too soon before using. Just a few minutes is enough for pre-heating.
  • Turn off the oven or stovetop a few minutes early. The residual heat will keep cooking the food.
  • Use pressure cooker. It uses less energy than standard cooking pans. Reduction ranges from 70% up to 90 % and consequently reduces cooking time.
  • Adding one spoon of vinegar on meat reduce cooking time because it makes it more tender.
  • Do not add salt till late in cooking. Salt increase cooking time when added to beef for example. Add salt only if you are boiling water, as it makes it quicker to reach boiling point.
  • When you use the blinder, mixer or food processor, use it once for adequate amount not every day for small amounts. Freeze the extra amount for another use.

To conclude, it is not difficult to have a zero waste kitchen and it is easy to transform your kitchen's trash into valuable cash. Cooking can also be enjoyable, quick and yet energy efficient. We need always to remember that zero-waste kitchen is not only a physical kitchen, but it is mainly a mindset and lifestyle. 

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About Marwa Dabaieh

Marwa Dabaieh is an architect and BioGeometry® practitioner. She had several publications and lectures in the fields of energy efficient buildings, passive design, low carbon communities, sustainable conservation, vernacular architecture and BioGeometry®. She mainly applies transdisciplinary approaches in her research work through participatory action research methods. She received the Swedish Elna Bengtssons foundation prize for scientific research in 2012 for her PhD project. Currently Marwa is a post-doc researcher at Lund University in Sweden. Her current research focus is vernacular passive low-tech methods and their adaptation for contemporary energy efficient and affordable carbon neutral building practice.
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