Finn Ni Fhaolain is a marine scientist, chef and author of best selling cook book, Finn's World. Last year she received a McKenna Award for Milish the zero waste gluten-free business that she created. So who better to advise us on sustainable cooking...
These are strange times and unless you’re in a front line job, for many of us working from home is the new norm or work may even be on hold. A very interesting side effect is that we’re face to face with our true waste for the first time. All across Ireland we’re seeing a massive spike in household waste. While many would be horrified by this, I think its a blessing in disguise. All our meals are being produced at home, there’s no takeaway coffee or dinners. We are seeing the waste that comes from each meal. Something that’s hidden from us when we’re purchasing in cafes and restaurants or when we throw out packaging at the office.
So I say lean into it! Take stock of your pantry, scrutinise that grocery list and let's see where changes can be made. Not only will it be good for your pocket, but it is great for the planet too!
Without further ado here are my Top Tips For a More Sustainable Kitchen
1. Food packaging - Plastic vs Everything Else. Shop loose first (think bread, fruit and veg, you can BYO bag for these if possible), then glass jars (since you can use these for storage containers), then tin (it's infinitely recyclable), then cardboard/paper (recyclable or can be used for gardening etc). Think of plastic as a last resort! Many types of soft plastics are not recyclable in Ireland and unlike glass or tin, plastic has only one, max two more times when it can be viably recycled.
2. Use old newspapers instead of expensive biodegradable bags for your countertop compost bin (bonus point, have a countertop compost bit that then goes into a garden compost or the little brown bin).
3. Use old egg cartons to start your window sill garden - things like scallions and garlic can be grown directly from the offcuts of what you’re already buying as part of your groceries 4. Shop sustainably for your delph and cutlery. Most of mine comes from thrift shops for next to nothing. I don't mind that things aren’t a perfect set, but chose a colour scheme of pale pink, pale grey and white so everything still “matches”.
5. If you’re choosing wooden over plastic e.g. chopping boards, show them some love! I treat mine once a month with olive oil and lemon mix (antibacterial and stops the wood from drying out).
6. Clean green. My favourite brand is Lily’s Eco Clean as they’re a small Irish company and their products can be refilled at the local health food store/bulk shop making it more affordable than traditional products. I have the dish soap, the multi-purpose cleaner and make my own glass cleaner (1 cup water, 1 cup white vinegar, 5-10 drops essential oil e.g. eucalyptus and lavender).
7. I never use t-towels, instead just cut old clean cotton t-shirts into squares and have a bag of them hanging under the sink. Great for spills but also for cleaning glass or dusting.
8. Love thy freezer. It's been said a million ways, but I’ll say it again. Bulk cook and freeze in portioned containers (you can use all those glass jars you’re now accumulating, as long as you only fill them 3/4). Only do this for food you love and will eat. Don’t do it with anything you didn’t like that much and will just lurk in your freezer for months to come.
9. Ditch the clingfilm! Fun fact, I once ran an entire industrial kitchen with no cling film and very little tinfoil. So I guarantee you can do it too! Check out my recipe on www.saltwaterstories.me for an easy to make and affordable beeswax wrap ( to replace clingfilm) and get in the habit of soaking and reusing glass jars to store things.
10. There are many stats on eating plant-based, I don’t need to throw them at you, I’m sure you’ve heard. Swapping to even just a few plant-based meals per week is the single greatest thing you can do to make your kitchen more sustainable. To give you an example - last year alone (I did some rough calculations on it) eating plant-based had nearly x4 more impact on reducing my carbon footprint than all the changes I made including my commute, international travel, energy use combined. Wow. Just wow.
11. Conscious cup. Did you know that most tea bags are sealed with a plastic glue. Say what?!
Opt for loose leaf tea for a plastic-free (and far superior) cuppa. For coffee fiends such as myself who’ve given into a capsule machine, there is a hoard of companies now doing completely compostable pods using fairtrade coffee! For coffee beans, I am forever in love with Calendar Coffee, top tier ethical practices, charitable donations and the best coffee I’ve ever had.
12. Second hand appliances. We’ve all baulked at the price of a food processor or lusted after a milk frother. With prices in the hundreds to thousands, big ticket kitchen items are often more aspirational than attainable. But with sites like www.donedeal.ie and Facebook marketplace you can find the blender of your dreams at a fraction of the price. Your dream is someone else’s unwanted wedding gifts. Real life example? I hate juicing and made someone very happy when I got rid of mine. For free. Meanwhile, I’m still jonesing for that milk frother.
Finn’s Top 5 Changes You to Live More Sustainably - Without Leaving Your House or Spending a Cent
1. Green Search. Switch your web browser to Ecosia. Trees are planted for every search you make. Saving the planet while going about your normal daily life. What’s not to love?
2. Green Food. Plan some plant-based meals for this week. Got a bag of lentils sitting at the back of the cupboard still unopened? Try making some dahl. Even better if there’s a tin of chickpeas try making your own hummus, you’d be amazed how easy it is!
3. Green Clothes. Repair your clothes! Ok so if you don’t have a needle and thread this might involve a tiny investment, but it's still something small you can pick up in the supermarket. With the advent of fast fashion, the amount we wear our garments has drastically decreased. But by buying better made (new or second hand) and repairing them, we drastically increase that lifespan. Never done it before? The girls over at Sustainable Fashion Dublin have some great tutorials and you’ll always find a wealth of knowledge on Youtube.
4. Green skin. Fun fact, pretty much all of my skincare (bar my face oil) can be found in the kitchen aisle - play around to find what works for you and your skin. A few staples I’ve used for years - coconut oil as body moisturiser, cacao powder and cornstarch as bronzer, cornstarch and orange blossom essential oil as dry shampoo, used coffee as exfoliator scrub and honey or avocado as a face mask. What will you try first?
5. Green TV. Getting lost in a hole of doomsday-eque bad news sites will depress you to the point of apathy. Instead, make your favourite tea, get cosy on the couch and watch some informative, but inspiring doco’s instead. I steer away from the more hardcore ones too as I find they can also traumatise me into inaction. My favourite is The True Cost (helped me kick fast fashion instantly and I never went back). The Patagonia youtube channel is also a great option as they’re now uploading their movies there for free!
Cake for breakfast? That’s right! I absolutely LOVE banana bread for a Saturday morning treat but have decided to mix it up a little and create a healthier, plant-based spin on carrot cake that is healthy enough to eat for breakfast and sweet enough to enjoy as a treat with a good coffee. It’s a moist flavourful loaf that keeps well for days, but also freezes well, slice it up and enjoy all week!
Makes a 9inch loaf tin
If you can’t find plant-based cream cheese in your supermarket try a coconut milk based icing instead.
Preheat the oven to 180C (less if you’re using a fan assisted oven).
Line a loaf tin with bakery paper. Blend all wet ingredients until smooth, set to one side in a large mixing bowl. The outer layer on the chia seeds will turn to gel on contact with water and that gives us our “eggs” for this recipe.
In another bowl mix all dry ingredients together.
Add dry ingredients to wet. Gluten free flour blends have different absorbances. If it feels a little dry add 1/2 to one cup of your chosen plant-based milk.
The dough should be a very thick batter.
Add grated carrot and nuts to the batter and stir to combine, pour into the loaf tin.
The cake can take up to 50 minutes depending on your oven.
Use a clean toothpick/skewer to check the cake. If it comes back clean then the cake is ready.
If it still has batter on it, the cake needs a little longer.
When ready (golden brown), remove and allow to cool for 10 mins in the tin, then transfer to a cooling rack. Allow the cake to cool completely before serving.
To make the frosting, mix the orange juice and zest through the cream and slowly whip in the sugar to your desired sweetness. Then refrigerate.
I LOVE this frosting, so instead of having it on top of the loaf in the traditional way, I like to use it as a spread and then top with some fresh fruit to decorate!
This sweet slice is healthy enough to have for breakfast (just go easy on the frosting) or is the perfect treat to look forward to with a strong coffee for your work break!
You can also top with your favourite nut butter and chia jam for an even healthier option.