Year for the Planet Week 8: My Sustainable Grocery List

Before you can fix the world, you have to fix yourself. Year for a Planet is a personal challenge to be a better human for the planet for a whole year. This year, 2017, is where I deal with my food choices.

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By this time, I have my grocery list down. In markets, I am armed with three reusable bags, which I wash after every shopping trip so I can stick them back in my handbag and be prepared. Doing this, I’ve noticed, will help give you an allergy to plastic bags—it’s now easy to say no to these because they feel like things I shouldn’t touch.

Here is what I typically buy:

1. Tofu
This is my main source of protein so I buy a lot of these.

2. Milkfish
Known locally in the Philippines as bangus, this fish is something I have about twice a week. I marinade it in vinegar and garlic for at least 30 minutes before frying.

3. Sweet Potatoes
I roast these and have them with tofu several nights a week. Sweet potatoes are great for battling inflammation, not to mention being very affordable, being low on the glycemic index and high on the satiety index. Translation: they’re cheap, won’t make me crash, and make me feel fuller for longer.

4. Lettuce
This is my main source of greens.

5. Zucchini
I substitute pasta noodles with zucchini noodles. I don’t want to hop onto that hipster “spiralized noodles” bandwagon, but I do feel a lot lighter and don’t need to take a nap afterwards. It’s not my favorite, but I like it enough to make it stay in my diet for now.

6. Spinach
I hate the taste of raw spinach, so I usually blend this into a smoothie.

7. Cauliflower
I’ve replaced white rice with blitzed cauliflower. This is high in vitamin C and low in calories (about 35 calories per cup compared to about 250 calories per cup of white rice) but it’s pretty expensive and sometimes the cauliflower I see in the supermarket looks quite sad so I only have this about twice a week.

8. Tomatoes
Cheap and readily available, not to mention extremely good for your skin and immunity, I have 2-3 tomatoes every day, whether in a raw salad, in an omelette, or roasted.

9. Mozzarella Cheese
I’ve shunned all forms of processed cheese and finally resorted to buying only natural cheese. Oh, rejoice.

10. Eggs
11. Black Olives
12. Mushrooms
When I’m sick of overnight oats or forget to make them the night before, I make myself a two-egg omelette, usually with black olives or mushrooms. My family buys organic eggs, which is only a few pesos more than the regular ones.

13. Bananas
A banana is the base for nearly all of my smoothies. It’s a good source of carbohydrates so I eat it near a workout.

14. Strawberries
I buy strawberries when in season. I learned they have more vitamin C than oranges.

15. Lemon
I use these for sauces and for my daily facials. They’re not cheap in the tropics so one lemon can last me about 10 days.

16. Oats
17. Chia Seeds
I make overnight oats for breakfast.

18. Peanut Butter
I use this as a protein source, either for my oats or my smoothies.

19. Raw Cashews
20. Unsweetened Soy Milk
I make my own cashew milk to use in coffee or smoothies. I’m also looking forward to using these to make desserts in the future. When I have no time to make cashew milk or need some variety, I buy unsweetened soy milk, but am careful not to go overboard with soy since I already consume three servings of tofu almost every day (more than 5 is considered too high).

21. Coffee
I make my own cold brew coffee.

22. Raw Honey
I never buy sugar and use honey instead, though I realize I actually rarely put it in food anymore so I just use it as a face wash.

23. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
24. Coconut oil
Palm oil is one of the most common and cheapest cooking oils here on this side of the world. It’s also the most environmentally destructive, so of course it’s on my black list. These two are the ones I buy, though I use them sparingly.

25. Whole wheat bread
I rarely eat bread but when I do, I opt for whole wheat.

26. Hummus
This isn’t easy to get, and the cheapest ones come in a box (ugh), but I try to eat this when I’m having a huge craving for cheese, which despite being natural still makes me bloated.

27. Cocoa powder
I use this to make vegetables like spinach taste better in a smoothie, or in desserts I make.

28. Dark Chocolate with Stevia
Dark chocolate is great, and dark chocolate without sugar is even better. I’ve read articles that recommend dark chocolate bars to be at least 70%, but the 60% ones taste the best to me.

29. Apple Cider Vinegar
I drink two tablespoons of ACV mixed in a 250-ml glass of water (at least, or else it will erode the enamel of my teeth and other things downstream of swallowing) because they say it helps lower uric acid levels in the body. I can’t find a reliable article that reports this, but I suppose it can’t hurt. It’s also useful as a skin toner and hair shine, and it’s cheap—I love items that are multi-purpose. Empirically, I can say that it helps suppress my appetite so I don’t overeat. I take this before eating my heaviest meal of the day.

30. Balsamic Vinegar
I use this for salads.

31. Cane Vinegar
I use this cheap common vinegar to marinade fish. I also dilute it to wash vegetables, which researchers say is the safest method.

32. Spices
– Rosemary
– Thyme
– Turmeric
– Oregano
– Garlic
– Basil
– Black Pepper
– Red Pepper
– Cinnamon

I’ve discovered that spices are the way to turn things I found previously bland into dishes that are delicious. One teaspoon can go a long way, people, so I stock up. I’m also studying on how to grow these, which seems fun.

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Caveats and the Fine Print

I don’t think I’m wholly one with Mother Nature yet or anything, but I definitely think these are way better choices than I was making previously. It’s the same in martial arts; once you learn all the basic kicks in taekwondo, you develop some kind of mental curriculum that you repeat and change depending on your level of mastery. It turns into a new routine that your body gets used to.

By the same principle, this grocery list will change the more I learn. And I’m really happy—I’ve saved so much on time and money and will continue to do so just because of this project. It’s not perfect, though, so here are things I think about when making my food choices:

1. Nutrition

From the looks of things, I’m eating enough calories and nutrients except for two. I’m mainly pescetarian so b vitamins something I worry I don’t get enough of, so I stick about a teaspoon of flaxseeds in my smoothies. I also never go under the sun, so vitamin D3 is something I know I lack. It’s been shown to be important for immunity, so there’s really no excuse not to take them. I take a supplement every day.

2. Packaging

Beware, sometimes even sustainable items come dressed in unsustainable ones! I watch out for packaging, hoping for as little as possible, which is difficult as I have yet to find a zero-waste grocery in Manila. But there are better choices that are apparent, such as buying spices packed in glass instead of the ones doubly wrapped in plastic, buying things in bulk when possible, buying them all at once to save on carbon, etc.

3. Seasons and Location

I buy fruits and vegetables in season. I wish we could grow berries in the tropics but right now, my blueberry cravings will have to wait another few months. Some of my favorite fruits are bananas, strawberries (grown in the highlands), and avocados, which are plentiful here so I take advantage of these.

4. Storage

As much as possible I store food in glass or ceramic containers. I avoid plastic because I’m afraid of toxic chemicals leaking into the food. (They make you gain weight, among other things.) I think this is a great reason to take some glass blowing and pottery classes, too.

5. Cooking

If I have to fry or roast anything, I use porcelain-enameled, cast iron or stainless steel pans and a bamboo spoon. A blender is now indispensable.

6. Cleaning

I clean using natural dishwashing liquid, which thankfully wasn’t as expensive as I thought. Sustainable practices sometimes come with expensive price tags, which means it’s not sustainable for me. But here in the Philippines there are lots of small enterprises that sell good inexpensive products.

7. Variety

I eat out about once a week. There are just some dishes that I feel take so much time to cook that it’s better to just have them professionally done. And when I must have a pizza, I have it. I’m an artist, not a monk.

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Eight weeks down, 44 to go! Strangely, it’s a finish line that doesn’t feel like such an ordeal to get to.

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