The dividing line between green living and homesteading is blurry, but probably exists somewhere between recycling and vermicomposting. Wherever you lie on that spectrum, a big part of living a greener lifestyle is doing what's healthy for the planet and yourself. While truly living green means buying less stuff, there are some things worth buying (at least until you actually move to the homestead).
The following is a list of items, some of them more essential and some less, that should be in every green home's kitchen:
1. Reusable Bulk Bags: These are simple cloth bags with drawstrings used instead of plastic bags for your produce and bulk items like flour, beans, and nuts. Obviously, they are less useful if your local grocery store has an impoverished bulk section, but many food co-ops and natural markets like Whole Foods have pretty robust bulk sections. These bags are often made from natural materials and can be reused indefinitely. You get extra points for sewing your own bags or re-purposing other cloth bags (like the satchel Tom's shoes come in).
2. Canning jars: I think of canning jars as the backbone of a sustainable kitchen. They range in useful sizes from pints to gallons and are great for dry and wet food storage, sprouting (if you don't have a dedicated sprouting device), canning, and fermenting everything from kombucha to kimchi. Available at your local hardware store or food co-op.
3. Sprouting Device: I'll be honest: When I sprout, I keep the operation simple with a bowl or jar. But there are also commercial devices made especially for sprouting which you may find in a green kitchen's pantry. Why sprout your own? It maximizes the nutrition of the foods you already eat and is WAY cheaper than buying sprouts.
4. Gallon Crock: One of the telltale signs that you're really walking the walk is that you've got a nice earthenware crock for fermenting your CSA vegetables. Lacto-fermentation enhances vegetable nutrient value and shelf life and uses about zero energy resources, compared to canning or freezing which both require energy (either heat or electricity). You can occasionally pick up old crocks from yard sales, thrift stores, or antique shops (check for cracks). Harsch makes the most functional crocks, if you don't mind spending over 100 bucks a pop.
5. Miso Paste: Why, out of all the foods out there, is miso so special? First of all, because it's so tasty and healthy. How tasty? Tasty enough that foods like miso have their own secret flavor category (other than sweet, salty, sour, and bitter) called umami. How healthy? Miso is probiotic, aids digestion, is a great source of vitamins and minerals, reduces risk of some cancers, is high in antioxidants, and protects against radiation. To ferment it yourself could take a couple years, but to cook it takes about the same time as a Cup-O-Noodles, which we could call the anti-miso.
6. Coconut Oil: Once shunned by the health-conscious because of faulty information, cococunt oil is making a big comeback. It's versatile (the best vegan butter replacer) and tastes great. And compared to refined cooking oils (which are extracted with high heat and chemicals like hexane) coconut oil is much gentler on the environment. It also makes a great skin moisturizer and salve.
7. Rapadura: It's sugar. Why is sugar in the green pantry? Well, no doubt you already buy sugar in one form or other... why not buy the greenest sugar out there? Rapadura is unrefined sugar with all of its vitamins and minerals still intact. Refined sugar, on the other hand, goes through a process involving chemicals like sulfur dioxide, lime, phosphoric acid, and bleaching agents. Yeah, rapadura looks like dirt, but it's literally just dried sugar cane juice (not to be confused with “evaporated cane juice,” which is just refined sugar).
8. Dr. Bronner's 18-in-1 Castile Soap: Use it for body wash, dish soap, shampoo, laundry, tooth brushing, and more. Unlike most “soaps” on the market, it's biodegradable so you can even take it camping and wash your dishes in the river. And of course it's magical.
9. A Good Cutting Board: A good cutting board is like a badge of honor. It shows that you value your food and that you're buying those vegetables fresh from the farmers market (not pre-chopped at the supermarket). A good cutting board is one solidly built and made out of renewable wood (I've never met a plastic cutting board I liked... not to mention it's not renewable). Extra points if it's made by a craftsman rather than by a multinational corporation.
10. The Encyclopedia of Country Living: If you've got this book in your kitchen, you are well on your way to crossing the green living/homesteading threshold. It's the bible of DIY skills, from baking bread to churning butter to building a chicken coop. Make sure it's left on the counter as a conversation starter.
Some other non-essential items (but for which you get major green-living cred): A grain mill, dehydrator, beer carboys, and your own oil extractor for producing fresh vegetable oils.