1. Use vigin coconut oil. We are lucky to live in a country where virgin coconut oil can be procured at every grocery and Mercury Drug. Before the Americans came, most—if not all—cooking involving oil had a measure of pork fat or fragrant coconut oil. We’ve lost the taste for coconut-tinged dishes, but some places in Bali still find them delectable. Frying food with unrefined, unbleached, and non-deodorized coconut oil is great for your body, and also supports the right kinds of enterprises. If you don’t fancy ingesting it, you can use it for massages and moisturizing.
2. Produce edibles in your garden. Growing food is about so much more than eating better or saving money. I’ve derived countless lessons in patience and whatnot from gardening. Save some seeds from your tomatoes and grow them in your garden. Pick up an okra seed packet (they grow like crazy) and have beautiful gumamela-like flowers. Buy alugbati or camote tops at the grocery and stick them in the soil. When you go to the province for holidays, ask people for seeds of their local vegetables.
3. Choose pastured eggs. If there is one thing that you must stop buying now, it’s conventional eggs. The difference in taste and quality (not to mention harmful content) is just mind-blowing—so much so that I even bring my own eggs to restaurants when I want to eat them with something. We discovered when we started raising chickens pastured (or free-range, with greens and not just bare soil) that they nibble at plants throughout the day—not just grain. This results in eggs that are more nutritious. If a box says it has “organic” selenium, it means one of the feed components is organic.
A spread of pastured eggs, baking soda, and other fresh ingredients
4. Know what real butter is. Real butter is worlds apart from fake, compound butter or buttercream. Not only is butter good for you (better than hydrogenated margarines and spreads), it gives great flavor to anything you cook with it! Put a dollop on your rice or soup when you feel like you need a hug from inside.
5. Baking soda is a jack-of-all-trades in the home. I use it to scrub sinks down, to line the kitchen compost bin, to get food residue off skillets, and to make pancakes. Mixed with salt, it scrubs tubs and bathroom floors really well. It takes some getting used to, but the lack of a strong smell is definitely a plus, along with the fact that it doesn't pollute our waterways nor make your house cleaner sick. I bring containers for refilling at the shop and then put them in repurposed herb shakers (those jumbo dried rosemary containers with a flip cap and holes) on top of the kitchen sink so that I can sprinkle them easily on surfaces.
Multi-purpose baking soda
6. Know which substances can be harmful to the environment—and to yourself. Things like bleach are toxic to humans, animals, and the environment, but we use so much of them. These formulations containing bacteria-killing triclosan disrupt thyroid function, but are still ubiquitous. Products such as our Lemongrass Enzyme Deodorizer are a few steps toward a more harmonious approach to green cleaning. It uses live enzymes that neutralize the bacteria, and is nontoxic. It can be used to replace bleach in cleaning and deodorizing bathrooms, cleaning kitchen counters, and eliminating pet smells. It does so instantly and very well. For laundry bleaching, use hydrogen peroxide instead.
7. Rethink your toothpaste. Toothpaste is the black hole of less toxic products here. When I’m out of town, I score Weleda’s Salt Toothpaste. It is unparalleled in its cleaning ability, containing abrasive sea salt and mintiness. You will find this in apothecaries abroad. Locally, I go to Healthy Options for JASON or Nature’s Gate, or Assad for Dabur Tooth Powder (a mix of spices that makes for a messy endeavor, but worth the experience and freshness).
8. Use Muji's linen washcloth. Buy a good bathstool and this biodegradable wash cloth and enjoy limitless hours of scrubbing away at your limbs and noticing things about your toenails that you’ve never noticed before. Use bath time as a time to plan the day ahead and make sense of the day that was, and appreciate life in general.
9. Practice segregating your garbage. For small spaces, there are stackable bins that allow you to toss your refuse into each bin without unstacking. Talk to your building administrator or garbage collector about how best to segregate. Just remember to wash and dry food containers before chucking them in. To avoid food packets that are difficult to clean, bring plastic containers to the grocery for your meats, tofu, and other “wet” goods, so you don't have to deal with the garbage after.
10. Read up! One of the biggest changes you can make in your life is to begin learning about your local culinary heritage. More than half of what we eat is imported. Besides, we could sure use a movement to make our food-life more interesting, while keeping money in our economy and strengthening our agricultural sector. Acquaint yourself with local dishes (as well as Southeast Asian ones, which use a lot of the same produce), and you will find that you are satisfying your stomach with food made from better quality, fresher ingredients, and for a lot less money. Amy Besa’s book, Memories of Philippine Kitchens, now on its second edition, gives an introduction to the varying foodscapes and traditions of the country.