If I had my way, every American cook would read Cooking Green—it's that important.
Our individual food choices—how we select and prepare our food, how we store it and dispose of the wastes—are part of what has become an enormous, life-changing global problem: global warming and climate destabilization, caused by human production of greenhouse gasses. Kate Heyhoe estimates that twelve percent of all these emissions result from growing (think fossil-fueled agriculture), packaging, transporting, and preparing our food. Over 7,000 tons of carbon dioxide per household per year is attributable to what and how we eat. Chew on that for a moment.
If we care (and we should) what can we do? Cooking Green is full of good ideas for reducing what Heyhoe calls our "cookprint," the environmental impact of every meal we eat. She starts by suggesting that we should think of ourselves as "ecovores," choosing and eating "foods that are raised and grown in harmony with the environment." This is more flexible and realistic than strict "locavore" practices, such as the 100-mile diet. It is more ambiguous as well, as she describes in a section called "The Ecovore's Dilemma." It means thinking, reading, evaluating, deliberating, for these are not easy matters, in an era when there are too many of us and we use too many limited natural resources.
Some of Heyhoe's ideas will challenge your idea of a home-cooked meal. Turn off that inefficient oven, she says ("ovens are the Humvees of the kitchen"), and plug in a toaster oven. Reconsider the cooktop, and opt for a greener flame, using more energy-efficient appliances and "passive" cooking practices. Adopt low-impact waste-disposal methods.
Shopping? Be mindful of the seasons, eat more plants and less (much, much less) industrially-farmed meat. Understand "organic," think field-to-fork, consider fair trade, check for sustainable sourcing, weigh the packaging. Eating out? Ditto all this, and look for restaurants that have gone "green."
Nobody said this was easy.
But Heyhoe is right: "The reversal of climate change requires a complete paradigm shift and global actions, in more than just food and cooking. But one thing leads to another. Little steps in behavior can make a big difference in how we think."
There are a few things to quibble with. To my mind, gardening is one of the most important ways we can contribute to our personal food supply, but Heyhoe dismisses this with "grow a few greens." Dishwashers consume more than just hot water (Heyhoe's only measure of efficiency), especially when you consider the resources and energy that goes into manufacturing, shipping, and marketing the appliance. My dishpan requires no electricity, and doesn't cost as much to make or market as a dishwasher.
And one more caveat: While Heyhoe cuts every possible corner in the kitchen (active and passive cooking strategies, water conservation, and low-carbon choices for almost everything) and emphasizes local foods, she sometimes strays into exotic, non-local recommendations, such as these ingredients from her section on using energy-efficient woks: Portuguese linguica, Spanish chorizo sausage, Indian potatoes, coconut milk. For me, these occasional lapses only demonstrate how difficult it is to re-train ourselves to local food choices.
But these are minor issues. I was challenged by this book to make important changes in what I thought were already careful food choices and cooking practices. You will be, too. But you have to start by reading it.
P.S. When you've read the book, check out the website. Lots more good stuff there.
Kate Heyhoe is the founding editor of The Global Gourmet and The New Green Basics. She's a James Beard Award finalist and the author of eight books. She lives near Austin, TX.
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