Earth Day Food for Thought: Shrinking Your ‘Cookprint’
Cookbook author Kate Heyhoe would like you to put down that organic avocado and chew on this morsel for a moment:
When it comes to being green, what you eat is not enough; how you cook it and what you cook with are equally essential to the green equation.
On the first page of her new book, “Cooking Green,” Heyhoe tells us right up that “appliances account for 30 percent of our household energy use, and the biggest guzzlers are in the kitchen.” (She refers to the oven as the “Humvee of the kitchen.”)
As we talk about reducing our carbon footprint on this Earth Day -- and going forward -- Heyhoe, who’s based in Austin, Tex., would like us to consider shrinking our “cookprint” as well – the energy it takes to prepare food every day. In the interview notes below, she explain what the heck that newfangled word means and how the electric kettle can be your new best friend.
You've coined two terms in "Cooking Green": cookprint and ecovore. They sound an awful lot like carbon footprint and locavore, two words we've been hearing in the green and sustainable worlds. How do your words differ from what's already out there?
I chose these words because they’re more specific and accurate to my intent. Cookprint is the entire chain of resources used to create the foods you eat, including water and land, and the waste produced in the process. Carbon footprint measures carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Shrinking your cookprint includes saving water and energy, as well as reducing waste and emissions.
Being green is all about making choices. An ecovore looks at the total impact of food with fluidity, not rigidity. Our food choices are, at any given time or in any given place, in constant flux, because of changes in ecosystems, economics, and technology. Ecovores eat foods that are in harmony with the environment, both currently and for the foreseeable future, locally and globally. An ecovore’s diet pivots on a series of judgment calls based on conditions at the time and place. This season’s local salmon may be sustainable, but next year it may not (and would then not be part of an evocore diet, even though the food is local). And conversely, as we make progress, what casts a carbon footprint last week may not be an issue tomorrow. World hunger matters, too. In a global rice or corn shortage, an ecovore picks a different food to eat.
Locovores limit their foods to a specified radius, like 100 miles for instance, which is great if you live in Napa Valley but not very practical for most people, and not always very nutritious. And just because a food is local doesn’t always mean it’s abundant or sustainable. Nor is a distant food automatically offensive; most shade-grown, organic coffee does a lot to sustain the rain forest and provide farmers with a sustainable lifestyle that relies on preserving the rain forest, not destroying it. The impact of transportation also factors in, and needs to be weighed against other factors. More efficient and greener ways of bringing distant foods to the masses are developing, so an ecovore looks forward at progress, too.
You argue in the book that "being a vegan or vegetarian is not the same thing as being an ecovore." Why?
Vegan or vegetarian diets are not the same thing as being an ecovore because they typically don’t weigh in on the fluidity and flux of other global conditions, and are limited by definition to the type of food itself.
So what do you say to a homeowner (or renter) with perfectly good appliances -- get rid and start over with Energy Star appliances? What's the next greenest option? What's a reasonable green step for those with limited funds?
Obviously, don’t get rid of anything that works well and is at least moderately efficient. Energy Star appliances are as affordable as others these days. Don’t buy a new appliance unless your old one is really inefficient; and ask your city’s recycling center about the best way to recycle the old appliance.
You're saying ixnay to the garbage disposal? Why is it an environmental vice?
It wastes electricity, gasoline and water. The chewed up gunk ends up being trucked to the landfill, after being processed at the waste water plant. If you don’t compost, then throw out the waste with the trash. But try to waste less food in the first place; avoid spoilage and over-consumption. A family of four throws out 122 pounds of food each month.
Tell me why you love the toaster oven. Do you have a favorite brand or a few to recommend?
Toaster ovens consume a fraction of the fuel of a standard oven, which I call the Humvee of the kitchen. Standard ovens waste about nine percent of the fuel they use; most of the heat goes into the walls of the oven, the air, and your kitchen; not into cooking the food. Toaster ovens take less time to heat up and cool down, and their smaller capacity uses less fuel. Today’s better toaster ovens are well designed to roast chickens, cook pizzas, and broil as well as a standard oven does. New models are coming out every season, so check with consumer sites to see which perform best, and opt for convection models which cook more efficiently. In general, the lower the price, the poorer the performance, but mid-range models are typically fine.
Any kind of cooktop that seems promising on a green front?
Induction cooktops are coming down in price, and you can buy single portable induction burners if you don’t want to shoot for a whole cooktop.
Tell me your favorite non-tea tricks/uses for the electrical kettle!
Arrange nine lasagna noodles in a glass baking dish. Pour boiling water over, cover with a baking sheet to keep the heat in, and jiggle the noodles around periodically to keep from sticking. In 25 minutes they’ll be tender; cool the water and pour over plants to repurpose it, wipe the dish dry and build your lasagna in it. You’ll save washing another pot. Follow the same process with one-inch pieces of green beans or asparagus, thinly sliced zucchini, and other vegetables, but scale back passive cooking time; usually five minutes is plenty for crisply tender, blanched veggies. Taste to test.
Do you ever ever hit up the thrift shops for used appliances?
I get plenty of samples to test, so no, but I do recommend putting used appliances to use. I also suggest holding a neighborhood appliance swap, for crockpots, rice cookers, bread machines and anything else gathering dust.
You poo-poo the long-held notion of oven preheating. Does that apply to baking too?
Baking is more tricky and not always recommended, but some recipes are being written with cold start cooking in mind. Fleischmann’s has some and I have a Cold Oven Clove and Ginger Cake in the book. Casseroles and baked potatoes start great in a cold oven.
For those just getting started on the greening-up journey, what are five things one can do off the bat to greenify the kitchen life?
* Avoid meat. A single serving of beef requires 2600 gallons of water to create, and it’s got a hefty methane output. Chicken uses 408 gallons, rice 36 and almonds 12. Eat lower on the food chain.
* Start rethinking meals and strive for the most energy-efficient cooking methods. Avoid using your oven; opt for cooktop cooking, or crockpots, or toaster oven instead.
* When cooking, prepare enough to save or freeze to eat later, or to add as ingredients in other dishes. You’ll use uses fewer resources. Beans and rice freeze great. And eat more raw foods.
* Avoid single serving containers. Buy in bulk and fill your own reusable small containers.
* Run only full loads in an Energy-Star dishwater, and you’ll use less water than washing by hand. And run electric appliances including dishwashers after 8PM; it saves energy at the source by avoiding the power “rush hour,” when more resources are strained and emissions higher.
And the next five?
* Don’t run the hot water tap unless you really need hot water; it triggers the water heater to refill and heat the replaced water, wasting fuel.
* It takes a lot of energy to bring a pot of water to a boil. When boiling a big pot of water for potatoes or pasta, multitask and cook staggered or simultaneously: blanched green beans or other vegetables, hard-cook eggs, corn on the cob, shrimp, or scoop out some of the hot water to cook (pour over couscous) or bughur wheat. Boiling water is the same temperature (212 degrees F) whether it’s raucously boiling or gently boiling. More fuel just boils the water more wildly. So turn down the heat until water is just boiling, not frenzied.
* When using the oven, bake multiple dishes simultaneously. Like roasting garlic, beets, or potatoes while roasting chicken.
* Waste less. Keep the fridge at the optimal range of 35 to 38 degrees for extending the life of fresh foods.
* Fill up empty gaps in the fridge and freezer (containers of water work well); the unit consumes less fuel.
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