Casual Kitchen had the good fortune of receiving a review copy of yet another exceptional book: Kate Heyhoe's Cooking Green. As with any book or cookbook I review, my goal is to warn you away from the bad ones and draw your attention to the good ones. Here's another really good one.
It's easy to write an environmental book that:
a) induces narcolepsy
b) makes you feel guilty
c) grosses you out
d) gives a laundry list of requirements that you must follow
e) does all of the above
Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered an environmental book about home cooking that does none of the above: Cooking Green by Kate Heyhoe. It's a how-to on reducing your kitchen's environmental impact (or to borrow Kate's phrase, "shrinking your cookprint"), and it ties together many of the food philosophy issues I address here at Casual Kitchen. Best of all, it's so well-written and informative that I can say confidently that it's one of the few environmental book I've ever read that's actually fun to read.
Cooking Green's key gift to readers, however, is its surplus of creative and counterintuitive thinking--and its absolute lack of junk science.
A hypothetical example: let's say you have an old refrigerator that works fine, but you decide to replace it with a new one that runs 7% more efficiently. Did you do a good thing for the environment?
Most likely, no. Remember, there's a significant (and not so obvious) carbon footprint created by the materials, manufacture and transport of a new fridge long before it arrives in your home. And of course, your old fridge has to go somewhere--and that somewhere is likely a landfill. The one-time carbon impact of these two factors likely dwarfs your small annual gains in energy efficiency, even after you consider the sum of those gains over the entire 15-20 year life of the fridge. A better solution: follow Kate's advice (pages 17-18) to optimize and extract more usable life out of your existing fridge, and defer buying a new refrigerator until even more efficient models become available.
This is a counterintuitive, but critically important, way to think about the environmental impact of a major purchase for your home, and not many environmental advocates think this way. Fortunately, this kind of intelligent thinking is on display throughout this highly readable book.
[A quick side note: in my former profession, I watched plenty of companies make terrible economic decisions by focusing on minor operating cost savings (think of that new fridge and its 7% annual energy savings) and ignoring far more significant capital costs (analogous to the cost of the new fridge and the environmental footprint of manufacturing it, and tossing the old fridge into a landfill). Even big companies with armies of accountants can be penny wise and pound foolish. The same logic applies to us when we make major purchasing decisions at home with the environment--and our wallets--in mind.]
A few more fascinating tidbits from Cooking Green:
1) The double (or triple, depending on how you look at it) carbon footprint of charcoal means that it's the least green way to grill.
2) Slow cookers and crockpots consume less electricity than an incandescent light bulb (conveniently, this settles a long-simmering debate in this very blog on the crockpot's environmental impact).
3) An electric teakettle heats water far more efficiently than heating water in a pan or in a teakettle on your stove (to find out why, see page 37).
4) Ovens are by far the hoggiest energy wasters in your kitchen and they are by far the least efficient at transferring heat energy directly to your food. However, there are many ways to increase your oven's efficiency and reduce its carbon footprint (see pages 45-53).
5) The single greatest thing you can do to significantly reduce your carbon cookprint is to eat less meat.
Cooking Green is the kind of book you'll want sitting on your shelf as a reliable resource for decades of intelligent kitchen decision-making, and it's selling at a very reasonable $14.00 at Amazon. Use it to shrink your own carbon cookprint!
Stay tuned--in the coming months I hope to write more on the various environmental issues we face when we cook and eat.
New Green Basics--Kate's companion website to Cooking Green
GlobalGourmet.com--Cooking tips, international and ethnic recipes and culinary product reviews.
Other Books by Kate Heyhoe:
The Stubb's Bar-B-Q Cookbook
Harvesting the Dream: The Rags-to-Riches Tale of the Sutter Home Winery
Great Bar Food at Home
Related Casual Kitchen Posts:
41 Ways You Can Help the Environment From Your Kitchen
Almost Meatless: Cookbook Review
The Cornbread Gospels: Cookbook Review
How are You Adjusting to the Economic Crisis? A Question for CK Readers
A Recession-Proof Guide to Saving Money on Food
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Cooking Green by Kate Heyhoe: Making Your Kitchen Greener, Safer--And Saving Money While You're At It.
Posted by Daniel at 3:11 AM on Wednesday, July 22, 2009