Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Green Movement Rethinks the Way We Cook

In today's world, eating represents much more than enjoyment and nourishment. Increasingly, food is being viewed through a new lens: how it affects the environment.

This convergence of personal and planetary health is the driving force behind the "Big Green Cookbook" (Wiley, $24.95) by Jackie Newgent, a Brooklyn-based dietitian and chef. She cleverly outlines an eco-friendly plan to green your kitchen and your cuisine.

The new climate-conscious cookbook, printed on 100 percent recycled paper with soy ink, is full of nutrient-rich recipes and tips that are intended to enhance your health and please the planet.

A major myth that Newgent tries to bust in the book is the notion that eating green is more expensive. Not so, she explained in a phone interview.

"One of the keys to greening your cuisine is to eat seasonally, and local produce is less expensive than products that are flown in," she said. "That's an easy way you can control costs."

You also don't need to always choose organic, she said. The bigger goal is to buy more locally grown fruits and vegetables. Beyond the value to you, it helps reduce food miles -- or the amount of resources and energy required to transport food from farm to plate.

Another major way to live the "luscious, low-carbon lifestyle" that Newgent writes about is to eat more plant-based foods, which can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions or global warming pollution. That doesn't mean swearing off meat, but Newgent recommends ways to reduce portions of meat and increase the amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans in your diet.

Beyond the foods you choose, being eco-friendly has a lot to do with how you prepare, serve and store food, Newgent said. Cutting down on cooking time (only 20 minutes per meal) or downsizing your appliances (such as using a microwave or toaster oven more often) can save energy -- which translates to benefits for the Earth and your pocketbook.

Organized by seasons, the book offers hundreds of recipes that put these principles into action, along with clever strategies to green your cooking routine. Whatever you do, start small, Newgent advises. She warns of green burnout.

"You don't need to make all the changes at once. Pick three goals, and stick to it until it becomes a habit," Newgent said. "Do what you can, when you can, rather than try everything in this book all at once."

Here are a few eco-friendly ideas to get you started:

--Cut down the size. The finer food is diced, the faster it will cook. That translates to reducing the amount of greenhouse gases that enter the atmosphere. Try cutting vegetables into smaller pieces for stir-fries and pounding boneless chicken breasts into super-thin fillets to shave off cooking time.

--Do double duty. Aim to prepare, cook and serve in the same pans or bowls when possible so you'll have less washing to do. For example, when making a salad, use one bowl to whisk the dressing, toss the salad and serve.

--Put a lid on it. When food on the stove is being simmered, sauteed or boiled, finish the cooking by covering it with a tight-fitting lid and turn off the burner to let the trapped heat do some of the work.

--Get to know your microwave. Because the microwave oven can reduce energy use by about two-thirds compared with a conventional oven, use it to do more than make popcorn or reheat leftovers.

--Skimp on water. When boiling beans or other vegetables, use just enough water to cover the food. That means you'll waste less water, and you'll be able to bring it to a boil faster -- two ways to help save resources.

(Article courtesy of The Chicago Tribune).

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