So, we’ve mastered the art of French cooking, thanks to the wild resurgence of Julia Child via Julie & Julia (sales of her classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking have put it on the bestseller list!). Some of us may have even mastered the art of local cooking, by joining CSAs, shopping at farmers’ markets and growing food in their backyards, thanks in large part to Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food (he’s now receiving rockstar treatment at campuses all over). Now, it’s time to try our hand at mastering something else: sustainable cooking, which takes into consideration the carbon footprint of our cooking techniques as well as our ingredient choices. Thanks to the founders of the practical solution-oriented environmentalist site, Brighter Planet.
Really? I began to wonder when I looked at all the tips offered on Brighter Planet. My choosing to slow-roast rather than broil those mushy tomatoes tonight can make a difference on the environment (and not to mention my energy bill)? In fact, it does. For the worse, I’m afraid. And all these little things we do in our kitchens add up. I’m sure there are so many more that simply don’t occur to me. That’s why Brighter Planet provides extensive tips for cooking sustainably at home, and interactive tools. Their latest project is a cooking contest, Mastering the Art of Sustainable Cooking. Since there isn’t a cooking competition I wouldn’t want to participate in (including ones for food I’m supposedly averse to), I’m looking forward to giving this one my best. And hope many of you do, too. Plus, the judges for this contest are such formidable foodies: author Bill McKibben, Stonyfield Farms CEO Gary Hirschberg and the food movement matron herself, Alice Waters.
I managed to get a few questions out of the staff at Brighter Planet for more on the contest, their organization, and their sustainable cooking know-how. Here’s what Matt Kling, Science Analyst at Brighter Planet, had to say:
I noticed that Brighter Planet was inspired by an environmental economics class the founders took in college. Tell me a little more about how it was spurned, and what experiences motivated it?
MK: The original seed idea was for a credit card that fought climate change by using reward points to build new renewable energy projects, rather than the common model that contributes to climate change by earning people airline miles or gas points. The reality is that most people are concerned about climate change and would like to do something about it, but they’re put off by all the politicking and don’t know how they can make a difference. Our mission at Brighter Planet is to give folks simple tools that help bridge that gap between desire and action.
This sustainable cooking contest – can anyone participate, even if they’re not a blogger?
MK: Absolutely. Anyone can, you don’t have to be a chef or a blogger. We all eat, and we can all reduce our impact. Signing up just takes a few seconds, and it allows you to share your energy-saving stories and recipes as well as give a “thumb’s up” to other contest participants. You can also use the other free tools in the web app that help you understand and reduce your climate impact.
I know, I’ve been reading them lots! I was curious about one tip that encouraged experimenting with “found objects” in your fridge – the mystery meat in the freezer, etc. Any surprising ingredients you found that made for a great meal?
MK: I couldn’t think of anything myself, but our CEO Patti reports that she recently unearthed some frozen duck bacon (yum), which she combined with some eggs to pull off a decadent breakfast-for-dinner act that kept her from having to make an extra trip down the mountain to the town store.
the Brighter Planet team
Ha! As a city slicker, I can’t decide what sounds more appealing: going down a mountain or eating duck bacon(!). About the tip on the app that suggests buying secondhand kitchen gadgets. Where do you suggest buying some?
MK: If you’ve got a local secondhand store with decent kitchen supplies, you’re lucky, but you’re probably the exception. For the rest of us, the internet is where it’s at. Shopping online you have to be mindful of packaging and shipping emissions, but it’s hard not to come out ahead of climbing into your SUV and driving to the store to buy something new.
Brighter Planet also suggests people “get in touch with your hunter/gatherer roots.” I sense this could be daunting for some at first. How best to begin learning about foods that are good to forage, and when, and where?
MK: Learning to gather wild edibles is a classic “you get out of it what you put into it” endeavor, and can be really rewarding. It’s easy to start by just gathering berries, and then scale things up as you become more interested and experienced. There are lots of great field guides out there (“Mushrooms Demystified” is a personal favorite), but the safest, fastest, and most fun way to learn is to go out with other people who know what they’re doing. Ask your friends, and poke around online – lots of areas (including NYC) have local clubs that teach free classes for beginnings on hunting mushrooms and other edibles. Once you taste a sauteed morel you’ve just picked, there’s no looking back — just be sure you know how to tell it apart from a death cap!
I know, I’ve been foraging with experts and can’t recommend their saving graces enough. So, I’m headed out of town this weekend, by car. For many, traveling means the death of eating well — for oneself and for the environment — because there’s only fast food on the road. What’s a better alternative?
MK: Very true, eating on the move can be tough, let alone eating well. The key is to avoid foods with too much packaging or processing, while also avoiding going out of your way — but with a bit of planning ahead, you can easily pack food that’s tastier, better for you, and is more environmentally sound. In addition to bringing along good food from home, I make a point of stopping at roadside farm stands rather than giving into the impulse to blaze past — there’s no better way to get fresh food on the go. I’m actually planning a road trip next week, and I’m looking forward to bringing along a big container of frozen zucchini soup I’ve been sitting on for a while — it will double as an ice block in the cooler keeping the fruit, sandwiches, carrots and hummus cold, and be thawed by day three when the fresh food is running low. And times when planning ahead just doesn’t happen, don’t forget the usefulness of your smartphone for locating alternatives to gas station fast food.
Awesome. Finally, what do you hope to achieve from Mastering the Art of Sustainable Cooking?
MK: Our goal is to expand and deepen the conversation about sustainable eating. Producing, distributing, preparing and disposing of the food you eat has a surprisingly large carbon impact — the average American’s food footprint is on par with their transportation footprint. The more that folks learn about other peoples’ experiences in sustainable cooking, the more we’ll erode the fiction that eating an earth-friendly diet means sacrificing money and flavor. But it’s not just about the environment in the end; we’re also hoping to do a lot of great cooking and eating, and socializing will come out of the contest!