Saturday, April 26, 2008

How Green is My Kitchen – Bothering More

How green is my kitchen? Well, technically, the answer would be “not very.” It’s “Chestertown Buff” a handsome shade of gold, available through the Benjamin Moore Paints Historical Color Collection.

But green is no longer a just a palette choice, but a philosophy as the more enlightened of you well know.

I’m not big on jumping on bandwagons, but Michael Pollan’s piece “Why Bother?” in the April 20th edition of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, gave me pause. Pollan discusses the personal impact we can each have on climate change, and made me consider the fact that my kitchen and some of my behaviors were probably more wasteful than I care to admit.

Pollan eloquently cuts through the verbal clutter of issues around carbon footprints and food miles and makes a strong case that the climate-change crisis is actually “a crisis of lifestyle – of character, even.” Pollan writes, “The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences.”

OK. I get it. I need to change and only I can make it happen. But, where does one start, especially on suburban Long Island, where the grid marks of consumption and mall traffic were firmly established after World War II? I’d love to plant a garden, but I’d never be able to care for it, and the nearest farm stand is about 75 miles away.

But, “home grown” and “sustainable” can be achieved in lots of different ways. “Culinary Types” do have the skills to prepare fresh and exceedingly edible food that is less dependent on highly-processed and excessively-packaged ingredients. So, I’ve resolved to find small solutions that as Pollan writes, may “actually beget other solutions, and not only the kinds that save carbon.” I recently revived the neglected and hibernating bread machine on my kitchen counter, and I realized that for the time it takes to drive to the supermarket, I could actually bake my weekly loaf of bread instead of buying it. It is a small investment of time to measure some simple ingredients and I produce a glorious loaf of nutritious and nutty whole wheat bread, flavored with molasses. The very thought of homemade bread in the pantry is a tantalizing reason to get out of bed, and I can’t wait to indulge in another crusty slice each morning with breakfast. It’s a positive contribution to the environment, and it might also be good for the soul.

For me, the change in behavior becomes even more focused if the results are tangible. Trying to calculate the cost savings of home baked bread is a little like contemplating the miracle of the loaves and fishes. I’m not an arithmetic genius, but some simple math does tell a compelling story. One loaf of commercially-packaged whole wheat bread costs $3.89 which, if I buy one loaf a week, adds up to $202.28 per year. By comparison, a 5-pound bag of organic whole wheat flour costs $4.99 and a five-pound bag of unbleached bread flour costs $3.95, a total of $8.94. If I purchase commercial bread for three weeks, it costs $11.67. So, the cost of the raw ingredients for multiple loaves of homemade bread is already less than the price of just three loaves of commercially-packaged bread. More important, as an eco-friendly colleague of mine pointed out, I will eliminate 52 inner plastic wraps, 52 outer plastic bags and 52 plastic fasteners from the waste stream. Given the uncertainty of the stock market, these are pretty good dividends.

However, there is more that can be done. What are your small culinary solutions? I’d love to know. And, check back in the weeks ahead as I begin to redecorate T.W. Barritt’s kitchen in shades of green.

©2008 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Anonymous said...

A small culinary solution that is not nearly used enough in the US is the pressure cooker. I cringe when I see stews and beans that cook for hours and hours. A pressure cooker does this in a fraction of the time. You can get slow-cooked results with a big saving of time and energy.
Also, I use disposable ziploc bags very very rarely (usually only to ship stuff). Bananas can be mashed as easily in a bowl as in a ziploc bag and there is no plastic to throw away.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Of course there is the cost of electricity and perhaps gas for the oven to bake the bread.... but the notion of being more "green" is also about balancing choices. The flavor of home-baked bread, and the satisfaction derived from baking it, must be counted in the equation, too. In my kitchen, we use a tub to pre-soak dishes in the sink, so they need less water to wash; use canvas totes and baskets for all of our shopping; and we compost.

~~louise~~ said...

Hi T.W.

Gee, I'm sorry I missed that article. Thanks for providing the link. I've been giving much thought to this issue recently and have resolved to use my yogurt maker more often. I just "dug" it out when I was in PA. I eat yogurt every day and I bet if I did the math, which I'm not very good at, it would not only make a big difference, but I could finally stop trying to figure out what to do with those crafty containers.

P.S. I'm also going to be more diligent when I visit the local farm stands. It is sometimes discouraging to learn that the bright new fresh head of lettuce I purchased at the local farm stand was trucked in from "who knows where." I'm really beginning to think it's a Long Island thing.

Oh yes, I'm back to growing herbs also.

Jann said...

well, let's see...I grow some of my own herbs, Don't
buy those bags of pre-washed lettuce, stopped burning as many candles as I used to during the late afternoons, started washing out my ziplock plastic bags to re-use, and, the two big ones, I started to carry my own green "whole foods" bag to the grocery about a year ago before they were even in the "Publix" markets here....I do not go to the grocery store more than twice a week now. Bet that bread smells terrific while baking....need to do that! By the way, did you receive my message about my daughter and I going to Murrays Cheese store at your recommendation? We had such a wonderful time. They even invited us down into the deep cheese caves! the class was full that say, so we could not stay for that. Another time! Thanks for letting me know about this wonderful place in your neck of the woods!

Veron said...

I really have to think about this one...recycling is all I can think of and I really do not buy a lot of pre-packaged stuff anyway. Oh...chestertown buff is a beautiful color of Benjamine moore!

Kathy said...

I've planted herb and vegetable gardens this year. Planted several fruit trees this spring. Composting. That bread looks pretty good t.w.!

Anonymous said...

Plus homemade bread just simply tastes so much better, eh?

Mansi said...

Hi, thanks for dropping by my blog!:) I hope you can get to try making the garam masala at home sometime!

I love this post...people can do so much more if they are aware what small changes they need to do to go green!:)

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

All great ideas!

Nupur - your are so right - I have a pressure cooker that belonged to my mom, and I haven't really ever learned how to use it, but it was an essential tool when she started cooking.

Lydia - I've gathered my canvas bags, and I've got to force myself to get into the habit of bringing them to the market.

Louise - I'm a big yogurt fan too. This week I decided to try buying one larger container, and sweetening it myself with maple syrup.

Hi Jann - I'm going to have to account better for the number of ziploc bags I have used - that's a great place to conserve. Also, so glad you enjoyed the visit to Murray's! I'm hoping to get into another class as soon as I can!

Hi Veron - sometimes if I'm rushed, I go the convenience route, but I'm trying to get myself to break the habit.

Kathy - I'm jealous! What kind of fruit trees?

Maryann - of course, the bread tastes so good, I have to watch how much I eat!

Hi Mansi - thanks for visiting! I'm working on various steps, like always making sure I make meals that can last for several days.