Cool Cuisine Author Advocates Green Grub to Save Globe

by Sarah Henry on January 14, 2010 · 23 comments

in food book giveaways,food books,food politics

Laura Stec combines her passion for the planet with a love of food in her efforts to promote green cuisine — eating healthily and well while treading lightly on Mother Earth.

And she’s got the cred to back up her good intentions.  Laura trained at the Culinary Institute of America, School of Natural Cookery, and (now closed) Vega Macrobiotic Study Center, and did stints at several restaurants before launching her own Bay Area-based personal chef/catering business.

Her green-cuisine clients include Google, Harvard University, Ralph Nader, and the Environmental Defense Fund. Kaiser Permanente Medical Group hired Laura as a culinary health instructor and she’s worked for more than a dozen years with Acterra, a local environmental organization.

Laura believes that we can help our fragile planet by paying attention to what’s on our dinner plates. In classrooms and corporations she educates eaters of all ages on how to make eco-friendly food choices.

Last month’s book giveaway Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite Out of Global Warming generated lots of entries; I thought readers might like to learn more about the author’s philosophy and how to limit their carbon footprint in the kitchen.

1. What exactly is a cool cuisine?

Cool cuisine reduces your overall impact on the earth’s ecology by using less animal products, processed foods, bottled water, and food and packaging waste, and using more fresh, organic, seasonal, and locally grown foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

2. What prompted you to pen Cool Cuisine?

I had an “NPR driveway moment” in 2006, when I heard about a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, called Livestock’s Long Shadow. I learned that conventionally raised cattle are responsible for 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, making livestock a substantial part of the global-warming problem. I couldn’t get out of my car until I heard the whole report.

Then the words, “Global Warming Diet” popped into my head. I ran into the house to Google the term and found only one reference.

3. Many readers already take environmentally-conscious measures on the food front — buying from farmers’ markets, growing their own, composting, recycling, carrying a reusable tote, and eschewing bottled water. What can people do to step it up a notch?

A lot of people are over-educated about this issue and undernourished. By that I mean most people’s culinary knowledge is limited, so I recommend that they focus on learning more about what and how TO eat, such as how to cook different whole grains, instead of getting caught up on what NOT to eat, like eliminating meat from their diet.

Learning techniques such as how to cook vegetables correctly to maximize taste and nutrients, which means keeping water far away from vegetables, so roast, grill, or saute rather than boil or steam, can help increase motivation, satisfaction, health, and culinary joy.

It’s also important to learn how to flavor foods with herbs, spices, artisanal salts, and other seasonings in place of animal fat. And experiment with less common whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, or millet and different cooking methods for these grains, such as baking, toasting, or pressure-cooking.

Stock a condiment plate with seasonings such as toasted sesame oil, nori shakes, nutritional yeast, green Tabasco Sauce–whatever you like. I call a condiment plate salt and pepper with a college education.

4. What’s your biggest eco-unfriendly guilty pleasure?

Travel by airplane.

5. Can you care about the future of the planet and still eat meat?

Absolutely. Hooved animals have a vital role in the health of the environment. I was a vegetarian for 17 years and I basically still am for environmental reasons. I rarely eat meat but I don’t judge others’ choices. I do recommend people cut their meat consumption and buy local, grass-fed, pasture-raised meats and dairy products for their health and the health of the planet.

6. Where do you see hope that we may actually be able to, as you say, take the bite out of global warming?

The average eater is motivated by pleasure. As unfortunate as it is, many of us don’t like being involved in environmental or political issues, but ALL of us like food. Not everyone votes, but everyone eats.

By choosing cool cuisine, people are getting better tasting, more nutrient-dense food, with a side dish of environmental caretaking. Food is a powerful tool. Having said that, people do feel a broader connection to the earth and their role in protecting it these days. Both these things give me hope for our future.

7. Any final advice for folks interested in adopting a cool cuisine approach to eating?

Don’t guilt trip yourself — or anyone else — out of doing things; instead explore cooking and eating in new ways. And “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” wise words from French philosopher Voltaire.

Take small steps when making changes in your diet as you learn what foods you enjoy eating and cooking, two of our most primal human pleasures. Along the way, you’ll get even more satisfaction knowing it’s good for the earth as well. Have fun with it.

Readers: Would you agree?

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

marthaandme January 14, 2010 at 8:41 am

Great interview. I’ve never heard of an environmentally-friendly diet referred to this way, but it makes sense. I’m going to go look for the book next.

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Frugal Kiwi January 14, 2010 at 9:42 am

This is essentially how we eat, both for environmental and fiscal reasons.

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lornasass January 14, 2010 at 10:03 am

Delighted to discover your blog and encourage everyone to consider the fuel-efficient and time-efficient pressure cooker. For more recipes, check pressurecookingwithlornasass.wordpress.com and my 4 “pc” cookbooks. Happy cooking to all.

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Sarah Henry January 14, 2010 at 10:25 am

Nice to see you here, Lorna Sass. On my to-do list this year: Get with the pressure cooker program.

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Almost Slowfood January 14, 2010 at 10:16 am

Great interview!! This past year I’ve learned that most everything I need and want to eat is raised very close by. I just had to learn how to open my eyes. I still by coffee and chocolate and other things that I feel I must have, but I won’t ever buy a factory farmed piece of meat ever again!

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Sarah Henry January 14, 2010 at 10:32 am

I think you’re doing just as Laura Stec suggests, Almost Slowfood. Making changes without sacrificing everything –like coffee & chocolate — or being paralyzed by guilt.

And I’d willingly wager that anyone who watches Food, Inc. (see next comment), would be hard pressed to buy factory farmed meat ever again.

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Alexandra January 14, 2010 at 10:17 am

Totally agree. Thanks for this interview. We do make a political statement when we choose organic foods. Saw Food Inc. last night on DVD and highly recommend the movie to anyone who has not seen it.

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Sarah Henry January 14, 2010 at 10:28 am

Food, Inc, is quite something, isn’t it, Alexandra?

I wrote about it last summer and what my son said as we left the cinema stays with me: “Some of the scariest movies are the real ones.”

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Sheryl Kraft January 14, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Interesting interview; not only is this kind of eating eco-friendly, it’s downright healthy. And love the idea of the condiment plate to accompany grains.

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Ruth Pennebaker January 14, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I really appreciate this interviewee for her calm, non-judgmental perspective. Enjoyed the piece greatly.

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Sarah Henry January 17, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Yes, it’s refreshing, isn’t it, Ruth — not to be lectured at or made to feel inadequate.

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Lisa Jaffe Hubbell January 14, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Loved this. What great information and how nice not to feel lectured at!

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Jennifer Margulis January 14, 2010 at 9:44 pm

“Many readers already take environmentally-conscious measures on the food front — buying from farmers’ markets, growing their own, composting, recycling, carrying a reusable tote, and eschewing bottled water.”

most people i know are NOT doing these things, sadly.

i would add:

1. BUY IN BULK AND BRING YOUR OWN CONTAINERS
2. DO NOT USE PLASTIC PRODUCE BAGS–KEEP VEGGIES LOOSE OR USE CLOTH BAGS FOR PRODUCE
3. WALK OR BIKE TO THE GROCERY STORE INSTEAD OF DRIVING WHENEVER YOU CAN
4. BECOME A MEMBER OF YOUR CLOSEST FOOD CO-OP
5. TALK TO THE MANAGER EVERY TIME YOU GO TO THE CONVENTIONAL GROCERY STORE AND ASK HIM/HER TO STOCK MORE ORGANIC FOOD AT LOWER PRICES
6. BUY FRUIT IN BULK AND FREEZE WHEN IN SEASON SO YOU ARE USING LESS PACKAGING
7. CARRY YOUR OWN SPOON, FORK, AND METAL STRAW
8. BUY CANDY FROM THE BULK SECTION OR MAKE IT YOURSELF

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Sarah Henry January 17, 2010 at 5:15 pm

hi jennifer, good points, all eight of ‘em (though you could just skip the candy altogether:)

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Melanie Haiken January 15, 2010 at 12:15 am

I’ve also started picking up regional specialties when I travel and bringing them home with me. For example, last time I was in Costa Rica I bought bags of coffee from a sustainable organic coffee plantation; enough to last me for months and give as gifts. In Arizona I bought locally made salsa, in Napa I always buy mustard and olive oil…. Also when you’re cooking it’s such fun to relive your travels!

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Susan January 17, 2010 at 5:06 pm

I like her attitude about making small, manageable changes and not guilting yourself. I know several people who don’t recycle or eat healthfully because they figure it won’t make much of an impact or they feel overwhelmed.

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Sarah Henry January 17, 2010 at 5:17 pm

I think you’re right, Susan. Some people do feel like it’s too much work and so don’t do anything that could help their own health or the environment.

Baby steps are the way to make lasting change, right?

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Kristen J. Gough January 18, 2010 at 1:20 pm

I’m with Susan–Laura’s small, doable changes make sense whether you’re concerned about the environment or your pocketbook (or both!).

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Meredith January 18, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I really enjoyed this interview and learned a lot. I love the advice about not guilting yourself if you don’t do things perfectly. But you really can make small changes that add up.

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hotcmanual January 18, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Love the idea of focusing on what to eat instead of what NOT to eat. I’m lucky to have access to locally raised grass fed beef, making at least that food choice easier!

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Kris January 18, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Love the idea of focusing on what to eat instead of what NOT to eat. I’m lucky to have access to locally raised grass fed beef, making at least that food choice easier!

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Donna Hull February 2, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Interesting article that introduced concepts to me that I’ve never considered. I especially like the idea of focusing on what and how to eat.

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