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?