A Takoma Park foodie weighs in on saving energy in the kitchen
By Jaime Rothbard
As Takoma Park continues to compete with 50 small to mid-size cities for the Georgetown Energy Prize, bringing food into the dialogue of energy efficiency creates an opportunity to rethink and expand how residents can all participate. Food is our most essential fuel, and consequently it’s the amount of fuel, energy and resources it takes to produce (and discard) food that makes it one of the most significant ways that we impact the environment. In much the same way, the types of foods we choose to consume have direct consequences that shape the direction of the food industry, as well as our own bodies.
The nutrition that is present or absent from our food greatly determines how we are able to show up in the world and contribute resourcefully. Rethinking what it means to be energy efficient by including food in the dialogue can spur more engagement and innovative thinking.
- According to Reuters, Americans throw away nearly half of all our food every year. That’s worth $2,275 for the average household.
- Food production is estimated to be responsible for 33 percent of the total global warming effect, according to SustainableTable.org
- The United States leads the world in energy waste. Different analyses have yielded anything from the range of wasting 58 percent of the energy we produce, to a jolting 86 percent energy being wasted, according to the Energy Collective and Clean Tecnica.
- Food-related energy use accounts for 15 percent of our national energy budget, per the Center for Sustainable Systems.
By broadening our dialogue of energy efficiency to include food, we can expand our capacity to make daily impacts to reverse climate change. We have so many tools we can use! Looking at energy efficiency through the lens of food can help you see the interconnectedness between your inner world with the outer world. Engaging in this way can cultivate an inspired and optimistic worldview about what can be done to simultaneously impact your body while respecting our limited natural resources. Here are some new ways to rethink energy efficiency, food and fuel that you can begin using today.
Think like a Chopped competitor and act like you’re at Chipotle: Instead of relying on cookbooks to come up with meal ideas, plan your meals by taking an inventory of what’s in your kitchen. What perishable items are on the verge of going bad and need to be used right now? Separate them into foundations, toppings and condiments. Think along the lines of making bowls, salads, wraps and tacos. Just about anything can become a taco. Try it out and amaze yourself!
- If you are going low-carb, remember that green leaves make awesome wraps. Blanched collard greens and fresh romaine lettuce are my favorite choices.
Rethink energy efficiency. Save energy and optimize radiant heat by using oven energy for multiple meals. If you know you want to bake one thing, think about how you can bake many things.
- If you want to bake potatoes for one meal, consider batch prepping all of the root veggies in your pantry while you’ve got a hot oven. Now you have plenty of “Chipotle fodder” so you can easily convert these into other meals throughout the week.
- Same goes for boiling potatoes and pasta. Make enough for at least one more meal that will feed your household.
Rethink how you cook. Instead of approaching meal preparation as one beginning-to-end activity, think about how you can prep foods for several meals simultaneously. For instance, while you are waiting for your morning coffee to brew, you can prep out some vegetables and store them in the fridge for when you get home from work. Or after frying bacon for breakfast, you can reuse (some of but not necessarily all) the fat by tossing a bag of baby spinach into the hot pan and covering it. In a few minutes you will have a much cleaner pan, plus sauteed greens for your lunch. Note: your body needs fat in order to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in the spinach.
Rethink what it means to eat “superfoods.” You don’t have to buy expensive and exotic foods that travel halfway around the globe to reach your plate. There are simple preparation techniques you can use on easy-to-find ingredients can transform them into culinary gold. My favorite tip:
Leave fresh minced garlic to rest for 10 minutes before adding it to a hot pan. This allows it to release copious amounts of allicin. Recent studies show this potent compound is the most aggressive antioxidant found to date. If you cook garlic immediately after chopping it, you lose this benefit.
Re-think water catchment — from your faucet! Strategize your clean-up by keeping a large pot of water in your sink, preferably one you recently boiled pasta or cleaned veggies in, and re-use the water several times before dumping it. You can toss dirty utensils into it as you continue to cook your meal. After eating, let dishes and silverware soak briefly in the pot to remove debris instead of pre-rinsing them under the faucet. Now you can load your dishwasher and use the shortest cycle to sanitize your dishes after the dishwasher is completely full.
- Sequence tasks so that you can soak dirty dishes instead of expending energy to scrub them.
- Reduce water wasting by soaking vegetables in a natural cleaning solution of water and white vinegar instead of running the water faucet in a constant stream.
- When pre-cleaning dishes in your water catchment pot, sequence from cleanest to dirtiest so you don’t have to keep changing out your water
Rethink what it means to eat local. If you aren’t lucky enough to have gardening space (or time) you can still cultivate massively nutritious foods in your own kitchen. By harnessing natural processes, you can soak and sprout beans and seeds on your counter in a couple days time, which boosts their nutritional potency. If you love kombucha and artisan-crafted sauerkraut, you may be astonished to learn that these items are very easy to make. Be your own alchemist!
Rethink “Food is Love”: Most of us enjoy indulging our senses from time to time. Foodie culture has taken indulgence to new and sometimes downright ridiculous heights from presenting absurdly rich concoctions to broadcasting food as a competitor sport. I believe this can obscure our relationship with food. Next time you plan to treat yourself, show love by making the treat yourself and sharing with your people.
- Learning how to make your favorite treats will give you control over the ingredients.
- Savoring food while sharing it amongst people you care about will lessen the odds that you overindulge, and it will keep the pleasure you experience within a greater context than sensory.
- Hosting a dinner party is more cost effective than footing the bill at your favorite restaurant. It won’t be as expertly crafted, but you will learn more each time and it can be a wonderful expression of your affection. And that’s priceless.
Jaime Rothbard, aka the Foodie Alchemist, is a nutrition coach, licensed massage therapist, mosaic artist and home cook who loves all things food. After 10 years of travel on three different continents studying and developing simple tools and practices for self-healing, she recently settled into Takoma Park with her family. You can follow her as she works to transform her home into a permaculture homestead, get tips on how to transform your own food journey and check out her eBook, “Fast Fuel,” at www.foodiealchemist.com.
This article appeared in the June 2015 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.