Save the World by Cooking

My wife and I are fans* of in-your-face chef Gordon Ramsay’s program The F Word, which airs on BBC America (but which is actually produced by the BBC’s British competitors Channel 4). In it, he regularly bemoans the loss of culinary skills among the British, particularly British women (I recall he mentioned in one episode that more British men now cook regularly at home than women). This led to one memorable exchange between Ramsay and a feminist journalist where she exclaimed that she didn’t have time to marinade something for 24 hours…

Anyway, my wife Kris did a little bit of lateral thinking and came up with the following, about how you can save the environment by cooking:

Cooking is the best way to save the environment.

By buying ingredients instead of processed foods and cooking rather than microwaving, you are actually engaging in several environmentally healthy activities.

First, ingredients have less packaging and have used less energy to prepare. Baking your own potato involves … a bit of water to wash it and the heat of your oven. Re-heating a frozen, prepared baked potato involves cardboard boxes, plastic trays, all the factory processing of the potato itself, artificial additives to keep the potato “fresh,” the energy at the factory, during shipping, and at the grocery story to keep it frozen, and the energy of your microwave oven to reheat it. Not environmentally healthy at all.

Second, processed foods have more chemicals in them, which are not necessarily good for you or the environment. Processed foods also have less natural ingredients – a little sugar is better for you than a lot of artificial sweeteners.

Third, cooking your own food makes you more aware of waste; and being able to minimize your waste output by careful food preparation is good for the environment.

Fourth, when you cook your own meals you may end up with leftovers. This is food recycling and a good habit to get into, because it hones your cooking skills and creates more awareness of re-using items. Processed foods are generally pre-portioned – no leftovers, no opportunities.

Fifth, when you cook for yourself and for your family, you have multiple opportunities every day to teach you and your children an
invaluable life skill. Home cooking is an opportunity to pass on traditional, cultural, and family recipes. It reinforces the bonds of
family and culture in deeply profound way. We all know this but get so caught up in the rush of life that it becomes easy to push aside in pursuit of the short-term solution. This is as important a part of saving the environment as recycling or energy reduction.

Finally, cooking is respectful. When you handle fresh and raw ingredients you are directly handling the work of farmers and
butchers. When you cook these ingredients with loving attention, you are showing respect for these peoples’ hard work. Appreciating the natural deliciousness of our fruits and vegetables, appreciating that an animal gave its life for you helps you appreciate the world around us — also known as “the environment”. By carefully preparing these ingredients you honor their work and lives while feeding your body and your family’s body wholesome food.

So I repeat, the best way to save the environment and perhaps yourself, cook more.

Yes, it’s of a kind with the crunchy con outlook, but I don’t think it’s at all incompatible with free market environmentalism. There are times and places for pre-packaged, processed foods, and there are times when the value of time outweighs the added value of cooking, but overvaluing time leads to ludicrous statements like the one recounted above. Ingedients don’t have to be local or organic – they should be the most appropriate ones available for your tastes and pocketbook.

In the last episode of Season two of The F Word, Ramsay lamented the lack of young men (yes, I believe he said men) becoming butchers. There’s a world of difference between losing the skill of butchery and losing the skill of, say, clockwork engineering. Unless, of course, we’re all going to eat bachelor chow or Soylent Green or something.

* or at least of the bits without the awful Janet Street-Porter…