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Mi Taku Oyaku. (We are all interconnected.) --Lakota Prayer
The kitchen is the center of our homes--like the center of a wheel, around which all revolves. From quiet family suppers to cooking for a party, activities in our kitchens are as multidimensional as those of us who inhabit them. The kitchen is also the center of a greater community, the hub from which many connections radiate to the world at large. Like the spokes of a wheel linking the center to the rim, the kitchen and community are interconnected in everyday life when we bring things in (such as groceries) and take things out (such as garbage).
The practical decisions we make regarding our kitchens may seem mundane at first glance--what kinds of food we buy and whom we buy them from--yet the impact of these choices affects our health and the health of our communities. In return, the practical decisions of the community affect the health of our families. If we buy food from an industrial farm that pollutes the water, that polluted water may enter our own kitchen, or that of a friend or family member many miles away. If a community allows the use of excessive packaging, then when that packaging becomes garbage it can contaminate our homes from incinerator ash and as leachate from landfills.
Making responsible choices for the kitchen according to their impact on the health of our friends and family, the health of the community, and ultimately the earth, is the process that leads to establishing a green kitchen. This book gives you the tools to make positive choices about the kinds of foods you choose to eat, how you prepare them, where you can find sustainable farmsthat grow and produce the food, and how you can set up and maintain an ecological kitchen. Achieving a green kitchen takes time; don't expect to make all the changes overnight. But once you start the process, you may find that the feeling of centering and interconnectedness it gives you urges you to continue.
You may be wondering how it will be possible to incorporate such changes into your everyday life. Putting philosophical principles into practice is all well and good on paper, you might say, but you have hardly enough time to get dinner on the table, not to mention overhaul the kitchen. Let us assure you of one very important thing--a green kitchen can actually bring simplicity to your life.
Learning why and how to make the best "green" choices takes some time, but it becomes easier. Once you start putting the principles into practice, and have learned the tools and skills you need, a green kitchen takes no more time to maintain than any other kind of kitchen--and it may take less. A green kitchen can be a gourmet kitchen, a traditional American kitchen, any kind of kitchen, but one thing it does not need to be is complicated. In fact, as you will soon learn, if you have a well-stocked pantry, make a quick trip to the market once a week for fresh food, and reduce your garbage as much as possible, then you can conveniently maintain a green kitchen.
Your food choices may or may not change much, depending on how you eat now. The greenest kitchen is one stocked with real food--unprocessed and unrefined as much as possible, and freshly picked and locally produced when available. It features kitchen counters resplendent with such local fruit as strawberries, melons, and pears, and a refrigerator full of just-picked seasonal vegetables, like sugar snap peas, available from a community farm. The days when a meal of whole foods consisted of a bowl of grains that tasted like sawdust went out with the sixties. Whole food now means fresh and flavorful, tasting real, not of chemicals. A salad is a rich diversity of greens, dessert is an organic fruit sorbet with fruit juice used as a sweetener.
Quinoa and the rattlesnake bean are examples of some new foods you can explore here. (Actually, they are ancient, but new to most Americans.) Chapter 4, "The Green Pantry," gives you a tour of such delicious but lesser-known foods. There are also some less commonly used tools you will be introduced to in this book--appliances that are particularly helpful for processing whole grains and nuts. Chapter 6, "The Ecological Kitchen," provides details.
The Green Kitchen Handbook helps you avoid food that is overly packaged and processed. Prepackaged food is not the time-saving bargain it may appear. Take the simple example of oatmeal. Our choices are the one-minute prepackaged-by-serving type, or real oats, which may take five minutes to cook. In preparing breakfast, what difference does it make if the oats take five minutes rather than one to cook? If we choose the five-minute oatmeal, not only is the taste incomparably better, but there is also less packaging for the garbage . . . and it really doesn't take any more of our time.
This book is also designed to address some of the worries that nag us when we think about food. Should we worry about pesticides in our children's food? If so, is there an affordable way to replace conventional food with organic? What food additives should we avoid whenever possible? If we are concerned about cleaning our kitchens with toxic chemicals, what are we supposed to use instead?
This book will help put your good intentions into practice. It can help you take charge of your family's nutritional health. And in so doing, it will give you a feeling of peace and accomplishment.
Periodically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) publish Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines are designed to offer expert nutritional advice to help answer consumers' questions about what we should eat for a well-balanced diet. To aid in understanding the guidelines, the USDA compiled the Food Guide Pyramid as an outline for consumers to use for figuring out what to eat each day based on the Dietary Guidelines.
While the Dietary Guidelines give what most experts consider sound nutritional advice, the recommendations don't consider the impact the food choices have on the environment. They also don't address issues of concern about artificial additives and pesticides, or food artificially manipulated by bioengineering, or irradiation. The New Green Diet is a set of guidelines developed by Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet that combines the Dietary Guidelines for Americans with advice that addresses environmental concerns.
The genesis for much of the New Green Diet is found in a 1986 article published in the Journal of Nutrition Education titled "Dietary Guidelines for Sustainability" by Joan Dye Gussow, professor emeritus of nutrition and education at Teachers College, Columbia University (retired 1995), and Kate Clancy, professor of nutrition and food service management at Syracuse University. Gussow and Clancy argued in the introduction that the environmental implications of our food choices need to be addressed. Farmers' dependency on cheap fossil fuels needs to be analyzed, and sustainable agriculture needs to be heralded because it is a system "that uses human and natural resources to produce food and fiber in a manner that is conservative, that is, in a manner that is not wasteful of such finite resources as topsoil, water, and fossil energy." Finally, food choices need to be judged on how much energy was required to produce them.
Drawing from "Dietary Guidelines for Sustainability," Wendy Gordon, Mothers & Others' executive director, and other staff elaborated on the guidelines, making them more specific in their support of sustainable agriculture and healthful food choices. Eight steps were defined to help put the New Green Diet into practice. Chapter 2 offers detailed information on why and how to follow these eight steps.
If we follow the recommendations shown in USDA's Food Guide Pyramid, say in eating two to four servings of fruit, and also choose the fruit according to the steps of the New Green Diet, we will choose fruit that has been grown on a sustainable farm, a farm that caretakes the earth. The fruit will have been grown locally, so that the least possible amount of energy is used to transport it to our tables. The fruit possibly may also be an unusual kind of fruit--an Arkane or Molly's Delicious apple, for example--grown from an heirloom seed to help protect biodiversity. It will not have been irradiated or bioengineered, and will be minimally packaged.
Following the New Green Diet is not complicated. Just-picked, juicy, ripe, local, organic food such as tomatoes or peaches that may be overflowing from bushel baskets at farm stands or farmers' markets are incomparably superior to the seasonless and flavorless fare of watery cucumbers, gas-ripened and colorless tomatoes, bland broccoli, and tasteless red peppers commonly available. And as anyone who has experienced the flavor and color of an egg laid that morning from a local neighbor's hen knows, factory eggs don't compare to those from small, local farms, nor does the flavor of meat full of antibiotics and hormones compare to that of organic meat.
How we eat determines to a considerable extent how the world is used.
--Wendell Berry, farmer and author