If you’re a typical Eco Child’s Play reader, you probably don’t need much coaxing on the value of cooking from scratch: it’s generally cheaper, healthier, and provides opportunities for family time and even education about food. It turns out that it’s also more climate-friendly: as Leslie Berliant points out at SolveClimate, the contributions processing and packaging make to greenhouse gas emissions aren’t huge, but they’re definitely significant.
For Leslie, this isn’t just academic: in August, she committed herself to a year of cooking from scratch (inspired by a Michael Pollan article), and has been documenting the process at her Going Green blog. It’s clearly been a great learning experience for her, and one that involves relationships as well as food: whether it’s cooking with her kids or making a meal for a friend, her efforts almost always seem social in nature… as good meals should be!
But… what if you don’t cook from scratch?
After scanning her efforts (and some of the recipes she shares), it occurred to me that those of us who do cook from scratch regularly may make assumptions about what’s in the pantry. My wife loves to bake, and she and I both cook frequently, so we always have the basics available. If you’re not someone who cooks regularly, but would like to start, you don’t want to run out for ingredients for each new meal… how climate-friendly is that?! You’ll definitely want to keep these five staples handy as you hone your skills in the kitchen (and keep it green by using organic varieties):
- Olive oil: Sure, their are cheap cooking oils available, but nothing’s quite like the flavor of olive oil. All olive oils are pretty good, but, if you can afford it, splurge on extra-virgin: it comes from the first pressings of the olives, and is generally higher in quality. Leslie uses it in a frittata, and sauteed vegetables.
- Rice: If you’re going to try out non-Western cuisines, you’ll always want to have rice on hand. White is good, but so is brown, long grain, and aromatic rices. Leslie uses it for both Indian and Italian dishes. It’s also fun to experiment with other grains, like quinoa.
- Herbs and Spices: Like bland food? Me, either… and having a range of herbs and spices on hand gives you lots of room to experiment with flavors. If you’re just getting into cooking, you may want to try buying a kit with a number of spices in it — buying them individually can get pricey! If you find some you don’t like, you’ve probably got a friend who does like it… you might even be able swap for seasonings you do want. You may also want to try growing your own herbs… they’re pretty low-maintenance, in my experience.
- Beans: Beans are cheap, healthy, and very versatile. Buy them dried, and in bulk, and with just a little preparation (mainly, soaking them overnight), you’ll have one of the main ingredients of a hearty meal ready for you.
- Baking supplies: OK, this is actually a range of staples: flour(s), baking powder, yeast, cocoa… you’ll want to keep all of these on hand for the breads, cakes, muffins and other baked goods you’ll want to try out. If you’re allergic to wheat, no problem: many other varieties of flour out there. Check out Leslie’s recipe for croissants…
With these supplies on hand, you can keep your shopping, harvesting, and/or foraging focused on main ingredients… and know that you’re always ready to create a special meal for family and friends. If you need inspiration, keep an eye on Leslie’s series… she’s still got a ways to go!
Other items you consider must-haves for the new scratch cook? Share them…