Cooking up solutions to climate change

Photo: Gibbs Smith Publishers
Laura Stec makes sustainable cooking simple and accessible at last.

 “Global warming may be the best thing to happen to the culinary world in years,” says chef Laura Stec. Although she’s clearly intending to provoke, the idea isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Industrial agriculture has a big carbon footprint: the United Nations reports that meat production is responsible for generating more greenhouse gas emissions than transport. So starting in the kitchen to cool the planet is one of the most effective and accessible responses to climate change yet.

Stec, who lives in San Jose, California, isn’t some Johnny-come-lately to this idea. A chef for the past 25 years, she founded EcoEaters in 1989, one of the first food and environment education programs in the U.S. Nowadays, she works as a private chef and green-cuisine caterer, and has cooked for Ralph Nadar and other environmental thinkers and organizations. This long-time interest in food and the environment culminated in the creation of something she calls “the global warming diet” and the publication of Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite out of Global Warming (Gibbs Smith), a book she co-authored with Eugene Cordero, an associate professor in the Meteorology Department at San José State University.

Chef Meets Scientist

What happens when an environmentally minded chef and a climate scientist put their heads together? An innovative cookbook that casts Stec’s food teachings alongside the latest climate change data to emphasize the fact that our food choices are intrinsically tied to our environmental footprint. First, Stec identifies six key contributors within the existing industrial food system that contribute major carbon emissions. They are the conventional production of livestock, the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, fossil fuel-powered green houses, food getting flown in, food waste and consumer travel to and from retail stores, according to a 2007 study by the University of California, Davis. To “cool” one’s cuisine down, Stec suggests looking for food that is the opposite. The rules of global warming diet are:

  1. Eat less or no livestock
  2. Eat organically
  3. Eat locally
  4. Eat what you buy and start composting
  5. Reduce the distance you drive to the store  

Then, Stec develops unique recipes built upon her cool cuisine principles, including delicious sounding Dark Chocolate Chilli, Broiled Figs with Goat Cheese and Autumn Tempeh Salad. Finally, she wraps the book up with a section of culinary “how-tos” that will help reader create a satisfying cool-cuisine meal that is faster, tastier and more creative than the typical North America fare that so often graces our dinner tables. Learn to cook with healthy and flavourful whole grains, how to season your food right with an enormous range of condiments and homemade sauces and how to cook vegetables to optimize their flavour.

The Verdict on Meat

Stec devotes an entire chapter to meat, despite the fact that vegetarianism is often touted as better for the planet. But while researching the book, she says she came to believe that the debate is more than herbivore versus omnivore! On the one hand, Stec agrees that the world should reduce its consumption of animal products, especially beef. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warns that 18 percent of global warming emissions worldwide can be directly related to livestock consumption. However, she also says that “people will continue to eat meat so meat must be part of the solution.” In her opinion, pasture-raised and humanely treated livestock can add to diversified, healthy ecosystems that combat global warming.

To learn more about the global warming diet, visit: globalwarmingdiet.org