Public Demand Growing
Mercifully, Stec doesn’t seem to expect readers to spend all day soaking beans or tending an herb garden. She wants to teach people how to use food in a way that makes it easy to eat well. Beyond the recipes, Stec offers techniques and tips for coaxing out the sweetness in vegetables, making all-purpose sauces and even organizing a cheese plate. That last tidbit hints at some of Stec’s other jobs as a caterer and cooking teacher.
She is also a consultant who helps companies “green” their operations, and her case studies of corporate efforts to adopt sustainable food practices are a distinguishing feature of the book. Stec relates the story of Preston Maring, a doctor who took on the problem of hospital food within the giant California-based health care provider Kaiser Permanente. Maring noticed that hospital dieticians were writing menus that included offerings such as grapes and asparagus in the middle of winter, causing the hospitals to source food from as far away as South Africa. After Maring initiated a systemwide study, Kaiser Permanente determined that it used 250 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables a year to make 6,000 patient meals daily in 19 hospitals. Much of the food originated on unsustainable agribusiness farms of 100,000 acres or more, and nearly half of it came from outside California. Kaiser Permanente discovered that designing more seasonal menus and procuring more produce locally could reduce the organization’s carbon footprint by more than 17 percent and in certain cases even save some money.
Stec goes on to describe some of the logistical issues and planning that smoothed the transition within Kaiser Permanente, demonstrating her understanding that this kind of change has to make at least some kind of business sense, too. She recently consulted with the Loews Hotel chain on ways to green their event services, and she told me that the company’s motivation was demand from the marketplace. If a group planning to hold a big conference insists on green practices, then any hotel hoping to get that business better be able to deliver sustainably.
Change Starts in Your Kitchen
Such hands-on experience helping large institutions certainly lends credibility to Stec’s idea that if those market forces continue to grow and the principles of green eating scale up, then perhaps the food production landscape in the U.S. might actually be altered for good.
From that perspective, the idea that meaningful change could start in my own kitchen started to seem less far-fetched. A stir-fry recipe in the book follows a full-page chart breaking down the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions represented by each ingredient. The graphic shows the basic recipe containing a pound of vegetables and then versions with another pound of vegetables, chicken or beef added in. The results are stark: the veggie-only meal totals 3,013 grams of CO2 equivalent, the chicken version 5,520 grams and the beef 15,692 grams. In case the message isn’t clear enough, a note at the bottom of the page mentions that the CO2 difference between the vegetarian and beef versions of the meal is about the amount emitted by an average car driving 35 miles. Perhaps this is not the first book to make that point, but it is the first one I’ve seen that also offers a recipe, literally, for what to do about the problem. In addition to a tremendous amount of information presented in very digestible form, Stec and Cordero offer hope that individual choices can make a difference—and that maybe it is possible to shift from a global-warming diet to more sustainable, healthy and flavorful fare, one stir-fry at a time.
Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "The Low-Carbon Diet".
This article was originally published with the title The Low-Carbon Diet.