Q: What can I cook during Earth Hour?
A: So you're primed to flick off the lights and spark up some low-emission soy candles. Excellent. Now, don't even think about throwing all that energy saving out the window by baking a six-hour slow roast pork shoulder. Sorry, Jamie Oliver fans.
If you want to impress your friends and family with a proper Earth Hour meal, keep your 2,400-watt oven turned off altogether and tweak your cooking style to maximize kilowatt savings.
How? Our food-related energy use has inched up as we reach for blenders and food processors over knives and cutting boards. You can, of course, reduce your cooking footprint by sticking to smaller appliances like toaster ovens over ovens, putting lids on pots and using small pots on small burners. Try coasting on energy you do use by, for instance, turning off your pot of boiling spaghetti right after it boils and just letting it sit longer. Pressure cookers and crock pots are also surprising energy sippers.
Or maybe you're itching to pull a Woody Harrelson and go further. Take your energy savings up a notch by making a full-on raw food feast. But can you do it without the blenders and food processors most raw foodies rely on? Besides leaning on a good ol' chef's knife, you can still track down manual food processors, grinders and choppers in specialty cookware shops as well as online. Full-time raw food enthusiasts can even score non-electric hanging dehydrators from Amazon.com (great for making fruit/vegetable jerky or drying herbs and sprouting grains).
Or keep it simple. Vegan chef Jae Steele says instead of steaming greens like kale, you can just toss 'n' rub them with apple cider vinegar and salt to soften them up.
FYI, there'll be a raw food demo for Earth Hour at Ecoexistence on St. Clair West.
Prefer your food warm? Heat your dinner on a few sunbeams. It sounds a little Alice In Wonderland meets Cheech and Chong, but harnessing the power of the sun to get your food cooked is far from half-baked.
Many Africans know this well, particularly those who've tuned into the power of solar cookers to reduce dependency on dwindling firewood supplies. But even northerners can get in on the action with a little more time (and about $300, solarcooker-atcantinawest.com, enviroharvest.ca.) Solar ovens can basically be used like slow cookers/crock pots, unless you opt for a speedy but bulky parabolic system ($236 from continawest.com.)
You can build your own with a shoebox and some tin foil, but if you're ambitious, get your pals to help you build a proper solar cooker with instructions even school kids can tackle from re-energy.ca.
Keep in mind that what you cook is as important as how you cook it. First off, avoid prepackaged and/or processed foods - yes, even the organic kind. Between 1997 and 2002 alone, the American food processing sector's energy use jumped 49 per cent, according to the USDA, thanks in large part to our hunger for quick 'n' easy packaged foods. And that doesn't even take into account all the fossil fuel energy embedded in the plastic wrappers.
And just as beef has a massive water footprint, as I mentioned during Water Week, it also sits at the top of the carbon-bloat ladder. Ditto for, sigh, cheese (though local as well as less dense cheese like ricotta has lower emissions, since in the latter's case it takes less milk to manufacture it, says the Environmental Working Group Meat Eaters' Guide (ewg.org/meateatersguide).
Fish-heads should know that farmed fish like salmon have a higher carbon footprint than most wild, and air-freighted options will be bigger culprits than more local and/or frozen picks like Lake Huron pickerel. Canned fish is also lower-carbon, says EWG; just look into Greenpeace's latest canned tuna guide before you crack a tin. Brands like Clover Leaf and Pastene totally tank on the sustainability front, unlike Ocean's new pole-and-line-caught tuna or, better still, Raincoast Trading's BPA-free selection (greenpeace.ca).
If you're going raw, your meal is mostly vegan and thus low-carbon all the way. Just skip the steak tartare and get your broccoli certified organic so it's not fossil-fuel-laced - even if it is too early to shave even more energy from your dinner by getting your greens locally.
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