Book Review - Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite Out of Global Warming

Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite Out of Global Warming, by Laura Stec with Eugene Cordero, is a treasure trove of facts and tidbits about what we eat and how it affects the health of our planet. Part cookbook, part textbook, part righteous party planning manual, this 2008 addition to the "good food" canon takes a very different approach to coaching readers through the details of a carbon-friendly diet. Each chapter starts with several pages of discussion about the food industry and its connection to climate change. The authors' perspectives are augmented with sidebars demystifying the science behind each chapter, "Book n' Cook Club" pages that list recipes, suggested videos and books, field trips or activities, and a menu of small steps readers can take to spice up their shopping and eating in a climate-friendly style.

Cool Cuisine presents ways to source and prepare food while minimizing the carbon footprint of each meal. To help determine what is cool and what is not, Stec coaches the reader to ask simple questions, such as "How much food am I buying - will I eat it all?" or "How processed is my food?" Cool Cuisine then takes readers through a three-stage process of "cooling" their diet. Stage one starts with buying local produce, reducing meat consumption, and minimizing food waste. Stage two ups the ante by inviting readers to eat even less meat, buy meat from grass-based sustainable farms and buy direct from farmers, when possible. Stage three involves consuming mostly sustainable and organic produce, meat, and beverages.

While Cool Cuisine makes a solid case for the immediate threat of climate change and the negative impact our current food system has on the health of the planet, Stec’s tone and creative imagery keep the book completely accessible. When comparing pest control in monocropping to that needed with diversified farming, she uses metaphor that would be just as happy in a Pixar animation:

Fill a field with only one plant and it becomes an exclusive country club with no need for bouncers. Bugs can lay out their lawn chairs and feast on an endless smorgasbord of corn, wheat, or whatever their preferred amuse-bouche may be. These bugs are like houseguests from hell. They eat everything, replace nothing, and trash the place.

While Stec shows a clear bias towards organic produce and meat from animals raised on grass, each argument is backed up by significant research outlining the attendant environmental and health benefits. For those readers already attuned to the concept that our food choices can affect climate change, but who may feel daunted by the thought of abandoning their favorite comfort foods, Cool Cuisine comes to the rescue with tips on making ‘cooling' your diet as tasty as possible. To this end, she points out that we often don’t prepare foods in ways that bring out their best qualities. The classic case, of course, is vegetables. Many Americans prepare vegetables in ways that destroy their natural sweetness and appetizing consistency, resulting in a belief that we don’t like vegetables, and a failure to eat enough of these healthy, nutritious foods. Stec proposes a few simple rules to avoid limp, flavorless vegetables: keep water as far away from vegetables as possible (unless blanching); use high, dry heat to heighten vegetable sugars; marinate vegetables for a half hour or less; and do not undercook grilled vegetables.

For the meat (and cheese) lovers among us, there is no need to fear a “cool” diet. While cool eating does call for reducing meat consumption, it also encourages us to savor the delicious, heightened flavor of grass-based beef, pork, and poultry, not to mention local cheeses, wines and beers, which have a place in every recipe section of the book. In fact, a recurring theme in Cool Cuisine is the notion of a "Most Local Foods Plate," composed of wine, beer, cheese, milk, honey, bread, eggs, fruit, and vegetables - all items that are grown or produced in all 50 states. When in doubt, recommends Stec, you can find one of these items produced surprisingly close to home. Armed with a renewed confidence in the kitchen, and some tasty flavor combos, readers are guaranteed to finish this book feeling cooler than ever.

So with a copy of Cool Cuisine under your arm, raise a Cooltini and say a toast to getting back to your culinary roots, getting a little closer to the earth, and enjoying every minute of it.

Laura Stec’s Cooltini

(a drink for spring) excerpted from Cool Cuisine

I have catered Acterra’s (the environmental organization I work for) April Earth Day Decadent Dinner for many years. We always serve Cooltinis. It’s a seasonal drink in early spring when backyard citrus is still on the trees in the south and west. This recipe comes from my Acterra colleague, Kay O'Neil.

Cooltini
2 ounces fresh squeezed lemon juice (preferably organic Meyer lemons)
2 ounces organic vodka
1 ounce Cointreau
Small amount mint-infused simple syrup, to taste
Ice
Chambord (French raspberry liqueur)
Cooltini ice cube (optional)
Fresh mint sprig (optional)
Combine first four ingredients in a martini shaker and add five ice cubes. Shake hard; the goal is to get shards of ice into the drink. Using a martini strainer, pour into a chilled martini glass. Add a dollop of Chambord and a Cooltini ice cube. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Cooltini ice cube
12 carob "Earthballs" (cellophane-wrapped candy in the shape of little Earths, sold in the bulk bin of natural food stores)
Ice cube trays
Distilled water
Fill ice cube compartments halfway with distilled water. Put one Earthball in the center of each compartment. Freeze until firm. Remove tray from freezer and cover Earthball with water. Freeze until firm.

Glossary

    footnotes