Some confessions of a climate conscious cook

Some confessions of a climate conscious cook

For my mom, the cooking and baking associated with the holiday season was never welcomed. To put it bluntly, even though her dad was a professional baker, Mom was not a big fan of most kitchen events.

Turkey day was an especially dreaded day in my mother’s kitchen. Armed with her trusty bottle of alcohol, she wiped off every surface that came in contact with the raw bird. She was always worried about giving the family food poisoning.

My dad didn’t help matters. He watched with disapproval while Mom literally bathed our turkey in the sink, much like you would a small child.

As I prepare for the annual feast at our home, I find the task of shopping for ingredients has become more of a mini-class on toxicity and the externalities of my food choices.

Our son’s decision to become a vegetarian in 1989 has already changed the way I cook. It has been 30 years since I bought ground beef or any pork, and the traditional butterball turkey has been abandoned for a vegan option like tofurkey or no turkey at all. No one really misses the turkey because the side dishes are abundant and tasty.

Every food choice I make has become challenging. I rely on my degree in chemistry along with my background on pesticides and organic farming when trying to choose foods that are pesticide free. I also try to consider choices that have a lower carbon footprint such as locally grown produce.

It’s been a pretty intense situation, and I find myself conflicted as I stand in the aisles of the grocery stores calculating risks and benefits of items like an insurance actuary.

So I begin the task by selecting organic potatoes. Like many other fruits and vegetables, potatoes are on the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen list. This means they have been tested and found to contain many pesticide residues. They are sprayed with chlorpropham, an herbicide that prohibits sprouting. This chemical is toxic to bees, and chronic exposure of lab animals to chlorpropham has caused liver and spleen issues and death.

Potatoes also are one of those vegetables that can be genetically modified. The genes of the GMO potato developed by J.R. Simplot have been modified to “hide the symptoms of blackspot bruising” so the consumer might unknowingly purchase a rotten potato. If you have to buy conventional spuds, be sure to peel them as this helps remove much of the pesticide/herbicide residues found within the skin and avoid those labeled with the trademark “white russet” as these are the GMO variety.

I make my own rolls or bread from organic wheat flour or buy organic bread to avoid exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide, Roundup. Glyphosate has been classified by The International Agency for Research on Cancer as a probable carcinogen. Research also shows it is an endocrine disruptor and kills beneficial gut bacteria. Since 1974, 18.9 billion pounds have been used globally.

Corn is a real dilemma. About 90 percent of all corn is genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide, Roundup. This means most corn fields in the U.S. are sprayed with glyphosate. That sprayed corn also is used to make high-fructose corn syrup, which is found in an amazing amount of our processed foods.

A recent review in the journal, Environmental Health, titled “Evidence of human exposure to glyphosate,” stated there were varying levels of glyphosate detected in the urine of people occupationally exposed, as well as subjects from the general population. So I buy organic canned corn and avoid products with high-fructose corn syrup listed as an ingredient.

I use mushrooms in several of my dishes including my stuffing. While mushrooms are on the Clean Fifteen list, meaning they are low in pesticide residues, most stores package them in a plastic tub wrapped in plastic. In order to avoid plastic, I opt for glass-packaged mushrooms.

Moving on to dessert, I usually bake both pumpkin and apple pies. Apples are always on the dirty dozen list and one fruit you should try to buy organically produced if possible. Apples are drenched in diphenylamine. This chemical is used to keep the apples from developing discolored patches during cold storage over the winter months. The compound was found on 80 percent of all the nonorganic apples tested and has been shown to affect the bladder and urinary system.

I am lucky because our son always provides long-pie zucchini-shaped pumpkins from his wonderful, organic garden. So I don’t have to buy a can of pumpkin, which might be coated with BPA, a white compound used for can linings and one known to be an endocrine system disruptor.

Finally, we usually have coffee or wine for our guests. We choose organic, fair-trade coffee beans. After we grind the beans, we use a stainless-steel electric percolator pot to make the coffee. This is an option to plastic coffee makers, which use the single-cup pods.

I make wine, and although I do not use organic juice, I try to offset my carbon footprint by using recycled bottles our friends and family have saved for us.

Once dinner is over, leftovers are stored in glass containers with silicon lids or in aluminum foil. We try to use up all leftovers as food waste is a huge contributor to climate change.

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