Mother Earth Living

An Earth Celebration Menu: 3 Low-Carbon Recipes for Eating Local

Zero out your earth day dinner's carbon emissions.
By Roxanne Hawn
March/April 2009
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Bright, multicolored beets offer color and flavor contrast in this creamy Parsnip Flan.
Photography By Joe Lavine

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This Earth Day—or any holiday, for that matter—why not host a low- or even zero-carbon celebration? Menu selection, travel planning and carbon offsets make such an event not only possible but pleasurable.

Jason Rogers, executive chef at the St. Julien Hotel and Spa in Boulder, Colorado, hosted a zero-carbon dinner for Earth Day last year. Rogers developed recipes for a five-course meal made from local, natural, or organic proteins and produce. On average, the various ingredients traveled 43 miles from farm to plate.

The hotel calculated its carbon emissions in tons for the day of the event, including local food transport, wine shipping from California, and guest and staff travel. Though their use was 13.61 metric tons, the hotel purchased offsets through UHG Consulting, also in Boulder, for 100 metric tons.

You too can achieve a zero-carbon dinner party by creating a seasonal, local menu and asking guests to offset travel. Offset the food’s travel costs yourself, or ask each guest to sponsor one course or ingredient.

Lamb Ravioli in Broth 

Lessen your meal's carbon footprint with locally souced meat and dairy proudcts, featured in this recipe for lamb ravioli. 

Parsnip Flan with Roasted Beets 

Rushing spring produce to market burns a lot of carbon-based fuels. Instead, focus on readily available, easy-to-store root vegetables in early spring.

Flatiron Steak with Natural Jus and Root Vegetable Mash 

A new take on old-fashioned meat and potatoes, this dish harnesses rosemary, garlic and root vegetables to round out tastes and textures. Use modest beef portions and a full cast of culinary characters.

Local = Low-Carbon? Not Always 

Many factors, including flavor and community economics, make eating local foods a great idea. However, local doesn’t necessarily mean low-carbon.

“If you’re looking purely at the filter of carbon emissions, the food miles most often talked about in local eating are not a good proxy for carbon emissions,” says Maisie Greenawalt, director of communications and strategic initiatives for Bon Appétit Management Company, which launched a Farm to Fork program in 1999. “I think a lot of us would like it to be that simple, but unfortunately, when you’re looking at carbon emissions, there are a lot of other factors at play.”

Dairy cows and beef cattle, for example, release methane gas through digestion. Methane is 20 to 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming, and conventionally raised livestock accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse emissions. Livestock allowed to graze naturally actually improves carbon storage in the soil, but that’s rare—most livestock is raised in a feedlot. “So, if you’re looking to eat low carbon, one thing you should look at is reducing the amount of beef and cheese that you eat,” Greenawalt says. Look for beef and cheese produced by free-range cattle.

Here are more low-carbon food suggestions:

■ Stop food waste by eating leftovers or cooking smaller portions. Wasted food means all the energy it took to grow and transport that food goes to waste, too.
■ Eliminate air-freighted foods that travel long distances fast, including shipped fresh fish and out-of-season berries. How food travels (not just how far) makes a difference.
■ Reduce tropical fruits and processed sugars. They’re not local to most of us, and they require harsh processing and long transport.
■ Choose seasonal foods. For example, eat vegetable soups in winter rather than fresh salads, which are out of season unless they are grown locally or at home with season-extending techniques.

Bon Appétit has developed an online calculator to help you understand  how your food’s carbon emissions add up.

Roxanne Hawn writes on a variety of lifestyle topics from her home in the Rocky Mountains. Of Italian descent, she admits food plays a major role in her life. 

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