Cookprint: A New Green Buzzword
February 26, 2008 by Kate Heyhoe
Plus: Refrigeration Storage Tips
What do you call the impact you make on the planet when you cook?
It’s your “cookprint”— the entire chain of resources used to prepare meals, and the waste produced in the process.
The cookprint starts with food, in your garden or at the farm; it travels to your kitchen and continues in your fridge, freezer or pantry. The cookprint grows larger every time heat or fuel is added, from a cooktop, oven, or small appliance. Discarded waste, whether it’s organic produce trimmings, plastic packaging, or water down the drain, further colors the cookprint. As do the implements you cook with, the way you store leftovers, and how you dispose of food waste.
In short, the cookprint measures every meal’s entire environmental impact. It’s the total amount of energy (from farm to fuel to fork) used in creating a meal. And it puts the cook squarely in charge of just how big, or how green, that cookprint will be—in ways that go far beyond buying organic or local, or eating meat or not.
In writing my next book, I couldn’t find the exact term I wanted, so I created “cookprint.”
I was having a tough time with the term “carbon footprint.” Not because of what it stands for, but because it’s such a cold, negative term, and my world revolves around upbeat, positive and inspiring ways to integrate food and cooking into our lives. Food writing should be mouthwatering and inviting, and “carbon footprint” was not.
Nor is the new buzzword “foodprint” exactly right. Coined by Cornell University researchers led by Chris Peters, “foodprint” is defined as the amount of land needed to supply one person’s nutritional needs for a year. It makes conclusions about meat vs. non-meat diets, but pivots mainly on agriculture land resources.
I wanted a word that was vested in personal actions: how we can each make a difference, every day. Even if you don’t cook, someone cooks what you eat, and that contributes to your personal cookprint.
Moreover, I wanted a term that involved a verb, not a foot or a food.
The “cook” in cookprint is a word of action. Just think of all the decisions, and all the physical steps, that go into answering the age-old question, “What’s for dinner?”
Understanding your “cookprint” is about questioning the things we take for granted, and making greener choices with every meal. Sure, a “cookprint” includes ingredients—where they come from, how they’re grown, and how they’re packaged. But there’s more: it’s how you cook your food, the type of energy used, the amount of fuel consumed, the amount of water you use—and the amount of fuel and water you waste.
A cookprint covers even the smallest details. It’s about storing food in ways that use less energy, without sacrificing nutrition or flavor. This means making the refrigerator you already own more energy efficient, storing fresh fruits and vegetables in ways that make them last longer (meaning fewer shopping trips and less spoilage), saving leftovers in glass containers rather than plastic ones or zipper bags. Frying with energy-efficient skillets. And hundreds of other tips.
“Cookprint” is the foundation of this website, and what I consider the New Green Basics of Cooking.
Boiling Down Your “Cookprint”
Recipes and traditional cooking methods are also targeted when it comes to greening your cookprint. In places and times when fuel is scarce, people never take fuel consumption for granted. Neither should we. Does that mean giving up slow roasted foods or big, boiling pots of pasta? Absolutely not! But there are plenty of ways to stretch the fuels we use, every time we turn on the oven or fire up the burner, and green our cookprint by doing so. It’s time to stop being mindless energy hogs when it comes to cooking methods. It’s time to green our cookprints.
Cookprint Q & A:
From time to time, as I write my current book, I’ll be posting tips and articles intended to color your “cookprint.” To start, here’s a question that makes better use of your refrigerator.
Q: The refrigerator is the kitchen’s biggest energy hog. What’s the best temperature setting for your refrigerator?
A: When fresh foods are stored properly, at their specific optimal temperatures, they’ll last longer, meaning fewer gas-guzzling trips to the store. Use a refrigerator/freezer thermometer to monitor your setting. In general, 37 to 40 degrees cools sufficiently without wasting electricity. Keep dairy products at 33 to 38 degrees, meats between 31 and 36 degrees, and eggs at 33 to 37 degrees. Store fresh vegetables and ripe fruits at 35 to 40 degrees. To stash foods in the coldest sections of the fridge, store them along the freezer wall (in a side-by-side) or in the back of the fridge, and never in the door. Some refrigerators come with programmable storage bins, so you simply set them for meats, produce or citrus. Tip: Place a freezer pack in your fridge or its bins, to chill down the immediate area (place it under meats or milk, for instance). The freezer pack will last several days, and you can refreeze it when it thaws.