My parents are ex-hippies. I consider myself a fairly environmentally friendly kind of girl, for someone living in a first world country like Australia. I turn off lights and taps, I don’t own a car (primarily because I don’t drive…), I buy environmentally friendly cleaning products and I care about the whales. But as I was walking home yesterday, sweltering in the ridiculous summer heat and pondering climate change, it occurred to me, how eco friendly is baking? Is my passion having a positive, negative or neutral impact on the environment and is there anything I can (or will) do to change this?
So first, the positives. While I haven’t got studies to prove it, it seems like common sense that cooking a meal at home is going to be more environmentally friendly than eating at a restaurant or buying takeaway. You reuse dishes rather than having to produce and then throw away takeaway containers. Home cooking is likely to be more simple and use less resources than a restaurant meal – no tablecloths to wash, you drink tap water not bottled and fewer ingredients in meals means less food miles, less water and fertiliser and land used. Also, eating at home means you don’t use your car or other transport to go out. And it’s not that I’m against eating out, I absolutely love it, but I’m trying to get an overall picture of the good, bad and the ugly of my baking and cooking habits.
Also in the positives is that I shop locally and buy a lot of Victorian produce at the Queen Vic Markets. This reduces my ‘food miles’, the carbon emissions needed to transport food from the farm to me. I do think about seasonal availability when planning meals. Just yesterday I made a cheesecake, choosing to make it a strawberry one since those berries are at their best (and cheapest) in summer. In addition, being vegetarian and cooking only veggie meals and baked goods does reduce your carbon footprint quite significantly, since meat production is resource heavy and animals like cows and sheep produce large amounts of methane. Methane is many many times more powerful than carbon dioxide when we’re talking about global warming. In fact, it’s so significant that there’s actually a National Livestock Methane Program in Australia aimed at reducing methane emissions on farms!
On to the negatives now. I might not be eating meat but my baking does use a hell of a lot of butter, cream, milk and eggs – all produced by lovely yet methane emitting animals. Plus most of the baking ingredients I buy come in packaging, much of which is not recyclable. Then there’s my love of kitchen appliances. Chief among these is of course my Mixmaster, but there’s also a blender, juicer, rice cooker, sandwich press, toaster, kettle, ice-cream maker and vegetable dicer thingie. The ABS has actually done studies showing the trend for household appliance ownership is steeply upwards as we become more affluent and appliances become more affordable (apparently!). All those appliances I have use energy. On the other hand, they only use it for short periods of time, unlike, for example, a second television, my Mixmaster isn’t plugged in at all times. However, I would never plug them in if I didn’t own them because I didn’t do any cooking or baking.
Sigh! Pondering this is now starting to give me a headache. Maybe it’s a sugar cravings headache from lack of baked goods…I certainly don’t have the answers and I’m not about to stop baking and become a raw food fruitarian. But there are sites where you can buy eco baking supplies (think unbleached baking parchment and mixing bowls made from recycled plastic or bamboo), so it’s clear others have pondered this issue too, even made successful businesses out of it. There’s also plenty of blogs out there with enviro-friendly tips for the kitchen. I’m a big believer in there always being room for improvement, so it’s something I’m going to look into. It’s definitely worth contemplating…while enjoying a slice of my strawberry cheesecake!