Eco baking?

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!

One of my eco friendly vegan salads using home-grown basil and market produce

One of my eco friendly vegan salads using home-grown basil and market produce

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.

My (climate busting?)baking: caramel popcorn and marshmallow brownies

My (climate busting?) baking: caramel popcorn and marshmallow brownies

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!

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My top ten restaurant dislikes

Ok, so I’m going to sound snobby when I list all these, but well, I’m going to do it anyway. On the strength of the popularity of my post about the top ten baked goods I just don’t understand, here’s the top ten things restaurants and cafes do which drive me crazy!

1. Fake or overly ambitious menu descriptions. For example, when ‘a medley of seasonal vegetables’ is peas, corn and carrot clearly ‘freshly picked’ from a frozen bag. Or, as happened recently at The Lab Nitrogen Gelato, ice-cream claimed to be topped with brownie pieces (note the plural) and what I received was ice-cream with one single brownie piece approximately one centimetre by one centimetre in size. Fake or dubious location descriptions also annoy me – for instance Po River Calamari? I’m pretty sure that’s a freshwater river in Europe, meaning any calamari in it are very very lost!

2. Risotto arriving in under 10 minutes. You can’t make a risotto that quickly unless it’s precooked and you’re just heating it up. In which case it’s going to be claggy and/or full of cream and I could make something better at home, for half the cost.

3. When the dessert menu is separate from the main menu so you can’t strategise. I’ve written on this one before – see last week’s post on this very issue.

4. Staff who discriminate because you look young and/or casually dressed. I like to eat at some fancy places. I’m willing to spend a fair bit of money on a special meal. And my money is exactly as good as anyone else’s, however, there’s been a few posh places I’ve walked into with other young(ish) people and gotten cold or neglectful service because we look young and like we don’t know any better. There’s also been cases where waiters have reacted with surprise and/or changed their attitude very quickly when we’ve ordered a bottle or two of nice (expensive) wine.

A like rather than a dislike: tomato, asparagus and ricotta brioche at Dolcetti, with super friendly service as well.

A like rather than a dislike: tomato, asparagus and ricotta brioche at Dolcetti, with super friendly service as well.

5. Staff not telling you when items on the menu are unavailable until after you go to order them. It’s just disappointing and it requires you to make a snap decision about what you’ll have instead.

6. A lack of signals on the menu indicating what’s vegetarian (or gf for the glutards out there). Yes, I can just check with the staff, but it feels a little annoying on my part. I’d much rather just know what my options are. In this same category is putting a ‘V’ next to things that are clearly not vegetarian. What does this mean? Is there a veggie version available? Or do they just think anchovies are vegetarian?

7. Beautiful restaurant fit outs with dingy/dirty/outside/cold bathrooms. There’s a lot of culprits here. Twenty&Six Espresso is light and bright and hip, but they have a shed-like outdoor toilet. Similarly The Estelle in Northcote is great, but their toilets are below par. Ditto several places on Lygon Street with great pasta and poor plumbing.

8. Being told you have to be off the table by a certain time, but then getting slow service so that you don’t have time for dessert. By contrast, if there’s no time limit and not a whole lot of people waiting for tables, I hate being rushed off my table. Sometimes I just want to sit, digest and talk for half an hour after the meal, thank you very much.

Very mainstream muesli cleverly disguised by (admittedly delicious) fruit on Hastings Street, Noosa

Very mainstream muesli cleverly disguised by (admittedly delicious) fruit on Hastings Street, Noosa

9. No split bills and/or cash only places. Group dining is hard enough to organise sometimes, splitting the bill and/or allowing people to pay on cards doesn’t take that much extra effort on the restaurant’s part. Unless they are an absolutely tiny operation with a clearly signed policy on cash, they should have card facilities.

10. Places avoiding providing tap water and then upselling/charging for bottled water. The water in Melbourne is perfectly drinkable. I don’t even like mineral water. I know there’s no mark-up on free tap water, but restaurants should just suck it up and provide it automatically.