The Native Cook

By 1st July 2015

3 ways to be environmentally friendly in the kitchen

The way we cook in the west can unwittingly use a lot more resources than we imagine. The way your energy is generated and your water supply managed is a very different from the majority of the world’s cooks. You can be environmentally friendly in the kitchen in a number of ways such as recycling packaging. A different way of looking at it may be to have a closer look at how the majority of the world’s population cook in environments where energy supplies and fresh water are not so plentiful.

One of the best chickens I ever ate was served to me on a remote island in Indonesia. I was invited by a local man to join his family for lunch. We went back to his small house and yard and sat down outside near a smouldering fire. I watched with interest as his grandmother expertly caught one of the chickens which were scratching around the yard and quickly dispatched it. She prepared it by removing it’s insides, but not plucking, and coating it in a sticky mixture of honey, herbs and spices before covering it all in a stiff clay. It was then placed among the hot coals in the smouldering fire with more raked over the top. After about 45 mins she prodded the hot clay cocoon out of the fire and cracked it open. The hot baked clay slipped off the bird taking the feathers with it and we were ready to eat our delicious roast chicken lunch.

I am not suggesting that we start to cook our roast chickens in this way but we can get some environmentally sound ideas from it.

  1. Buy Fresh – Eat Fresh -The grandmother did not need to dip into a fridge or freezer for our chicken, instead using one as fresh as they come. Try buying fresh food regularly and use it as soon as possible. It will have had less processing, preserving and packaging. Fridges and food-waste are getting bigger, both using precious energy and resources.

  2. Maximise Your Heat Usage – Grandmother encased the food as tightly as possible and used the hot ashes instead of a blazing fire. If you are using the oven to cook one part of the meal, think about what else could be cooked in the same oven. If you are boiling something, could you steam something over it? Go Retro! And dig out the old pressure cooker or slow cooker and learn how to use them again.

  3. Watch Your Water Use – As far as I could see, granny used no water at all to cook the chicken, handy when all the water has to be collected from a nearby well. No need to wash most fruit and veg these days as it comes pre washed and the cooking process will take care of any surface bacteria. Recycle your cooking water. A stock cube added to your vegetable water will make a good stock and blanching water can be poured in the sink for the washing up.

I am sure that our Indonesian grandmother would have been amazed, bewildered and lost in a western kitchen and we would all have great difficulty cooking with her facilities. The difference is that we could learn a lot more from the way she cooked that she could from us in the west.

John Ramsay is a private chef living in the Scottish highlands. I love to travel and experience new foods as often as possible.