This piece follows – but is not a sequel to – my piece on Climate Mitigation in the Kitchen.
We do not eat a lot of meat in the Katz-Ouziel household. Some of this is personal: we both genuinely enjoy vegetarian proteins; my eleven years of keeping various forms of kosher meant that I became pretty accustomed to a low-meat diet; David (my partner) is especially sensitive to animal welfare and well, reminders that food was once a sentient being. And beyond all of that, less meat is often environmentally and financially better (but not always!). So a lot of our protein comes from beans – not quite to the glorious lots of beans meme of the 2000s, but close. Most of those beans are canned – thank you modern food processing – but some of the most delicious ones are not canned. So I soak and cook.
I recently acquired a pressure cooker, and it has made it much easier to eat lots of beans – not just commonly canned varieties. Many of these are more drought-resistant, or are connected with the continent’s indigenous heritage, or grown as part of efforts towards crop diversification. Some are just delicious. Across the board though, these beans, when substituting for meat, are a good choice for climate-conscious eating – and the pressure cooker helps make that choice easier and better.
I have talked a lot about the importance of processed foods on this blog, including vis-à-vis climate (linked above), but I have not given enough space for gadgets. When I say gadgets, I am talking about machines that make cooking easier – everything from a food processor to a pressure cooker to an Instant Pot to my favorite, the humble rice cooker. Even a microwave counts! We often romanticize doing things the “hard,” “real,” or “long” way, but these tools make cooking a lot less drudging for users – and open up a lot more things to be actually practical to cook. (Rachel Laudan says as much in her timeless piece on modernist cooking.) Given that we have to make many adjustments for climate-friendlier eating, I think gadgets can play a key role.
Specifically, I want to highlight three potential benefits:
- Gadgets make it easier to change one’s diet or adapt to new foods. A lot of the non-financial trouble with changing one’s diet, or learning new foods, is not the food itself. Rather, it is knowing how to cook it, or the cognitive load of changing one’s cooking habits. (I have a suspicion that this is one reason why some vegans and vegetarians revert to meat-eating.) If gadgets make things easier to cook, then they reduce that cognitive load. Many people seem to agree with me, given the wealth of gadget-centric recipes and resources out there, especially for vegetarian cooking.
- Greener eating becomes more accessible for people with disabilities and people with time limitations. As I’ve noted before, tools and gadgets help many people with disabilities cook. This is because our capacities mean that some “common” techniques are not always possible. A lot of food culture, including “sustainable eating” seems to also focus on cooking methods that involve types of tasks that some people cannot do, or cannot do regularly. Better gadgets, and embracing gadgets, allows disabled and non-disabled people alike to benefit from greener eating.
Even for someone who does not have a disability, other things matter too. The frank truth is that most people – and especially people with fewer resources – do not have the time or wherewithal to cook in many of these more “authentic” or “from-scratch” ways. Gadgets open up a lot of cooking possibilities because they allow food to be made with less time and less effort. Climate-conscious foodies should embrace gadgets because they make it more practical for many people to cook greener at all.
- Gadgets reduce reliance on gas. Gas for cooking is bad for the planet and causes a lot of emissions and pollution. Electric cooking is one solution, but many people cannot afford to switch over. Things like rice cookers, Instant Pots, and other things not only save time, but also help folks use less gas – even if some gas is used in the process, as with a stovetop pressure cooker. Of course, the electricity should be from a cleaner source.
Of course, there are other benefits too. And perhaps I am missing one – I would love to hear from you how gadgets help you – or not – with climate-friendly eating. Are you able to eat greener foods more easily? Have you found new tricks or recipes that you especially enjoy? And what sort of gadgets do you want to see? The climate affects and will continue to affect everyone, and there is infinitely more to say on this topic. I look forward to your input. Enjoy beans and other delicious things in the meantime!
If you want to learn more about eating, climate change, and food in the environment, I highly recommend Climavores – a new(ish) podcast by Tamar Haspel and Mike Grunwald.
I love the feeling of my rice cooker and my instant pot being robot buddies as they make dinner for me–and a dishwasher is a kitchen work game-changer. (Admittedly a dishwasher is an appliance and not a gadget, but asking a robot to wash my dishes is the best!)
My only environmental concerns about gadgets are around the ones that are of bad quality, which don’t do their jobs well and/or which break easily. I’d hazard a guess that many cheaper gadgets are not easily repaired or recycled. Bad gadgets are a waste of our finite resources, and I worry that they may sometimes be the only ones the people who need them most could afford.