books climate change food

Book review: The Climate Change Cook Book

I figured it would be a matter of time before somebody wrote a climate change cook book. Despite the title, I’m not quite convinced this is it. It’s a collection of fairly generic recipes with an introduction about climate change, and then they more or less forget about the theme afterwards. It makes me wonder if the plan for the book got lost in translation somewhere in the publishing process.

Before I go any further, some things that I like about it: first of all, kudos to Peter Taylor for raising the issue in the first place. Food choices are one of the most obvious opportunities for reducing our personal carbon emissions, and it’s important to make this empowering and not preachy. For those becoming aware of the connection between food and climate change, the introduction here pitches it at about the right level. Informational but not overwhelming, with a can-do spirit.

I also like the way the book isn’t dogmatic about dietary choices, and it goes for the ‘mostly plant-based’ approach as recommended by the EAT-Lancet Commission. For those not prepared to go all-in on the vegan option, this is more approachable and it leaves room for personal choice. It’s also aiming for a balanced healthy diet, with suggestions for every meal of the day and snacks, including a suggested week of meals.

Things I’m not sure about: once you get past the introduction, there’s really not a great deal about the recipes here that has anything to do with the climate. Some are even potentially counter-productive: having pointed out at the start that beef has a disproportionately high carbon footprint, maybe don’t put a shin of beef recipe in later? If people want to eat beef occasionally that’s fine, but they could look it up in a recipe book that isn’t about the climate.

Flicking through the collection, there’s rarely any rationale for why this, say, walnut and honey soda bread is a climate-friendly recipe. Or this lemon posset, which I could find in a hundred different places – and hence the word ‘generic’ that I used at the start.

There’s nothing wrong with the recipes, which are from a catering company in Sheffield called PJ Taste (oh look, there’s the same photo of the lemon posset). It just feels like the editors asked the usual questions – is it healthy? Easy to follow? Is it tasty? And then forgot to ask about its relevance to the book’s unique selling point: why does this belong in The Climate Change Cook Book?

There could have been more on seasonal or local food, and the book also neglects what I consider to be a pretty important factor in climate friendly cooking: energy use. Anything that goes in the oven uses more energy, for example. A recipe for roasted strawberry and white chocolate ice cream looks fabulous and I fully intend to try it (with balsamic vinegar, which is always a good thing). But by roasting the strawberries in the oven first, this is a very energy-intensive way to make ice-cream, even if it is vegan.

For a book that takes the actual carbon footprints of food and cooking techniques into account, see S L Bridle’s Food and Climate Change. But it has no recipes. Combine that book and this book and you’d have something rather interesting. Right now though, the gap in the market for a climate change cook book remains unfilled.

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