Friday, April 2, 2010

The Conscious Kitchen

Food can be dangerous, to both consumers and the environment. Most people have heard about the horrors of factory farms, the dangers of pesticides, the worries of contaminated meat. But what is the consumer to do, to best avoid these perils and be a more responsible and socially conscious shopper? More practical advice and recommendations are needed and it would be easiest if there was a single source for such valuable information. A new book, The Conscious Kitchen, may fit that need.

The Conscious Kitchen: The New Way to Buy and Cook Food - to Protect the Earth, Improve Your Health, and Eat Deliciously (Clarkson Potter, 2010, $13.99) was written by Alexandra Zissu. It is a trade paperback of 224 pages with eleven chapters. The first seven chapters deal with food and drink, the next two with cooking tools and equipment and the final two chapters with cleaning and waste disposal.

Alexandra Zissu is a writer and her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Green Guide, Cookie, Details, Bon Appétit, Self, and Health, among other publications. She is also the coauthor of The Complete Organic Pregnancy, and contributes the "Ask an Organic Mom" column to The

Zissu's objective with this book to provide the eco-conscious consumer "...with the education needed to make the best decisions in any venue, from convenience store to supermarket to farmers' market." (p.11) In large part, I believe she is successful, providing a wealth of practical information for consumers without being preachy or absolutist. She is more realistic, understanding not everyone is going to change completely, and that every small change adds up to a greater overall benefit.

You'll learn plenty from this book, such as the definitions and standards for "organic." You will find out the places places to purchase fresh produce, including the balancing act of organic vs local. There are sections on grass-fed beef, raw milk, sustainable seafood, coffee, and even wine. Each section provides the necessary basics as well as providing additional resources you can seek out, from books to websites, to garner more detailed information. There are also several recipes scattered throughout the book, each provided by some other food personality, from Michael Pollan to Emeril Lagasse.

Zissu also covers some areas that many other articles seem to omit, including cooking tools, equipment, cleaning and waster disposal. You will learn about the best materials to cook upon, avoiding plastic in the kitchen, low energy appliances, grills, disinfectants, recycling, and much more. This is certainly a very comprehensive work, albeit some of the information is brief and to the point, yet if you want more information, you are pointed in the right direction.

My primary complaint is that Zissu somewhat glosses over the fact that organic foods generally are more expensive. In a prior post, I reported how Consumer Reports stated that on average, you'll pay 50% extra for organic food, and as much as 100% extra for organic milk and meat. Zissu specifically raises the issue of pricing and saving money four times in the book, though she does not indicate how much more expensive organic foods can be. Her primary advice is that by not buying processed food, you'll have more money to spend on organics. And as for organic meats, she suggests buying less organic meat than you would normally eat. As long as organic foods remain more expensive, it will be more difficult for everyone to buy them.

Overall though, I give this book a high recommendation as it is educational, informative and very practical. It helps cut through much of the confusing debate over being more eco-conscious, and allows the average consumer to understand how they can alter their every day habits. It is fairly comprehensive, covering most everything the average consumer might want to know. Check it out, and learn how to eat and live better, making yourself and your family healthier, as well as helping the environment.


Vivian said...

Great job Rich! I saw this book recently and thought about getting it. I think I will now.

Joseph said...

Definitely a good book that everyone should read. Thanks for the great info.

John Taylor (book publisher) said...

The conscious kitchen is a success! Great book that is truly inspiring.

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