June 01, 2008

life in general: (part 1) ecology conservation steps

I am beginning a series of posts where I will put up tips and suggestions for those who are sensitive towards the protection of our planet's environment and ecology. All of them will be based on my own implementation of my sensitivity that began 3-4 years ago. These tips will apply to affluent people earning high incomes – they could be living in cities or small towns or even villages; it does not matter because I have seen ecologically-insensitive consumption take place even in rich villagers' homes and fields.

In this first part of the series, I take the issue of the carbon (and other hazardous substances') footprint involved in the cooking of food.

Cooking is usually done using liquefied petroleum gas (in LPG gas cylinders) or electric current (in case of electric rice cookers, ovens, microwave etc). We can reduce our footprint here by cutting down on the quantity of the gas or electric power. There are various ways of doing that.

We can avoid excessive heating of our food or tea. Say a dal or any other gravy dish is being made. Once it starts boiling we can put the gas burner on low flame and switch it off completely after the spices and other ingredients have got reasonably seeped into the gravy.

The lesser the time needed for cooking the better. For this very season, we can cut down substantially on fried foods that require higher temperatures (that means burning gas on full flame) and longer cooking time. The cooking oil used here is a lot too. All cooking oils are heavily processed items made in large manufacturing units that require large power consumptions and also sometimes ecologically-damaging waste products.

It may be difficult to give up fried foods completely for those of us who love their taste and flavour, but we can reduce their consumption by anywhere between 10 and 90 per cent. We can even try doing it in phases – 10 per cent in the first 3 months, another 10 per cent in the next 3 months and so on. Alternatively, we can completely not have fried foods for an extended period of one month 3-4 times a year, our consumption will be down by 25-33 per cent in the first year itself.

Not just fried foods, but there are other dishes too that require extensive cooking. Non-vegetarian

When making tea or coffee many boil the tea leaves in water (mixed with milk for those who don't drink black tea) uptil a few minutes after the boiling point is reached. Here, there is ample scope for reduction. We can cut down drastically the post-boiling length. We can also change the way we make tea. For instance, I make my tea by boiling water first (before i switch on the gas burner I add mint leaves to the water so that is flavour can get seeped in the water).

As soon as the water starts boiling {that takes about 2-3 minutes for one cupful of water quantity (see the photo to the right, (thats water and mint leaves being readied for my cup of tea!) and 3-4 minutes for two cupfuls and so on...} I reduce the burner to low flame. After a minute, I switch off the gas, immediately put one (or more as required) teaspoons of tea leaves in the boiled water and cover the container with a lid (see the photo below). In a tea cup, I add sugar and milk (i use just one-half of a teaspoon of milk), and after 3-4 minutes I take out the lid and pour the tea in the cup through a strainer.

In this process of making tea I use less of cooking gas and also achieve another saving. When tea leaves are simmered in boiling water-&-milk the container gets grimy with the stickiness of milk and the fermented juices of boiled tea leaves. This grime is not there when you boil just water (with or without mint-leaves/other-herbs-or-spices added to it), add only tea leaves to it after switching off the gas and use the milk directly in your teacup.

Less grime means much less water required to wash the containers. Using less water is one of the ways we contribute our bit to the conservation of natural resources in more ways than one (that I will take in a later post).

To cook food we use various types of containers, pans and tawas (plates). Here we could try to use less number of utensils and container. When we use less of them we also buy less of them and when we buy less of them we reduce the carbon footprint involved in the manufacturing of those containers and utensils. Also, if we are making two dishes we can check if the same container or pan can be re-used instead of using two different ones. We can, for instance, use the same steel pressure cooker when making two gravy items (one dal and one with vegetables). After the first one is made, transfer it in a serving bowl and re-use the cooker for the second one. This also helps in reducing the water needed when we wash the utensils. The less the number the less the water and also less work for the maid that most of us hire to do the dishes and for other household work and also chemical-based dish washing liquid or paste we use for cleaning the cooking vessels.

The same can be done for the container (like the one in the picture above) in which we make tea or coffee. When we are drinking 2-4 cups of tea in a span of a few hours we can use the same container after removing the previous tea's boiled leaves (that incidentally can be

There are some who generally use less of them for cooking but buy more of larger sizes to cater to serving guests and for party occasions. I don't know what the solution could be here except that we can try to buy less of such rare-occasion dishes/utensils/containers notwithstanding little compromises we would have to make on the social front.

Even the type of containers or vessels we use for cooking can make a difference. Teflon-coated non-stick pans and vessels can be avoided because Teflon is a plastic additive and the manufacturing process involves the release a lot of noxious chemicals and hazardous waste products. For the tawa we can use earthern tawas to make rotis that does not require oil or butter and for other items the tawa can be an iron tawa instead of a teflon-coated non-stick tawa.


Rajesh said...

A comment meant for this post was erroneously posted in the comments section (http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=38446320&postID=4498033579984272852&isPopup=true) of the next post..

Here is that comment:

Have a look at http://ideas4green.blogspot.com/2008/06/need-for-google-to-educate-gmail-users.html

Probably we should also start encouraging IT users to house keep their online carbon footprint as well.


Rajesh said...

My response to Sampat's comment:

Hi Sampat,
Absolutely. We need to watch our ecological footprint with regard to our use of information technology hardware, software and network devices as well. I clicked on the link to your blog you gave and its good you are highlighting the matter. Good luck. Stay in touch.
- Rajesh