ARE YOU COOKING with a clear conscience?
When it comes to guilt-free eating, the concept should extend beyond overindulging in fried foods and rich desserts. It's possible to "green your cuisine," according to Louisa Shafia, Philly-born author of "Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life" (Ten Speed Press, $22.50), by making Earth-friendly food choices, sourcing animal products ethically, buying local to reduce your carbon footprint, gardening and more.
Shafia, who'll sign books at Terrain at Styers in Glen Mills on Saturday and do a cooking class at Reading Terminal's Cucina at the Market on Jan. 21, founded a New York-based catering operation called Lucid Food in 2004. A 2001 graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute, her foodie sensibility was honed at high-profile eateries in Manhattan and San Francisco.
"I did an internship at Millennium, which is an amazing fine-dining vegan restaurant in San Francisco," said the Germantown Friends and University of Pennsylvania graduate. "I saw that not only did they work with local farms and use organic foods and wine, they composted all their kitchen food waste. I'd never seen the connection to nature so integrated into a restaurant's philosophy before."
Back in New York, she worked at Aquavit, where she saw a similar philosophy at work. Observing chefs who avoided wastefulness and respected the environment influenced how she wanted to run her own catering business.
Even at the swankiest of catered affairs, Shafia's goal is low waste or no waste. It's not a new idea to her.
"I grew up in a house where we nearly always ate healthy food and were eco-friendly long before it was fashionable," she said. Her father is of Persian descent and grew up in Iran during World War II. "It wasn't that my parents were especially ahead of their time - they just didn't quite realize that the Depression had ended!"
Her mother gardened, and the family never wasted food or anything else.
"I think it's time to reclaim some of those old-school, conservation-minded food traditions," said Shafia.
In her book, which is divided by the four seasons, she includes more than 80 toothsome recipes, laced with relevant and practical tips on cooking and sourcing with a "lucid food" approach. You'll learn that 25 million trees are cut down for chopsticks every year (bring your own reusable ones to that favorite Chinese restaurant!) and that the average American household throws away 14 percent of its purchased food (save scraps for stock and compost!).
And she offers practical ways to change your own buying and consuming habits while enjoying luscious meals you can make at home.
Shafia, who now lives in Brooklyn, a place where public transit and walking everywhere is a way of life, understands that not everybody can follow all of her suggestions. "You just do the best you can. Pick a few things you want to change, and don't feel guilty."
But by embracing what she calls "the sensuousness of food," your mind-set will migrate naturally to being more mindful about where that food comes from and how it's prepared.
And while her approach costs more than shopping for supermarket bargains, in her view, you pay at the front end or back end depending on your choices. "We've gotten used to cheap food, but what we've seen in the past 50 years is that it hasn't come without a cost - for the environment and for our own health."
In a perfect world, small farmers and farmers' markets would be subsidized so their products would be more affordable.
"Having access to healthy food is a basic human right. Something's going to have to change," she said.
Until that happens, Shafia will continue to make a difference in her own eco-zone and hopefully influence her clients one dinner party at a time. "It has to start somewhere," she said. "Trying to make small changes in what we buy, eat and waste is a place to start."