Green Goddess Penny Kemp investigates what eco-cooking boils down to...
Most people that I know who own an AGA adore their appliance and wouldn't swap it for the world. But AGA's have a reputation for being very environmentally unfriendly. It is said that the average AGA emits 3.5 tons of carbon dioxide a year, which accounts for nearly half our personal carbon footprint. The two-oven AGA uses 40 litres of oil a week, whilst the four-oven can drink a staggering 51 litres. Gas and electric AGAs are not cheap either and with rising fuel prices can cost in excess of £25 a week to run. In their defence AGA say that almost 60% of AGAs sold today have intelligent management systems, which save up to 25% on running costs. And just before you all rush to abandon your fuel guzzling AGA, think again. AGAs mean you don't need to switch on that electric kettle, run that expensive tumble dryer, or turn the thermostat up on your central heating. Toasters are a thing of the past, slow cookers are built in and bread makers are unnecessary. AGAs run happily during power cuts, which are often a feature of rural life.
And I have even heard of the occasional newborn lamb being placed in the warming oven in order to bring it back to life. AGA say they are spending millions on research and development and looking at ways to make them greener. At their Shropshire headquarters, they are running an AGA off a 5kW wind turbine. However, even AGA admit that a truly green appliance is a few years in the waiting. If you are still unconvinced, you can buy a Rayburn (made by AGA), which does all the above but rather than using oil, gas or electric burns wood. I have a Rayburn, which in the winter, for I only use it in the colder months, heats my water, runs my central heating and does all my cooking. It does mean a constant supply of well seasoned wood is needed and if you don't want to buy expensive cut logs, time has to be put aside to build up a good woodpile. In the summer months, I use an electric cooker (we have no mains gas) and I have a bank of solar panels that produce my electricity. For me, it is the perfect solution for those of us that live in rural areas. But it does require time and energy and for those with busy lives, a wood-burning stove is, maybe, not the answer.
If you are looking for a more conventional oven, Gooshing is a terrific website. www.gooshing.co.uk.Ovens are not governed by an energy efficiency scheme and consumers therefore have to rely on the sales pitch or try and wade through the almost incomprehensible product information. Gooshing provides an ethical review of all major companies involved in oven manufacture. Their star rating is easy to understand and covers all aspects of corporate, ethical behaviour. Fan assisted or convection ovens can save up to 25% energy costs and self-cleaning ovens are better insulated. Also make sure you frequently clean your range hood as a poor range hood will not ventilate properly, creating a hotter kitchen and higher cooling costs. Thinking about energy efficiency in the kitchen will not only help the planet but save you money as well. Here are some of my kitchen tips. Cover your pans while cooking. Not only reduces cooking times but can reduce your energy bill by a staggering 75%. Cook in batches. If you are using the oven, bake several batches. Put any surplus in the freezer for another day. Remember to turn off the gas or electricity.
Turn off the gas or electricity before the end of the cooking process. The residual heat will complete the cooking cycle. Shop for local produce. Buying from farmers' markets helps reduce CO2 emissions and supports your local community. Create your own compost. Vegetable peeling and other kitchen waste make rich compost. You can then fertilize all those delicious home-grown vegetables. In the summer, we all like to eat outside but which is the greenest barbecue? Top of the range BBQs can cost hundreds of pounds but a simple one can be cobbled together from materials you already have. A few loose bricks, borrow a metal shelf from the oven and fill underneath with charcoal. Remember to raise it off the ground - you don't want to end up with a bad back. The result might not be as swanky as the multi-burner gas one, but yours is recycled and more eco friendly. Remember to buy your charcoal from sustainably managed forests and if it is local charcoal, so much the better.
Or you could even try making charcoal yourself. www.woodlands.co.uk give information on workshops and a description of the process can be found at www.allotmentforestry.com/fact/Charcoal.htm You can now buy solar-powered barbecues. The Solar-Grill works by reflecting sunlight from mirrors on to a hotplate which then grills the food. More information can be found at solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Solar_Grill. In America, I found a water-powered barbecue called the Hydro-que costing $495. A little pricey compared to similar sized grills but providing it is robust, it would pay for itself in fuel savings in the long run. However, making your own barbecue is more fun and knowing that you have created your own cooker is much more satisfying. Penny Kemp is a local writer and broadcaster and has published five books on environmental issues. She sits on the Sustainable Energy Partnership and was instrumental in helping to steer through the new Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill. As the national speaker on the environment and rural affairs for the Green Party, Penny is uniquely qualified to advise Wealden Times readers on green issues.