On Earth Day 1971, a bunch of eighth-grade pals and I snubbed the bus and rode our bikes to school on some pretty busy streets in Santa Clara, Calif. The word "green" was not part of our vocabulary then; still we felt the sentiment keenly. The first Earth Day was 1970 and kicked off the modern environmental movement. • It would be a few months before Marvin Gaye's Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) became our anthem. And maybe a year or two before we started wearing Earth Shoes. • Today, on the 40th Earth Day, I am not sure we are in tons better environmental shape, but we are certainly talking about it a lot. Here are five just-released food books that tell us how easy it is to make our kitchens and menus green.
TITLE: Cooking Green: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen by Kate Heyhoe (Lifelong Books, $17.95)
GENERALLY SPEAKING: Not to get too cute, but this book just may help you reduce your "cookprint." Heyhoe, founding editor of Globalgourmet.com and Newgreenbasics.com, compares cooking techniques and equipment to help you save energy in the kitchen. For instance, go for small appliances over big (toaster oven vs. oven) when you can. Make sure the dishwasher is full before running. Use cloth and sponges instead of paper towels. I like this book as a wake-up call to the waste that goes on in cooking, and it's not all about food. Cooking Green isn't sexy, but what a font of information. Plus, the recipes are sophisticated and with a global favor.
THE VIBE: Your mother was right; turn off lights and don't let the water run.
HOW GREEN IS IT? Printed on 100 percent "post-consumer waste recycled paper" with vegetable-based inks.
ONE GOOD TIP: A kitchen exhaust fan sucks up grease and fumes, so fewer airborne particles settle on kitchen surfaces. This means less greasy dust and less need for cleaning over time. But don't run the fan longer than needed, to conserve power.
TITLE: Go Green, Get Lean: Trim Your Waistline with the Ultimate Low-Carbon Footprint Diet by Kate Geagan (Rodale, $19.95)
GENERALLY SPEAKING: The book promises to help you "Lose up to 9 pounds in 2 weeks." Not sure how that makes the planet more healthy, but we're all for it. Full of eye-popping statistics aimed at getting you to eat local and in season. For instance, more than 800 million tons of food are shipped around the world each year, four times as much as in the 1960s. And, get this, food in the United States is shipped 25 percent farther today than 20 years ago. Better as a motivational and instructional tool than as a cookbook.
THE VIBE: Big picture made small.
HOW GREEN IS IT? "Rodale Inc. makes every effort to use acid-free, recycled paper." But did they?
ONE GOOD TIP: Pare down packaging. One layer of packaging is better than two. The higher the recycled content the better. Also, eliminate as many "single-serving" items as you can, including drink boxes, string cheese, chip bags and cereal boxes.
TITLE: The Green Kitchen: Techniques for Cutting Energy Use, Saving Money and Reducing Waste by Richard Ehrlich (Kyle Books, $18.95)
GENERALLY SPEAKING: Lots of great tips and sophisticated recipes by Ehrlich, who writes the Green Kitchen column for the Times of London. You'll feel ashamed at all the wasteful things you do. (Put down the aluminum foil before you fill the landfill single-handedly.) I like this book for motivation and enlightenment. The recipes might seem a bit strange for American palates, especially mackerel ceviche and guinea fowl with cider and spices. It's the only book of the five that includes color photos of food, a bonus.
THE VIBE: Know-it-all, but not in a bad way.
HOW GREEN IS IT? Printed on 100 percent recycled paper
ONE GOOD TIP: To eliminate food waste, "don't be tempted by special offers on food you don't have a plan for; they're not cheap if you're not going to use them."
TITLE: The Gorgeously Green Diet: How to Live Lean and Green by Sophie Uliano (Dutton, $29.95)
GENERALLY SPEAKING: Sophie Uliano calls herself the Hollywood Green Guru, and there is certainly a lot in this book for a newbie greenie to learn. She outlines her color-coded eating plans: Light Green, Bright Green and Deep Green. Jump in where your convictions lead you. She tackles a wide range of topics, from skin care to exercise (there are illustrations), gardening and composting. Recipes don't seem particularly unique but are certainly doable. Photos would have made this book better.
THE VIBE: Your green BFF is visiting for a week. Get ready to sweat.
HOW GREEN IS IT? Not sure; no easy-to-find claims about materials used in printing.
ONE GOOD TIP: "If every American shifted just one day per week's food calories from red meat and dairy to chicken, fish, egg and vegetables, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be equivalent to 760 miles of driving per year. If they shifted just one day a week's food calories from red meat to fruits and veggies, that would be equivalent to 1,160 miles of driving."
TITLE: Big Green Cookbook: Hundreds of Planet-Pleasing Recipes and Tips for a Luscious, Low-Carbon Lifestyle by Jackie Newgent (Wiley, $24.95)
GENERALLY SPEAKING: Makes it all look so easy, this saving the planet thing. There is so much we can't control, she writes, but how you run your kitchen is completely in your power. Put this book on the gift list for your eco-friendly high school graduate heading to college. The recipes alone might help fight off the freshman 15 while making Earth a better place.
THE VIBE: Can-do attitude.
HOW GREEN IS IT? Printed on 100 percent "post-consumer content paper" with soy ink.
ONE GOOD TIP: Nine out of 10 shrimp eaten in the United States are imported from Latin America or Asia, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. Lessen the environmental impact, and support American industry, by looking for wild Gulf of Mexico shrimp or U.S. farm-raised seafood.