Talking to the Experts: Jackie Newgent

Have you thought about how your eating affects the environment? We chatted it up with registered dietitian, chef, and eco-cuisine expert Jackie Newgent to get her take on eco-friendly eating and tips to help your cooking be more green.

Have you thought about how your eating habits affect the environment? In honor of Earth Week, we chatted with registered dietitian, chef and eco-cuisine expert Jackie Newgent to get her take on eco-friendly eating and tips to help green up your cooking style. Plus, try a recipe from her newest cookbook!

Q: What does it mean to be an “eco-cuisine expert”?

I’m a culinary nutritionist. But when it comes to explaining what my specialty is, the label “eco-cuisine expert” was basically given to me by many colleagues and consumers (as well as the media) after writing my latest cookbook, Big Green Cookbook: Hundreds of Planet-Pleasing Recipes & Tips for a Luscious, Low-Carbon Lifestyle (Wiley, 2009), in which I share new eco-friendly culinary techniques that I’ve been practicing in my own kitchen for years.

Q: Everyone is trying to do his or her part for the environment. What can eco-conscious home cooks do to reduce their carbon footprint?

The list of what consumers can do to shrink their carbon “foodprint” is nearly endless. But I suggest focusing on small, sustainable changes that will add up to big difference in the long run, to help consumers be greener for a lifetime, not just greener for now.

First, I suggest keeping in mind my eight eco-rules: (1) prepare plant-based meals, (2) be an energy-wise cook, (3) eat by season, (4) enjoy fresh foods naturally and simply prepared, (5) go organic and eco-conscious when you can, (6) buy locally when logical, (7) practice the 4Rs: reduce, reuse, repurpose, and recycle, and (8) be realistic.

Then, choose a few specific ways to incorporate these principles into your cuisine. Try these tips:

•   Put a lid on it. This is one of my favorite green cooking techniques — even if it goes against how I was trained to properly cook. Let the lid do the cooking. Try this for preparing dry pasta: Bring water to a boil; stir in pasta; bring back to a boil; cover and turn off the heat; “lid cook” for the time (or 1 minute less) that the package recommends. Perfect pasta every time — and you’ll save about 10 minutes of cooking energy in the process.

•     Be a part-time vegetarian. If you’re a vegetarian, keep it up! But if you love meat, don’t worry — you can still make an eco-difference. Aim to be an “ecotarian”— someone who eats foods based on environmental sustainability. That’s a plant-based diet that may or may not contain small amounts of organic or eco-conscious animal products. So, if you choose to eat meat, try going for at least one meatless meal a week. Then, keep working at it until you’re eating meatless most of the week.

Q: How does being more "green" affect personal health? What are some of your top tips for going green in the kitchen?

Eating “green” means to focus on a plant-based eating plan, including fresh, seasonal foods. Eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains is directly related to reduced risk of heart disease, certain cancers, obesity and so much more.

Some simple tips for going green and healthy in the kitchen include:

•     Try “earth-style” on for size. Use every edible seasonal produce part — skin, seeds, and all — whenever possible to create less waste, add eco-flair and boost nutrient intake. Scrub skins and outer peels well first. And aim to go organic when you go earth-style.

•     Enjoy eco-wrappers. Since many wraps, like white flour tortillas or rice papers are overly processed (which wastes precious resources), wrap foods in lettuce leaves instead. You’ll be adding nutritional [value] and overall meal appeal while subtracting calories. Or, if you choose a grain wrap, go for whole-grain products, like stone-ground whole-wheat tortillas.

Q: How are you celebrating Earth Day this year?

I like to think of Earth Day more like Earth Month … so I’ve been participating in many events this April to spread the word about eco-cuisine, ranging from doing an eco-friendly whole soy cooking demo on behalf of SOYJOY to hosting a green cooking webinar. And, of course, making Earth Day every day is the ultimate goal!

Q: Spring is finally here!  Do you have a favorite seasonal recipe to share with us?

One of my springtime recipes popular with my friends and family is this Baby Arugula Orzo Salad. Enjoy it!

Makes 6 servings: 1 1/2 cups each
1 cup whole wheat orzo
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice and zest of 1/2 large lemon, or to taste
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
2 cups baby arugula or fresh baby spinach leaves

6 ounces organic or locally-produced feta or soft goat cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup; optional)

2 scallions, green and white parts, thinly sliced
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise

1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as a mixture of basil, flat-leaf parsley, and mint

1/3 cup finely diced hothouse cucumber or celery
1/4 cup raw pine nuts

1.    Add the orzo and 3 cups fresh water to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and turn off the heat. Let “lid cook” (cook covered while the burner is off) until the orzo is al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain well. (Do not rinse.)

2.    Meanwhile, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, and salt in a large bowl.

3.    Add the hot, drained orzo to the lemon dressing and toss. Set aside to cool slightly, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to help prevent sticking. Chill in the refrigerator.

4.    When the orzo is at room temperature or cooler, add the arugula, cheese (if using), scallions, tomatoes, herbs, and cucumber and gently toss. Stir in the lemon zest. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

5.    Sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve at room temperature.

Per serving: 280 calories, 17g total fat, 6g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 25mg cholesterol, 610mg sodium, 23g total carbohydrate, 3g dietary fiber, 9g protein

Recipe reprinted with permission from Big Green Cookbook by Jackie Newgent, RD (Wiley, 2009)

For more tips and recipes from  Jackie, visit her website.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »

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