Author's Note: Last week I sat down with Louisa Shafia author of Lucid Food to talk about her new cookbook, and how to incorporate food politics and sustainable practices into our everyday eating and cooking routines.
How did you come up with the concept of Lucid Food? The whole book came directly out of my catering company. The approach was catering high-end events in a waste-free or low-waste manner, sourcing our ingredients from local farmers, and composting whenever possible. People were excited by the idea that they could have a fancy event with beautiful, wonderful food that they could feel good about while giving their companies a greener image.
What would be your number one tip for those who want to begin eating in a more eco-conscious manner? For me the most important thing is to start by buying local, it's just so much more eco-friendly. There's less packaging, the food is less processed since there is no need for preservatives to keep it fresh. There are less fossil fuels involved in getting it from the farm to your table, and it supports local economy and farmers.
In your book you stress the importance of local over organic, can you explain why this is? This thinking came out of dealing with catering clients who would call and ask for an all-organic event. I had to explain that while it's wonderful that they are interested in eating organic, locally sourced foods are the healthier way to go, both for the clients and for the environment.
For example, when you buy organic and it comes from a foreign country, say New Zealand, you have no idea what the labor conditions are like, or what their sustainability and land management policies are you could be doing a lot worse for the environment than if you bought something local that isn't organic. We have a disclaimer on our website to explain that we buy organic whenever possible but our priority is to buy local.
If I'm craving something sweet I've been making matzoh brei which is basically matzoh prepared like french toast and I'll caramelize some apples to serve with it. I'm not strictly vegetarian but the majority of my home cooking is vegan although I have been trying to incorporate more fish from the farmers' market for protein.
I know that you are a big supporter of the Greenmarkets here in New York but do you do any gardening at home? I do but it's more like balcony or really, fire escape gardening. I've grown all sorts of things out there—tomatoes, herbs, lettuces. But it's kind of an iffy situation since it's not technically legal. At the end of last summer my landlord made me take everything inside but at least it was the end of the summer. I'm dying for my own outdoor space to garden.
What's your go-to market in New York and who are some of your favorite farmers? For vegetables, Paffenroth Gardens for leafy greens, multi-colored carrots and interesting root vegetables such as burdock root and Honey Hollow Farms shows up on Wednesdays in the warm weather with hand-picked chanterelles, he's the guy who I buy elderberries from in the fall. But you have to get there early or else you might miss out on his little batch of fiddlehead ferns. For dairy and eggs I like Tello's Green Farm and Milk Thistle Farm since they both use reusable packaging.
Speaking of local foods, do you do much foraging? Yes, I've found wonderful things in Inwood Park like epazote and garlic mustard. I've even found shiso in Brooklyn, growing in the cracks in the sidewalk. I've found mugwort everywhere which is used for enhancing dreams, just wrap it up in cloth and put it under your pillow.
Can you tell me about a few restaurants that you can feel good about eating at from an ecologically conscious standpoint? I love Roberta's in Bushwick—they couldn't be more eco-friendly. Cookshop in Chelsea, their menu is very transparent—here's where the fish came from, here's where the meat came from. Mario Batali's restaurants have done away with bottled water, which eliminates a huge amount of waste. Luke's Lobster in the East Village gets all of their lobster from a sustainable lobster farm in Maine supporting local economy and lobstermen.