Energy Diet

Rethink the Basics — Even Pasta

When we started coming up with tasks for this diet at National Geographic, it quickly became clear that there was no one-size-fits-all approach. Given the stunning diversity of households on this blog — and on the planet — not everyone would be able, logistically or financially, to do every task. But we also knew that people would come up with amazing ways, both large and small, to save energy that we never could have imagined. And they have. These are the “wild cards” of the diet.

Here are a few of my small wild cards:

Using less water for pasta. After reading “Do You Need All That Water to Boil Pasta?” in Harold McGee’s “Curious Cook” column, I decided to see for myself whether you really can get away with cooking pasta in less water. Previously, I used a large pot with probably two quarts (8 cups) of water for a few ounces of spaghetti. Now, I use a small saucepan with 2 or 3 cups of water if I’m cooking just for myself, and a larger saucepan with 4-5 cups if I’m cooking for two. If it’s fettuccine, I have to stir a lot, or some of the pasta sticks — for spaghetti, there’s almost no difference in how I cook or how it tastes. This is completely antithetical to how I learned to make pasta, but it’s just as effective and saves gallons of water every year. If you’re a regular pasta eater, try it. You’ll not only save water, you’ll save the energy required to heat so much of it.

Mending clothes. Once, the sight of me “darning socks” prompted some jokes from an observer: “Yes, and you’d also better light the cooking fire, churn the butter and bridle the horses,” he said, suggesting my actions were a bit anachronistic. And in the U.S., where clothing and accessories are abundant and cheap, they were. Sure, I can easily pick up new socks. But I can’t stand throwing away items of clothing (even socks) that can be fixed in five minutes with a needle and thread. To me, it’s not about money — it’s about waste. Sewing up a torn clothing item doesn’t take much skill, it keeps things out of the landfills longer, and keeps me from making yet another purchase involving packaging and energy. I’m not as impressive as Mateja, who makes new sweaters out of old wool, but I will mend holes and buttons.

Supporting an environmental organization. I finally have renewed my long, long-lapsed membership with the Natural Resources Defense Council. This is a personal choice that I find meaningful, and it’s something that I’ve neglected for too long. I don’t have the means to donate a lot, but connecting with an organization that reflects your environmental values can be a good way of reinforcing your commitment to protecting the planet. For Michele, that means joining Slow Food and learning more about local food producers; for Lindsay, it’s about the ocean conservation efforts of the Surfrider Foundation. The idea is to think about what issues matter to you and find a way to take larger action.

Changing the way I use the tap. One thing that drives me nuts about my building is that the water from my kitchen faucet runs warm, which I’ve read is not ideal for drinking. So when I wanted to fill my water pitcher, I would simply let the faucet run until the water got cold, even though it pained me to be so wasteful. Being on the energy diet has made me pay more attention, and now I prioritize my kitchen tasks so that first-run tap water gets used for cleaning, cooking and plant-watering while I wait for it to get cold. I also use the spray setting more on my faucet to maximize efficiency.

Downsizing my mattress. I discovered Keetsa mattresses while living in San Francisco. Keetsa makes many claims about the eco-friendliness of its products, some of which sound pretty great (non-bleached, organic cotton, recycled foam) and some of which just sound like marketing tactics (green tea extract?). But the most compelling thing about this company, to me, is that they’ve managed to figure out how to compress their mattresses and box them so that they take less energy to ship. The very patient and amused salesperson there took this picture of my queen-size mattress shoehorned into my Miata, a feat that took no small amount of effort on the staff’s part. Anyway, I love their mattresses, they’re affordable, and they are smart.

As Boudour says, plenty of new ideas every day!


  1. clipton
    February 23, 2011, 2:27 pm

    Thanks for the water tip on cooking pasta. Often overlooked is the energy wasted as well (which you mentioned). A larger pot of water takes more time to boil, which wastes nat gas or electricity.

  2. jmack
    beacon ny
    March 3, 2011, 2:23 pm

    Learned from Grist to put the pasta in the water then turn on the burner. Gourmands shudder at the thought, but I can tell no taste difference. We keep a pitcher next to the sink to catch the ice cold water when we turn on the tap. It’s the perfect size – we know it’s warming up when it’s full. It gets used for cooking, coffee, or dumped into the brita.