In the Kitchen: Kansha and Sustainable Cooking

This morning I was watching a hilarious clip of Annie Leonard, author of “The Story of Stuff” on the Colbert Report:

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So, what does that have to do with cooking? Food is not stuff, or is it? Frankly, some of the food you can buy here in the supermarkets is more stuff than food and that goes beyond the packaging.

The image on top is taken from Elizabeth Andoh’s phenomenal book: “Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions” and in her world, food is food. Many of you are most likely neither vegetarian nor vegan, but the book is nevertheless fascinating no matter what diet you’re on. As usual, the Japanese aesthetics are stunning, but the book goes way beyond that. The premise is to cook with appreciation and sustainably without waste and frankly that doesn’t always happen in my kitchen. There’s packaging and leftovers, lack of time and bananas in winter and that made me think of the “Story of Stuff” and how Annie Leonard comments on the consequences of “stuff”.

When it comes to consequences, food is not much different from stuff. There are 7 billion people in this world all of which have to eat and the current system is not sustainable. There are environmental and policy issues, factory farming, health problems, obesity, just to name a few. Without going into details about possible solutions on a broader scale, Elizabeth Andoh’s book offers small steps to take.

She invites us to practice kansha in our own cooking, and demonstrates how “nothing goes to waste in the kansha kitchen.” In one example, she transforms each part of a daikon—from the tapered tip to the tuft of greens, including the peels that most cooks would simply compost—into an array of wholesome, flavorful dishes.

Do I have time to cook like this every day? Absolutely not, but isn’t it interesting to integrate some of the principles in one’s own kitchen? And there are always weekends.

Kansha means appreciation-an expression of gratitude for nature’s gifts and the efforts and ingenuity of those who transform nature’s bounty into marvelous food. I can definitely use a bit more of that when I absent mindedly shovel something (yes, I mean ‘something’) into my mouth. As usual, awareness makes all the difference.

Below is my small, messy and humble kitchen. All of my food is visible on shelves (and of course, in the fridge), so I know what I have. Usually, this helps me not to forget about the hidden packages in the closet and reduces waste.

How people eat and the food choices they make, interest me greatly and I’m really curious:

How do you eat? Do you cook?

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11 Responses to “In the Kitchen: Kansha and Sustainable Cooking”

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  1. Greta says:

    I live less than five minutes away from a green market, and often write about it on my blog. So, most food I eat is bought directly there, except for things like pasta and polenta. The exception are the Italian whole grain chocolate breakfast cookies I eat on most days!
    Where I live, some of the population fasts four approx 1-month long fasts, and twice a week – abstaining from dairy and meat products. It is also said that this diet matches the number of different kinds of teeth we have (fewer meat-chewing ones).
    I do cook daily, usually once a day, and I usually look for simplicity in recipes (many times, I make – for lack of better word – slow-cooked stew). Ever since I made simplicity my priority, I have been astounded to discover just how many delicious meals there are that are not labour intensive.

  2. Lauriczek says:

    Most of the time I love cooking! I try to cook from local ingredients as much as possible (though always it isn’t) and put as much love as possible in my cooking. I have found it interesting that since I got married (and really started to cook on daily basis) my cooking mood varies and I cannot force it. Sometimes I am highly inspired and sometimes not. Those days when I am not that inspired of cooking, we eat very simple. In the beginning that made me upset, but now I have developed it into some sort of play. I am asking my husband to bring anything, any ingredients for cooking from grocery store, and then I have to make something out of it. Sometimes the result can be something brilliant in taste, which leads to a new inspiration in cooking. Sometimes it is not so highly rewarding. But we are getting our tummys full nevertheless from it. But, well cooking is some sort of art, I think. It needs inspiration.

    U.S. is another story in food business, I must say. I stayed over the seas for few summers and I always got very weak from the food. I didn’t even trust the organic food stores fully in there! But I was staying just for a little perioid and didn’t get to know things and stores properly enough.

    Thanks for your beautiful and highly inspiring blog! I just found here during the holidays. All the best for the new year!

  3. elenka says:

    I don’t know about Kansha, but I am so excited you came back. I had just found your blog and read all through it all just before you called it quits. You are so inspiring to me!!
    I’ve been attempting to crochet with thread..your inspiration.
    Tried single thread first (really hard), then went to a double thread….much better.
    I will post my progress on my blog soon…
    Thanks for coming back!!

  4. Namitha says:

    Hi Kathrin. I used to follow your other blog, and only last week came to know you are back.

    In India we are rather obsessive about fresh cooked food and hospitality. Any visitor who crosses the threshold is kind of treated like a demi-god and is usually “forced” to stay and share a meal. If not a meal, at least eat some snacks and have some chai….

    Usually every meal is cooked fresh – I’m speaking about the average household, things may change in households where both parents work.

    Everyday food is fairly simple, and will include carbs in the form of wheat or rice or both in varying proportions. Seasonal vegetables and fruits are very important and you will find elaborate dishes to suit these vegetables and fruits. There are certain periods when people (who are non-vegetarians) abstain from eating meat – usually there is a great interdependence on factors like religion and climate. In places like Delhi where I’ve been living for the last 15 years, I was surprised to see that during winter, most North Indians living there do not eat yoghurt. This is very different from the south of India, where yoghurt is a staple at lunch and dinner – come rain or shine. These days “thanks” to frozen foods, we also get some vegetables all the year round – but they do not taste the same….and this is also a topic for ice-breakers – we may not talk as much about the weather – as we might about the quality of vegetables, or the lack of a certain fruit this season…

    We are also fastidious about leftovers, and would NEVER eat them in the earlier days, forget about serving it to a guest. In those days, where people lived more in independent houses, there would be people like street dwellers who might come around and take some of this food – which is still fresh, but may not be eaten by the resident of the house for the next meal. However, these days with smaller families it is easier to cook smaller portions, and we may be ok with leftovers thanks to refrigerators – but still we would avoid serving it to children. We usually shop for the hardier produce at a weekly market, and maybe shop daily for stuff like greens and some seasonal produce. Sometimes we leave over one or two pieces of different vegetables and cook an end of the week dish incorporating all this – like a stew.

    On another note, I love the topics you write about – very minimalistic writing, but gives us food for thought for weeks. I especially am thrilled that you named your blog this – I still remember vividly the der rote Faden post for personal reasons. Best wishes from Delhi – Namitha

  5. Ahhh, I’ve said it before, but it is so lovely to have you back…! Great read, and it’s been so interesting to read other people’s comments too. We try to eat and cook as thoughtfully as we can – we do eat meat, but only 2 or 3 times a week, and all the meat we buy is free range and if possible, organic. We are very lucky to have a food delivery company that uses as much local produce as possible, and we try very hard to be seasonal too (although it is very difficult when we get to late Feb/March when all there is left is cabbage!). I share the cooking duties with my husband, and mostly enjoy it, but as we eat at home for almost every meal (unless we are invited out), it can become a bit tiresome! I love to experiment in the kitchen, especially with Indian food – but I don’t always have the time or resources to experiment!

  6. Catherine says:

    I highly recommend. I mostly cook for my everyday life and since winter hit… soups, stews and chili (borscht, Vegetable, Gumbo, etc.).

  7. Kathryn says:

    I’m so glad to see a review of Andoh’s book Kansha. I have all of her books and cook with them every week. Even though we’re not vegetarians, we do love our japanese food since we have family that lives there. We are fortunate to have an amazing japanese grocery nearby so it’s very easy to find what we need. It’s just so healthy and well thought out, not to mention SO tasty!

    How do we eat and what do we cook? We’ve mostly shopped at farmer’s markets and csa’s for our food and try to eat seasonally. We just bought a weekend property where my intent this year is to grow most of our own vegetables. I’m even starting a blog around it My go to cookbook though to make most of our meals would have to be Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food. Such a great cookbook.

  8. Momo says:

    Kansha …I used the word twice today. For example, I Kansha your mother, because of her we are able to meet and enjoy life so greatly ( in Email to my best friend) . And Kansha food and taste its greatness.

    I saw nagaimo in your picture. I steamed Nagaimo for a few mimutes and put a little high-quality olive oil and salt for our supper with other food . Simple cooking let us enjoy the real taste of the vegetable and I cannot help Kansha for the life of it.

    I happened to see your blog and found Kansha and nagaimo ( great Japanese things) which are something to do with me today.

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