Eat Your Greens: In the Kitchen with Clotilde Dusoulier

 Clotilde Dusoulier is the creator of the award-winning blog Chocolate & Zucchini as well as the author of several books including a cookbook and a book of culinary adventures in Paris.  In 2008, Chocolate & Zucchini was named one of the top 10 food blogs in the world by the UK's Times Online.

What do you see as some of the green perks to being a blogger?

cloI make my own lunch and eat it at home, as opposed to opting for takeout as my coworkers and I customarily did when I worked in an office.  That means no disposable cutlery, no tiny sauce containers, no plastic cups and plates, no paper napkin, and no bag to hold all that. Also, because I work on my own and mostly by email, I hardly ever need to print anything. And finally, working from home and for myself means my hours are very flexible, allowing me to make wiser food shopping choices than I might make if quick/close/convenient were the most important factors.

You obviously place a premium on fresh, seasonal ingredients and using organic produce and have even written entries on how to choose sustainable seafood and belonging to the French version of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).  However, your blog is not overtly pedagogical or in-your-face regarding environmental and food security/sustainability issues.  Is this a deliberate decision on your part and, if so, why?  How important are these and similar issues to you in your personal life when choosing what to eat?

I guess I'm just not very comfortable standing on a soapbox! More important, I feel that environmental issues come in shades of grey, rather than black or white: I don't have all the answers and we're all in this together, so it feels more productive to create a space for discussion rather than antagonize anyone. But I do feel that having readers' attention on a regular basis gives me a responsibility to do my part in raising awareness about these issues, especially when they intersect with food topics, such as reusable shopping bags, sustainable seafood, or making your own yogurt to reduce non-recyclable waste.

And I strive to put my money where my mouth is, and make responsible choices myself. I am as careful as I can about where my food comes from, how it's been raised/grown/produced, how it's packaged, etc. I certainly don't claim to be perfect, sometimes I make mistakes, and sometimes I have to accept that I have limited control over things, especially when I eat out. But I try to educate myself, and the environmental impact of my actions -- food-related and otherwise -- has become a major factor in my decision-making process.

You've lived in the US and France.  In your opinion, how does the attitude towards food in both of these places compare, specifically with regards to interest in buying locally, seasonally, and sustainably?

A comparative study could fill a book, but what strikes me the most is that for a long time, there seemed to be a lot more debate in the US, through newspapers, magazines, and blogs, than in France about these topics. Not so much in regards to buying produce in season -- that's been strongly advocated for a while -- but the local and the sustainable, which have only recently started being discussed in mainstream publications.

One important thing to note is that France is about 15 times smaller than the US, so if you're buying French produce, you're buying relatively local. Yet consumers are still buying green beans from Kenya and pears from Argentina, when the French versions are not available, pricier, or not in season.

Another important thing about French food culture is that we tend to entertain idealized notions about our producers: that the farmer, the vintner, the fisherman are the salt of the earth, heroes of sorts.  We're reluctant to take a good, hard look at them, admit that some are just not acting responsibly when it comes to the environment, and call them out on it.

Paris has some amazing weekly and biweekly markets.  The San Francisco Bay Area also has several as well, and you mention on your site that it was while living in California that you became interested in food and cooking.  Did the accessibility to fresh ingredients in both places have anything to do with your inspiration?  For people who are interested in eating and cooking healthfully (for themselves and for the planet) but who don't live in an area with such easy access to local, organic produce, what would you suggest?

My interest in cooking was indeed sparked when I lived in California-- partly because I realized, once far from home, how significant food was in defining one's identity and culture, and partly because I was surrounded with excellent, fresh, and often unfamiliar foods that made me curious and excited.

Back then I would visit the Mountain View farmers' market on Sunday mornings, and now that I'm back in Paris, I ride my bike to the Batignolles organic farmers' market. Being able to buy high-quality, fresh and varied goods is definitely key in my own cooking process. Everything begins at the market: I choose whatever looks good and figure out later what to do with it. But I do think it's possible to eat well and healthfully without such easy access.

It will likely take more research (reading up on how to recognize good produce when you see it, finding sources online or offline), planning (freezing or canning produce when it is available) and campaigning (perhaps it is possible to talk to the mayor about creating a farmers' market, to the grocery store manager about sourcing good produce, to a nearby farmer about starting a CSA?).  I am certain that the reward, in terms of health and overall well-being, is worth the extra effort.

Do you have any eco-resolutions for the next year?

One thing I want to be more careful about is the energy efficiency of the cooking methods I use -- turning off my electrical stove a couple of minutes before the food is completely cooked (my hotplates take a while to cool down), using the residual heat in closed vessels to finish off the cooking, using my pressure cooker more often, baking two things at the same time or in a row so I only need to preheat the oven once, etc.

While in London recently, I spotted a book called The Green Kitchen, by Richard Ehrlich, that addresses those very issues; it's only available in the UK at this point, but the author used to have a column in The Times, also called "The Green Kitchen", and his pieces can be read online.

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  • Posted on Feb. 22, 2009. Listed in:

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