Delights in an Everlasting Winter

by Sherrie Kelly

What do tofu and trees have in common? Each offer innovative solutions to slow down climate change, and—despite Canton’s everlasting frigid temperatures—this past week brought us the opportunity to gain hands-on knowledge in both these areas. The seasons seem to tease us, ruthlessly maintaining chilly weather while illuminating our breakfast table with a beautiful sunrise. This dramatic and unusual winter has caused climate change to repeatedly pop up in Sustainability Semester conversation, prompting us to brainstorm solutions to all this doom and gloom. Learning about practical actions to aid the environment, such as sustainable forestry practices and tofu making, can be incredibly refreshing.

Sometimes, forestry seems like a depressing topic. Hearing about America’s destroyed forestland and biodiversity makes sustainable forestry appear practically impossible, since using forest resources requires trees to be cut down. This past weekend, Jess Rogers, our Sustainable Forestry professor, invited us to tour her father’s woodland property. Visiting a controlled forest helped us understand the concept of managing an ecosystem for long-term resource use and conservation.

Snowshoeing through the property’s carefully laid paths, Jess’s father pointed out the history of his forest and what he had done to assist it. We followed the small footsteps of a porcupine trail to a large hollowed-out tree, which had been left standing to provide shelter for living creatures. Later, we came upon a frozen river, seeming powerful in its stillness. Beavers had been allowed to flourish and build a palace of a dam for their home. We were told that a good portion of the area had previously been pastureland, but this piece of history was completely unrecognizable. The impacts of healthy forestry management, as we saw, can be truly incredible. Not only is Jess’s father able to supply more than enough wood for himself and his neighbor’s family, his healthy forest system supports biodiversity and sequesters carbon dioxide.  As a carbon sink, trees store some of the carbon dioxide we release, thus reducing the amount of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.

Also sizably impacting our planet is a product that our household highly respects and enjoys—food. The carbon footprint of eating is influenced by so many factors: the production location, the cultivation methods, even the type of food itself. In particular, meat has a heavy impact upon the climate. Following animal production from the crowded factory farm—or in some cases, from the pasture of a small family homestead—all the way to the dinner table, the amount of water used, energy consumed, and methane released into the atmosphere is a great deal higher than the amount used and released during crop production. For these reasons, we at the Sustainability Semester strive to consume less animal products. Luckily, the vast array of delicious vegetarian and vegan food make this goal quite painless. One staple for our dinner recipes is tofu, a small but integral part of our diets.

Tofu seems to hold a negative reputation. It is too squishy, too flavorless, too watery. Known merely as a protein-rich meat replacement in the stereotypically “bland” meatless diet, omnivores often write off tofu as unnecessary and tasteless. The people making these claims, however, have probably never experienced Bob and Flip’s tofu. Taste bud stimulating and savory, this homemade tofu is delectable eaten straight from the block, especially when topped with an assortment of dressings. Among us students, some favorites include fresh peanut-ginger sauce and maple syrup.

To learn first-hand how to make tofu, we welcomed Bob and Flip, owners of the Little Grasse farm in Canton, into our kitchen. Ready to absorb as much information about okara—a byproduct of tofu—and soy protein as possible, our workshop began with a quick overview of the steps involved. Armed with cheesecloth, mason jars, and a passion for plant-based protein, we jumped right in, blending and heating and stirring until a round block of tofu was sitting on the countertop. The best part of the process is that we can now repeat it ourselves, moving one step closer to a smaller carbon footprint and a greener way of life.

With warmer weather approaching, we are working to adapt our choices to this new season. While February and March brought the decisions to use thermal curtains and to zip our jackets rather than blast the heat, April will hopefully bring the decisions to commute to campus on our bikes and to plant our own seedlings. Sustainable forestry practices and plant-based food production are just two new actions we will incorporate into our eco-friendly lifestyles.

pic 1 - Recently made tofu firming up in a pan of warm water

pic 2 - Lizzy pouring the blended tofu material into a strainer

pic 3 - Strolling through the woods with Jess Rogers’ father