I chose to do a recipe for lemon bars because it represents a simpler ti
me in my childhood. I would mainly receive these as a gift from my Great Aunt Sally, who I only got to see on special holidays when we all gathered at my grandparents’ house for dinner. Aunt Sally was the only person in our family who made them, so they were a special treat that I did not get to enjoy often. In the past years, many of the elders of my family have passed and we do not have many family gatherings, so this stage in my life has passed as well. Enjoying lemon bars evokes a sense of nostalgia that I do not receive from many other experiences.
While I enjoyed these tart treats countless times throughout my childhood, I never stopped mid-bite to think of how sustainable they were. The recipe itself is fairly simple, only calling for varying amounts of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and lemon juice. Each one of these ingredients has its own attributes which make it less sustainable than it could be. Both all-purpose flour and white sugar undergo several processes including milling and bleaching so they look pristine for the end consumer. Eggs and butter are generally harvested in an agricultural setting where the animals are not treated ideally, and the end product often travels hundreds of miles before being placed on a store shelf. Lemons, along with many other grove fruits, are grown in extremely large batches which promote monoculture and strip the land of key nutrients. If one stopped to think about the environmental impact of every food they put in their mouth, they might just stop eating altogether.
An obstacle that I encountered when trying to reshape the recipe to be more sustainable was the fact that there is not a lot of ingredients to swap out. Because baking is a very chemistry-intensive cooking style, there was not many viable alternatives to switch to. The two factors that I knew that I had some control over were the distance the ingredients traveled and the amount that they were processed. For the flour and sugar, I could control the amount of processes by opting for whole wheat flour and raw sugar. Although neither is as aesthetically pleasing as their original counterparts, both undergo less processes, thus having a lower carbon footprint. Alternatively, for the sugar, I also had the option to use a sugar substitute such as Stevia. While it does not promote monoculture as much as cane sugar, I ultimately opted for the raw sugar because it was one of the only options commonly grown domestically. Finally, for the butter, eggs, and lemons, my best option was to purchase them at a local farmer’s market. Most farmer’s markets locally source their produce, so there would be less of a carbon footprint due to travel for these ingredients. None of these are required in vast quantities, meaning that the dry ingredients can be bought in bulk with the perishables being repurchased each time I make the recipe again.
While I was working on this project, one of the readings that I particularly resonated with was the passage from Wendell Barry’s A Continuous Harmony. To quote Barry: “If we are to hope to correct our abuses of each other and of other races and of our land…we are going to have to put those fragments back together again in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods”. What I drew from Barry’s assertion was that it is important to have aspirations to correct our past faults, but it is more important to make efforts in our daily lives to make corrections. It is essentially pointless to point out our mistakes if we aren’t going to do anything about them. What I found most interesting of all in the reading was Barry’s suggestion that we can incorporate these efforts into our daily lives. This is where the Lemon Bars come in. If someone has a craving for Lemon Bars but is also aware of the decades of damage that mankind has done to the environment, they don’t have to not make the Lemon Bars to avoid hurting Nature even more. They can adapt a traditional recipe to use less harmful ingredients, meaning that they can also feel less guilty while getting the same pleasure from eating the dessert.
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 2 cup white sugar
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 eggs
- 2 lemons, juiced
Sustainable Ingredients (Lemon Bars 2.0) *Optional*
The best way to remain sustainable is to find a local
source, like a farmer’s market
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 2 cups raw cane sugar
- 2 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 4 farm eggs
- 2 local lemons, juiced
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
- In a medium bowl, blend together softened butter, 2 cups flour and 1/2 cup sugar. Press into the bottom of an ungreased 9×13 inch pan.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until firm and golden. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup flour. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice. Pour over the baked crust.
- Bake for an additional 20 minutes in the preheated oven. The bars will firm up as they cool.