How to Cook a Planet | Nicole Walker

Recipe for a Planet:

1 singularity

1 expanding universe

1 pile of space dust

1 cup disobedience

4 cups punishment

Swirl ingredients around either big bangily or invented Godily. Mix to combine. Shake to ensure combination. Fold in matter with antimatter, gas with gas, gravity with electronic charge. Proportion, balance, and chemical reactions are all it takes to make a cake. Or, in this case, a primordial soup. A little more mixing, some surprising hydrogens catching some sweet carbons. A hook up for the weekend resulting in an amoeba that is, in some ways, an egg. From the amoeba hatches a two-celled chicken which produces another egg. It’s always the egg that came first. Before the egg, there was only soup.


Recipe for Souffle:

4 large egg yolks

5 egg whites

1 package frozen spinach, defrosted

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

1 cup scalded milk

Soufflé might be the best creation story. Like these myths, you have to separate the eggs, egg from ocean, wet from dry, hydrogen from oxygen, in order to make something new. To make soufflé you must separate at least four eggs. Maybe six. Make a béchamel, which is really just a roux with milk (and onion poked with cloves if you’re really serious, which I am not). Add the egg yolks and cheese to the roux. Whip the egg whites until frothy. Fold in the whites, an egg at a time. Put in oven and watch the creation lift toward the clouds. Turn on the oven light and watch the soufflé rise through the window of the oven door. This creation requires silence. It is pure and good and therefore wordless. Do not open the door or the soufflé will fall.


Recipe for Global Warming:

1 planet

7 Continents

5 Oceans

400 parts per million of CO2

It is as easy to crack a planet as to wreck an egg recipe. Put too much baking powder in its oceans, turning it acidic, cracking its mountains to dig for coal, cooking that coal like a soufflé in an oven, making those broken eggs reach for the clouds, turning the crust golden brown. The temperature rises silently. We yap and yap at it like dogs at the backdoor but the carbon is as invisible and as hard of hearing as glass.


Recipe for Turtle Extinction:

1 Female Turtle

110 Sea Turtles

One shoreline from where the turtle came

We think of eggs as ‘of the air,’ or eggs as ‘union between air and land.’ They are the material that conjoins the ethereal bird with her terrestrial nest. But eggs marry marine to terrestrial, or they do for now. As temperatures warm across the globe and glaciers and sea ice continue to melt, the oceans will begin to rise. This is bad news for sea turtles. Sea turtles lay their eggs on the same beaches upon which they were born.

Imagine a young, female turtle, hatched from an egg buried in a nest of sand. You flip-flopped your way to the water, avoiding seagull and tsunami. You spent a year or two spinning around the ocean but then some male turtle swam by and knocked you up. No skin off his nose. He just keeps swimming. But now, in addition to your having to carry these fertilized eggs, something inside you has been triggered and now you have to swim in a certain direction, toward a certain beach, to lay these eggs. For the eggs to make it, they need crusty sand, hot air, whipping wind. You arrive to the general vicinity but nothing smells the same. You swim shoreward but instead of finding sand, your legs are still kicking in deep water. Your long-memory flickers: the waters are shallow and see-through blue. These waters are still dark. The ocean floor is a Brontosaurus-height below. The part of you that remembers waters is the species memory that remembers brontosauri 165 million species years-ago. You swim around in circles like a dog looking for a place to lie down but you never find that place. The eggs stay inside. The turtle swims on. You have no say in the matter. Turtles have always been quiet creatures. Turtle birth, like egg cooking, is time-dependent. The woman turtle can swim and swim and swim but eventually, like all women’s, her ovaries give out.


Recipe for Eggs Poached in Broth:

There is no recipe. Poach the eggs in broth

I have read religiously the Julia Child recipe for omelets. I have seen Jacques Pepin make omelets with chopsticks. I have beaten eggs in a bowl and poured them into butter melted in a nonstick pan and moved the eggs around until it seemed I’d never get them flat again. I’ve rolled the omelet onto itself and then onto a plate but I have never eaten an omelet as good as the one I made using beef consommé. I’ve looked and looked for the recipe but I can’t find one. I thought beef consommé omelet was a thing but perhaps it is not a thing. Now, what I mostly end up with is something like egg drop soup, which is also delicious because the surface area of the broth matches the surface area of the stomach and the proteins in the egg pin down that immediate surface satisfaction with a deeper, more permanent satisfaction.

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that are the hardest, like riding your bicycle, something most five year olds can accomplish. It is as easy as poaching an egg but it does take time and some skill and there are hills and also too-hard-boiling water but eggs poached in water require no dead chickens and bicycles require no more carbon dioxide than a human naturally breathes out and no more energy than frying an egg. Here are two quick strategies: Poach the egg in a reasonably small amount of water. Ride the bike on flat land. If only we could eat poached eggs and ride bikes exclusively.


Recipe for Poached Eggs:

Fresh Eggs

Slightly, but not overly, boiling water

Proportion isn’t as easy as it looks. Slightly boiling is an ineffable phrase. How many bubbles per square inch? What percentage of the water should boil? When water reaches 212 degrees Fahrenheit, does that mean the whole of the water is as hot as it can get, or just the bubbles that you can see?

It is important to ask questions of the water as much as it is to ask questions of the egg. Remember, we’re in this together. The chicken notwithstanding.

Science experiments are cooking, too. Remember, dear generation X, we have missed the mark. The temperatures have risen 2 degrees Celsius—the ceiling temperature increase scientists argue will set off catastrophic climate change.  Zoe’s science project is due. Zoe, who is going to save the planet with her solar oven, carbon scrubbing device, and slippers she will invent for easier floor mapping, is a fan of the science fair. She wanted to test to see if dog saliva killed other bacteria like bacteria in boogers, mold, and human saliva but a) we don’t have a high-powered microscope b) it was kind of gross so instead she turned her focus toward an egg-shrinking/egg-enlarging project which was awesome since I am immersed in all things egg.


How to Shrink an Egg:

Two boiled eggs.


Corn syrup

48 hours.

Soak the hardboiled shell in vinegar. Overnight, the vinegar will react with the shell, turning the carbon of the shell into carbon dioxide. Watch the vinegar bubble. You will be left with a thick membrane you had no idea existed between the hard carbon shell and the egg white. This is not the thin membrane that sticks to a regular-I’m-just-going-to-eat-this hard boiled egg. Take the now-squeezy eggs, their textures comparable to a stress ball. Immerse one egg in water, one egg in corn syrup.

Overnight, the water egg expands. The corn syrup one shrinks. Why? The membrane is permeable enough to let molecules the size of water penetrate but not the molecules of sugar. The water molecules escape the membrane to join the water molecules on the outside but the corn syrup molecules cannot get in. With the water egg, the water molecules go back and forth, excitedly joining the water on the inside of the egg, making this egg slightly bigger.

Here’s a planet as egg, shrink wrapped by carbon, losing water every day. At Disney Land, the world gets smaller every year, they say metaphorically. No one thought that driving our cars and burning our coal would make it literal. Suffocating. Tight dress on a full stomach.


Eggs Are Mostly Water

The surface of the planet is 71% water. About 96% of that water is saline. The planet looks incredibly blue from space but much of that water is good only for salt-water living plants and animals. The octopi and the dolphins like it. The rest of us have to spend a lot of money to access potable water, walk a long way to get to the water, or rearrange the river ways to get the water to come to us. It takes nearly 53 gallons of water to produce one egg in the mass-produced egg industry. Chickens feed on grain that requires a lot of water to grow. Would raising chickens in your backyard require as much water? Not if you were efficient about it. When you’re rinsing the sprouts you’re growing in your Mason Jars, you can collect the water for the chickens to drink. And, although you may need to buy them some grain from the Tractor Supply store, sometimes, you can feed them leftovers. Chickens will eat anything. Even chicken soup. The surface area of broth satisfies everyone. Homegrown chickens and solar-powered ovens. Save the planet one egg at a time.


Scrambled Eggs:

Crack them in a bowl. Whisk them.

Add a pinch of salt.

A pinch of pepper.

Put them in a pan. A pan on low heat. I know you’re hungry. Low, though. Low.

Eggs react intensely to the pan. If you put eggs in too hot of a pan their proteins seize up. Heat is more of a killer than motion. Eggs withstand being whipped. Harold McGee writes in On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of The Kitchen, “Scrambled eggs made in the usual quick, offhand way are usually hard and forgettable. The key to moist scrambled eggs is low heat and patience; they will take several minutes to cook.” A student, Gary Fish, in one of the first classes I taught as a professor taught me, “low and slow, let the pan hug the pain with heat, but not strangle them.” It takes a long time to learn how to teach writing. Even longer to learn how to slow down to cook an egg.

Slow cooking is important for the egg. Slow cooking includes nearly everything you do to the egg.  When you make a custard, you want to add hot ingredients to the cold, putting a bit of hot milk at a time to temper the eggs. If you add cold eggs to hot milk, the protein molecules separate from the water molecules and you get clumps of curdled eggs and stringy liquid mass strewn throughout your would-have-been pudding. A little heat makes the molecules move around. By slow cooking or adding the eggs slowly, you give the protein molecules time to adjust, inviting water molecules to bond with them. At a low, less panicky temperature, the proteins aren’t xenophobic, they are friendly, diplomatic. A lot of heat freaks them out. The proteins cling together in fear, not allowing water molecules in. With a lot of heat you get fried eggs that become rubbery and custards that become lumpy and no one is getting along and everyone is hungry.

The planet has been heating up and then cooling down again since its beginning but never before has the planet heated up so quickly. Nothing good can come of proteins with this kind of speed.


Recipe for How To Make Yourself Believe Everything is Going To Be All Right:

1 pound easy-migration imagination

3 pounds “I’ve seen Polar Bears Adapt Before” refrain

1.5 pounds bikinis—who doesn’t love warmer temps?

10 pounds strawberries. Everyone can live on strawberries

15 Goose Eggs to distract the bears who might think Ringed Seals and Human Seals taste pretty similar

Researcher Antero Järvinen from the University of Helsinki studied the effects of global warming on bird eggs. One shouldn’t be able to study the effects of global warming on bird eggs over nineteen years. That is too fast for a planet to warm. Adaptation is a slow, generational process. Most of us haven’t even had kids by nineteen.  When a planet warms, it should do so slowly, over eons. Two degrees Celsius in a human lifetime is a speed of warming that has never been witnessed on earth, unless you count the heat from the events caused by the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. When you’re talking about effects of global warming, you don’t want to compare your age to that of the dinosaur extinction. A hard metaphor to live with.

Although Järvinen had only nineteen years to study the eggs, he found some significant changes in the amount of resources the pied flycatcher, a long distance migrating bird that winters in Africa, devoted to egg growth. “Warm weather during the egg laying period was the probable cause of an increase in egg volume” (Järvinen 109). Although the egg-size increased overtime, overall success of the fledglings did not increase, most likely because, although overall temperatures increased, cold spells occurred as often as they had in the past. Very cold spells, especially in Northern Finland, can kill baby birds quickly. Still, Järvinen concludes that “some of the results herein supported the hypothesis that global warming may have favorable effects on the reproduction of birds. This in turn may help them rapidly conquer new areas when they become available and compensate for rising mortality rates to be expected elsewhere where warming means desiccation,” (110).  The point here is that, in northern areas, birds may have time to warm their eggs slowly. In the southern regions, eggs may warm too quickly to adapt.

In northern countries, it might seem like a good thing that these eggs will be bigger. Maybe big eggs will save other species. Some climate change optimists have argued that polar bears can transfer their diet from sea-based to land-based. Goose eggs and berries abound. Some argue there are not enough goose eggs in all the land to feed the largest bears on earth. The protein content in an egg isn’t the same as in a seal. Ringed Seals, the primary diet for Polar Bears, are 34% fat. Goose eggs are also nearly 30% fat, and, as noted by Järvinen, northerly eggs are likely to grow bigger due to global warming, but that does not mean there will be enough eggs to feed all the bears. An article on Earth Touch News titled “Climate Change will Scramble Polar Bears’ Diets and Eggs Aren’t the Solution” reports that “Five of the major genetic differences between brown bears and polar bears involve metabolizing lipids, which includes fats and fat-soluble vitamins. This means a land-based diet of proteins and carbohydrates may not suit the physical needs of polar bears.”

The current brown bear inhabitants of northern Alaska do what they can to make a living off the land, right next to where the polar bears once thrived by the sea. These brown bears are the smallest and least well-dispersed of all the brown bears. Now, as the polar bears turn toward their food, competition will abound. The geese have wings. They can leave that cold town, head south, even head north, further away from the hungry bears. Their fat eggs may ensure their own survival but now the bears are left with only berries which, according to the USDA’s website for nutrition content, have no fat content whatsoever. All those bears in the north aren’t going to make it. I guess the climate change optimists might say that’s all right. The humans will need to move there quickly.


Funeral Potatoes:

1 Package hashbrowns

1 can Campbell’s Mushroom Soup

1 can fried onions

There are no eggs in this recipe but if it is the end of the world/your funeral, you want nonperishable items anyway.

Every Mormon Funeral boasts funeral potatoes served in the gym of the neighborhood ward house. I grew up with the end of the world. Mormon church. Wasatch Fault. Father’s drinking. It lets me pretend I’m able to take these things in stride. The end of the bird. The end of the world. It’s a tiny shaking, these minor household dramas. The glaciers that made the Little and Big Cottonwood canyons, those were big things. The earthquake they promise will liquefy the Salt Lake Valley and pull down the fancy houses on the foothills—that’s a big thing. They have predicted that two tectonic plates in the bottom of the Pacific Ocean haven’t released enough tension, that they’re saving it up for the big one—a tsunami that could drown California. Small things including the bird with black wings have gone extinct. The goose that laid the golden egg was, after the hunter killed her, just a regular, non-gold goose. Now there are no more golden eggs, no more golden geese, no more passenger pigeons. Big and little apocalypses threaten every day.

And yet, Bald Eagles nearly went extinct. Then a clever ban on the pesticide DDT put an end to thin-shelled Bald Eagle eggs. The Bald Eagles may not think their whole world is restored—they sit on man-made telephone poles. They dodge cars. They eat lead-filled bullets and die of lead poisoning like their much less-well-off condors. But it is no small thing that the birds of which there were only 76 pair left in the world have rebounded to numbers too big to count. Maybe there are no small things. Maybe the beginning of order is to count all the small things, each ant, each tree, each bird, each egg.

You would think that if humans can figure out how, with eggs, to puff a soufflé, make meringues and divinity, balloon pate choux, glue flour and sugar into cookies, and even shrink an egg, surely we can undo this global warming. We don’t need to know the exact science of how the custard sets to set a custard: we just need to get the proportion right.  Eggs are excellent because they increase their surface area as we cook with them. Only a few other things do that: yeast for bread, baking powder and baking soda for cakes and cookies. Usually, cooking shrinks things, but as there are more people on the planet who require more arable land and more potable water, a bigger planet is what we need. We need to think like an egg: add proper ingredients, the right amount of heat. We need patience and quiet footing. Don’t stomp on the ground outside the oven. Let the soufflé rise.

Nicole Walker is the author of two forthcoming books Sustainability: A Love Story and Microcosm. Her previous books include EggMicrograms, Quench Your Thirst with Salt, and This Noisy Egg. She also edited Bending Genre with Margot Singer. She’s nonfiction editor at Diagram and Associate Professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona where it rains like the Pacific Northwest, but only in July.

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