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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Vindication! Less Pasta Water Promotes Savings and Saves the Environment

By Mr. DFS

Those of you who have read my posts about mowing my own lawn and cutting my own hair know that I save literally thousands of dollars a year this way. Of course a certain degree of creative accounting is involved, but surprisingly little—mostly a matter of estimating very marginally on the high side.

The rather tongue-in-cheek title of my post on lawn mowing was “How to Pay for Your Entire Life by Mowing Your Lawn.” My point, however, was serious: that small savings add up. Now I am pleased to see that Harold McGee, writing in today’s New York Times, certainly the premier daily venue in the United States—makes a similar point, but in the more important context of our recessionary economy and diminishing energy resources. And his topic must rank even lower on the scale of significant concerns than lawns: boiling pasta.

But first let me go back a few months. There is Frugal Son on one of his rare visits home berating Dr. Frugal Scholar for using so much water to boil pasta. Ever the obsessive conservationist (he saves paper for us to take to the recycling bins at work), he argues that pasta cooks just as well in a little bit of water, thus saving BTUs and energy.

Of course everyone knows this is not true; you have to use huge quantities of water to boil pasta properly. After all, all the cookbooks tell us this.

Not so, writes McGee. Frugal Son is vindicated!

The part I found interesting was McGee’s creative calculations. He points out that we cook about a billion (!) pounds of pasta a year, and therefore that using less water would save several trillion BTUs. This means a savings of a quarter to a half million (!) barrels of oil a year, or $10 million to $20 million a year at current oil prices! (Sorry about all the exclamation points.)

This may not be the solution to the more serious economic problems, but it does show how little savings add up. Forgoing those jack-rabbit starts, for example, may not save you, as an individual, more than a few bucks a month in gas, but multiplied by several million the savings can pay for a few dozen nice new schools every year.

From now on my pasta is going to have to forego its luxurious hot tub. But I wonder—how many other little things could we do to save ourselves a little, and the country a lot?


Over the Cubicle Wall said...

I like things like this that may only save minuscule amounts of money, but only require minuscule amounts of effort. The savings to effort ratio is a much better metric to me than just savings by itself.

Duchesse said...

I've cut down the water by 25-35% (depending on type) but my savings are harder to measure as my stove, an Aga, is always on anyway. My other major move is to not use a clothes dryer, I saved over $800 in a year.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Cubicle--Spoken like a truly frugal person!

@Duchesse--An AGA! What color? I've tried to stop using the dryer; I've cut it by 50%. Not a huge savings in money, but at least my son won't harass me about it.