I cook, eat and live the way I do for several reasons:
- I reject single-use plastic packaging
- I like to eat food that tastes good
- I prefer to eat food that contains nutritional value
- I refuse to depend upon corporations to fulfill my every need and desire
- Consuming less makes my life simpler and more enjoyable
Many decades ago—before World War II at least—who did not live this way? If my grandmothers were alive today, they would wonder why I feel the urge to write about how to shop for food or how to sew a cloth bag. “But that’s just normal,” they would say.
My daughters’ great-grandmother on their dad’s side—she’s 97 and still writes to them regularly—recently grumbled that in her day “We didn’t have a beer store. We MADE our own beer.” I don’t make beer (I have made delicious mead) but some of my practices do harken back to an earlier time—a time we need to learn from in order to help mitigate the disastrous effects of unbridled consumerism and unregulated capitalism on both people and the planet.
Plus these practices make me feel like a rebel. Sourdough is the new tattoo.
1. Bake bread.
I’ve been baking bread for about 20 years, more regularly during some periods than others. Once you taste homemade bread, you simply cannot stomach store-bought. Today I make sourdough bread only. Before the introduction of commercial yeast about 200 years ago, all bread was made using a starter, a combination of flour and water (and possibly other ingredients like cultured whey, but basically flour and water). A starter, or SCOBY—a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts—makes the dough rise, improves the digestibility of the grains, decreases gluten, increases nutrition and more. The hearty flavor, moist crumb and beautiful simplicity of a real sourdough bread cannot be matched.
The loaves the grocery stores sell take about an hour to manufacture, from start to plastic bag. Mine ferment for hours and take all day to complete, although during that time, I touch the dough very little—the microbes do all the work and I merely babysit them. Personally, I believe many gluten-intolerant people simply have bad-food intolerance. The grains in grocery store bread—if you can call that pasty white stuff bread—are not prepared properly and can make people feel sick. But pastier bread, made in factories on assembly lines using commercial yeast and super-refined white flour, can be made quickly, requires fewer workers and so increases profits. All hail the bottom line.
2. Ferment food.
People have fermented food for thousands of years. Fermentation preserves food, increases the food’s nutrition, uses little to no energy, saves money and best of all—tastes delicious. Our diets are all out of whack today—eating blueberries in winter and winter squash in summer, insisting on having what we want when we want it, when in fact food out of season lacks taste due to its far-flung origins half-way around the world, which result in an absence of freshness and nutrition. Preserving food through fermentation, on the other hand, puts you in touch with the natural cycles. I look forward to the return of tomatoes at the farmer’s market in July, when I plan to make fermented ketchup and fermented salsa. The flavor is worth the wait. You can read more about fermentation here.
3. Eat at home.
You should see me struggle to order in a restaurant. I can’t order anything with meat in it because most restaurants serve CAFO meat. If you have never heard the term, CAFO stands for “concentrated animal feeding operation”—and horrifying animal cruelty (gestation crates, standing in feces, tail docking and on and on). Same with eggs. I eat pastured eggs only and at $7 a dozen, I’m pretty sure the diner down the street doesn’t make its omelettes with them. Falafel will often do, unless the restaurant serves it inside a disposable container. Disposables in restaurants can send me over the edge.
At one sit down restaurant over Christmas, my waiter served my tea in a paper cup, inserted inside another paper cup, cinched around the middle with a cardboard sleeve to prevent me from burning myself and suing the owners, all topped with a plastic lid. The cup featured printed slogans about Earth Day all over it. I almost lost it and may have sworn in front of small children. I haven’t returned since (perhaps to the staff’s relief). I had always received my tea in glass mugs previously at this restaurant. Why all the paper and plastic?
I have found that Indian food works best for me when eating out—I can enjoy chana masala relatively guilt free. But the chana masala I make at home produces no waste. The restaurant? Show me a restaurant without a huge dumpster out back. Plus my food usually tastes better.
4. Use everything.
I have always thought of myself as thrifty, but compared to my grandmothers, in the past I have wasted lots of perfectly good food. As I continue down this path toward ever-increasing self-reliance and sustainability, I keep finding ways to go deeper. Today I make food from what most people would consider garbage at worst, compost at best:
- Vegetable broth from scraps I store in the freezer until I have a pile
- Bone broth from bones I store in the freezer until I have a pile
- Bread crumbs from stale bread (stale bread has so many uses)
- Watermelon rind pickles
- Fried potato skins
- Scrap vinegar
- Candied citrus peels
- Chai with citrus peels
That’s a pile of food!
5. Make rags out of, well, rags.
If you are male and follow my blog, I know you’re the type of man who can handle this one.
When I was pregnant with my younger daughter Charlotte, I bought flannel fabric to sew receiving blankets. After we no longer needed the receiving blankets, I cut them up and used the fabric to sew reusable menstrual pads. They work really well. I have made thick pads and thin panty shields as well. Every 28 days, about $5 stays in my pocket. Over the past seven or eight years, that has added up to hundreds of dollars.
Soak the pads in a bucket after use and you can nourish your plants with the mineral-rich water. Even here in hippie, lefty Northern California, some of my otherwise very progressive friends find all of this utterly revolting. Sigh. We have a long way to go.
I wish I could include “grow my own food” on this list. We do however have a CSA here at the intentional community where I live, which now offers delicious eggs from very happy chickens.
What’s on your list that I should add to mine?