I am doomed. I started making homemade pasta regularly and I no longer want to eat store-bought and have created more work for myself. Store-bought simply can’t complete with the hearty, toothy, delicious and filling homemade version.
But in addition to pasta, I also make bread, crackers, granola, kombucha (five bucks a bottle in the store…), ginger beer, salsa… My younger daughter also wants me to start making Bootsy homemade cat food again rather than feed him bulk crunchies—a job I’ll farm out to her. And of course I also cook dinner from scratch (but not a new dish every night…too time consuming…thank goodness for leftovers). Oh and I make my own deodorant, toothpowder or toothpaste, mouthwash… I can easily make those in large quantities that last for months and months. But still. I can do only so much. I have a job, one kid at home, a needy cat that now apparently requires home-cooked meals…
I do understand the appeal of convenience food. Purchasing food processed, pre-cooked and shrink-wrapped in plastic—a material which devastates our oceans, and ends up in our seafood and even in our drinking water—is convenient but if you want to buy only that stuff, you wouldn’t be reading my blog post right now.
So I’ve been thinking of ways for people to cook and eat and live as more sustainable makers rather than waste-generating passive consumers—and still have time for everything else they have to do in a day, plus some of the other things they may want to do—in my case, reading, yoga and writing this blog (I’ve given up on staying on top of social media).
As I’ve turned ideas over in my mind for the last couple of weeks, one word keeps popping into my head—community. What if we share the work? It seems like a radical idea when many of us feel that we have to do everything ourselves—and do it perfectly. (You may like this post: “Don’t Be Perfect.”)
Speaking of going it alone, if we do choose to do everything ourselves and cling to that idea of every-man-for-himself individualism, manufacturers and retailers can sell us more stuff because each single-family—rather than, say, multi-generational or communal—household will need to equip its kitchen. Disconnection boosts the GDP. (That’s another post…)
5 ways to harness community to feed ourselves
1. Form a buying club
Many people have told me that they have no access to bulk bins where they live. I have access to great bulk bins but few options for unpackaged cheese. I sometimes buy whole wheels when I can find small ones covered in wax only rather than wrapped plastic. But I mostly find gigantic wheels that cost a bundle. If you form a buying club, you can purchase huge quantities of staples—like bulk items and cheese if you partake—and divvy them up. Yes those large bags that hold 50 pounds of beans will likely end up in the trash—exactly where they end up when you buy them from bulk bins. But you do generate way less trash overall than you would buying a bunch of individual packages of beans.
2. Plan a potluck
My neighbors and I had potluck dinners more often when our kids were smaller. My older daughter used to ask often, “When are we having another mom dinner?” Each of us brings a dish to share—just one thing to prep! It can be a salad or bread or an entrée or a dessert, whatever. And if one of us shows up empty-handed, that’s okay too. It all evens out eventually.
3. Move to a commune
So not everyone will do this but I have to tell you that I love living in an intentional community. (You can read more about that here.) We have community vegetarian dinners four nights a week and sometimes I’ll teach my neighbors how to ferment something in our kitchen or we’ll get together to make sauerkraut for the kitchen. In my community, you can cook or clean if you want to for a discount on your meals but you don’t have to. Some people cook very simple dinners. Others (like my daughter MK) work in there all day long preparing a feast. (Find a commune, co-op, intentional community or eco-village here.)
4. Specialize and share
Soon after I went plastic-free, I started fermenting more foods. I am convinced that people who reduce their waste will start to cook more—and many of them will stumble onto fermentation. How else will you get your vinegar? But again, one person can do only so much.
For a while now, I have envisioned forming a group of fermentos to trade with. Each of us would specialize in certain ferments—one person would make the kombucha, another the sauerkraut, someone else the kefir, and we would make enough for the group. I have four starters on the go right now—five if I keep my mead going by backslopping it into a new batch (I made my latest batch from honey that friends harvested from their hives!). Starters—like pets—will die without proper care. I am maxed out. But if I bake the bread and someone else makes the kimchi, we both will have saved a pile of time—while not sacrificing taste or quality (we’ll save money too).
5. Form a cooking group
Do your friends and neighbors cook? You could get together once a month—or however often you want to—and cook a pile of food. You’ll need to plan what you’ll cook and when and where, and write one list of ingredients and another list of equipment people should bring with them—including reusable containers to bring their food home in. If you create a closed Facebook group, you’ll avoid a bunch of emails back and forth and prevent people you don’t know from joining—unless you don’t mind having complete strangers in your home (I do). One or two people can do the shopping and at the end of the cooking day, someone does the math and everyone pays their share. You could choose a couple of entrées that freeze well. Imagine that! You hang out with friends, have fun and bring home, let’s say, five meals. Sign me up!
At one of my fermentation workshops, a woman told me that as a girl growing up in a rural area, her family and her neighbors would get together at someone’s house at the end of the harvest and chop and prep vats of sauerkraut. A few weeks later, everyone would return with their jars to pack up and take home months’ worth of kraut. Tomato season would be a perfect time to can piles of tomatoes together. A hard cider party during apple season would be fun—but maybe not as fun as the party for distributing the finished hooch… Really anything preserved would make a great candidate and you’d have that particular food on hand for months.