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Happy new year! I inadvertently took a little break from this space, it seems. December was a bit crazier than usual with some sickness lingering around our house. We were all feeling better by the time Christmas came around, and then we rested up a bit for this new year. I hope your holidays were peace-filled.

I really like the fresh start of the new year. I’m not all that great about resolutions (I make too many and then stick to few of them), but I still persist in making them each year. I thought I’d share a few of my Grace Garden-related resolutions for 2013 here, in hopes of all of you keeping me accountable!

  1. Stretch my cooking muscles. I would like to be a bit more adventurous in the new year – try new foods and new preparation methods, especially ones that I find intimidating.
  2. Make and eat more fermented foods. I got a few of these for Christmas because my attempts at fermenting have been a little disastrous with the more traditional methods. Fermented foods are remarkably good for you. We’ve been drinking kefir water, and I’ve been experimenting with a sourdough starter (posts coming soon). I need to incorporate more kimchi, saurkraut, and other fermented goodies into our meals on a regular basis.
  3. Be more strategic with our garden. Grant has already promised to double the size of our garden this year, so I need to start planning now to ensure we maximize all of that new space.
  4. Make a cold frame to extend the seasons. Trust that I’ll document that project here!
  5. Get more people on the real food and gardening bandwagon, largely via our new Creation Care ministry at Grace (interested? Email me!) and plugging people in with Westfield’s Plant A Row for the Hungry Program.
  6. Use less energy. We recently performed a home energy audit, so that we can see where our energy use is currently and how we can do better. We use less than the average American family, but we would like to decrease our consumption further. I’ll share our progress here, of course.
  7. Eat more local food. This has been one of our resolutions for the past several years, but we can always do better. This year, we need to find a new CSA, preserve more, and try to be more strategic when we eat out to support local places that support local farmers.
  8. Teach our children the responsibility that we have as stewards of God’s creation.

I think that’s it for now…what are your food/gardening/Creation Care related resolutions for 2013?!

I forgot to link to a little Christmas gift list for foodies that I posted up at Burnside…check it out and leave your suggestions in the comments!

This is week four of the Hunger Challenge, and we’re praying for the issue of hunger as a community, as well as praying as individuals and families about becoming involved in the six broken places that we have been discuss the hunger challenge: in review ing for the last six weeks.

I learned a few surprising things from the first few weeks of the Hunger Challenge. Most Americans, even low income ones and those on food stamps, aren’t eating rice and beans every day (although their health might be better if they were since I’m guessing many of them are eating fast food several times a week, but that’s a story for another day…); however, the rice and beans week gave me a very small glimpse into global poverty. For two billion people (at least), one meal of rice and beans each day is their normal. And I complain about eating leftovers for more than two days in a row.

What is most frustrating to me about global hunger is that it isn’t a lack of food that causes the problem. Furthermore, we don’t need industrial agriculture to feed the world (and wreak havoc on the environment). The United Nations estimates that it would take around $30B a year to eradicate global hunger. A lot of money, yes, but we spend over $40B a year on our pets in America alone. Eradicating global hunger is actually an attainable goal with some minor reallocation of resources (as households, organizations, and governments).

The thing that surprised me most about the second week – living on a food stamp budget – is that we live at or near the food stamp budget (when we eat at home). We eat really well on a food stamp budget – mostly organic, all local meat and poultry, and as much local produce as possible. I have argued for some time that Americans should be spending more money as a portion of their budgets on food (and I’ll still argue that point!), but I didn’t realize how well we’re able to eat on a fairly low food budget. This revelation led me to two other related conclusions:

  1. buying in bulk makes a huge difference, and
  2. spices, recipes, and the know-how/energy/ability to cook make a big difference between eating well and boring eating

We belong to a few co-ops or buying groups, so we buy most of our food in bulk. We buy mostly organic and local, but we get a substantial discount because we buy it in large quantities. We have the resources (and space!) to store it, which isn’t available to many people obviously. However, this experiment was a great eye-opener for me in terms of what we could be doing to help our neighbors gain access to better food (both for them and for the environment).

In addition, I learned that I take for granted my very large pantry of spices and seasonings that can take a meal from average to great when employed correctly. I also was reminded that finding pleasure in cooking and having the time to do so is a luxury that not everyone has. With that said, I think with a little practice and guidance, good, real food can be prepared simply, quickly, and deliciously. We just need to do a better job of sharing our tips and tricks with other cooks!

I’m actually leaving for out of town today for work, so yesterday was a little crazy getting things all ready for the crew while I’m gone.

I did a little pasta sauce in the crock pot yesterday, so we had that with some pasta for dinner. This morning, I put a pork roast in the crock pot, so the boys should be able to enjoy that with the pasta sauce leftovers until I get back. I tried to calculate the costs for all of the meals, just to finish up with this week of more mindful eating.

Wednesday

Breakfast
Organic quinoa, cinnamon, fair trade banana (I make this at the beginning of the week to last us all week) + splash of organic milk
$0.60 x 3 servings = $1.80

Lunch
Leftover gumbo from the night before – freebie
Hard-boiled (local, free-range) egg, organic grapes, nuts, cheese (we packed Jasper’s lunch) –  $2

Dinner
Leftover gumbo from the night before – freebie
Organic salad with homemade dressing – $1

Snacks
Organic apples x3 –  $1.95
Dark chocolate x2 – $0.60

Total for the day = $7.35

Thursday

Breakfast
Organic yogurt and homemade granola – $2 (Jasper and I)
Organic quinoa “bake” from previous few days – $0.60 (Grant)

Lunch
Leftover gumbo from the night before – freebie (finally gone!)
Scrambled eggs with veggies for Jasper – $1.50

Dinner
Homemade pasta sauce (canned from this year’s garden) – freebie
Local, happy ground beef – $4.75
Red wine – $0.50
Whole wheat pasta – $1
Parmesan cheese – $0.40
Organic salad with homemade dressing – $1.50

Total for the day = $12.25

Friday

Breakfast
Organic yogurt and homemade granola – $2 (Jasper and I)
Organic quinoa “bake” from previous few days – $0.60 (Grant)

Lunch
PB&J sandwiches, organic grapes, organic carrots (packed lunches for Jasper and Grant) – $3.75
Leftover pasta for me – freebie

Dinner
Local, happy pork roast with onions, potatoes, and carrots (recipe to come) – $12 but enough for at least three meals

Total for the day = $18.35

More thoughts on this week’s “hunger challenge” to come…

So this week of The Hunger Challenge is to live on a food stamp budget for the week. For a family of four, a food stamp budget is $120.68 for the week. We have trouble figuring out our monthly food budget because we buy all of our meat and poultry in bulk (from the farm!) and much of the rest of our foods in bulk too. So it’s difficult to come up with a number that we spend every month. We track our food dollars, but do so more on an annual basis than a monthly basis.

In the video at service this week, the family that was interviewed talked about buying a whole chicken for $4 at Aldi among other things. I cringed at that comment. I wonder what was done to that chicken in order to be able to sell it for FOUR dollars. While I commend this family and others for paying more attention to their food budgets in a move of solidarity and compassion with people that have to live on food stamp budgets all year long, I hope that people that participate don’t only come away with the knowledge that they can find cheap food if they seek it out. People in poverty, as I’ve mentioned, don’t have as many choices as the rest of us. I hope and pray that we come away as a community from this week in hopes of working to give people in poverty more and better choices when it comes to their food:

  • Just because you live in poverty, you shouldn’t only be able to afford government-subsidized junk food.
  • People on food stamps should be encouraged to vote with their food dollars too – many farmer’s markets accept SNAP benefits.
  • As a community of Christ followers, we should be lobbying for a program like this one in Michigan, which doubles food stamp dollars spent at local farmer’s markets because keeping our spending locally builds our communities in a myriad of ways, in addition to getting low income families eating better.
  • I’m praying that this week, Grace people get creative in how we can not only be more compassionate to people receiving food stamps, but how we can help make it easier for them to make more sustainable (both for their bodies and for our communities) food choices.
  • We should actually be spending MORE on our food. Food is our fuel. We are what we eat. And as a country, we’re sick and dying. If this project teaches us as a community anything, it should be that we should be more mindful of how we spend our food dollars.

So instead of living on a food stamp budget for the week, we’re going to only eat from our freezer and pantry and meticulously track how much our meals cost. I’m hoping to show that eating locally, seasonally, and making sustainability of our food choices a priority is not as expensive as many may think.

Monday
Meatless Monday at house, so no meat allowed

Breakfast
Organic quinoa, cinnamon, fair trade banana with milk
$0.60 x 3 servings = $1.80

Lunch
Scrambled eggs (6 local, free range) eggs with cheese, organic peppers, onions, and kale (peppers and kale were from our garden, so I’m counting those as freebies)
$0.82 x 3 servings = $2.45

Dinner
Tortillas, organic and local butternut squash, organic onion, organic black beans, Neufchâtel cheese, Colby jack cheese, homemade salsa verde (from the garden) – recipe to come
Organic romaine salad
$5.95 total (enough for leftovers for everyone’s lunch on Tuesday)

Snacks
2 organic apples $1.30
Almonds $0.80
Dark organic chocolate $0.50
Organic grapes $1

Total for three eaters*: $15

*Jasper should really count as an adult eater. You should see that kid – he’s a machine!

Last week turned into a bit of a bust for our household: our little lady got sick, we spent a whole day at the doctor’s office, and Grant had to go out of town for work at the last minute. We did the rice and beans, but not as strictly as I had hoped. In between all of the craziness, I made a batch of navy bean soup and a huge pot of rice. It basically lasted me all week since Grant was gone so much and things were so crazy.

I knew already that I don’t love leftovers for more than about three days, but I was reminded again how people in poverty face many difficulties, but one that I would have the most trouble with is the poverty of choice. While we live on a budget and limit ourselves in certain areas, I still have thousands of choices every day. Poverty eliminates choice. And by eliminating choice, it impacts people’s dignity too because we then expect that people should just be happy with whatever they get when they are in a position of need…which is why places like the Grace Care Center are so important because they offer people choices. It may not seem like a big deal to be able to choose between canned corn or peas, but when your days are full of a lack of choices about your circumstances, those seemingly mundane choices become more significant.

Volunteer today!

I’m not a huge fan of Julia’s cookbooks. They’re a little too much for me mostly. However, I love what she has done for the home cook, beautifully summarized by Julia Moskin, who was named after Julia Child:

…I simply watched my parents make dinner (sometimes beef bourguignon, more often burgers) and absorbed their notion that food was interesting and entertaining, not just fuel.

This didn’t happen in many New York families in the 1970s. Parents who did cook served meals of “wheatloaf” and carob cake; those who didn’t were busy raising their consciousnesses while the children ordered in Chinese food.

Today, the “family dinner” (preferably home cooked, from responsibly sourced ingredients) is widely considered a necessity, and even toddlers have favorite chefs.

It was Child — not single-handedly, but close — who started the public conversation about cooking in America that has shaped our cuisine and culture ever since. Her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was published in 1961, just as trends including feminism, food technology and fast food seemed ready to wipe out home cooking. But with her energy, intelligence and nearly deranged enthusiasm, Child turned that tide.

I don’t have time tonight to make a “Julia meal” in honor of her birthday, but maybe this weekend we can put together a little something to honor her special day. What’s your favorite Julia Child recipe?

Oh and did you see this?! Keep cooking!

I have several things that I’ve been wanting to write further about here, but I just haven’t had the brainpower (something about pregnancy does that to me) to sit down and delve too deeply into the subjects. Instead, I thought I’d just link to the articles here for your own perusal. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

When I get on my real food bandwagon, which, I’ll admit, is often, the most frequent complaint I hear is how much more expensive it is to eat well and healthfully. While I won’t argue that it doesn’t cost more to eat as locally, seasonally and organically as possible, I also think that most people aren’t willing to look at the whole picture. I’m going to delve into this issue a bit more in this space, but, for now, I’d like you to consider the following issues when it comes to your food budget:

  1. Junk/processed foods are artificially cheaper. The US government subsidizes the production of two dozen commodities, the most common being corn and soybeans. That means that your tax dollars are used to artificially deflate the cost of commodities – that in turn show up in your food. Have you looked at your food labels lately? Cereals, juices, yogurt, salad dressings, store-bought breads, protein or “nutrition” bars are just a few common items in the grocery aisles that contain high fructose corn syrup and/or soybean additives. If there’s an ingredient in the ingredient list in your food label that you don’t recognize, it’s likely that it is an ingredient derived from a subsidized commodity.
  2. Agribusiness lobbies for changes to the Farm Bill that expand subsidies and otherwise favor large corporate agribusiness activity. (I consider huge corporate farms so far removed from actual farming that I prefer to refer to them as agribusiness). In 2011, opensecrets.org reports that lobbyists employed by agribusiness interests spent over $123M lobbying politicians. Agribusiness interests often lobby for restrictions and practices that favor only the biggest, most industrial types of farming activities. So not only do small family farmers not have the time or resources to lobby Congress to subsidize their organic kale crop, but they also suffer because Congress, influenced by all of the money the agribusiness lobbies spend, passes laws that actually harm or put out of business local family farming operations. Take for example, the stupidity surrounding raw milk prosecutions and the difficulty facing small, local butchers because they cannot afford to meet excessive federal regulations.
  3. The way we’re eating is killing us. Over 35 percent of Americans are obese (and approximately seventeen percent of children are obese), and obesity is directly linked to increased rates of heart disease, diabetes, every kind of cancer, stroke, and nearly every kind of deadly “first-world” disease. In addition to the health costs for individuals, medicals costs associated with obesity totaled about $147 billion in 2008, with those numbers only destined to rise for the foreseeable future. To put it succinctly, pay more now to eat well, or pay in exorbitant health care costs and a terrible quality of life later.
  4. Eating real, whole foods offers more bang for your buck. Americans actually spend less on food as a percentage of their household expenditures than any other developed nation. We also have higher rates of obesity and death from heart disease, diabetes and cancer than other developed nations. Coincidence, much? Our cheap, industrialized food system offers us artificially cheap food (due to farm subsidies) that are not only nutritionally deficient, they’re actually killing us (not to mention the consequences to our environment – more on that to come). Buying some organic broccoli might cost more than a bag of chips (because of the subsidies!), but it will keep you fuller longer because of the fiber and other nutrients in the broccoli, in addition to the other health benefits the choice of broccoli over the chips will provide. My point is that we should be spending more on food. Cheap food has significant and dangerous long-term effects and costs – individually, societally and environmentally.
  5. With a little ingenuity and time, eating real, whole foods can easily be done on a budget. I hope I’ve shown in this space how we cook well on a budget. It takes additional time, of course, but I find cooking for my family so much more worthwhile than many of the other ways I spend my time. I also find that our family’s food budget is very much in line with many of our friends’ budgets who don’t eat as locally and organically as we do. We waste less, we use food for many different purposes, we buy in bulk, and we eat out less (and only to local places!).
  6. Eating seasonally and locally supports our local communities. Eating the way we do and gardening organically has not only benefited our health, but it has brought us closer together as a family in ways that I never would have foreseen. We have also made connections in our community because of our standards when it comes to food. Jasper chants “farmer’s market” when we leave the gym on Saturday mornings because that’s our typical Saturday morning routine. He has many farmer friends at the markets. We can hardly wait for CSA season to start up…every Friday is like Christmas. Of course, the Grace Garden itself has been a huge part of our lives and has connected us with many new friends who share similar values.

Stay tuned for more in depth discussion on each of the topics above!

I took a little vacation from this space, but I had a good reason. We’re expecting baby number two next spring, and I have been feeling mostly terrible. I haven’t even wanted to look at vegetables, let alone cook them. I’m feeling a wee bit better, and I miss writing and sharing here. I can’t promise resumption of normal blogging since it is the holiday season and all, but I’m back! I hope you’ll stop by plenty.

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