There is one thing more exasperating than a wife who can cook and won't, and that's a wife who can't cook and will. ~Robert Frost
I've always been the wife who can't cook, and didn't bother. When we got married, Mr. Greenhab and I made this deal: he cooks, I do laundry. (Mostly because I burned all the food I touched and he turned every white towel we owned pink.) It worked well for many years but, over the past year or so, our jobs, hours, and roles in the family have change dramatically. As a result, I've had to buck up and start doing almost all the cooking.
Much like Jenn said yesterday, I'm not really one to make New Year's resolutions either. We try to continuously assess our lives and make changes and improvements as necessary. We've worked on greening many different areas over the past few years, but we've always fallen short when it comes to food.
I've always justified passing over the food aspect of living sustainably because we were always working on something else. Sure I've learned to preserve food and bake muffins from scratch, but we are so far from green in this area that I feel almost like it's a dirty little secret I keep under my hat. I mean, how many other so-called "green moms" stock Ramen Noodles in their pantry?
Besides being concerned with what's in some of the food we eat, I'm troubled by the packaging as well (mostly plastic), how far away it's produced and how it's produced. Mr. Greenhab (aka Cheapest Man on the Planet) is not one to throw down for $5 a gallon organic milk, but there are definitely some other things I can do to avoid plastic containers, BPA-lined cans, and foods that are over-processed and full of preservatives.
Here are some of my goals:
Make it Myself
I was floored by EnviRambo's post the other day about making your own brown sugar. I had no idea how easy it was. I will never buy brown sugar in a plastic bag (or otherwise) again!
There was also a recent article at iVillage: 6 Foods You Didn't Know You Could Make From Scratch that I also bookmarked for future reference. It included easy recipes for foods we use regularly like ricotta cheese, yogurt and vanilla extract. I've read some pretty detailed instructions on how to make yogurt before, but they all made it sound like rocket science. This one was much less daunting.
I've added and deleted Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day from my Amazon.com wishlist so many times now that I'm afraid they're going to start giving me a "Would you please make up your mind???" pop-up. We love bread in our house, so this would be a good way to save some money and some plastic bread bags, but I'm not really a baker and I'm afraid I'm going to hate the commitment. Any thoughts you'd like to share on it? Will someone who doesn't particularly enjoy cooking be able to muddle through it?
I'd also like to get away from having a lot of boxed food in my pantry. Sure it takes longer to make real mashed potatoes, or macaroni and cheese than it does to open a box. With a little pre-planning and organization though, I think I can eliminate a lot of convenience food and make my own.
Cut Back on Meat
I've tried to do this on the sly by fixing meatless dishes several nights per week and instituting an official "Meatless Monday" in our house. (Speaking of which... Our very own EnviRambo has a Meatless Monday Flickr group.) We eat eggs sometimes at breakfast, but rarely have real meat in the morning. I pack meatless lunches for the kids and myself. I also try to make meat an ingredient in our meal, rather than the focus of the meal.
This year I plan to look into sources for locally raised meat. Mr. Greenhab's biggest concern there is the price. We've watched the documentaries out there about how cows are raised and meat produced and every time he says "We've got to stop eating beef." But it tends to be more of a philosophical statement than one he would really follow through on. The man likes his meat.
Last year I canned jam, jelly, applesauce, peaches and a few other things. I did it in small batches because I was just learning. I was afraid it wouldn't work and I'd open cans of rotting applesauce only to have to toss it all out.
Now that I've tried - and succeeded! - I want to learn more and preserve much more food this summer and fall. I have the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving on my wishlist and have been picking up jars when I see them on sale or at a thrift shop.
As easy as it is to pop open a store-bought can of Green Giant green beans to go with dinner, I can't help but wonder how far away they were grown, with what pesticides, what additives and preservatives were used when they were canned, the impact of the manufacture of the cans, the shipping and of course there's the can lining which contains BPA. That all seems so heavy when I could just spend a few hours preserving some locally grown beans to enjoy all year long.
We also have some lofty gardening goals, but always seem to fail in this area. Last summer Mr. Greenhab and Super Uncle built a rocking green house. Unfortunately the ventilation was inadequate and nothing could live because it was getting too hot. We replanted, outside the greenhouse, but everything was eaten by the bear, deer, elk, rabbits, squirrels, and various other animals.
This year we'll try again and see what happens. In case of another failure, I've mapped out several farmer's markets. The one in our town is small and, surprisingly, doesn't have much actual produce. After dreaming last winter about how I'd shop the farmer's market all summer long, meeting my local growers and making friend all around town, I was sorely disappointed.
The next best market is down the mountain, about 20 miles away. It doesn't seem like a very "green" thing to do, driving 40 miles round trip to a farmer's market, but I think we can pair it with our monthly trip to Costco and add in a stop at the grocery store that sells a few items in bulk. Speaking of bulk...
Our local grocer sells a few things in bulk - nuts, granola, trail mix - but not the things that I'd really like to get like flour, sugar, and beans. We do have a Vitamin Cottage store which sells "bulk" foods...only they're already packaged...in plastic. Don't ask me, I'm not sure how that qualifies as bulk.
I've tried to move as much as possible from items that are packaged in plastic to the alternatives that come in glass or paper, but some things just don't. When I hit the lotto I'm opening Bulk Foods that's row after row of bulk bins. You'll even be able to buy shampoo from a big ol' vat.
I feel like I'm so behind the curve on this whole food thing. I mean, Green Bean's whole yard is edible and I can't tell even tell sage from basil, or know what to put either of them in. I haven't even read Omnivore's Dilemma for goodness sake! This year should be quite interesting for us to say the least.