See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Don't buy any food.
I've done this before on at least two occassions, and found out I had enough food for MONTHS. I would just eat what was in the cupboards. Okay, its a slight exaggeration to say I didn't buy "any" food--I'd still buy milk or an occassional ingredient to finish out a recipe.
It was fun to be creative. Just when I thought I had exhausted all possibilities, an idea came that brought a week's worth of cooking. No matter how bare you think your cupboards are, there is most likely a stash that could keep you eating well for a long time.
Its actually a good exercise even if you're not driven out of necessity, for its good to rotate your stock and keep the items fresh.
Monday, November 26, 2007
$8.00 3 lb chicken, bought at the local farmers market. It comes frozen, with gizzards and all.
$1.19 1 lb carrots
$1.69 1 package celery (about 10 stalks, probably a little over a pound)
$0.65 1/2 lb dry beans
$0.50 1 large onion
$0.20 bay leaf, clove of garlic, salt, pepper and other spices
$1.69 10 oz frozen package of peas or corn
$1.29 1 lb dry, whole grain rice
Folks, this is at least 8 quarts. In fact, Its overflowing. I'd recommend cooking the rice separately (in some of the chicken broth), and probably having a second pan for excess. In fact, it could be 12 quarts easy depending on the liquidity you're comfortable with (mine is pretty thick). The chicken itself takes up much of the 8 quart pan. I find myself having to de-bone it just to add the vegetables (I continue cooking the bones separately in another pan, and at the end pour the liquid back into the main pot).
Assuming that an average bowl = 1 pint: There are 2 pints/quart, so this is 16 bowls not counting the rice. That translates into about 8 meals for me, since I eat a hearty lunch.
This soup covers a lot of ground nutritionally:
- Naturally raised, free range chicken--that includes meat, some organs, bones for the broth
- Whole grain
- Legume (beans)
- At least 1 green and 1 non-green vegetable (at least 4 vegetables total)
- Spices, herbs, garlic
This is virtually complete nutrition. I would normally cook it with a large parsley root and tops, but I couldn't find prices on my investigative shopping trip tonight (we grow it in the garden), so I excluded it. You could easily substitute bread in place of the rice (bread machine!) or other vegetables, potatoes, without affecting the price much.
No MSG, no corn syrup derivatives, no fake sugar, no artificial nitrites, no aluminum-based baking powder. Its full of meat, hearty & satisfying in all ways, 100% ORGANIC and ridiculously cheap.
Its a myth that organic equals expensive. The same amount of meals at Chipotle or Subway would run you $45-65, and mine is $15.20.
A way to reduce the size of this recipe: Boil the chicken in some water to develop the broth, like normal. Then when you de-bone the chicken, put a lot of the meat away to use for other recipies and only return some of it back to the soup.
My family stuffed a turkey and baked it.
With the bones, I later made a soup broth.
I took the bones and composted them back into the garden.
I remembered stories of the Sioux, who used every part of the Buffalo in one way or another. Or the Inuit with a seal. I felt like I was in harmony with nature in a similar way--taking as little as possible from nature and utilizing it to the fullest. Respecting the natural processes.
Even things we dispose will--in theory--one day decompose back into nature. The problem is that in the meantime we are consuming a lot more than we need to and throwing out a lot. Why buy soup broth or garden fertilizer when I get all that from the "waste" portions of my meals?
If you're keeping track, I ended up: Saving money, consuming less resources, generating less trash. And I also got better nutrition by cooking out the marrow, calcium and other nutrients from the bones.
Landfills may one day be better managed. Right now, the trash we send pretty much stagnates in a compact, zero oxygen environment where decomposition is minimal. Researchers have dug into landfills that are many years old and pulled out intact banana peels and such. The trash is not breaking down, even the items that usually decompose quickly. Advances in waste management will hopefully help us deal with that better. In the meantime, our trash is just sitting in piles. The less we send to landfills, the better.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
I prefer to do something that is not as energy intensive as cooking the bones (unless I was already using a fire to heat or cook with, which I'm not). However, on my first time that's what I did: I baked the bones after using them to make the soup broth. The baking dried them, which should help with pests. It also made them quite brittle. I then put them in a pot and crushed them. Pieces shot around all over, so I decided to wait until I was at the composting site to do that. It was night, so I will do it today.
They probably don't need to be crushed into dust, I just want to break them up to speed up the composting process.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
I've been able to manage my food expenses very well by adhering to the following principles:
1. Waste--I take care not to throw food away, buy what I'm actually going to eat, and make sure it gets frozen before it goes bad. I've read that 25% to 50% of all edible food in America goes to waste, with the weight leaning toward the higher end of that spectrum. Imagine your budget with a 25-50% savings!
Not to sound like your mother, but food really is money. Why would you buy something only to throw it away? Please consider not only your budget, but also the huge drain on the environment and other resources through agriculture.
2. Eating rarely in restaurants:
- That $8 at Subway would have bought you a home-cooked steak dinner.
- That $4 beer at a bar could have bought you a 1/2 gallon of organic orange juice.
- The going rate for a tiny vending machine bag of chips is 70 cents--Its only $0.69-1.29 at the local co-op for a full pound of bulk, organic grains (which could feed you for a week!)
3. Being prepared when I'm on the road so that I don't have to blow $5 at a convenience store for a few snacks. That's the cost of 2 full organic dinners at home! A package of nuts or seeds you keep in the car could be just the right amount of preparation in case you are out longer than expected.
4. Buying in bulk. I bought a 1/2 cow, organic and grass-fed. Top of the line quality, and locally raised. College students, neighbors or families could share the expense and the freezer space. A great community builder. Organic meat at conventional prices.
It can be daunting to make such a purchase--how much meat can a person eat? Frozen meat should not be kept any longer than a year, and a 1/2 cow can feed 2-5 hungry adults or a small family for a year (assuming that you eat other meats besides beef, as well). But don't fear, you can also buy smaller quantities in bulk, such as a 1/4 cow, 1/2 pig, or whole turkeys, etc.
5. Gardening--gonna try to do better next year when it comes to preserving. But my family, friends and I enjoyed a bounty of fresh veggies and herbs all season from our gardens. I won't need to buy fertilizer because I'm composting. I should soon learn how to preserve seeds, as well.
It also doesn't take much preparation to cook at home, which the Omnivore mentions in the linked article. Its a myth that restaurants save you any time or energy. I agree with this point, among many others: I can cook a nutritious meal in the same time it takes you to pack up the family, drive to a so called "fast food" restaurant, order, and drive back. Its also cheaper than the price of a so-called "extra-value meal" at McDonald's. So tell me what is the advantage of "fast food"? Not matter how busy you are, you still need to eat.
The trick is just to make sure you are well-stocked. Keep your freezer full of things you regularly use. Dry beans and grains keep for a long time. I only keep a small amount of fresh items--some bread, fruit and milk. The rest is frozen so few things go bad.
Bread machines and slow cookers should really put the nail in the coffin to the idea that "homemade" means "labor intensive". But most of my quick dinners bypass these time-saving devices entirely.
There are certainly other ways to save money--eating low-cost items like rice & beans and learning how to scavenge at free food events. All valid approaches. But I'm saying you can eat a bountiful, diverse diet of healthy, organic foods, and still eat on the cheap. AND by following these guidelines you'll most likely eat healthier and be a better environmental steward, too.
There is a misconception that organic food is only for yuppies. You can go to the grocery store and see organic foods sometimes double the cost of conventional. People are often outraged at the thought of spending so much on organic. But think of what you could have bought the next time you blow $3 on chips, or when you eat at a restaurant for the 5th time this week, or scrape whole plateloads of food into the garbage, or make your daily pilgrimmage to the vending machine for pop and a snack. Organics do not deserve the elitist image they have. They are a logical, sensible and even economical food choice in a comprehensive budget that uses food wisely.
Cooking with bones was once a common part of our ancestors' diets. Bones were cooked for hours, even days at a time. I imagine a big cauldron in the center of a house or cave, with fires stoked each day before meals are ladeled out. Ingredients may be added, but the same bones would be stewing for days. Bone soup is almost unheard of anymore, but it disappeared only within the last couple of generations. The Weston Price folks would consider it a pillar of traditional, healthy diets--almost like a food group unto itself. It may be the best way for us to get numerous minerals, like calcium.
They say that the best bone broths come from animals that were raised on natural diets (cows eat grass, not grain!) and roamed free range. According to them, the bones of factory-raised animals are not as conducive to a soup base, since the extracts don't gelatinize very well.
"Sucking out the marrow" was once considered so fabulous that it has served to symbolize the most savory and rewarding of experiences. But when is the last time you had marrow?
My dad says that our long-time family friends the Glovas are more excited about Thanksgiving leftovers than about the traditional stuffed bird dinner itself. They use the bones and other leftovers to make soup. That got me thinking. I've made bone soups before, but it never occurred to me to recycle the bones of an already-cooked item. I have since collected all the bones from our meal today and will be cooking soup tomorrow!
Friday, November 16, 2007
Lately, organics make up a significant portion of my diet, perhaps even a majority. The rest is wholesome, whole foods and I pay special attention to avoiding corn syrups, MSG, nitrates, artificial additives this-n-that. The foods I eat are rich in flavor and low in garbage, garden fresh, locally raised (environmentally responsible, too). Its not an exaggeration to say that I feel a glow after eating such high-quality foods.
At these gatherings, I felt like I needed to eat more. Like my body didn't get what it was supposed to, and if only I would just keep eating I would eventually hit it. But I got stuffed and just felt blah. Ironically, I was unfulfilled.
I once spent a week volunteering and eating at a soup kitchen. I ate mostly white rice, because I was afraid of everything else. I felt a similar blah feeling that week. It was like the food wasn't doing anything. The nutritional deficiency could be felt. Only thing now is I feel that way eating regular American food. Perhaps it is all the hydrogenated oils and additives that are making me feel sluggish.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Economics understands that in every system there are limited resources, and as a result you have to make decisions about what to do. Time, materials, hands to help, energy, all these are limited. Every decision to do something is a decision not to do something else. Each decision has both a cost and an opportunity. When you truly economize you end up doing the most with the least amount of inputs.
I can easily spend my time spinning my wheels--and have. I come home from work, get something to eat, drink some juice, and when I look in the sink both bins are overflowing with dirty dishes. I see 10-15 cups in the sink. I live alone, folks. Why did I use that many cups and when??
I've talked about my laundry previously on this blog. I can easily use the same bath towel for a week if I manage it properly. If I hang it up to dry quickly after using it and only use it for the same purpose each time, it stays fresh for quite some time. Hanging out in the sunshine and wind, I imagine it could be used almost indefinitely.
Let's say I have grease on my hands from fixing something, or maybe even ketchup from a sloppy hamburger. I could easily reach for the more-accessible bath towel--its just hanging there drying. I could also walk a few extra feet to the kitchen for a paper towel or find a rag more suited for that purpose. Those extra few seconds saved out of laziness using the bath towel ends up costing me more loads of laundry, more money in detergent, and more resources spent from the environment. The towel that could have lasted me a week is now in the hamper. I think I'm being "laid back" by reaching for the easiest items, but all I'm doing is making life unnecessarily difficult in the long run.
I am a believer that we can all learn to be more efficient and economical in our home decisions without having to change our entire personalities. I don't think we need to become totally organized, make lists or think completely differently if that's not our style. Its just about deciding how we want to spend our time and not doing things that are going to make more work for us later on.
Suze Orman talks about the way people rebel against managing their own money out of some protest of being a "money-oriented person." The result is that they spend years struggling with debt and living with the consequences of haphazard decisions--Decisions they thought they were avoiding, but in economics every decision not to do something is a decision to do just that. Money is a part of life whether we like to admit it or not (unless you live in radical, intentional poverty, but even then it may not be so simple).
I think a similar situation applies in the households--we rebel against a well-managed house because maybe it brings connotations of Mrs. Cleaver. People don't want to be a tidy "Suzy Homemaker", they want to be laid-back and carefree. But regardless of gender roles, we still have to feed ourselves and take care of our daily business. That work is not going away. The best way to minimize that drain on our time, attention, money and other resources is to properly economize what we do. Suzy Homemaker is either doing a much better job in the same amount of time as you, or has more time to kick back and relax. Suzy Homemaker may be calm and collected, while the so-called "laid-back" types are always running around "managing" candles burning at both ends.
A cup used can be rinsed out or just left on the counter for the next use. A household with many mouths could have a cup assigned to each person, so as to avoid unnecessary washing due to confusion over who drank from what cup. Clean clothes can be hung up to re-use, kept apart from the dirty laundry so I can tell what's what later. A stitch in time saves 9 more later, and there's no reason not to embrace that kind of wisdom today. I don't want to spend all my free time at the laundromat or washing dishes.
And if you're gonna be "laid back", do it with, uh . . . gusto: don't wash anything, and don't shower at all.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Imagine then the movie screen is split in two. On the one side, you see Judas scurrying down narrow flights of stairs and out into the streets, making his way quickly among the shadows until he finds the Chief Priests. He makes his deal.
One the other side of the screen is Jesus among his disciples. He knows that Judas is out there, right at this very moment betraying him. What does Jesus do? He gathers his disciples in a delicate, intimate scene, and talks about love--the Greatest Commandment, no less. While Judas is making his deal, Jesus--in full knowledge of this betrayal--at the very moment this betrayal is happening--Jesus opens like a flower.
While there is no mention of "turning the other cheek" in the Gospel of John, there can be no better example. In the face of violence, Jesus turns and shows his best side. He does not tighten up in anger, or slink away in fear, or keep a grudge, or make a list. He talks about the importance--the sheer necessity--of loving one another. Judas turned and struck him in the cheek, but Jesus responded--not with his hurt side--but as if we were never hurt. He turned and responded from his other side, his unhurt cheek--not from his pain or fear, but out of love.
Some argue that the Gospel of John is problematic in that Jesus only mentions the greatest commandment to his closest disciples. Many have wondered if he's talking only about love among disciples for disciples. The role of Judas in this scene, however--even when he is not present at the meal any longer--is critical to understanding Jesus' message. Even if John focuses on relationships among disciples, the ability of Jesus to remain in love and respect Judas, even as the latter falters, shows how a disciple can respond to the rest of the world. This message of love is for all people.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Such stories serve as warnings, but most of us see them as being exaggerated, worst-case-scenario portraits that are unlikely to happen. Or maybe that are a prediction for an era several generations in the future.
If we look around, however, we can see all sorts of immense compromises we have made to live in a world that is already excessively polluted.
Folks, we can’t eat fish anymore. Did you hear the news? The FDA advises that pregnant women or young children shouldn’t eat more than 12 oz a week of what…? Plastic? Tin cans? Car bumpers? No: FISH. All fish. Everywhere. Lobster, shrimp--them too. If they're in the water, they're on the list. There is not a fish on this planet that doesn’t carry around mercury or other toxins as a result of swimming in our collective dumping ground. And don’t get me started on farm raised, they are probably worse. My medication is safer for pregnant women than . . . fish.
If its that bad for pregnant women and youngsters, you might want to ask yourself if its really all that safe for the rest of us.
Its actually good to reduce fish consumption anyway, since our oceans, rivers and lakes are so catastrophically over-fished that we are pushing some of our favorite species to extinction--not to mention destroying entire ecosystems, which is tragic for many reasons not the least of which is the contribution to global warming.
If it weren’t for the toxins and the over-fishing, I would most assuredly recommend fish as one of nature’s wonder foods. I can’t now. Some wild caught salmon every once in a while and I’m done. Things our ancestors took for granted we need to avoid.
We are an adaptable species, and sometimes our ability to adapt doesn’t serve us. We get used to things that we shouldn’t get used to.
Did you also notice that we can’t drink the water anymore?
Sunday, November 11, 2007
I was a bit hesitant to compost in the city, though. It seemed complicated--getting a compost bin, and I had heard you had to do it just right to make sure the contents heated up to a certain temperature, etc. Wouldn't rodents be a problem with vegetables rotting in a concentrated area?
I have to thank Erin for introducing me to composting. Its astonishingly easy: You just dump the stuff into a pile in the backyard. Its that simple. Then throw some dirt, grass clippings and leaves on it to keep it relatively covered. You just don't want vegetables rotting in plain daylight, but they don't need much to cover them at all. Once a pile is formed, I'll just open a little hole in the top with a hoe, dump my kitchen waste in there, then close it back up. Its good to stir the pile up regularly to facilitate quicker composting. In just a couple months (or even less with more focused management), your yard clippings and kitchen waste turn into a wonderful, rich compost.
I haven't noticed much of a rodent problem at all. We had a couple piles at Erin's house and one at my apartment. Occasionally, I'd see some corn cobs lying in the backyard, so someone had been rooting through the pile and pulled some stuff out. But no infestation of rats or anything to that degree. By contrast, the compost piles are significantly cleaner than the rows of garbage cans in the alleyways of Columbus. Its clear that animals root through them and scatter their contents far and wide.
Its amazingly fun to compost. I just keep a pail in the kitchen with a tight-fitting lid, and every few days its full and I take it outside. I feel like I'm doing something for the environment and participating in the full life cycle. It is said that at least 30% of all household waste could be composted. No sense sending that to a landfill when it could be used to augment the nutrition in your soil for gardening. [Due to the compact nature of landfills, much of the biodegradable materials in them do not beak down, they just add to the volume of the waste out there.] Sometimes I even enjoy it when vegetables go bad or I have a lot of cores and peels to throw out, because that just means there's more to compost!
You can compost the following:
- All raw vegetables--peels, cores, leaves, anything that goes moldy
- Egg shells (not the contents, although most of the eggs shells obviously have a little egg residue, but I don't think that's a problem)
- Tea bags and coffee, filters and all!
- Grass clippings and leaves
- Some even recommend composting certain paper and cardboard products
There are plenty of web sites with details about how to compost. If you want to use the compost you've created in a garden, you may want to be more mindful of what you put in--for example, if you treat your grass with pesticides, that could be a problem for your vegetables next year (or you when you eat those vegetables). Others say that's not an issue since the herbicides break down quickly. Others discourage composting leaves of black walnut trees or rhubarb or other plants with potential toxins to humans or which could inhibit growth in your garden, some say its not a problem. There are a variety of opinions out there, so do a little research. But the bottom line is that its real easy, and nature handles most of the issues for you.
One of my favorite insights of Ray Brown would be the following, taken from his book The Community of the Beloved Disciple. Some background info: It is believed that there was a community which produced the Johannine writings. The functioned almost like a separate denomination, in modern terms. At some point, this community dissolved and many of its members and some of its writings were accepted into the larger Christian community--the community through which the New Testament was compiled and the Nicene Creed formed, and from which most modern denominations can trace their roots. Here's the quote:
"What I do want to reflect upon is the results for the Great Church of the amalgamation of the Johannine Christians into its membership and of the acceptance of the Johannine writings into the canon of Scripture. At various times I have referred to the theology of the Fourth Gospel as challengingly different, volatile, dangerous, and as the most adventuresome in the New Testament . . .
The ultimate check upon what Kysar calls the "maverick Gospel" has been the church's hermeneutical decision to place it in the same canon as Mark, Matthew, and Luke, Gospels which implicitly advocate the side opposite to many Johannine positions. This means that the Great Church, "the church catholic" of Ignatian language, whether consciously or unconsciously, has chosen to live with tension.
Tension is not so easily accepted in ordinary life, and we usually try to resolve it. So too in church history--but because of the church decision about the canon, attempts at simple resolutions of these theological tensions into a static position on one side or the other are unfaithful to the whole New Testament."
In Introduction the the New Testament, he makes a similar point:
"Divine providence furnished four different Gospels, not a harmonized version . . . Harmonization, instead of enriching, can impoverish."
Thursday, November 8, 2007
So I opened up a can of diced tomatoes (the kind with some spices already in it), and put the contents in a pot on the stove. Turned on heat. Opened a can of pinto beans and dumped them in. Opened a can of corn and dumped about half of it in. Dumped my ground beef in. Threw some seasonings in--cumin, chili powder, whatever else. Cut up one of the 1,000,000 jalapeños I have left from the garden, dumped it in. (I got worried about not having tomato sauce and emptied out an extremely small amount of spaghetti sauce that I had left, but I wouldn't be surprised if the impact of this was negligible)
2 minutes later, it was done.
Tasted like I had spent hours on it.
Serves with a dollop of sour cream.
Monday, November 5, 2007
The Synoptics and Paul tend to get a lot of attention, but the Johannine “school” has a significant portion in the canon—The Gospel of John, 3 “letters” of John, and the Book of Revelation. Not a bad showing. Let's hear it for John! A rich literary bunch there. So we're studying epistolary forms, apocalyptic literature, Greek rhetoric, not to mention that crazy gospel genre. (Did ya'll know that its no longer cool to assume that the Gospel of John was written way late? Its now theorized to be pretty-darn historically reliable!)
Its not just a matter of quantity, either. Where else do you get, “God is love” ? (1 John 4:8). Let’s give some more context: “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (4:7). *Sigh* What more do you need? I’ll build a theology off of that! I’m willing to ignore the fact that 1 John puts additional stipulations in other portions of the book if you are.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Now look at this related but not related story:
Much has been said lately about the US's use of waterboarding as a method of torture of prisoners held at Guantanamo and other places.
"Malcolm Nance, an advisor on terrorism to the US departments of Homeland Security, Special Operations and Intelligence, publicly denounced the practice . . "Most people cannot stand to watch a high-intensity, kinetic interrogation. One has to overcome basic human decency to endure watching or causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you to question the meaning of what it is to be an American." http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/article3115549.ece
I hold up these two situations together because I believe they shed light on a very important aspect of human nature. In one situation, a man feels little regret and loses no sleep over the deaths of tens of thousands. In another, people become morally undone at the sight of a single human being tortured. Now, we can argue whether or not any of this is justifiable. I'd say its not, but that's not the point I want to argue here. I would imagine in both cases there are people who feel they can justify their actions--the deaths of some in order to save the lives of many more. Yet, in one case the pilot loses no sleep and in another case the witnesses and perpetrators have to wrestle to their core of their being with what they are seeing and doing.
This--I believe--is one of the most critical issues of our time. We live in a world where technology can make us far removed from the consequences of our actions. If we see suffering and bloodshed, often it strikes our very humanity and we empathaize. But if tens of thousands of people are simply erased off a map, its a mere cognitive exercise. We can't comprehend the deaths of tens of thousands. We can comprehend the deaths of individuals. As humans, we have a difficult time putting our minds and our hearts together.
Out of sight, out of mind. Watch the torture of a single human being? Lifetime of moral regret. Blow up 140,000 people? No problem if you don't see them. We can still hurt a hell of a lot of people. Just because we can't see them doesn't mean its not happening, but somewhere in the depths of our spirits I don't know if we really believe without seeing, like its not real. We need to put our hands in the nail holes and the pierced side to really know that it is real, just like the doubting Apostle Thomas. Without that, maybe it tugs on us, maybe it doesn't. But watch it up close and it haunts us forever.
I've heard it said that this is a vital function of the news media--to bring the actions abroad home. A single photograph make a war real that would otherwise just be numbers and lines on a map.
So, what's a guy to do?
Someone once told me, "Frank, if you don't eat fruit, you'll get cancer." Nutritionally speaking, its right up there at the top of the list. But my body just has a distate for it. I really have to make an effort to eat it. Its almost too strong, or something. When I do eat it, I sometimes enjoy it halfway decent, and do feel better. But I'd rather stop at small quantities. Without making a conscious effort, I can go months without it and its completely off the radar.
Now with vegetables, its a whole nother story. I can inhale vast bushels of veggies, particularly cooked. Stews, soups, stir fries, you name it. Mix it all together, throw some sauce on and cook it up!
So I'm left at a quandry. Its hard to eat fruit and in general hard to eat raw things. Just not my body's preference. Yet, those are important--dare I say, critical--to good nutrition. Do I listen to my body and feed it what it wants, knowing that if my body doesn't want it that might be an important sign? Or do I pay heed to the experts and give myself something even though I just don't want to eat?
I've decided to eat fruit. I take a piece early in the morning. Something fruity, something raw. Get it out of the way. Its the closest thing I have to breakfast, which is another gaping hole in my otherwise good nutrition. So if you've been counting, I'm killing 3 birds with one stone. I try to eat it before leaving for work, so that way I can throw it in the compost bin and not have to keep it in a container at work and bring the core home). At the very least maybe 3 servings a week.