week #2 and wasted food

This is week #2 of the produce box scheme… and it’s going to be an interesting one.

Aside from the apples and pears, just about everything in this week’s box will be a new (or nearly new) experience in terms of cooking, eating, or both. I’m particularly intimidated by the Brussels sprouts. And the sunchokes are just plain otherworldly.

Tonight I took a mental inventory of how much we actually used from the first box. I wanted to know because by some estimates, nearly half the food produced in this country ends up going into a landfill or down the garbage disposal. So I’d like to think that eating more sustainably also means wasting less food. And I’d like to be able to say that we ate everything in the first week’s produce box. But not quite.

The truth is, we came pretty close. Not counting the extra onions and garlic we ordered (which will keep a bit longer), we managed to use everything but one giant pear-turned-to-mush and a couple of now very sprouty potatoes.  And I noticed that less food wound up in our trash can this week. Which is encouraging not only for the obvious ecological reasons, but for economic reasons as well.

One of the biggest gripes against organic/local/sustainable food is that is costs too much. It’s fine for the upwardly-mobile hipster crowd, but out of reach for ordinary eaters on a budget.

There’s no getting around the fact that organic food costs more per pound, per calorie, etc. Although Michael Pollan notes that the real cost of industrialized food is hidden from consumers – namely, the cost to our healthcare system and our environment. (Not to mention all the Middle East oil needed to cart industrialized food an average of 1,500 miles from farm or factory to dinner plate.)

I can’t help but think that reducing or eliminating our food waste would more than make up for the extra cost of local, organic food. To say nothing of the reduced healthcare costs (not like that’s a timely issue) and improved environment.

So the goal for week #2 is to use everything in the box.

pastured pork, very purple carrots, and turnip thursday

Our first order of meat arrived on Friday: several varieties of pork, along with a couple lamb ribs and sweet Italian sausage (also lamb).

In contrast to most of the livestock consumed in this country, Friday’s meat came from pigs and sheep who were pastured (in other words, they lived how pigs and sheep were meant to live) and grass-fed (in other words, they ate what pigs and sheep were meant to eat).

One of my favorite lines in The Omnivore’s Dilemma comes near the end of part two, as Michael Pollan reflects on his weeklong visit to Polyface Farms: “When chickens get to live like chickens, they’ll taste like chickens, too.” The same can be said of the pork we sampled over the weekend.  The chops (lightly seasoned) didn’t taste altogether different from other pork chops I’ve had, but they had a more intense pork flavor than I’m used to.

It was also some of the leanest pork I’ve ever eaten — no doubt owing to the fact that these animals had open space to move about, unlike industrially reared pigs, who are packed in warehouses so tightly that their tails have to be docked so they don’t get bitten off. The pork was so lean that I had to be more careful than usual not to overcook it and dry it out — nothing a good brine can’t help, though.

The fruit and vegetable experiment continued as well. We made a pretty satisfying meal of three roasted turnips on Thursday. (Never thought I’d see myself typing that.) And Sunday’s pork chops were accompanied by some of the most ridiculously purple (and good) carrots we’ve ever tasted.

All in all, a pretty good first week of trying to eat off the grid.

the arrival

It’s here. Our first box of local produce landed on the doorstep this morning, somewhere between the unfathomable hour my wife leaves for work and the far more reasonable time of day that I head out the door.

The first week’s haul consisted of potatoes, onions, shallots, garlic, purple carrots, delicata squash, beets, turnips, mushrooms, apples, a few normal size pears, and one behemoth of a pear. I’m starting to worry the behemoth pear might eat me.

Everything in the box was grown within a 203-mile radius of our house. The shiitake mushrooms traveled the farthest, coming from a farm south of Portland, Oregon. The carrots and potatoes, on the other hand, were grown just 20 miles away, on a farm right outside Tacoma.

I’m quickly realizing this experiment may involve trying some veggies I don’t like – or always assumed I don’t like. (Hello turnips, beets, and delicata squash.) So tonight, we start with the beets. Boiled for 30 minutes, sliced, drizzled with homemade pesto (basil, pine nuts, olive oil), and roasted in the oven till crispy. Pretty good, too. My wife’s reaction was more enthusiastic: something about possibly being her new favorite vegetable. (Be proud, Dwight. Be very proud.)

And yes, the beets were incredibly fresh. You could almost taste the farm – which is a lot better than it sounds. Locavores who insist that food tastes more like itself when it’s in season and local — beets taste more beety, carrots taste more carroty — might be onto something. Our beets weren’t dug out of the ground that long ago, they didn’t have far to travel, and the ground that nurtured them wasn’t laced with synthetic chemicals that are, after all, byproducts of WWII-era explosive compounds and chemical weapons. (See Omnivore’s Dilemma, pages 41-47 and 143.)

Not bad for a little beet from Yakima.

Next up: yellow turnips. And come Friday, we pick up our first order of pastured pork and lamb from Lopez Island Farm.

the great food experiment begins…

Starting this week, our fruit and veggies will be delivered in a box. All of it organic, almost all of it grown here in the Pacific Northwest. Courtesy of these guys

Also starting this week, our meat – grass-fed and pastured – will come from a small farm in the San Juan Islands, about a three-hour drive (plus a ferry ride) away.

That’s what happens when you read books like this.

Happy (and hopefully healthy) new year.