Monday, January 18, 2016

Three years later...

Three years is a long time and yet for us, it's passed by in the blink of an eye. Honey Bear is just shy of 6.5, Baby Boy is 4 (I guess I should think of a new moniker for him...) and they are big siblings to their 2.5 year old twin sisters, Mouse and Bear. It's been an eventful three years, to say the least. We may have swayed from the locavore life when life was crazy, but our path has remained steady and our goals of increasing our dependence on local or homegrown food stay true. 

As our family grows, more and more time becomes available to return to our passion of gardening, homebrewing and preserving our harvest and we have some plans for the 2016 garden that I'll share in future posts. I'm excited to return to blogging!

One particular concern that affects us deeply and may be bothering you are the rising food costs and in most cases, these are rising but skyrocketing much faster than inflation and often without warning. One day, a head of cauliflower is a reasonable $3.49 and the next, $7.99. Celery jumped from $1.99 to $3.99. Sadly, the price of processed food has remained as cheap as ever and it's tempting to start filling the cart with more economical food. These cheap foods have long term consequences on our health and may have a place in our lives, but they shouldn't and they can't be it's epicenter. Trying to feed a family of six on a modest budget with allergies and intolerances on a modest budget is not easy, but it is possible.

I've been reading every article I can about why the food costs are rising (lousy Canadian dollar, 80% of Canadian produce being imported, geography and how far food has to travel, etc), along with articles about what we can do about it.  Here's the takeaway, along with some of my tips:

  1. Buy local. Perhaps not the sexiest of vegetables in the winter, parsnips, turnips, carrots, onions, winter squashes and potatoes are Maritime staples. Most local meat producers offer great deals on bulk purchases and even bigger savings the more you buy (share a side of beef with a neighbour, for instance). 
  2. Buy cheap cuts of meat. Braise, simmer, marinate or boil. These tough cuts of any meat take more work but the payoff is higher. 
  3. Eat less meat. We are working hard to reduce our meat consumption and move closer to a plant based diet. For us, that means 2-3 vegan suppers a week. When we do consume meat, we stretch it as far as possible. For instance, one night will be pork chops and whatever meat is leftover (including from the kids plates, especially if we're not serving guests) will be turned into fried rice the next night. Or, with a package of 4 locally produced sausages, 2 sausages will be put into a pot of spaghetti sauce and the other 2 will add the perfect savoury seasoning for a pot of white bean and kale soup. 
  4. Eat more pulses. The United Nations has declared 2016 to be the International Year of Pulses and there's a good reason for it: Canada is one of the world's leading producers and exporters of pulses. Beans, chickpeas and lentils are inexpensive and nutritional powerhouses and Atlantic Canada grows a lot of beans. One of my favourites is Jacob's Cattle Beans that I use in a huge batch of refried beans, portioned and frozen for later use. Here is one idea of how I use refried beans:
  5. Shop the discount bins. This is a huge area of savings for us. I frequently buy discounted bread to put in the freezer, which comes in handy when I'm not on top of homemade bread. Most meats can either be cooked immediately or frozen for later. Cheese can be shredded and frozen. For the most part, anything bought at discount can be cooked, frozen, used up or repurposed. Once, I scored walnut pesto for $.12. I portioned it out into ice cube trays and froze it to top vegetable soups. In one of our local stores, the discount and overstock area is in the adjoining tobacco shop, so be sure to keep your eyes open for specific areas. 
  6. Reduce your waste. This is the most important point. Canadians waste almost $1000 a year and it's so easy for this to happen. I'm frequently throwing things out and realize how easy it is for items to die in the crisper or back of the fridge. Reducing your waste means surveying your fridge and pantry and planning your weekly menu accordingly. For one week, once a month, challenge yourself to eat only what you have in stock and plan around. If your pantry is so overloaded, make it more than a week to eat up what you have. I plan to blog more about this. 
  7. Repurpose Your Kitchen Scraps. If you are going to throw away produce you forgot about, try to repurpose it in a beneficial way. We vermicompost with a big blue bin in our basement. Specific kitchen scraps get eaten up by red wigglers and repurposed into valuable castings for our gardens. In the spring, we resume adding scraps to our garden composter. In the late fall, I often put scraps directly in the garden before I put a layer of semi-finished compost and leaves and by the spring, this has all reduced and turned into beautiful soil.


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