|piggy bank | photo: mconnors|
The conversation started by talking about ways to avoid the high cost of fresh/local/organic produce. Ideas included purchasing according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Shoppers Guide to Pesticides which lists the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen for produce and exposure to pesticides. Of course growing your own and freezing or otherwise preserving the harvest was mentioned. This can be a great way to ensure that your family has a source of healthy food on a year-round basis. Buying in season often means that you are not paying a premium to have healthy food. After all, strawberries in May cost far less than strawberries in December. As an added benefit they taste better too. Another idea mentioned was to shop at the farmer's market near the end of the day when there might be some deals available. Also discussed was the concept of purchasing cheaper cuts of meat and cooking them in a slow cooker.
All of this talk of purchasing locally or sustainably lead to talk about food waste. It is a fact that if we waste less it costs less. Unfortunately American's tend to spend a huge percentage of their grocery bill on food they don't actually eat; it winds up being thrown out. The book American Wasteland: How American Throws Away Nearly Half It's Food (And What We Can Do About It) was mentioned by more than one person. The general consensus was that it is a great book. If this is a subject that interests you, you can also follow along on Jonathan Bloom's blog WastedFood.
The subject then turned to buying in bulk. Quite a few people spoke about sharing with friends or neighbors as a way to purchase in bulk, thereby saving money, without being overwhelmed by, say, 25 pounds of grapefruit. Some people spoke about not buying in bulk due to fears of wasting food. Others spoke about buying in bulk in order to freeze the extra for a future time. The most commonly mentioned bulk purchased items appeared to be coffee, oats, grains, spices, flour, and even honey and maple syrup.
Moving along we came to the question of entertaining while serving wholesome food on a budget. Of course the idea of potluck came up which can certainly be an economical way to share a meal with friends. Many people agreed that homecooking was more economical than ordering out and there was general agreement that simple ingredients well prepared were far better than gourmet items. People appreciate good homemade food. Especially given how many people do not cook. When they are served a tasty meal that is homemade it's a gift of time as well as of intention and everyone seemed to agree that was important and well received. There were also some clever ideas for making tasty meals that were not overly expensive such as taco bar, potato bar, panini bar, and top-your-own pizza. Another good solution was to use aromatics such as ginger, garlic, shallots, spices, and herbs as a way to jazz up the flavor of a dish.
Next on the agenda was how to encourage others to cook real food at home. Hands down the answer seemed to be talking about it and demonstrating it. Several people had great ideas for demonstrating whole food healthy cooking by inviting people over for a cooking party/demo, cooking for them in their own home, sharing information on a blog or website, and being willing to talk about the costs of whole food nutrition and health. There was also a discussion about food education with a consensus that in addition to participants teaching people about food there is a variety of resources available through the internet. Also discussed was the idea of a return to the concept of home economics in school and offering healthy lunchtime choices in school. Finding community gardens, organic farmers, and other resources was also mentioned.
Overall folks seemed to feel that the key was shopping locally, in season, not wasting food, and learning to build a connection with a farmer's market or other good resource. Definitely a great twitter party and one that flew by.