Wednesday, February 20, 2008

avoiding packaged food

(edited to remove Judgy McJudgerson aspects. Apologies to everyone who now thinks I think they're evil because they buy canned beans - I should NOT write blog posts late at night when I'm all fired up about stuff.)

I'm taking a course at UVic (extension - no credit, no exam) about food culture. Tonight the topic was food branding and it was an interesting albeit fairly depressing topic - how much money is poured into marketing, especially to children, is really, really not fun to hear about.

I've been trying, mostly successfully, to avoid food in packages. Avoiding brands and marketing and supporting the industry behind that was admittedly a secondary (tertiary?) goal - the first being eating healthier, since I've yet to be convinced that anything in a box or package is healthier for me than either nothing or something I can make myself from raw ingredients, and the second goal being of the green-me-up variety - packaging is just inherently wasteful and bad for the environment. But the more I think about it, the more disgusted I am with food marketing because invariably it targets the vulnerable - like children, who lack the capacity to understand what advertising is, and poor people who work hideous long hours to put food on the table and who don't have time to shop around and kind of have to believe the packages when they say they're the cheapest most nutritious source of whatever-it-is available, and even if they don't believe it, they don't feel they have a choice because who has time to do that from scratch anyway???

I am extremely fortunate in that firstly I love spending time in the kitchen and I think it's more fun to do things like make my own bread than to let Mr. Dempster do it for me, and secondly I have the lifestyle (stay-at-home mom) and resources (supportive family) to do it. I'm under NO illusion that everyone is like that. I don't want to guilt anyone for using packaged food - it's so prevalent because there is no arguing that it DOES fill a perceived need for people. Time is the most precious commodity for most people - food that maximizes time for other things is understandably desirable. Also, a lot of packaging extends shelf life, reducing cost and making food cheaper - and there is the economy-of-scale factor, which comes into play for things like mayonaise, where sure you CAN make your own, but industrial eggs & oil make it cheaper for Kraft to make it for you, plus they give you a nice jar too. (I actually like mayo jars, they are infinitely reusable.)

So I think I'm going to try to start an anti-package movement, and try to write some articles and maybe work with community centres or wherever to provide information to people on how to live without packaged food. It's going to be an uphill slog, because there are very, very valid reasons for using packaged food and even I am by NO means blameless - I buy cheese in packages, dairy stuff, the aforementioned mayo, rice noodles... almost everything comes in a package! What I'm trying to get after most is stuff for which the benefits are illusory - products that don't *really* save you any time, or provide the nutritional benefit that they claim. But I think I need to do some research first, because I am admittedly not a normal person and can't expect everyone will act (or want to act) like me, food-wise, and that is where all my 3 or 4 readers come in. Can you all please either post in comments or send me an e-mail and let me know:

1) In your last weekly or bi-weekly or regular shopping trip, what foods did you buy that came in a package? (I'm only including things with more than one basic ingredient. So, milk, basic dairy, canned beans, veg, tomato and frozen veg & fruit don't count.)

2) How much time do you have for food preparation? So, typically how much time do you spend fixing breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks?

3) How many packaged foods do you consider staples, and how many are treats?

4) On your last grocery bill, what percentage of the total cost was packaged food?

5) How many people are in your household, and how many share responsibility for food preparation?

I think that'll do for starters. Help?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Heart of the Beast (was pretty tasty)

Last week Deanna dropped by with some elk treats, courtesy relatives with a farm and little liking for the nosy, destructive creatures. The steaks and ribs were certainly appreciated, but I was apprehensive about the bag of unidentified bits. I accepted them without hesitation though, figuring if all else failed, Daisy's new all-raw diet would get some good variety.

After thawing, the bits were easily identifiable as a heart and a tongue. Yikes! Obviously too valuable to turn into dog food. I did some quick research and called a friend with a copy of Mrs Beeton's cookbook.

I boiled the tongue with aromatics (onion and herbs) and peeled it (fun!) and sliced it up. It was a tad bland - I should have added more salt to the water - but mixed with some of my homemade duck fat mayo, it was delicious on salad greens.

Then I used the reduced, leftover broth from the tongue (which was SO tasty) and a bottle of beer and I stuffed the heart with fried up bacon, mushrooms and onions and threw it all in the pressure cooker. It was very tasty, especially the sauce that resulted, but terribly rich. And unfortunately rather too high in iron for my little Rowan - it left her a bit bunged up. Poor kid. But she did really, really like it.

So, thanks Deanna! I am thoroughly sick and tired of elk now, but that's what freezers are for. And I have conquered any remaining qualms about cooking with "the nasty bits".