Archive for December 20th, 2008

Must. Stay. Off. Net.

Sharon December 20th, 2008

Ok, book is due on self-imposed deadline one week from today – and if I don’t get it done by then, I’m going to lose my set aside vacation time before I start up my classes (still spaces in all three classes, btw, if you want to register).  So that means I need to get the hell off the net, and stop writing posts just because something that happened catches my eye or I’m teed off on some subject, or whatever. 

 So I need your help – as I said, I’m bad at self-discipline.  I need you all to promise to yell at me if I post in the next week.  I have this problem with self-imposed deadlines – I do best with externally imposed rules.  So I’m asking for some external reinforcement from my kind and loyal readers.  1. If I post anything between now and the 27th, other than announcement that the book is done and in the hands of my publisher, yell at me.  And 2. If I don’t announce on the 27th that the book is finished and sent to the publisher, yell at me.  I need the vacation, but I can already hear in the back of my head the little voice saying…well you could….  Nope, I need to feel that there are loyal and supportive readers out there with baseball bats threatening me into completion ;-) .

 Thanks everyone!

 Sharon

Best Food Preservation and Storage Internet Resources?

Sharon December 20th, 2008

So I’m winding up Independence Days (Hallelujah – ok, 3 books in less than 2 years is too much!), and working on the appendices, and hoping to draw on your expertise.  Since I’ve got slow dial up, I don’t always do as much web surfing as I probably should – far too sloooooow.  So I bet there are some great sources out there I’m missing.  I was hoping you’d offer up your suggestions for the best sites on:

 Bulk food suppliers: I’ve already got a few obvious ones like www.bulkfood.com and www.waltonfeed.com – but what else?  Who else is out there?  Are there niche suppliers you recommend for special diets or particular needs?

Farmers who sell grains and beans directly off the farm in many regions – sources for local products.  Got a favorite place to get soybeans, rice or buckwheat?  Let us know.

Good fair trade sources of spices and herbs

Great recipe sites that emphasize cooking with food storage or with basic whole grains, legumes and mostly storable ingredients.

Food preservation recipe sites: They might specialize in one kind of preserving – lactofermentation, or jam making without sugar.  I’ve got my favorites, but I’d like to add more.

Because the array of available tools and manufacturers for food preservation equipment changes so frequently, if you know sites that review these tools, I’d love to include them – that way, the tools that don’t even exist when the book goes to press might get a fair shake.

Food storage guidelines – I have the LDS calculator, Alan Hagan’s wonderful Prudent Food Storage FAQ,  and several other sites, but I actually think in this case, more information is better. 

Your favorite blogs that emphasize storing and eating from storage, home scale preservation and local, seasonal eating. 

I really appreciate your help!

 Sharon

How Low Can I Go?: Balancing Cheap and Sustainable in My Pantry

Sharon December 20th, 2008

I don’t know about you, but it seems like it is getting harder and harder to keep the grocery budget stable – and given the economic times we’re in that’s a tough thing to swallow.  I could, of course, stop buying storage foods and start eating down our reserves more, but I don’t quite feel we’re there yet.  So the question for me becomes how to balance the need to keep plugging the holes in our storage, to keep the grocery bills in budget, and also, to make sure that I’m voting with my dollars as much as possible for things I actually support.  Because the money I spend in the food system either reinforces industrial agriculture and the status quo (when I buy industrial food, whether organic or conventional) or it helps build a better food system (when I buy locally, direct from farmers, though coops and institutions I value, and fair trade for imported goods). 

So, for example,  we only eat animal products that are local and sustainably raised.  That costs, although raising our own helps a lot.  We buy goods like spices and tea from fair trade producers, and our produce locally whenever possible. We also keep kosher, so there are some foods we simply don’t eat, and others that have to be bought at higher prices.  That makes it hard for us to take advantage of low cost menu models like The Hillbilly Housewife’s (I like her site a lot, btw, and think her ultra-low-cost menu is really excellent: http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/40dollarmenu.htm) which often use pork products and processed foods to provide flavorings.  I can and do work around that, of course, but I’m not going to be buying my teabags 100 for a buck – it just isn’t feasible.

And yet, keeping my grocery budget low is important to me for several reasons – when we stay under budget, we make larger donations to charity.  We also are able to do more to build up our food reserves that way.  And if, as we fear, Eric loses his job in the crashing of the New York State education budget, we’re going to have to get by for a while (assuming no easy job solution) with savings, unemployment and/or  what I make writing, farming and teaching – last year my total earnings from all sources ran a bit under 14K.  That would be challenging.  So the more we build our reserves, the better off we are.

I doubt I’m the only person who wants to keep their food budget low, while still buying food that supports their principles. And in fact, this is one of those things that becomes more, not less urgent in a crisis.  Because the premium most of us pay for organic food from local farmers, for our CSA baskets and grassfed meat is something that most of us feel we could compromise on if we really had to.  The problem is, of course, is more and more of us decide not to get the CSA share, or to just this week buy the industrial ground beef, the local farms will be casualties of the Depression.  Walmart is already seeing an improvement in sales – because people are shifting from higher priced merchants to them.  And if we all go back to shopping at Walmart, when the final dust is settled, and Walmart’s just-in-time model and its heavy use of energy no longer function, we’ll find ourselves without Walmart *or* the local food systems we need so badly.

So I thought I’d start a new series on this blog about my own attempts to keep the budget down, your suggestions for how to eatly cheaply without compromising on principle, and if we have to compromise, how to make the least painful choices.

The first step for me, and I hope for all of you, will be to sit down and figure out exactly what we’re spending on food for week by week usage, vs. storage.  I really should know this already, but the last few years we’ve been lucky enough to have a small margin of flexibility in our budget- not enough to throw caution to the winds, but enough that I’ve not been carefully dividing our storage and “to eat this week” stuff up. I have an overall sense of how much we spend on food, but, for example, haven’t sat down to figure out the amortized cost of the 20lbs of local, dried cranberries I bought last week over the year it will last us.  I also need to do a full scale analysis of our food budget, including animal feeds and seeds in the total calculation. 

The next project will be to set a challenge budget for ourselves, to ask “how low can I go” while still buying my food from local and sustainable source.  Can I use less of something (ok, no question I can drink less tea!), can I use it more wisely?  Can I find lower priced options in our budget?  Try new recipes that will help reduce costs?  Make more things from scratch?  Change my habits so that I’m eating more of inexpensive and seasonal things?  Could I help the kids use less of things (toothpaste – check!)?  Are there places where I’m buying things that could be cut out all together? 

Anyone else want to work on figuring out just how low you can go, without compromising on the systems we all are going to rely on?

 Sharon