Thursday, September 11, 2008

Skill building vs. store building

I want to share something from a food storage list that I read, with the permission of the writer. I thought it was very valuable advice.

On the list, I posted about the frustration of trying to build up our food reserves as we simultaneous eat everything I store. I said, "It's awkward and lumpy to change your whole food life," and others chimed in with feelings of burnout. Oregon's Chris Musser responded with this wisdom:
This has been an interesting thread, in part because I've been there/am there and in part because I'm considering launching a small cooking school at home, to help people learn to cook from scratch, bake bread, make ferments, preserve food, etc., and I'm curious to know what challenges people have as they strive to change their way of buying, storing, and preparing food.

While I'm still not satisfied with our food storage situation, I am fairly pleased with where we're at in terms of what we're eating day-to-day. It's taken about three years to get to this point, though, and I know if I'd tried to make all the changes we've made in six months, I'd have driven myself crazy. My advice: slow down and take baby steps. Instead of storing lots of food you aren't prepared to use wheat when you don't bake bread or own a grain mill...start off by building a skill: add bread baking to your weekly cooking repertoire.

For me, baking bread was the first big step away from the grocery store. Once I had that down, I only need to shop weekly for dairy products. Now I get raw milk through buying club and make our cream cheeses, yogurt, buttermilk, etc., from that...another new skill set I developed. Meat is all in the freezer, bought farm-direct. Eggs I currently get from a friend with backyard chickens, but we just got three pullets a couple weeks ago and should have our own eggs by early next year. I order the rest of our groceries through Azure Standard once a month and am building our food storage that way. Fresh produce is the only thing I buy weekly, and that's at a farmers market or farm stand. Except for picking up cream and a couple hard-to-find items at the co-op twice a month, I haven't stepped into a grocery store in months. Now that I've come to appreciate how nice it is not to grocery shop, cooking from my pantry is more of a reward than a "should." I spend more time in the kitchen, but because I'm often learning something new, practicing a recently acquired technique or refining an old one, I find my kitchen time quite interesting. Going to my pantry is like visiting my own personal grocery store, except it only has food my family likes and no check-out lines, wonky carts, or mad dashes in the rain through crowded parking lots. Glory!

Different methods are going to work at different times of life, too. When I was pregnant with my second, I learned a lot about cooking for the freezer. By the time my son arrived, we had three months' worth of food that could just be popped in the oven or reheated on the stove stored away in our deep freeze. Now, my kids are old enough to give me time to experiment with low-energy food preservation and play around with making fun stuff like ginger beer and kombucha.

Things are not perfect--I have health issues that really wear me down and so there are days when I send my husband out for burritos or pizza, even though we have a house full of food. My point is that learning the skills and developing a kitchen rhythm that works for you and your family most of the time is more important than filling your pantry. In an emergency, you will need those skills as much as you need the food.

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