By Summer Miller | Photo by Ariel Fried
“Whether things were ever simpler than they are now, or better if they were, we can’t know. We do know that people have always found ways to eat and live well, whether boiling water or bread or beans, and that some of our best eating hasn’t been our most foreign or expensive or elaborate, but quite plain and quite familiar. And knowing that is probably the best way to cook and certainly the best way to live.”
—Tamar Adler, An Everlasting Meal
We try in the time of New Year’s resolutions to find moments of reflection and set upon a path toward what we want to achieve in the months ahead. Typically, I classify my goals in terms of subjects I’d like to explore, experiences I hope to gain and adjectives I’d like to use to describe my life. Edible Omaha asked that I share a few thoughts on eating, growing and sourcing food in the event that a resolution on your list includes learning more about food, food systems or healthy eating.
Books. It’s always a good idea to know why you eat the way you eat. The following five books are favorites on my shelf. Both Taste Memory and American Terroir will illuminate the value of flavor, variety and why we should care about individualized pockets of animal and plant life from a culinary perspective. The Chain and Tomatoland both explore the social and human conditions that should be factored into every meal we serve at the table. Finally, An Everlasting Meal is a poetic and unpretentious explanation of the value of home cooking.
- Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matterby David Buchanan
- American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fieldsby Rowan Jacobsen
- The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Foodby Ted Genoways
- Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruitby Barry Estabrook
- An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Graceby Tamar Adler
Learn to cook. Know that learning to cook is learning to find comfort and even joy in the act of failure. If you never forgo the strict adherence to recipes and learn to trust your instincts, cooking will always take more time than you have. The Culinary Institute at Metropolitan Community College offers Open Kitchen Workshops for the layperson. Courses typically take three hours of a single evening. Classes are small. You can learn anything from knife skills to how to build flavors for soup.
One change at a time. I’ve never been the kind of person who swoops in, empties the cupboards into the trash, declares war on junk food, sugar, gluten, meat, dairy, fish and happiness and decides to stick a flag in my newfound dedication to life as an everything-free person, who will never again be seen ordering a pizza or eating a hot dog at the state fair. In reality, I’m a big believer in taking small steps toward small changes that will build up into a new lifestyle over time. I’m also more of an 80/20 person rather than an all or nothing person. Why not clean out the cupboards? It takes time to learn new skills and surround yourself with the people and places needed to support those skills in the middle of a busy life of family, jobs, kids, commuting and that yoga habit you picked up for the New Year. Be patient with yourself. Start with changing one meal, one day per week. When you make it healthy, whole and local without thinking about it, move onto the next meal.
Address food waste in your home. The cost of food is a common argument against eating healthfully, let alone locally. According to a report released by the American Chemistry Council in June 2015, Americans throw away $640 per year, per household in uneaten food. Eating what you have on hand, even when you are not in the mood for it, and repurposing leftovers (see item #2) can go a long way to improving the quality of your food and the size of your wallet. In my house, it’s not uncommon to find dinner’s roasted cauliflower and tomatoes folded into the next morning’s eggs. It’s not fancy, but it’s healthy, affordable and feeds my family.
Source food locally. I think it goes without saying that stopping by the farmers market when it’s open, growing a garden and supporting restaurants (see Eat Local Guide on pages 30 and 31) that support local farmers is a great way to break into the world of local food, but every year more options are available to the home cook. In addition to the farmers markets, online ordering platforms, such as LoneTreeFoods.com and the Nebraska Food Cooperative, allow “pick what you want” ordering. If you have time to experiment in the kitchen, many farmers provide weekly or bi-monthly community-supported agriculture subscriptions. The time to sign up for CSA programs is January through March, and you can find a list of providers in this issue on page 33. If you want to grow your own food, container gardening is all the rage and a quick Google search will yield many results, or you can rent a plot at neighborhood community garden. If it’s still too much change too fast, then opt for the local products and produce at the grocery store, and if your store doesn’t have local foods, ask them to start stocking them.
Forget about plating and showmanship. Feeding yourself and those you love is a humble act. Feeding someone isn’t an act of vanity, it’s an act of service. The best family meals are scooped from a shared dish and passed around the table.
Summer Miller is a freelance writer and author whose work has appeared in Grit, Saveur, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Edible Omaha and Edible Feast. As of late, she’s been promoting her first book, New Prairie Kitchen: Stories and Seasonal Recipes from Chefs, Farmers and Artisans of the Great Plains. You can find more of her work on her website at ScaldedMilk.com.