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Food: In which I learn how to budget, shop, and eat sustainably

July 25, 2008

Lately, everyone’s been talking at dinner parties. About what, you ask? (Or maybe, “what lame dinners parties did you go to in the past where no one talked?”) Two things really: equally zealous discussions of the tastiness of the food we’re eating and the implications of where it came from and how it was prepared. Questions of, how can we make what we consume healthy, environmentally friendly, and delicious all at the same time?

This is the first time in my life I’ve had a kitchen all my own (I had one in my host family’s house in Paris, which was often mine alone thanks to divorce and business travel, but I never asked how to turn on the stovetop, and it seemed too late to after several months of “cooking for myself.” I did get good at making crepes in the microwave…) and I’ve recently diversified my focus on food from simply an obsession with restaurants (ask my aunt about the 7 page restaurant guide she was emailed in return for her innocent request for tips on good places to eat in Philadelphia), to an increasingly robust interest in buying high quality ingredients and cooking them in interesting ways.

For young socially conscious Washingtonians, deciding what to eat is a careful balance. As with most people (those who I like to spend time with at least) we are concerned that what we eat is delicious, but are also on pretty tight budgets, and we’ve inevitably read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and are worried about what the food we’re putting in our bodies is doing to the environment, the people who harvest it, and the economy. Oh, and also we want to be mildly healthy. Personally, I’m still detoxing from my relatively good but smorgasbord-like college dining experience (My bff Colleen can attest to that aspect of it).

Over the past year, as my grocery shopping and cooking habits have formed, in concert with my boyfriend, who just refuses to go to a certain D.C. farmers’ market where $4 heads of lettuce can be found (despite the delicious goat cheese that can also be found there), with those priorities (frugality, delectability, and sustainability) in mind. This is all much to the surprise of my mother, who, a couple of week ago asked me for confirmation that I disliked cooking. Once true mother, but not anymore. Now I sit at work fantasizing about how to achieve food shopping, cooking, and eating perfection.

Ok Caroline, enough with your editorial flourishes and personal anecdotes, what are your food habits? They developed slowly, beginning with learning to make a list before I go grocery shopping. I then decided to bring my own bags to the market instead of burying myself and the world under an ever-growing mound of plastic bags. Finally, after struggling for many months with my boyfriend over where to get our produce, and how to eat more healthfully and locally (how can we avoid the $4 head of lettuce farmers’ market wonder down at the unnamed Circle?), we stumbled upon the Adams Morgan Farmers’ market. Not only is it a 5 minutes walk from the apartment, it’s also (at least one of the two stalls) dedicated to selling fresh, healthy food for reasonable prices, not serving as an expensive boutique to a yuppie clientele. What we’ll do when it closes in December I don’t know. Maybe we can stand the $4 lettuce place every other week, and only for cheese.

And how do I prepare all that food? I have to admit, getting used to planning my food consumption and meals has been the biggest (but most rewarding) challenge so far. I especially noticed this in the past week, as Geoff (boyfriend) and I were overcome by the bounty of produce at the market and bought a lot of it! (If anyone wants some of the beet soup I made, let me know… it’s delicious and earthy, but I ate it three days in a row, and now I need a little break) I do, however, feel healthier being more deliberate about my food consumption, as well as indulging my cravings once in a while (yes, I am guilty of buying $9 imported mozzarella di bufala least week… but it was delicious, and I paired it with my locally grown tomatoes and cheap-o olive oil from the Safeway!)

So, what have others been doing? I have friends (they are also Friends actually) who started their own garden on the back porch and make their own pickles. I am extremely jealous of those who have the opportunity to garden, what with living on the second floor of a big apartment building. I also know that Dan (who appears on this blog as a contributor) and Julia (who appears in the comments) have given up all meat except “happy meat,” ie, animals that were bred and raised humanely.

Well all? What are your food habits? Are you concerned with sustainable eating? Have you always been or did the slow food/omnivore’s dilemma wave hit you recently? Or do you think it’s all a load of hooey and get all of your food at the supermarket and fast food joints?

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