Thursday, July 23, 2009

Is Being Green Inconvenient?

Well, maybe. Probably if you are used to conveniences in our modern systems. But some things, such as composting, are easy. Some, such as joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and cooking more from scratch with SOLE (Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethical) food do indeed seem inconvenient. At first. I'm about a couple months into my first ever CSA experience. And though I considered myself average in terms of cooking experience before I joined, I really did have a lot to learn. I mean, I could make the typical American meals on most people's weekly menus no problem. Often without a recipe. But I had no idea what to do with half of the veggies we were getting in our CSA. There was a steep learning curve at first. I'll readily admit to that.

But now, I think I'm hitting my stride. So this leads me to think that I just needed to gain a bit more 'kitchen literacy' to borrow a term from some others in the blogosphere. Mark Bittman's blog post True Convenience, and's post Not much convenience in 'convenience foods'
hit on exactly what I was coming to realize on my own. They both point out that so called 'convenience foods' actually don't hit the table any faster than cooking from scratch. Yet our culture's focus on convenience only encourages kitchen illiteracy. Before joining a CSA, sure I could cook on my own, but if I wanted to make Mac 'n Cheese (one of my four-year-old's favorites) or Lasagna or Tuna Noodle Casserole, would I make it from scratch? Heck no! It came from a box or frozen, with directions, and the fewer ingredients I needed to add, the better.

What have I learned since then? That it really doesn't take any longer to cook from scratch than to cook from a box. That with experience the time I spend planning is decreasing. And that when I cook from scratch I have much more satisfaction in the meal I prepared. I'm often surprised and delighted with the turnout, as is my family. How often have you ever felt that way about Hamburger Helper? Or Kraft Mac 'n Cheese? Or the lasagna you got from the freezer?

And I've also gathered a few time-saving tips of my own:
  1. Do as much prep-work as you can the night before. Chop vegetables, thaw meat, do whatever you can manage the night before after the kids are in bed. That way you can throw it all together the next day come dinner time. 20 minutes prep time without kids under foot can seem like it saves you an hour the next day. Really.
  2. Crockpot/Slow Cooker.
  3. Rice Cooker.
  4. For both of the above, buy an appliance timer to plug them into. Then you can actually have things finish just as you arrive home from work.
  5. Bread Machine (you can have pizza dough rising while you chill in the evening. Take it out and shape it which only takes 5 minutes and stick it in the fridge until the next day's dinner).
  6. Cook in big batches. Especially when cooking meat. Already need to brown 1 lb of ground beef? Go ahead and brown 2. Or even 3. You can use the extra another night in another dish without having to do the work. Cook big roasts in the crockpot. They take almost no work that way, and you can use the meat in more than one dish.
  7. Read Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Read it. Really. Don't just look up the one thing you need. It's one of the best book's I've ever seen for gaining some kitchen literacy.
Another thing I'm especially thankful for when it comes to my CSA experience, is that my son is learning not only about where food comes from, but how it's actually made. He's only four, so is by no means an adept assistant. But even if the dish I'm making is something he turns his nose up at the dinner table, he was typically there by my side on his little step stool watching me every step of the way. How sad if I hadn't joined a CSA or ever gotten into a make-it-yourself kick, that he might have grown up thinking meals only come from a box? Making meals from scratch might have seemed to him in adulthood like washing laundry with a tub and washboard seems to us. And then I think about how it's possible to have a whole generation of children grow up with this kind of kitchen illiteracy. It's sad.

I know the CSA experience may not be for everyone. And leaving all out-of-a-box cooking by the wayside might not be either. (Even for me!) But I hope that in our ever-increasingly-convenient world, we can still manage to teach our kids where things really come from. How to be self-sufficient in ways that don't rely too heavily on convenience. How sometimes convenience is just a trick of the eye, a marketing ploy, and in reality it can sometimes be just as easy to do it yourself.


  1. LOVE this particular blog, Heath! You are dead on. I have an example of modern day conveniences resulting in the sadness of our children not knowing where things come from.

    Picture it ... my wedding day ... November 18, 2006. My flower girl Alli uses the restroom just before the ceremony is going to begin. She comes out of the restroom, and her Mom asks here if she washed her hands. Alli tells her Mom that she rinsed them; but that she couldn't wash them b/c there was no soap in the bathroom. Having just been in there, I gave her Mom "the look" to let her know that yes, there was, in fact, soap in that bathroom. We peered around the corner to see a bar of soap sitting on the edge of the sink. Poor Alli had NO IDEA that that was soap b/c she had never seen soap in bar form before. All the soap she has ever used has been in liquid form, whereas I used to watch my grandmother make her own soap! Kids today have no idea where half of the products we use come from, and it is very sad!

  2. Also - how could I forget THE MICROWAVE! In many recipes that call for something 'roasted' if I don't have the time available to roast in the oven, I'll often put the items in a glass dish, cover, and microwave. Beets are a great example. Three medium beets can be microwaved in 6-8 minutes vs an entire hour in the oven. And they taste just as good on a salad either way.

  3. You don't even need a rice cooker. After burning out a rice cooker a year in our family, my husband discovered he could make better rice the old-fashioned way: On the stove!

    And I agree about the CSA experience. We are glad we tried it, but it wasn't the best option for our family. Too often we were hunting for more of this veggie or that, and didn't have enough to make the recipes the CSA provided us to try.

  4. I like the rice cooker simply because I can put the rice & water in and turn it on in the morning before I head out the door and the rice stays perfectly fine and moist all day, ready to eat when I get home from work! It really cuts down on the dinner prep time which is so handy w/ a four-year-old who's ravenous when we get home!