I have a confession to make. Although I talk and write about sustainability, and laud the morals of eating sustainable, local food, we don’t buy local except when the farmer’s market is in season. Or even organic. Until my most recent round of books on food sustainability, I used to justify this decision by saying that organic is too expensive. I can’t afford to buy organic or local stuff now, I thought. I’ll make up for it by buying locally and organically as soon as I’m grown up. As soon as I get a real job. Right?
Well, enough waiting already. I did a lot of thinking and a little pavement research and realized that with the way Paul and I buy food – raw vegetables, whole grains and flours, few processed foods, no packaged dinners or side dishes a la Hamburger Helper – we actually could probably afford to buy a little more organic, for the few pennies more that it would cost us.
This week, Paul and I made our first foray to our local coop grocery store, Bloomingfoods. It’s a small grocery store, with mostly organic, all natural or local products. Bloomingfoods’ produce is much fresher, greener and healthier looking than the normal spread of vegetables we see weekly at Kroger. Past the produce, it gets a little trickier to take in. Because they carry different brands and products from what you’ll find in a conventional grocery store, the shelves and refrigerated cases look different from what we’re used to. It’s mesmerizing, looking at all the different organic, all natural, brands. It’s like being in a grocery store of another country. And instead of the aisles and aisles of dry goods, theres a bulk foods section, where you can put just as much as you need of spices, grains, dried beans, or more into a container or baggie, eliminating all the excess packaging of conventionally-packaged foods. But, while all these new things may at first seem overwhelming, in fact shopping at the coop is much easier than shopping at a conventional grocery store.
For one, having a grocery store with only organic, local or all natural products takes all of the stress out of shopping. Instead of having to look at the ingredients and nutrition label of every product to see just how many unrecognizable additives or chemical preservatives there are inside, or wondering whether or not a product was made with genetically modified organisms, Bloomingfoods has already pre-sorted the products for me. Instead of comparing flours to see which one is actually whole grain and to see which volume of flour yields the best value, at Bloomingfoods, I can simply measure out as much as I need of the organic flour, at a simple price per pound rate. It’s much easier, and much less stressful than shopping at a conventional grocery store.
So Paul and I left Bloomingfoods armed with, among other things, a healthy selection of organic vegetables, some local cheese, and some canned organic tomato sauce, all the ingredients for a healthy, organic, homemade spaghetti sauce. At home, I diced up the onions, green peppers, green zucchini, mushrooms and a chili pepper and sauteed them in olive oil, minced garlic, salt, pepper and some Italian seasonings. Then I added them to a 14.5-oz can of diced tomatoes, a 8-oz can of tomato sauce, and a 6-oz can of tomato paste in a crock pot on low and let the flavors combine all afternoon.
But spaghetti sauce was only part one of my homemade meal. I also baked two loaves of homemade white bread to go with our homemade feast, and Paul made another one of his Caesar salads with the fresh organic lettuce, vegetables and shredded parmesan. It was a delicious meal. And, I think, the pasta sauce tasted better than any I’ve made with conventionally-grown vegetables before. It was gratifying, too, to know that the food we’re eating directly benefits local farmers, producers and – because the coop is member-owned – the community as well.
I think we’ll continue shopping at Bloomingfoods Coop. The cost of some items is slightly higher, but of others is slightly lower, so it all evens out in the end. And it’s healthier for us and for the planet to not eat food produced with tons of pesticides and chemicals and artificial additives. We won’t be eating 100% organic right away, of course. We’ll first have to work through the freezer and pantry food we already have – such as the processed, pre-cooked, frozen meatballs Paul had leftover from Cooking Club at work, and that I, with some chagrin, added to the spaghetti sauce last night. But I think we’ll be able to do it. By the time the farmer’s market returns in April, and my little garden on the deck gets underway, we’ll be eating truly sustainably!
Jess’ (Nearly) Veggie Spaghetti Sauce
2 small green zucchini, diced
1 medium green pepper, diced
1 medium-to-large onion, diced
2 cups diced mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Italian seasonings (Basil, Rosemary, Savory, Oregano, etc.)
Red pepper flakes
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes, no salt added
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 6-oz can tomato paste
Optional: 1/2 lb ground meat (or tofu or seitan, I suppose) of your choice (that’s the “Nearly” part in the title)
Sautee vegetables in olive oil and minced garlic for no more than 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, Italian seasonings and pepper flakes to taste. Combine with canned tomato products and meat, if desired, in crock pot on low and allow to simmer for 1 to 3 hours. Serve over your favorite pasta. Goes particularly well with tri-color rotini. Enjoy with salad and bread for a complete meal!