Monday, June 28, 2010

Menu Planning part 2: Food Storage

This is the 2nd part of an on-going series on menu planning.  And you may be asking yourself, what does food storage have to do with menu planning?

The answer is that local food meal planning does not exist in isolation from other aspects of household and community food security.  The local food system does not look like Wal Mart, it does not have all the convenience of a big box  supermarket.  The sooner you get your brain wrapped firmly around that concept, the better and easier your local food adventures will be.  It is not easy to do this, since most of us have known nothing other than a big box supermarket all our lives.  We expect everything to be available all the time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,  365 days a year.  Here in the United States, we benefit from our position at the top of the world food chain to take food from hungry people around the world to load our tables with the delights of gluttony.  I'm sure that sounds somewhat harsh, but it is the truth.  When we buy out of season produce, chances are very goodr that we are taking food from the mouths of hungry children in countries around the world. 

As the situation with peak oil develops around the world, the days of flying in grapes from Chile and lettuce from Israel will be numbered.  Air freight in particular (which is the freight of choice for perishable produce) is vulnerable to the price and availability of fuel.  We are never more than one terrorist or political incident away from having that fragile system of air freighted produce broken into a million pieces.  And like Humpty Dumpty, once broken, it wiill be hard to put it back together again.

Here in North America, we are in the midst of the summer growing season.  We are all thinking about the great meals we will have this summer from our gardens' production and from the local farmers' markets and local food coops -- but now is also the time to think about what we will eat in December, January, and February, when most of those farmer's markets are closed and the Oklahoma Food Cooperative has no produce for sale.

Which is to say -- now is the time to buy not only your summer food needs, but also start working on what you will need during the winter.

So it comes to pass that food storage is essential to feeding your household more local foods.  Yes, you can also invest in cold frames and a greenhouse and maybe have some greens this summer, but most of us won't or can't do that.

To successfully store summer produce, you will need some equipment.

The easiest method of summer produce storage is the freezer.  Most vegetables can be simply blanched (dipped in boiling water for a few minutes) and frozen.  I typically freeze cooked vegetables (especially the summer greens like chard and collards).

A second method of preservation is dehydration, also easy.  I dehydrate shredded summer squash and carrots and use them for winter soups and sauces.

A third method is canning.  You can make pickles and chutneys and other high acid products using vinegar with a boiling water canner, but other low-acid veggies and meats will require a pressure canner.  That's a bit more involved, but here again, there is a convenience  factor as the pressure canning process cooks them so they are ready to heat and eat.  Your local county extension department can provide you with complete information about home canning, and you can also take your pressure canner there for a pressure test to make sure it is working OK.

This also is a good time to talk a bit about longer-term food storage.  Going forward into the years ahead, which will be characterized by the problems caused by peak oil, economic irrationality, and climate disruptions, all of us should keep some of our family's savings in the form of food.  Buy now, eat later; store what you eat and eat what you store.  I am of the opinion that every household should have a year's worth of basic foods on hand at all times -- beans, rice, grains, honey, etc.  Not many of us could buy a whole year's worth of food at one time, but everyone could buy a little extra each month.  By incorporating these basic foods into your diet, eating more beans for example, and grinding your own grain to make flour and baking your own bread, you can save money on your regular food bill and that would allow you to set aside some extra food each month.  Wheat, for example, is available in large quantities right now, through the Oklahoma Food Coop you can get it already packaged in buckets for long-term storage, and it is certified organic wheat no less.

In recent years, we've had the energy crisis, and the financial crisis, and it may be that a food crisis lurks around the corner.  Like the financial and energy crisis, when it comes upon us there won't be much warning and people will wonder, "how did this happen".  As they say, the time to develop your family's food storage system is before the food shortages begin.

What does this have to do with menu planning?  Food storage simplifies menu planning and helps you stick to your food plan even if you run out of time to go shopping.  It increases the convenience of your local food system, since food storage is like having a mini-grocery store right there in your own house.  It helps you develop frugal menu plans, since you are buying in larger quantities and thus probably saving some money.

Final notes on food storage:

+  Rotate your supplies.  It really helps to write the date purchased on all items in your pantry. 
+ Not all food storage items will come from local production, due to its present limitations.  Dried beans, for example, are simply n ot available from local food production, yet they are an important component of a frugal meal plan.  So some things must be bought from the regular food system, and I will talk a bit about that upcoming in future installments in this series.
+ Don't delay, act today.  Procrastination is the thief of time.

1 comment:

  1. Freezers - and the *electricity* that powers them could be a problem if the current Federal administration continues their march towards socialism. Unlike computer blogging, canning may be done without electricity.

    Prior to the heavy importation of foreign foods (i.e. late-1960's), many American families ate seasonally available food (corn, tomatoes, lettuce, fruits, etc. in summer, taters and canned goods in winter) - that is unless the family had discipline and fore-sight to can tomatoes, beets, peaches, et Al. during the summer.

    I remember my time as a child assisting in the family canning process – and stories about the ant and the grasshopper. :-)

    As with too many of today's (indulgent) families, it is just one of many lost disciplines – but it may be worth re-educating one’s self and the prodginey.

    A future town crier