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I started to consider eating to be a moral act about 2 years ago.  Coming back to the States after a few years in Niger (West Africa), I saw our food system with new eyes.  Having spent 2 years living and working with farmers, and knowing exactly where 90% of my food came from, I was struck by how disconnected I was from the origins of the food in the grocery store.  I did not like feeling that way, so I started reading more and more about the global-industrial food system, and trying to learn where my food comes from.

The more I learned about the industrial food system, the more convinced I became the it was a system that was bad for farmers, bad for the environment, bad for local communities, and bad for my body.  If all (or even some) of that is true, if there are some foods that are produced in ways that facilitate or support injustice and others that support justice (foods that are produced by farmers who are paid fair wages, given safe working conditions; foods produced in ways that treat animals and the planet with the dignity inherent in God’s good creation) then choosing to what to eat is a moral act.

I can choose something that I know is good (good for me, good for my neighbor, good for creation), something that I know is not good (like meat produced in factory farms that abuse laborers, animals, and the environment).  This is a moral decision, and a serious one.  It is a moral decision that happens several times every day.  And, thanks to the growing popularity of local and organic food production, it is possible for many of us to choose things that are Good, and to do so in an affordable way.

I’ve still not mustered the courage to bring this up in confession,  (“Forgive me father, for I have sinned.  I ate pork from a factory farm.”) but I’m really starting to think that I should.  And, within the Catholic Tradition, there have been a number of statements from bishops and the vatican affirming the morality of eating and food production, and highlighting some of the problems with industrialized food production, that I think this should be a part of our discussion of sin and social responsibility.

Breakfast Ideas

Breakfast Idea #1: OATMEAL with apple & maple syrup 

This week I made a large batch of oatmeal, kept it in the fridge, and heated up a portion each morning on the stove with a little water.  This takes no more than 15 minutes to prepare in the first place, and then 2 minutes to heat up the morning of!

  • Rolled oats
  • Water
  • Chopped up apple
  • Cinnamon
  • Maple Syrup

Boil water and add the rolled oats.  Continue stirring to avoid burning.  Add apple pieces, cinnamon, and maple syrup.  Sometimes I also add a pinch of sea salt.

I buy organic rolled oats from the bulk bins at our Co-op, apples at the farmers market, and maple syrup from a local farm.

1 cup of this, cooked, comes to about $0.50 

 

Breakfast Idea #2: Toast from homemade bread

I’ve been experimenting with homemade breads lately.  I’ve made some great bread, and also had a few snags (like yeast that refuses to activate, even though it’s been in the fridge and should be good until August…), but I hope by Easter I’ll have gotten this one down pat because I really enjoy baking (and eating!) homemade bread.

I’ve estimated that a slice of homemade bread using organic flours, local honey, etc., comes to (at most) $0.25.  Add half a tbsp of butter or olive oil for $0.16.

Crepes

I fell in love with crepes when I was studying in Paris during college, and learned to make them myself as soon as I came back.  It makes for a simple and always delicious meal.

There are lots of variations for crepe batter (some including vanilla, rum, lemon juice, etc.) but this a basic recipe, and my usual go-to:

  • 4 eggs (we buy free range eggs from a farmer at our local farmer’s market for $5/dozen, which works out to $0.42/egg) $1.68
  • 1 cup cold milk (The best milk I’ve been able to find for sale in the city is at Whole Foods in Brighton.  It comes from a dairy in the Berkshires that pasture raises their cows. A half gallon is $3, so 1 cup is $0.37)
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2 cups organic all purpose flour (I don’t have the heart to make whole-grain crepes… yet) $0.50
  • 4 tbsp melted butter (We usually buy Organic Valley butter, because they use milk from pasture-raised cows) $1.24

Mix all of the above and beat for 2 minutes.  Let the batter sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours (I usually make a bunch of batter one evening, and then use it a couple of times during the week).

Heat up your seasoned or oiled pan and pour enough batter onto the pan to make a thin layer.  Wait until the batter has lots of bubbles and separates easily from the pan before flipping.  One you’ve flipped it, you can put whatever is going into your crepe on for a few minutes.  Place ingredients on one side and, when it’s done, fold the crepe in half over the ingredients.

This should yield about 6 large crepes.

Voila! You’re done!

Total = $3.79

Per Serving = $0.63

This week I made two types of crepes: egg&cheese and apple&honey

Egg & Cheese Crepe: 

After flipping your crepe, crack one egg ($0.42) on top of it and allow to cook.  Add grated cheese as desired (I grated about 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese which cost $0.31.  *Side-note: pre-shredded cheese is more processed, has more preservatives, usually comes from a large supplier, and is more expensive, so I try to buy blocks of cheese from local artisans and grate it as I go).  Add salt & pepper to taste.

One egg & cheese crepe = $1.36

Apple & Honey Crepe: 

After flipping your crepe, add 2 tbsp of locally sourced honey ($0.50); about 1/3 of an apple, chopped ($0.25); a pinch of cinnamon (approximately $0.25).  Let it cook until the apples are warmed.

One apple & honey crepe = $1.63 

Brown-rice-pizza

I found this recipe online (as well as brown-rice quiche! Can’t wait to try that too!) – it’s a pizza, but the crust is made out of brown rice.  Even better than having a nice, healthy, whole-grain crust, it’s really easy to make! Did I mention it’s yummy?

If I were truly craving pizza, I’m not sure how satisfied I would be with this as a substitute, but I do think it stands on it’s own as a delicious meal.  We’ll definitely be trying this one again some time!

Brown-rice crust:

  • 2 cups of cooked rice (1 cup dried $0.56)
  • 1 egg $0.42
  • Mix cooked rice with 1 egg.  Pack rice into the bottom of your pan (I used a pie dish) at about 1/4” thickness.  Cook at 325F for 15 minutes, or until slightly crunchy.

Tomato sauce: 

  • We used some store-bought, organic tomato paste ($0.65), but if you have your own tomatoes or tomatoes from a local farm (fresh, frozen, or canned), all the better!
  • 1/2 head of garlic $0.50
  • herbs (basil, oregano, etc. to taste – about 1 tbsp total) $1.25
  • sugar (organic, fair trade: 1 tbsp) $0.18

Top Pizza with:

  • Mozzarella (1/2 lb) $2
  • 1 onion $0.25

Bake for another 30 minutes, or until mozzarella is melted and onions are browned.

Total: $5.95 (made four VERY generous portions)

Per Serving: $1.48 

Salad

  • 1/4 lb fresh spinach (organic from our winter farmer’s market) $3.50
  • apple (organic from our winter farmer’s market) $0.75
  • dried cranberries (organic from the bulk bin @ our Co-op market) 2 ounces $0.66
  • Goat cheese (about two ounces) $2
  • olive oil (we’ve started buying fair trade olive oil from Equal Exchange – it’s about $15/bottle in stores, but you can buy a case of twelve online and it ends up being $11/bottle!) 1 tablespoon $0.33
  • Balsamic vinegar (1tbsp) $0.60

TOTAL: $7.50 (5 servings)

Per Serving: $1.50 

Homemade Chili

My husband (Vic) and I were given a pressure canner as a wedding gift, and just recently learned how to use it.  I am already counting down till summer/fall/harvest time when I can try to can everything in sight.  Our trial run (under the kind supervision of my aunts) was a batch of vegetarian chile.  It came out pretty well, and made 20 servings! We’ve had it a few times recently, and I’m sure it will reappear at some point during Lent.

This recipe is pretty basic (inspired by the Joy of Cooking):

  • 1 cup black beans (organic from the bulk bin at our local Co-op: $0.75)
  • 1 cup red kidney beans ($0.75)
  • 1 cup white kidney beans ($0.75)
  • 3 sweet peppers* $0.70/each – $2.10
  • 2 hot peppers* $2
  • chili powder – 2 tablespoons – $2.50
  • ground cumin $1.25
  • canned tomatoes (32 ounces) $3
  • tomato past $1.40
  • 1 lb carrots $2
  • 2 onions $0.50
  • (at least) 4 cloves of garlic $0.50
  • 4 tblsp olive oil $0.66

Soak the beans overnight.  To cook the beans, boil water, add the beans, cover and let simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  It’s much less expensive to buy the dried beans than to buy canned beans and while cooking beans can be a bit time consuming, it really takes very little effort.  As long as you’re home, they’ll be just fine.  Like a good graduate student, I got a bit of reading done while they cooked.  This is also a good time to prepare the rest of the food (chopping veggies, etc.).

Chop up all veggies

Heat olive oil in a large pot

Add carrots, onions, garlic, & sweet peppers and stir over heat for 5-10 minutes.

Add hot peppers, chili powder, cumin

Add cooked beans, tomotoes, and about 1 cup of tomato juice (mix water with tomato paste)

Bring to a boil, then lower heat and let simmer for 45 minutes.

*Peppers & tomatoes are not local because, well, it’s February and we live in Boston.  But organic, which is still something (fewer pesticides = better for our bodies, much better for the environment, and a whole lot safer for the farmers!)  Next time I’ll make chili in the summer when peppers and tomatoes are aplenty – and less expensive – and not canned in materials that can leak BPA!  This time was just a trial-run so that we could learn how to use our new canner.

Grande Total: $15.26

Per Serving: $0.76

Fasting as Solidarity

When most people think of Lent, we think of “giving something up” – of fasting and abstinence.  Lent is certainly about that, but it is about much more than that.  It is a time that Christians, through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving/good deeds seek to turn to God with a renewed focus, and to remember the loving mercy that our God freely offers.

In other words, it’s a beautiful time.  Strange as it may sound, Lent may just be my favorite time of year.  Every year when it rolls around, I can’t help but give thanks, because it seems to come in the nick of time.  It seems always to come right when I really need to refocus my heart on God, to step away from distractions, and to make room in my life for God to act.

I’ve been thinking a lot this year about fasting as solidarity.  Most religious traditions understand fasting, at least in part, as a way of remembering the poor, particularly those who are hungry.  Lent can be a time for us to remember those who are hungry or struggling in our daily lives, by fasting and abstaining ourselves, and to take action, through prayer and deed, to serve our brothers and sisters in need.

I’ve been thinking about the people I work with, as a social work student, who are dependent on government assistance for a variety of reasons.  I’ve been thinking about my friends in Niger, whom I miss very much and who are facing a serious food shortage this year.

“Fasting is an aid to open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live… By freely embracing an act of self-denial for the sake of another, we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger… This practice needs to be rediscovered and encouraged again in our day, especially during the liturgical season of Lent.”

Pope Benedict XVI

I won’t ever know what it’s like to truly be hungry.  I won’t pretend to.  That’s not the point.  The point is to live in a way that acknowledges that people are hungry.  The fasting and abstinence can help to bring this reality to the forefront of our minds, and can lead us to prayer and action on behalf of justice.  This is my hope.