Steps Toward Change: Meals (Less Bad, More Good)

Last time I wrote here I asked about help doing a food audit. Thank you so much to the folks who were willing to take some time and give me some input on my current food choices. I was surprised by the lack of response, especially considering I know a lot of people that seem passionate about this issue, but that’s a topic for another post.

As I said initially when I started this discussion, I’m very open to making changes in the way my family eats. I’m also much more interested in getting some straight forward tips and suggestions from those who have extensive knowledge and wisdom in this topic, rather then trying to sift through all the information myself (seems we are hesitant to speak with authority, we’d rather direct others to the book we read, a topic for another time again).

My goal is over the next several months, maybe year, to make changes in my families eating and purchasing habits toward a more ethical end. But, I need your help. The first step I’d like to take is to consider the meals that we make with some frequency and sort them into “bad” and “good” categories in consideration of ethics. I know this will be a little hard to do, but I think it’s worth a shot.

Here is how I’d like to try and do this. You’ll need to come to the blog if your reading in email or rss. In the comments section I’ll list meals that our family eats with some frequency (I’ll list just the basic title, not complete recipe). I’ll list one meal per comment and then you can reply to specific comments/meals with your comments about that meal. I’m looking for feedback about how good or bad meals are on a spectrum, so give it a 1-5 star rating if you’d like. Keep in mind I’m much more interested in how my food choices impact the lives of people, not so much the health benefits to my immediate family.

Additionally, if you’d like to add meal suggestions, recipes, etc in separate comments that would be super helpful. I’m looking for your most ethical meal ideas that are also low budget (and not overly complicated to prepare ideally). My initial goal is to start having more of the Good meals we make and less of the Bad meals. Slowly, I’ll add other people’s recipe suggestions as well. That’s my plan anyways.

I know this might all seem rather lazy on my part to not simply read the books and watch the movies myself, but sometimes this is the way that I best process things, relying on the wisdom of the community around me, and I think there are others who do similarly. Looking forward to your responses.

34 thoughts on “Steps Toward Change: Meals (Less Bad, More Good)”

    1. We have pasta alot and you can do this cheap and local and organic.

      You could buy this whole meal at the farmer's market. We buy noodles from people at the St. Paul farmer's market and the Shoreview farmer's market.

      Of course, now is a great time to buy tomatoes and onion from the farmer's market. Can/freeze tomato sauce to have this through the winter.

      Now is also a great time to forage for mushrooms.

    1. You could make your own pizza. We do this every Saturday night in the summer.

      Making pizza crust is incredibly easy and only takes a few ingredients (we use flour from ND, the yeast and olive oil is not local).

      We buy the cheese at the farmer's market in the summer and we're going to try to make our own this winter with local milk.

    1. Lentils don't grow locally, so try to find an organic source.

      Same with rice, unless you can afford wild rice, which is so good but so expensive.

    1. Good meal if you buy local.

      As I mentioned with your pasta meal, all of these items can be purchased at the farmer's market.

      We use black beans instead of turkey.

    1. A good source for canned items is Eden Organic. They are the only canned goods maker to have BPA-free cans. They are located in Michigan I believe and you can place bulk orders.

      Also, you can buy large quantities of dry, organic beans for very cheap. You just have to plan ahead.

    1. It's very easy to make your own granola. Oats grow very well in MN so there are local sources all over the place. You can also purchase big quantities for cheap at your local health food store to use for granola or oatmeal.

      Milk is also very easy to by local/organic.

    1. Buy local where you can.

      If you want exotic items like oranges and grapes, you need to decide how much you want them. Buy organic where you can.

      Don't buy from DOLE!

  1. It's hard to know anything of these meals, without knowing where you are buying the products? If they are from local farms, or a farmer I would give it a higher rating than a factory farm as it relates to ethics?

    Also, I'm always confused when you make statements like this,
    "Keep in mind I’m much more interested in how my food choices impact the lives of people, not so much the health benefits to my immediate family."

    Aren't your immediately family members people? And why do you discount their health, and the ethics of feeding them in a way that promotes long term health and healthy choices? Sure you could go buy .05 cent eggs from Super America and you could also buy .21 cent eggs from a local farmer. Doesn't your family's health count in that consideration of spending .16 cents extra?

  2. Ariah – I think you're getting lost in the details a little too much.

    I agree with Neeraj, it's not so much what you are eating, but where you are getting the food you are eating.

    It's really not terribly complicated.
    – Buy whole ingredients (or with only a few, like pasta)
    – Try to make sure your food is humanely sourced
    – Make whatever you want with that food
    – Enjoy 🙂

    I think your Aldi experiment may have been a little bit like a person trying to figure out what hybrid SUV to buy, whether a Ford or Chevy. People purchasing hybrid SUVs are missing the point, they are trying to maintain their current lifestyle while throwing some green at it. What they maybe really need is a radical lifestyle shift and probably a bike. But that is hard to do.

    It seems like you already know the answers, but are still searching for something…

    1. I'm not sure if I'm getting lost in the details as much as ASKING for the details. I'm literally asking what to buy, what to make, where to start. To follow your analogy, If I'm figuring out which vehicle to buy, I'm very open to someone saying "buy a bike", but I'm asking them to teach me how to ride, what type of bike to ride, where to start.

      I'm asking anyone who has a passion for this topic to unpack your statement above: "Buy whole ingredients" for me. And, in a similar vain, let me know what you do and don't eat besides "whole" ingredients. I'm really interested, do you make your own pasta? own sauce? ever eat crackers? what about raisins? pickles from a jar okay?
      What about fruits and veggies in the winter in Minnesota? What do you do?

      1. Buying whole ingredients means buying things as close to how they were grown/raised as possible. The goal is to minimize the time from harvest to your plate.

        Buy things like fruits and veggies, herbs and spices, oils and nuts, rice and beans, water and milk. The combinations are endless.

        I highly recommend Michael Pollan's book Food Rules for very practical advice. Don't eat foods that make health claims. Don't eat foods with more that 5 ingredients. Don't eat foods with ingredients that you can't pronounce. And the list goes on.

        I was just at Barnes & Noble and they have an explosion of cookbooks happening. There are many books that focus on healthy, simple meals. Buy, or check out from your library, a cookbook and work your way through. Expand what you know how to make and you'll definitely find new things you like.

        We eat many things that aren't whole ingredients. Things like pasta, bread, tortillas, cheese, pitas, hummus, chips, cookies, brownies, garlic bread, wine. Many of those we make on our own, anything we don't, we try to buy local/organic.

        Winter in MN is hard. You must plan ahead if you want to have fruits and veggies. Things like squash, potatoes, carrots and onions store really well in a cold basement. Fruits have to be frozen or canned. We never have enough stored away to make it through, so we do purchase some veggies and fruits throughout the winter.

        We are all in progress, we are all on a continuum. Do the best you can with what you have.

    2. Jake, thanks for the point by point reply, that is honestly super helpful even with brief comments, I'm gonna reply to a couple, but I just wanted to say a general thank you.

  3. Ariah, This is so funny! I've taken a hiatus for awhile from your blog for a few weeks. Life's just been crazy and I've not been on the computer much. Decided to come back to it tonight (of all nights) 🙂 and alas, you've hit a topic that's close to home. As a raw veag, I have alot to add, so I will be back to add to this discussion. And if I don't, well, poke me on facebook or send me an e-mail. Cause I *want* to have this conversation with you… I'm just dealing with a house full of strep throat and the needs of 5 kids at the moment, so I might need some prodding 😉 but I definitely am interested in sharing my knowledge. 🙂

    Love you and Mindy as always. 🙂 Peace.

  4. Well, I do care about food ethics in its many aspects, including the health effects of what we as Americans eat, the sustainability of food production and consumption, and the public policies that have shaped what we eat in America and where it comes from. Each one of these aspects has a very real impact on people, but the impact is not always immediate.

    Really, it's the <a href="” target=”_blank”>Story of Stuff, only this stuff (food) we put in our mouths. Just as with other stuff (like the cheap plastic crap that drives you crazy when it is given to your kids), it can be hard to see the direct impact on people because of our complex post-industrial supply chain that obscures the production process.

    I will have to say that although I try to live ethically, I often fall short. I love dumpster diving, buying used, and making my own clothing whenever possible, but I also buy new stuff (clothing, electronics, etc.). In other words, I often fail to live up to my ideals, and my purchasing decisions continue to help prop up the injustices that are propagated by our system.

    All this goes to say that everything we do effects people whether we can see the effects or not. So we do our best to live ethically in every areas of our lives. In a capitalist economy this means voting with our dollars whenever we spend them. There's obviously a lot more I could say about this, especially since so much of the social justice is wrapped up in food policy and economic incentives for producing cheap, unhealthy, processed food ingredients. I'll do my best, though, to critique one or two of your meals and how changing your consumption behavior will have a real impact on people.

  5. Peanut butter is very easy to make homemade, although you can't buy local peanuts. It's just peanuts and little oil in a blender/food processor.

    Jam is also relative easy to make at home. You can buy large quantities of strawberries or raspberries in MN in the summer and with a little planning you could have local/organic jam throughout the winter.

    You can also make you own bread very easily (no bread machine necessary).

    1. making jam, peanut butter, pasta, tortillas, canning tomatoes, wow!
      I'm gonna need an arsenal of kitchen tools and some mad cooking skills. Any suggestion or where to start?

      1. You don't need any special equipment for tortillas, bread, and/or freezing fruit and vegetables, provided you have the usual kitchen stuff like pots and pans.

        Making peanut butter requires a food processor.

        Of course, canning food requires more equipment, but it is all reusable (except the lids) so you can keep it and use it for years and years.

        Don't get in over your head, just start with one thing, then add another and so on. You don't want to get overwhelmed trying to do everything at once.

        This basic pizza crust might be good to start with:

        Make it fun, do it with your family and most importantly, enjoy the food.

  6. These are great questions Ariah – we too are trying to slowly make changes. I don't know many answers, but we can offer you the use of our deep freezer, food processor, canner, breadmaker, and tiller. I am on a hunt to find cheap local eggs and chicken on Craigslist, and Tanden's parents have homegrown beef to sell about once a year (not organic – but antibiotic-free and pastured) – you have to buy about a quarter of a beef all at once, but you are welcome to keep it in our deep freezer, and you wuld really be helping them out. And, next summer, you can have a plot in the community garden. I know you grow stuff in your yard too, but you might want more space/help/conversation. We hope to have a jam/applesauce making day soon, and maybe also a spaghetti sauce day – we could work together and share the booty.

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