Self-Care: How We Treat Our Pantry and How It’s Related to the Ways We Nourish Ourselves

As I mentioned in last weeks post about neglecting our needs for clothing, I have been going through a lot of areas in my life that have been neglected for far too long. The kitchen pantry and how I nourish myself being one of them. And it’s one that is packed with loads of unattended and badly neglected feelings. Food is difficult for many, seeing how it is so closely connected with our survival.

Lessons on How to Nourish Were Not Priority

The environment I grew up in was one filled with many conflicting messages about how to nourish myself. And food was a source of great confusion. As I’ve said before, my care-giver’s focus was on how we looked. How we were seen was priority number one to them. So along with wearing the right thing, we also needed to look the part. And to my family this meant being thin. It wasn’t until very recently that I’ve gotten to my “desired weight”. Or the one that would be approved of by my care-givers. It’s ironic because looking thin is no longer a top priority for me. My goals now are to be at a healthy weight through diet and exercise.

Learning Difficult Lessons From Family

But how they went about showing me that being thin was a priority was what was most confusing. One of my care-givers offered me money to lose weight. I believe the arrangement was 40 dollars to get to my ideal weight. And I couldn’t have been more than twelve at the time, so I agreed. I wanted the money for sure, but also the opportunity to please them. To feel loved and accepted, whatever the cost, by my care-givers.

What was most confusing about this task was, that I was given no direction on how to change my habits. And what was more confusing was that I was being fed by them as well. I had no idea what to do to lose weight or how to acquire the resources to get me to what seemed like an impossible goal on my own. So I felt like a failure. This was a huge blow to my confidence and one I’ve carried with me for a long time.

And to add to the confusion, instead of being shown the resources and support to achieve my goal, I was ridiculed for my weight. I was called a “human garbage disposal” while my entire family laughed at my expense.

Mixed Messages and More Confusion

Another layer of confusion was when I told my care-givers I was hungry they would almost always reply with, “there’s a fridge full of food in the kitchen”. That wasn’t untrue, but I had no idea how to cook or prepare meals for myself. And the extent of my culinary abilities lie in being able to open a box of cereal or bottle of soda. No one was around to show me how to make a meal for myself.

I remember once pulling pork chops from the freezer. I thought I’d try and do what my caregivers suggested and cook a meal for myself. So I defrosted the meat and cooked them in a frying pan. Thinking back now that wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But I was on my own with no one to tell me that undercooked pork is potentially dangerous. But I finished cooking them and ate them. luckily without issue. I was kind of proud of myself for trying to nourish myself and was feeling pretty good. Until my care-givers came home and scolded me for using the pork chops they were saving for later in the week.

So there I stood, not knowing how to nourish myself and my need for food, being told that there was plenty of food in the fridge. Only now I realize I wasn’t allowed to eat it without the consent of my care-givers. Who already thought I was eating too much because I was overweight. And I was overweight because my diet consisted of cereal, soda, and whatever candy I could buy at the local convenience store.

And With No Guidance to Show Me How

Also my caregivers were gone from 10am to 2am most days. So there was nobody awake in the house by the the time I left for school in the mornings. And by the time I got home from school, my care-givers were working. I went to bed whenever I wanted and ate whatever was left over in the fridge. Sometimes not seeing them for days. So getting consent to make meals for myself or to be shown how to nourish my nutritional needs wasn’t even an option.

Food Food Everywhere But Not a Meal to Nourish

Fast forward to two weeks ago and I’m rearranging my cabinets to make room for new purchases. It was then that I realized that there are some food items that have been in my cabinets for about half a decade. That’s a long time for a box of pasta to be sitting in the cabinet. I was treating my pantry like a museum. Curating different “staples”, things I should have, to have food on hand. Though I only ate a few meals. I only just started learning how to meal prep and had no idea how to put together a pantry. Speaking of building a functional pantry, Minimalist Baker has a great post on how to set up your own pantry. In case you were in the same boat that I was.

What I had was cabinets full of foods that I rarely used, if at all and no intention of ever using them. They were just there. I’m not entirely sure why, but I have a feeling it has a lot to do with my upbringing. Being told we had plenty of food yet none of it was for me to prepare. I just wanting to know I had food, for the comfort of having it.

New Lessons on How to Nourish my Body

I’ve been cooking for a long time as a way to make a living. I started in a small but successful Mexican takeout place when I was 20 and I’ve been cooking in some form ever since. But when it came to cooking for myself, I didn’t. For a long time I ate takeout and went to restaurants and seldom cooked meals. It wasn’t until the last few years that I started to meal prep. Bring meals to work with me and taking an active role in nourishing my body.

One of the first changes I made that has had a positive impact on how I choose to nourish myself is through batch cooking. I start out with a plan, by choosing about three recipes to cook for the week. Then I keep them in the fridge for easy meals that I can reheat, instead of cooking at the end of a long day. I also batch cook lunch and breakfast to bring to work with me on the same day. One of the benefits is, that I’m able to organize my shopping list around the recipes I choose. This way very little food goes to waste.

Batch Cooking for Beginners

To batch cook, I simply take the recipes I’m going to cook for the week and multiply them by two or three times the original quantity. So if the recipe yields two servings, if I multiply all the ingredients by three, I have six servings. I usually cook only a few recipes and some kind of grain to have some variety, so I’m not eating the same thing day after day. But also because I don’t have the freezer space and they would go bad before I’d get to them.

And after realizing that a good portion of my pantry was old enough to start school, I made a plan to use up what I had. To organize my pantry and hopefully my relationship to the food I eat as well.

I’ve been searching for recipes that use these items that have been taking up cabinet space and am making plans to rotate and keep my stores fresh. For example instead of buying boxes of pasta, just to have incase, after I use up what I do have I’m going to buy pasta fresh from the pasta shop that is close to home (update: I’m buying pasta on the cheap until I pay off my debt). This way, I’ll be eating fresh foods while freeing up space in my pantry. Also supporting a local business at the same time.

Quality and Self-Care in Nourishing Myself

I was a little worried about the price I would be paying. Being a thrifty New Englander and all. But I’ve found that buying fresh isn’t that much more expensive. A pound of pasta is roughly around 4 dollars fresh. Compared to .79 cents for it’s dried counterpart. Yes that’s four times the cost. But if you only eat pasta once or twice a week, or less as I do, that’s only 12 dollars a month for 9 meals. That’s roughly $1.50 a meal, assuming you get 3 meals from a pound of pasta. So it’s affordable and the quality is unbeatable. It’s also a nice way to treat yourself with a special, affordable meal.

I think what sparked this investigation into my relationship with food and how I eat, started with my self-care Sunday dinners. On my self-care Sundays, I spend one day a week to take special care of myself. I chose my Friday, or the last day of my work week which falls on Sunday. And a large part of the day involves preparing and eating a special meal for myself. Something I normally wouldn’t make. This act helps me to enjoy being around food and the process of making it. Being creative, and trying something I normally wouldn’t cook for myself. Before these dinners, looking up new recipes was something I seldom did! I would usually eat the same three or four recipes without veering from them.

Enjoying Cooking Again

In short, I’m teaching myself the healthy habits and boundaries around food I was never given. What used to be a source of fear and anxiety, has now become a resource. I look forward to coming home on my Fridays, knowing that I’ll light a candle, put some music on and cook a meal that I know I’m going to enjoy. It’s a source of pleasure to know I’m able to care for and nourish myself in this way. And I’m also eating healthier foods as well! We spend so much of our time relating to food, why spend that time and energy being fearful of it? Treat your food with love and you will love what you eat. Thanks for reading. Peace :]

Here are a few of my go-to recipes if you’re looking for something new or to start batch cooking for yourself, enjoy!

Roast Vegetable & Quinoa Harvest Bowl

1-Pot Everyday Lentil Soup

Easy Vegan Ramen

Image Credits: “Early 20th century pantry in Pittock Mansion” by mharrsch is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated 7/31/22

What Can We Buy vs. Make? DIY and Sustainability Meets Budgeting

I like to DIY things. Things I need, but also things that fit my style. Things that I’m able to eat, are functional, sometimes not functional. Whatever it is that I’m making, I enjoy the process of bringing something new into my life and the world. I also like to budget. When the numbers all come together, and I’m slowly but surely achieving my financial goals, it feels good. Good because I’m attuning to my own needs for security. For example if it’s in regards to building an emergency fund. Or my need to live sustainably. Another example would be me paying off my credit card debt. But when these two areas come together, when I make something that would otherwise cost me time and or money, the feeling is exceptional.

It’s for these reasons that I often look for things to DIY that are of interest to me. Or items and food that I use or eat regularly. It is in this vein that I will be going over some of the ways I make the things I would normally buy. Or turn something already owned that may be on its way to the garbage, into something useful. Nothing I’ll be listing here is new by any means. But it may be helpful to get a run down of how someone else puts sustainable practices to use. And maybe open the valve for your creative juices to start flowing. Let’s fire things up!

Food for Thought

Most of what I DIY is related to my food consumption. I’m a baker by trade, so I don’t make a lot of bread at home. But I’m always looking to create something delicious to snack on or drink. I made a lot of beer in my early thirties. Clones of brews I liked. Some that were staples. Such as IPAs and Belgians and some seasonal beers. They usually came out pretty good and it’s something I’d like to get back into.

DIY Your Beer

I don’t drink nearly as much as I used to. But there’s something about opening up a bottle of a beer you crafted that feels special. The time, thought and energy you put into crafting it, mixed with the some of the varieties of specialty ingredients that are available to the DIY home brewer, to give your brew that special twist that makes it yours, is satisfying. Plus they’re great gifts for friends and family. There’s also a large community of home brewers out there, willing to help each other. If you’re interested, check out Homebrew Talk. There are loads of recipes and advice for the new or seasoned brewer alike.

Also, the time it takes to DIY your beer has a unique feel. It’s like being in a science lab that’s been draped in old and colorful tapestry. This science-meets-art aspect of brewing is appealing to me. Mostly because it’s creating something as you would in a lab, but enlisting your senses to bring it together. The way you would your favorite meal. The elements, fire and water, but also the equipment and live cultures of yeast bubbling away that will soon turn the wort into something satisfying to the taste buds, that bring the whole experience together. There’s also the added benefit of its cost.

DIY Beer on a Budget

And for the quality of your DIY beer you’re producing, you are saving loads of money. Some of the clone recipes are spot on too. And if you drink occasionally, then it’s a great way to have some quality brew on hand for when you have company over. Or just a way of having a rotating selection of seasonal brews that will bring another dimension to your enjoyment of the time of year.

There is a lot that goes into brewing your own. So be prepared to spend some time doing the research if you decide to DIY your own beer. I once had a batch explode on me. Luckily it was in the closet. But I found shards of glass sticking out of the wall. Those are called “bottle bombs”. This is something that happens during the bottle conditioning phase. If you put too much priming sugar in the batch before bottling, they become supper carbonated. I’m not saying this to deter you in any way, just as a reminder of how important it is to become familiar with the process.

Pickles in the Pantry

For the pantry, sauerkraut is pretty easy to make as are most fermented vegetables. Though you’ll need some fermentation vessels first. I use mason jars as they are a conveniently sized for storage and easy to sterilize. I made a recipe from Minimalist Baker not too long ago. It was Gingery Apple Cabbage Sauerkraut that turned out great. And it only gets better with age.

Pickled cucumbers and other veggies are just as easy. You can use the same mason jars and you need only make a brine for the veg you want to pickle. This means more sterilizing jars. Then you pour the brine over the veg in the sterilized jar and either can them, which involves boiling the sealed jars in water for a certain amount of time, or put them directly into the fridge for a quick refrigerator pickle. And making either of these recipes from veg you grew yourself is most satisfying and budget friendly as well.

Grow Your Own

Speaking of veg, if you haven’t started a garden yet there are few things more gratifying in life. While also being able to save you loads of money to boot. Watching the seeds you planted during the colder months grow and bear fruit as the year progresses, brings with it a sense of satisfaction that few other activities deliver. I like growing leafy greens such as kale and collards for their prolific yields. Mostly because I use these vegetables often, two to three times a week usually. So I like to have a few plants on hand to harvest from throughout the season.

Other varieties, such as cucumbers and squash, are prolific producers. So if you plant some of theses guys, make sure you have a plan for what you’ll do with all the veg you will be reaping! That’s why pickling is so popular. It gives you a chance to use up a lot of the produce you’ll be harvesting. Saving you loads of fridge and freezer space. Other treats such as watermelons, produce once towards the end of the season. So make sure you are watering and tending to your plants with diligence to get the maximum yield.

DIY Your Living Space and Wardrobe

Furniture

Repurposing old furniture can be a rewarding experience and add another dimension of DIY to your life. If you have a few tools and the creativity to see new purpose for old pieces. I was rooting around in my basement not too long ago when I found the bamboo bottom of an old dish strainer. I was going to throw it away when I realized it was durable, water resistant, and made for drainage. So I thought I’d use it to some degree for my house plants. I brought the piece upstairs and left it on my chair. I didn’t have time for my plan and the bamboo strainer started collecting things. As things that lay around are apt to do.

In this case it was collecting linens. Towels and face clothes to be specific. I enjoyed the aesthetic of the white towels on their new bamboo “shelf”. So I decided to keep it as a linens shelf and find similar pieces to create an open storage concept. With the light wooden tones that remind me of a spa, a piece of would-be-garbage turned into something aesthetically pleasing and functional. All I need now are a few candles, a diffuser and I’m on my way to a relaxing, sustainable and functional environment. My own little spa : )

Clothing & Accesories

Another DIY project of mine is I make a lot of are bandanas. If you’ve read my post, “Read the Labels, No New Clothes, Well Maybe…” you’ll know that I wear a lot of bandanas. During my career I’ve pretty much always worked in the food service industry to some degree. And as a result I have always had to wear a hair covering. Since I was already wearing bandanas, being a hippy, I just continued to wear them at work as well.

I started making them not too long ago out of old shirts I had. I use to wear paisley bandanas pretty much exclusively. I even made a window covering by pinning together a few dozen paisley bandanas. This gave my bedroom a Boho vibe in my first apartment at 19. It fit my style for sure, but the bandanas I DIY nowadays are of a solid color and made from old Tees. And much softer than their paisley cousins. I rotate between four of them, all made with no sewing involved. When it’s a bit safer to go shopping, I plan on going to a local thrift shop to look for old Tees that may be suitable to make the jump from worn-out shirt to new bandanas.

Sewing Throws

If you are handy with a sewing machine, or want to learn how to use one, a project I have planned is, to take some of my old articles of clothing, ones that I have a sentimental attachment to (that’s normal, right?), cut them into squares and make a blanket from them. A sort of patchwork quilt. Where my memories are embedded into its very fabric (sorry, I couldn’t resist). And I’ll also have a comfortable throw laying around for the colder seasons.

Built Additions

Another project I enjoyed putting together was, a wall of windows. I DIYed a frame out of 2″x 4″s and hung old windows I collected in it. This created a transparent partition. It had loads of character, while salvaging some windows that would have ended up in the garbage. This isn’t the most kid friendly piece of furniture so if you decide you’d like to try it, find a place where it will be out of reach of the little ones in your life.

Bringing It All Together

There are so many ways to make and curate the things we need and use. We’ve been bread to believe that we must buy the things we need. And if you think about, we live in a capitalist democracy. Sure, we can vote whomever we want into office to make changes, but they’re still getting paid by our tax dollars. And they are most likely catering to the industries and corporations that are running and controlling the economy of our country.

The phrase, “vote with your dollars” strikes a chord with me and for this very reason. The better we are as a community at saving those dollars, by being thrifty, making the things we need or shopping locally to support our local community, the better we will be at not buying whatever’s popular or trendy because we saw so and so eat/wear/use brand X. And we will embrace the spirit of a community that values craft in the items we use. Above those values of being disposable or easy of use.

DIYing From a Place of Caring

I’m not saying that everything that is disposable and easy to use is inherently bad, but that’s another topic for another post. What I feel is most important about making the things we use and need is the sense of capability in caring for ourselves and those that we love. And in so doing, creating a deeper sense of community and connection.

So go make things! Enjoy the process. Start a project you’ve always wanted to do or find something you use or drink everyday and see if you are able to make it at home. Substitute some DIY instead of saving up for something that’s on your “wish list”. Why not see if you can make it yourself. Because who knows what a little research may yield for you. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy the work and how satisfying the fruits of your labor may feel.

Image Credits: “Tools” by shoesfullofdust is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Misfits Market, Co-Ops and Farmer’s Market: Types of Markets That Could Help the Environment

Market. It’s where we buy the things we need. If you’re like most of us, when you go to the market it’s usually a super one. I live in Massachusetts so many of us go to Market Basket. You may have heard of them when they got some press back in 2014. There was concern in the form of protests and strikes, due to the firing of Arthur T. DeMulas by his cousin, Arthur S. DeMulas. Arthur T. eventually bought out his cousin Arthur S. and gave the employees of the grocery chain more benefits and raised the working standards, putting the workers and customers first.

As much as I love Market Basket and the story of Arthur T. taking care of his employees and in return them supporting him in regaining ownership of the chain, there are still some issues I feel are plaguing not just Market Basket but most stores, super and regular alike. The major issue with most food we buy today is, a sides from how we produce it, the amount of waste that’s involved in its packaging.

The Waste We Carry Our Food Home In

Some quick numbers, the EPA’s Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2017 Fact Sheet reported that U.S. citizens composted and recycled about 94.2 million metric tons of waste. While only about 35% of the waste we recycled and composted actually was recycled or composted. That’s 61.2 million metric tons of recyclable and compostable materials that went into landfills. Or found its way into the ocean. Or who knows where else. But that’s only one year’s worth of waste! And most of it is coming from packaging. I’m not sure how much is from food but I’m willing to bet it’s quite a bit.

When I’m at a grocery store or any kind of store for that matter, I’m amazed at the amount of packaging we are taking our food and products home in. Aisle after aisle of neatly packed and stacked items. Shimmering with plastic, glass, paper and metal, all kinds.

I understand that we’ve come a long way in food safety and for a while these types of packaging were necessary to deliver food free from bacteria to the folks buying it. But there are definitely more environmentally friendly and responsible ways of packaging our food that will keep it just as safe and just as fresh. We’ve come a long way in regards to making compostable packaging as well as in food safety. Why not put more of those practices into use?

Maybe Not Ideal But Heading in the Right Direction

For starters, there are zero waste grocery stores, but they are few and far between. I think there are about ten within a 16 mile radius of where I live and I’m in a small suburb just a few miles from Boston! I imagine pickings are slim the further you are from a major city. But there are other places you can shop to reduce waste even in your average grocery store.

Some groceries, and most co-ops, have bulk sections. You can usually find pantry staples in this aisle such as rice and beans, legumes and oats. And they are often times cheaper than their pre-packaged counter parts. This will reduce the amount of plastic packaging for sure, but only if you bring your own reusable bulk bags. Avoiding the plastic bags you find in bulk and produce sections. A quick Google search yields a variety of options and sizes for carrying home your loose items and produce. Some of which I’ve linked to below.

Speaking of produce, another way to cut down on packaging is to buy fresh produce. From either the grocery store, co-op or farmers markets. The only packaging is the boxes they’re delivered to the store in. Or in the case of farmers markets, the reusable containers they brought from the farm. And bringing your own reusable canvas or cotton bags to store them in will eliminate the need for those clear plastic produce bags. Or whatever package the vendors from farmers markets are offering which may or may not be recyclable.

And while you’re shopping for your new canvas or cotton produce and bulk bags, why not pick up some reusable silicone bags that are freezer friendly? To freeze your own fresh veg and fruit in. The shelf life and quality of freshly frozen fruits and veg are far superior to comparable pre-packaged frozen products. And the only downside is that there’s a little more prepwork involved. But if you set aside some time each week to prep the food you’re going to freeze, maybe while you’re already cooking dinner, you can save money and packaging that would have ended up in the landfill.

Storage is Key

So let’s say you get some reusable bulk bags for dry bulk items and produce. You buy a bunch of oatmeal and black beans. You get them home and now you have a bunch of loose dry bulk items and no where to put them! Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I use glass Ball jars with a wide mouth which makes them easy to fill with just about anything. Beans, rice and oats as I’ve mentioned, but also flours, sugars and teas (actually I use old glass peanut butter jars for tea).

They’re easy to stack, look good, and all while maximizing your usable cabinet storage space with surprising efficiency all while being super cheap. On top of all that, you can find them at pretty much any store you go to. I get mine at the supermarket but remember, they’re technically “seasonal”. Because they’re traditionally used for preserving, canning and pickling your garden harvest. So they may only be available in late summer and fall.

Land of Misfits No More!

And finally, Misfits Market buys produce from farmers that don’t meet the aesthetic standards of supermarkets. A surprising amount of viable fruits and vegetables are tossed in the garbage because they are misshapen, discolored or otherwise deemed as “ugly” by the would be buyers. Markets like Misfits steps in and offers to buy the produce from the farmers at a fraction of the price.

The produce is the same quality as you would find at the grocery and they pass along the savings to you, the customer. They also source their produce from farms that use organic methods and non-GMO seeds. Another benefit is that their packaging is a 100% sustainable. Either recyclable or compostable.

From super, to co-ops, to Misfits, to farmers. The above four types of markets are examples of where, given a little bit of forethought and planning, you could turn your next shopping trip into a greener one. Peace : ) and thanks for reading!

Image Credits: Adam Sergott, photo of vendors at Haymarket, Produce    Market in Boston MA

Updated: 2/3/22

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