I say those words far, far too often. In my case, it’s about twice a week, which may or may not sound as ridiculous to you as it does to me. But for as many years as I’ve worked towards decreasing my dependence on the supermarket, here I still am. I find it not only a great nuisance, but also wasteful. And dangerous. Anytime you *need* to go to the store means that it is a day your family better not get hit with a hurricane. Like illness. Like a pink slip. Like an injury. Or…a real hurricane.
I was thinking about this during lunch today. I sent the children outside to play while I put it together, and it ended up as something…well…”put together.”
I began with leftover sauce and bits of meat from last night’s crockpot. Then I added white beans I had soaked last night and cooked up this morning. Looking into the fridge, I found a bit of leftover chicken and leftover peas. I added freeze-dried bell peppers, dehydrated celery and onions, and powdered garlic. It all became a very full–and filling–pot of soup for our lunch. It felt a bit like Carly Emery‘s “Independence Days”, days in which her family could eat without going to the store. It is pretty close to how I imagine my grandmother ate: using up what she had, eating from her pantry, eating in season and from what she preserved. Given that she lived her whole life in a remote Greek village, she could “need to go to the store” all she wanted…but there was none, except a small shop I remember old men liked to gather in at chess tables. It sold cigarettes and probably ouzo. I don’t even know how she fed her hens and dairy animals (feed store? what feed store?), but I suppose that is pondering material for another blog post.
Would your kids eat the soup I made? If times got really tough, would you know how to make food like that? Do you know how to use your pantry (and would anything be in it?), and how to cook from leftovers (food you didn’t toss or forget about)? Could you bake a loaf of bread from a handful of wheat berries?
I am not where I want to be in this, obviously, because as thankful as I am for the opportunity and time and means, once or twice a week to the store IS ridiculous because it means opportunity lost for other endeavors, time lost to travel and shopping, and money spent that could have been saved or otherwise better stewarded.
Do you–like me– “need to go to the store” quite a lot? Does it concern you at all to be so dependent upon that store being there, it being open, your having a means to get there and back, and the money to spend there, and that it would have exactly what your family needed exactly when your family needed it? If any of those things failed, what would you all eat?
I will share with you what I’ve done so far for my own family to decrease our dependence on the store, and then confess *why* I still find myself there too much even now.
Grains and legumes are easy to store and they last a long time. Prepared properly, they are nutritious and filling. Because we like baked goods, I also store wheat, salt, baking powder, and honey. I have a good store of both baker’s yeast and sourdough starters. If I couldn’t leave the house for whatever reason, we could still eat for quite a while.
I store a lot of seasonings, but the key here is that I store much of what I use a lot of. Every year I dehydrate and powder a quart or more of garlic and oregano. I also keep thyme, onion, cinnamon and nutmeg. My aunt in Arizona once sent me a quart of dehydrated mixed chili peppers; yum yum yum! Buying seasonings in bulk or dehydrating your own is very inexpensive. Buying little cans of unique seasonings for a one-time recipe is very expensive, but you don’t have to create everything yourself. Just make sure to have on hand what your family likes best.
A few years ago I started experimenting with freeze-dried foods. They’ve come in very handy for those times I didn’t have what I wanted, and I wanted to avoid a trip to the store. The bell peppers in our soup today came from such a can.
Another experiment of mine was to prepare ready-meals. It seems like the majority of the store is exactly that: ready meals and ready breads and ready salads and ready everything! There have been pah-lenty of times our family has gotten home late from wherever or just didn’t have the money *today* and the fridge was an echo chamber. I got the idea from Jennifer Ess and so far, we’ve liked most of what we’ve tried. I like that any of my kids could grab a jar or two, add water, let it all simmer and voila, a decent meal is served.
My chest freezer is a blessing. I realize that if we lose power, I’m going to be canning and dehydrating a whole lot in a short amount of time *if* I have the jars (another thing to prepare…), but in the meantime, this freezer has been an excellent place for me to keep an entire grassfed cow, dozens of homegrown chicken, and plenty of fish. Before we said goodbye to the last of our goats, we stored up plenty of goat milk to either drink or use for soap, too.
Another thing I store is plenty of herbs. We use them for our medicine and in preparations for the body (soap, shampoo, oils, etc). I love having my own full medicine cabinets!
So, what’s missing and why am I STILL going to the store? For me, it’s a lack of canned and preserved PRODUCE. I love to prepare and eat everything fresh, and if I’m not getting it from the garden, I’m going to the store. Furthermore, I have yet to harvest a goodly amount to preserve….so far, my perennials and fruit trees are too young to do much more than feed us during the growing season. And, worse, I confess I’ve been far too lazy to buy up that big box of apples or pears in season and to spend the hours needed to put them away. This is a serious blunder on my part. The truth is that if I spent my hours PRESERVING what is currently very accessible in my area (via the store, or farmer’s markets, or the farm down the street…), I would have more time on my hands than is spent by my trying to grow everything myself. My garden will not go away (that’s an extra measure of food security), but I need to be more thoughtful and diligent in my PRESERVATION of fruits and vegetables, so that I can clearly have no other real reason to go to the store other than because I *want* to and not because it’s getting into afternoon and oh-dear-supper’s-due and now I *have* to.
One last thought. When you are working towards building up your pantry, it is important to USE your supplies. LEARN to cook those beans, LEARN to use up those scraps of leftovers, LEARN to cook from scratch and so forth. Otherwise, it is not only a waste of resources and time, it will be tremendously stressful if that day ever comes when going to the store on a whim isn’t even a possibility. Is that likely to happen? I don’t know. I don’t put that possibility at a “zero” however, and so we work towards those coveted independence days.