The why behind This Week in Eats has evolved significantly. I’ve left the contents of my previous why (really two) below, in case you’re interested in the history.
Now, the blog serves a handful of different purposes:
To Inspire You to Cook and Eat Seasonally, Locally, and Intuitively:
There are many reasons I prefer to eat locally and seasonally. You might think that’s because I own and run a small organic market farm. But, the causality is backwards: my wife and I built the farm because of how we prefer to eat.
Like many people, I choose to eat locally for flavor and nutrition. In-season locally produced foods taste better and are more nutrient dense, largely because of their freshness. The average bag of salad greens at the grocery is well over a week old before it gets to the store, where it likely sits on the shelf for a week before you buy it. Is it any wonder it’s half spoiled by the time you get around to making your salad? Flavor and nutrition are lost in that time, too. We won’t even begin to talk about winter tomatoes…
Like others, I choose to eat locally for the environment. Shipping out of season foods all over the world is a huge contributor to climate change. Transporting the foods, often by air, usually under refrigeration, produces large amounts of atmospheric carbon – both the transportation and the refrigeration. Serving the global commodity food system requires farms to be of such large scale, they cannot farm in a manner that is not harmful to their soil and water, let alone the additional carbon footprint caused by confined animal feeding emissions, fertilizer production, tillage, and cultivation. Most local and regional farms are smaller scale, able to focus on the details required to farm in a less damaging, even regenerative, way. And with less transport comes less carbon, too.
And, in solidarity with many, I choose to eat locally for my community. I live in a tiny town, which needs all of the economic help it can get. There is a multiplier effect in purchasing local produce, most of that money is re-spent in the same community, often many times. Of course, the farmer will pay his local taxes with the revenue. He’ll hire employees, patronize other local entrepreneurs, purchase supplies, equipment, vehicles, fuel, and what food he doesn’t grow all locally. Those employees will turn around and purchase their homes and supplies, attend local arts and sporting events, and patronize other local businesses, which in turn hire employees…. Alternatively, a purchase of the “same” produce item a corporate grocery store and shipped from far away sends almost all of that money out of the local economy. And there are knock-on effects, to. Local meat processors, canneries, warehouses, food pantries, schools, and restaurants all benefit from local food production, while also making the local and regional food system more resilient in the face of disruptions such as drought, flood, pandemic, geopolitical unrest, and more.
But, honestly, the thing that most motivates me is a little more esoteric, spiritual, even. Trained as a professional percussionist, I am fascinated with rhythm and time. Each day, week, month, season, year, life has a series of interconnected cycles, creating the rhythms of our world. Eating with the seasons, in our place, keeps me in touch with that. It keeps my creativity and excitement for food vital and energetic. I don’t get bored. That’s important. It makes the absence of watermelon in April a non-event I don’t notice because of all the other exciting things going on, rather than a hardship.
A Place to Keep my Recipes:
I mostly cook intuitively, without using recipes. Or, if I do use a recipe, it’s probably buried in some cookbook in my collection, scribbled on a scrap of paper or in the margins of a recipe I didn’t follow and never even attempted. Most of the actual recipes I do create are for my farm’s Weeklyish Newsletter, where they are intended to help our supporters and customers eat locally and seasonally, too. By slowly moving those to the recipe section of this site, they are more easily accessible to me when I want to make something again. Selfish, I know…
To Support our Farm:
Yeah, another selfish one… And, admittedly, the majority of readers of this blog won’t be in a location that would enable you to shop from us anyway. For those that are, though, hopefully this will become an exciting place to learn how to use all the great things we produce. And, perhaps, it will add a bit more transparency into what happens when on a small Certified Naturally Grown, beyond organic farm in Northwestern Indiana. And, with that knowledge, you’ll be convinced to visit us first on your search for local eats.
Of course, I try to go beyond selfishness. I try to highlight the other producers we shop from in our region, as well. We are blessed with great colleagues who make great food. We love eating what they produce, and supporting their businesses, as much as we do our own. And, what if you live across the country, continent, or world? I hope to inspire you to build a community of food producers around your dining needs in your own community.
OK, as promised, here’s the historic why, because this is really revision #3 to my blogging impetus. If you’re scrolling through the archives, you might want to know why some of that content is there…
The old Why:
So, why am I doing this blog? Why am I trying to eat everything organic and not processed? What’s the big deal?
After many years of having an inexplicable, but stable and seemingly inconsequential, slightly low white blood cell count, in February and March of 2017, I suddenly had weeks of overlapping illnesses: a flu that wasn’t part of the flu shot, a norovirus, pneumonia, bronchitis, upper respiratory infection, sinus infection, all overlapping each other. I was miserable. And, my white blood cell count was now critically low.
A referral to a hematology oncologist, a bone marrow biopsy, an ultrasound of my liver, spleen, and kidneys, and dozens of additional blood tests later, and I still didn’t’t know what’s up. It’s not leukemia, or some other bone or blood cancer. My bone marrow is working fine, producing all the right cells, and all healthy at that. It’s now been several years, and we still don’t know exactly what the issue is. It’s an auto-immune disease. But it’s not lupus or Addison’s, nor any of a bunch of thing I’d never heard of. My white cells kill each other when they get excited, and there seems to be no way of knowing (or treating) why.
Avoidance of the cause (likely an environmental irritant/allergen) is probably the best bet, even though we don’t know what it is. The doctor recommends eating only organic food, and to eat no processed food (even if organic), and filtering all of our water.
When I began this blog, my wife and I both taught at a boarding school. We would work 7 days a week, and 12-16 hour days were commonplace. We also run a small organic market farm and CSA, mostly veggies, but also some fruits, nuts, bees, herbs, lamb, a few flowers, alpacas, geese, ducks… We’re quite diversified.
Our farm is really the only place in our immediate area to get organic food. We live in-between two tiny towns, and the one we work in does have a shop that sells food. It’s more than a convenience store, but less than a supermarket. But it’s produce section is awful, and it offers very little in the way of organic options. And its prices are higher than Whole Foods (we can get to one of those in about an hour and 10 minutes…). We have two choices of grocery stores – 45 minutes away in opposite directions.
I love to cook. But we also got free meals in the dining hall at school as one of our benefits. When it’s 6:30 pm, you arrived on campus at 7:00 am, you ate lunch at 11:00 am, you’re teaching until 9:45 pm, and the pantry is somewhat bare at home (15 minutes away), going to the dining hall where there’s yummy food, already prepared, for free is difficult to avoid.
And, of course, when I cook, I tend to do everything from scratch. As in, grind the wheat (that I grew) into flour to bake the bread, capture yeast for the sourdough starter for it off of blueberries, bake it all in the oven of the wood burning stove, with wood I cut, split, and stacked myself…
There’s was a disconnect. Despite my love of cooking, we had fallen into the habit of eating in the dining hall for most lunches and dinners over 5 or 6 years, at least 10 months of the year (and in the summer, it’s mostly snacking out of the garden while working it).
So, when I looked at the prospect of having to prepare 21 meals a week, plus finding a 2 hour chunk somewhere to get to the grocery, it’ was overwhelming. “What should we have for dinner tonight?” “Can I prepare it fast?” “Will there be enough leftovers for lunch?” “Pasta again?!” were constant refrains in my head.
Which finally puts us at why I started this blog. I needed to do some meal planning. I used most of the “tricks:” re-working leftovers, freezing cooked and ready-to-cook meals, prepping ahead of time for a week. But, I think, the thing I needed most was to answer those constant questions about what to make ahead of time, so I could maximize time, keep a good variety of food, and manage costs of it effectively. And I needed accountability.
Thus, my initial goal was to post a menu every week, then do my best to stick to that menu, while eliciting ideas and encouragement from the community. It worked, for a couple of years. But, things changed.
I really missed cooking improvisationally and seasonally. And, my life situation changed. I never had the time or support to process what the autoimmune situation meant for my life and career. Additionally, as a band director subjected to dangerous sound levels all day every day, my hearing was deteriorating faster than I realized. Both conspired to create a situation where I wasn’t really able to be effective in my job. So, I lost the job.
Now, I farm and bake bread full time. It still means long hours every day of the week. But I’m also surrounded by food and foodies constantly. The purpose of the blog has shifted quite a bit, more to focus on local, seasonal eating, to encourage me to create new recipes, to share them with fellow foodies, and to promote local seasonal eating for others.
Follow along. Join in. It should be interesting!