Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I made dinner for $1.09.

Monday night, I made dinner for $1.09.  I was incredibly proud of myself, and I think this little triumph illustrates a couple of principles about how I live sustainably.

First, the details:  This is really the winter version of this recipe, which has consistently been one of the favorites among blog readers.  This time, I used pesto frozen in September and sundried (actually, dehydrator-dried, but "sundried" sounds better) tomatoes.  I also used a lovely block of artisinal asiago cheese that was part of a holiday basket sent to me by a client (thanks, guys -- you know who you are!).  Therefore, total cost to me was $1.09 for a box of Meijer pasta, which I thought was highway robbery (I stock up at 79 cents per box) but which got much better once I had made my el-cheapo meal.  I've gotten 5-6 servings out of this; if you are doing the math, we are hovering around 20 cents a serving.

My sustainability lessons?

First, the practical one:  If you have a recipe that works for you in the summer, do everything in your power to find a winter version.  Would I have preferred to make this with fresh basil and fresh tomatoes, standing barefoot in my kitchen with the still-warm veggies in a basket by my elbow?  Absolutely.  But I know that the combination works, so I dried as many tomatoes as I could, and I made pesto like it was going out of style.  It tastes almost as good when I make it while I have a fire going and a nice pair of fleece socks on my feet.

Second, the philosophical lesson:  There is no room for absolutes in the sustainability movement.  The sustainability movement is gaining ground in this country, but still it seems that the most interesting media coverage is of people who have taken a locavore pledge that prohibits food from a distance.  One of my favorite books, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, examines a year without non-local food, and many others have taken a pledge that if the food comes from more than 100 miles (or 50, or 200) away, they won't eat it.  I try to do likewise as much as possible.  Certainly, I prefer food that is hyper-local; that is, I think the best food is that which you walk into the backyard to obtain.

However, we do have a transportation network in this country, and I have no problem with using it to transport the occasional treat, like artisinal cheeses from Amish Country or maple candy from Vermont or citrus from  Florida.  The key concept there is "treat" -- the occasional box of something that is specific to a certain part of the country, sent by mail or FedEx, or tucked into luggage.  A little taste of somewhere else that punctuates a diet that is overwhelmingly local.  A small nugget of something specific to its own locale that is so precious by its unfamiliarity that you stop and taste and discuss.  Something different that throws your own local efforts into relief so that you appreciate every element anew.

We appreciated this meal that highlighted a gift not just for its budget-saving properties (perhaps least because of that), but because it was a rare treat that we savored.  If  I found a stack of this same cheese sitting heaped up at my local Wal-Mart, having been trucked from its origin to a distribution center to my local store, I would not appreciate it as much.  If I bought it every week, I would miss out not only on its specialness but on the joys of making my own ricotta and patronizing local cheese makers.  For something this good to become ordinary would be a crime -- and it would be unsustainable.
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