The Austerity Pantry Revisited

About a year and a half ago, I posted on an an experimental approach to food in Austerity Measures and the Simplified Pantry.

I had challenged myself to pare the contents of our pantry down to 35 items including herbs, spices and beverages. It still seemed extravagant in the face of this family’s meagre week’s worth of groceries.  Having switched to a vegan diet for ethical reasons with comparative ease and a minimum of fuss 20 months earlier, I was keen to see what other possibilities opened up:

  • To eat a nutritionally sufficient, wholesome diet at a much lower cost
  • To eat a delicious diet without recourse to rare and exotic ingredients
  • To align our diet to global norms rather than those determined by our gluttonous society
  • To prove it possible to eat well on £15 per head per week
  • To save money by buying ingredients in bulk that would definitely be used
  • To cultivate an enjoyment of a simpler palette of tastes
  • To remove fatty and processed foods from the menu altogether
  • To flirt with the tantalising possibility of going fridge-free
  • To minimise trips to the supermarket

Well …

I have to admit a number of additional ingredients and indulgences have crept back onto the shopping list in the intervening months due to bad habits and convenience,  but not due to necessity. I also discovered a couple of new delicious dishes that didn’t fit the restricted pantry. Nevertheless, there seemed to be something attainable here that just slipped away.

Three particular areas were especially challenging:

Bread – I wanted to commit to only consuming bread that I had baked myself. The plan was to get a sourdough going that would not require yeast to be replenished as one of the 35 items. In reality, sadly my life is too hectic for sourdough and bread products on supermarket shelves proved irresistible.

Spices – These are relatively cheap and add instant variety, and 25g of most things lasts a good while, so the spice rack was never really reduced.

Staples – Under the heading of  “rice”, I managed to sneak in four different varieties (that’s cheating), and I  started exploring quinoa. I have since decided that quinoa is a “no-no” because it has become stupidly expensive and the poor Bolivians who grow it can’t even afford it.

However …

 

Bean Slop and Polenta
Bean Slop and Baked Polenta

I was recently summoned to view the multicoloured spreadsheet of household finances that my wife painstakingly keeps in order. It was there in black and white (or rather pink, green and blue) that I have failed on numerous promises to bring the wayward grocery bill under control. A few hours later, my reflection in a shop window provided an unwelcome reminder that the mirror on our landing is unreliable and distorts my wayward girth in a flattering way, too.

It is time to recommit to “The Austerity Pantry”.

This time, I am anchoring it to a rolling menu of eight or nine basic evening meals with porridge for breakfast and  soup or jacket potatoes for lunch. For the curious, this is how it looks at the moment:

  1. Lentil hotpot
  2. Pasta and sauce (generally prepared with leftovers)
  3. Chilli beans with rice
  4. Savoury rice (pilau)
  5. Chick pea curry (type and strength varies)
  6. Roast vegetables with polenta or couscous
  7. Bean slop (this is somewhere between a soup and a casserole and goes well with leftover polenta)
  8. Lentil dal
  9. Risotto (with mushrooms or whatever vegetables are to hand)

In theory, this regime can be sustained on a monthly bulk-buy of pulses, staples and spices, supplemented with a weekly selection of local organic veg … and a fridge is not really needed …

WIN!

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Barefoot Colleges

In spite of the fact that we risk information fatigue as we are overloaded with data from the web and other media, I can’t help noticing that sometimes something I see among the hundreds of pages and pictures and clips that I view every week “sticks” and begins to embed itself on another level. This TED talk from Bunker Roy is one such sticky thing. It fed my soul, reawakened something, pulled some threads together. I’ll let it speak for itself for this is one of the most inspiring and heartening things I have seen for a long time:

 

How Local Communities Can Dial Down Dependence on Burning Carbon

(c) 2010, Seymour Jacklin.

Every single individual can make changes in their household, work and family life that will help to reduce their “carbon footprint.” The idea of a carbon footprint is an extension of the term “ecological footprint”, which was an indication of how much land was required to sustain a given human population.

Fossil Fuel
Reducing Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Your carbon footprint is how much Carbon Dioxide is released into the the atmosphere by you and the activities that sustain you. Carbon dioxide is one of the “greenhouse gasses” contributing to global warming. A large proportion of your carbon footprint is caused by the burning of coal and oil to generate the electricity you use or to run the vehicle you drive. As well as reducing our contribution to global warming, decreasing our dependence on carbon fuels will benefit our planet in other ways, undercutting the dependence of the world economy on oil and promoting the development of less polluting alternatives.

Although changes can be made on a household, by household basis, whole communities can band together to tackle carbon dependence to far greater effect. In the United Kingdom, concerned individuals can respond to the challenge by comitting to participate in a national network of  “Transition Towns” and developing a collective plan and vision to de-escalate carbon dependence.

Here are some of the ways that you can go about making a difference:

  • Form a group and begin networking with others with a common interest. This will enable an inventory of skills to be made and it is surprising what creativity and expertise will become available from people who grow food locally, to those with political influence, from artistic and design abilities to trades and educational experience – all of which can be harnessed as part of the collective strategy.
  • Community groups can raise awareness by setting up information points at local events and inviting people to talks by local and national activists, showing films and distributing literature through existing networks.
  • Create forums for discussion and collective problem solving, to look at the specific issues in your area. For instance, is there a dependence on importing goods by road for local consumption when many of these could be locally produced? Could commuters viably set up a car sharing scheme?
  • Run courses using expertise that you have to educate people in skills that they can apply such as growing food, building sustainably, hand-crafting, foraging, woodland management and waste management. These can be run using expertise within the group or arranging for others to come in from outside to deliver teaching and training.
  • Form relationships with local government representatives to enable your concerns to be taken to broader political platforms or influence local planning. Engage in letter writing and advocacy to people in positions of influence or perusuade them to participate in your group.

The net benefit of this collective endeavour goes far beyond merely transitoning your community to a more sustainable future, it brings people together and creates friendships and the opportunity to learn new skills. It can open your eyes to the potential in the people around you and the beauty of the place where you live and work. You may get to revive an old hobby or pass on your knowledge to other people. It may even save you money as you find ways to use less electricity and fuel. You will get to be part of a growing movement that will inhibit the destruction of the planet and the enhance the quaility of life in the society in which you live.

Checkout:

The Durham Transition Network Initative