I love to cook. I cook every day. My way of unwinding is to cook – usually with a glass of wine. I rarely use recipes on weekdays; instead, I use my experience and imagination to create dinners. (OK, I usually start thinking about it during my morning workout and then refine my plans throughout the day. Me? Food obsessed? Nah!) I love to come home, pet the pooches, then open the refrigerator and pull out the produce and protein from the markets and my wonderful CSA. My neighbor often wanders over at this time and sits at the kitchen table with a glass of wine to keep me company. If I’m alone, I usually turn on a food podcast or some music to match my mood. I break out the cutting board, my favorite knife, pots and pans, and get to work … well, it’s not really work if you love it! I get into the rhythm of peeling and chopping, sautéing, mixing, baking, searing, and creating a meal. After 20-30 minutes, we have a delicious, nutritious, locally-sourced meal.
Not many people do that. The prospect of finding recipes, going to the store to get the ingredients, putting it all together after working all day is simply too daunting. Swinging by a restaurant for take-out or eating at a fast-food restaurant is what’s happening for dinner. As a working mother of three busy boys, I totally get it!
More and more people are turning to delivered meal-kits where you get a box of all the ingredients you need with recipes in a box delivered to your home or office. Open the box, pull out the precisely-measured ingredients, and cook a great meal! Everything you need is right there; no need for planning, shopping and measuring. And, there’s no food waste. It’s easy, delicious, and fresh. I get it.
When you peel back the veneer and take a look inside the boxes, what are you getting? What is the cost? How healthy is that meal? What is the carbon footprint?
Most of these companies do not source their ingredients from local farms and purveyors; they find the best deal on the food they need and order en masse. The food is shipped from all over the place, then reassembled, and shipped back out across the country in insulated boxes that need to be recycled (hopefully) or are simply tossed into the landfill. They do not always use seasonal ingredients, meaning they may have to source ingredients from other hemispheres. These plans are pretty expensive because you are paying people for most of the “labor” involved in planning and pre-measuring a meal. On the other hand, you get everything you need to cook a great meal and you get to enjoy the process of cooking (with a glass of wine in hand, of course).
There’s a lot of debate in the local-food movement about these services and many turn their noses at them. I, however, view them as a gateway drug. Once you realize the ease of cooking a great meal, the relaxation flowing as the food bubbles away, the absolute joy of presenting a beautiful meal, the kudos you get from your family … well, you’re hooked! How often can you step back and say, “Ta-da! I made this!”
After that, it’s just tiny steps to doing all of this yourself. Maybe you read a regional cookbook to find recipes using local products. Maybe you take a cooking class (or two) where you learn techniques, cuisines, and recipes. Maybe you venture into a local specialty market to pick up a few ingredients. It’s really just another baby step to head to the farmers market to pick up fresh produce. Or, join a CSA and have all of this delivered to your home or office! Before you know it, you’ve converted someone who used to rely on fast-food and take-out to a healthier lifestyle of cooking meals, shopping locally, and supporting local businesses!
Not everyone will go down this path. Never fear! There are local businesses producing home-meal kits with locally-sourced ingredients. You get all of the benefits of the big, meal-kit companies you hear advertised on the radio, but they are provided by a local company using ingredients made and grown in or close to your community. A few examples of this are Lucky Pantry in Baltimore, Garnish and Gather in Atlanta, Acme Farms & Kitchen in the Seattle area and WhiskTC in Traverse City, MI. United In Food would like to include this category in the future. In the meantime, I encourage you to conduct social media searches to find one in your area. You can also ask around at your farmers markets because a lot of those farmers provide ingredients to these services.
Another way of using locally-sourced meal kits is to purchase them at food cooperatives and local grocery stores. There are many companies that provide these, like Get Happy Good in Olathe, Kansas or Just Add Cooking in Boston. You go to your grocery store, pick up a meal kit in the refrigerator section and head home to cook it. These companies, and many others like them, work with local producers to source the ingredients for their meals and they hire chefs to create the recipes. You’ve got to go to the store for TP and toothpaste, so why not pick up meal kits that support your local farmers?
Another great trend is meal kits sold at local farmers markets. The Rail Yards in Albuquerque has something called “Recipe Box” where you get a recipe and all of the fixings needed to prepare it at home. They work with food trucks and local farmers to provide the ingredients. Union Station Market in Denver has a similar program called Grow to Go. More and more markets are doing this, so ask your market manager about it.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Eatentions in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Those of you who follow us on social media know about this great company. Not only do they offer great pop-up cooking classes, but they also deliver many foods that are easy to prepare, like pizza, ravioli, and pork scallopini. They make weekly deliveries and use locally-sourced ingredients (like, the neighbor’s eggs). To those of you in the rest of the country, until United in Food expands to your region, I encourage you to seek out similar companies through the grapevine, social media or web searches. You’ll be amazed by what’s out there. Be sure to let us know when you find these gems! We rely on you to be our eyes and ears!
Finally, you can create the demand for locally-sourced meal kits. Ask your grocer or food cooperative to carry them. Talk to your CSA about offering meal kits. The next time you are at the farmers market, wander over to the information booth and talk to the market manager about doing something similar to the Rail Yards or Union Station. By creating demand, you’ll create supply and we’ll expand the horizons for our local farmers, ranchers, cheesemongers, bakers, chocolateiers, and other food artisans who make our communities so precious.
I welcome your feedback. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments, contentions, ideas, and the names of people already doing this. I would love to learn from you!