Monday, October 20, 2008

Knead a Little Dough?

It's difficult to ignore the world outside the door these days and to remain completely unaware of the economic crisis. Opinions vary wildly on the need for and the repercussions of the "bailout," on the housing crisis, on the shrinking credit situation, and on the possibility of an impending depression.

Even my favorite blogs have focused more attention of late on the current economy as it relates to food and the need to stay local, and Sharon's emphasis on food preservation and storage for World Food Day seems even more urgent this year. Other folks have turned their cooking skills to more basic dishes and have learned to make do with humble ingredients and traditional "peasant" fare.

Obviously, I can't escape the economic crisis at work as I hear of dwindling retirement accounts, tapped out budgets, and relatives of co-workers being laid off from their jobs. In the privacy of my office, though, even my current project in the archival files keeps my mind on today's economy as I leaf through pamphlets from the Depression and World War II that exhort housewives to make the most of their food rations and to save flour and fats wherever possible.

It's depressing, isn't it?

Maybe there's a reason, then, that the dishes we think of as "comfort food" tend to be so simple –- it's those simple dishes that get us through hard times and give us the nutrition we need to keep working and living and hoping for the future. Maybe that's why I pulled out a recipe and started making a dense but satisfying bread using the last of one bag of flour and part of another along with nuts leftover from a previous baking project.

And while the bread dough rose, I pulled together my notes from Sharon Astyk's book Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front to write a review for the Ethicurean. I've wanted to read Sharon's book for months, having become addicted to her blog and her profound but also amusing musings, and I found it to be every bit as straightforward and blunt -– yet uplifting -– as her blog writings (perhaps because the bulk of the book first appeared on her blog, though not so well organized).

Depletion and Abundance stresses preparation in many areas, with food preservation and storage being key areas of consideration. Reading Sharon's blog has helped me take a more conscientious approach to my annual food preservation work, inspiring me to develop a chart at the beginning of the year so that I could remember what kinds of preservation methods I wanted to use for what kinds of produce, and it helped me keep track of how much I was then able to put up for winter.

Granted, it's an imperfect system, as you can see I had to add a lot of notes about quantities and kinds of preserves, but it gives me something to work with over the winter, and I hope to improve my work chart for next year and to give myself target quantities for the most heavily used items.

In the current economic climate, I'm so glad I spent so much time this summer putting up vast quantities of food -– and that I still have enough money to be able to stock up on other food items, like nuts and grains (still to be picked up). I'm confident that by preserving so much food, I will still be able to cook nutritious meals for myself and to share with others (like My Wonderful Parents and the Renaissance Man). And I am really and truly delighted that my preservation efforts –- and my talking about them in this space –- have inspired others to put away a good bit of food for themselves and their families for the lean months.

I can't come over and put up lots of food for all of you, but if what I write gives you the courage to do it for yourself, all the better! And if you have taken the additional step of involving family or friends in your food preservation –- whether in sharing the work or in gathering produce and sharing the results –- my hat is off to you. You're doing the most important thing of all: building a community where each person contributes skills and goods to the benefit of all.

All of that is worth more than the billions that went to failing corporations, and though it may not pay the bills, it helps us all find a way toward a more sensible and sustainable economy of the kind Sharon describes in her book.

Maybe that's the kind of dough we all knead.

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At 10/21/2008 2:26 PM, Blogger Tara said...

I won a copy of Sharon's book from another blog and started reading it but set it aside for a while, as I found it overwhelming to take in all at once.
I am glad I learned what I did this summer and hope to learn more, and do more, next growing season. Having been almost free from the grocery store during CSA season, I was shocked to go back and see how expensive everything had become.
Just as you have said, our meals are becoming simpler and smaller.
The whole situation can feel like too much at times. Taking little steps to do more for myself is somewhat calming. I appreciate your blog and all the great information you share with us.

At 10/22/2008 7:02 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

I saw you had won that, Tara. :-) It is definitely a lot to take in, especially the first part of her book explaining the current situation. But little steps to start can definitely help prepare you for bigger steps later, so keep up the good work.

I do like that she is very realistic about how overwhelming the world situation can be -- and that she says, go ahead, scream, cry, rage -- but keep working toward that gentler, brighter future while you do it.

Thanks, as always, for your comments and ideas, Tara -- you're helping, too!


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