By Ora Wise and Sara Elise
We both live in a committed, unabashed, joyful and sensual relationship with food— which is no small task for women in our society.
For us, food is a liberating/pleasing/exciting element of our lives, a force that turns us on and takes us places. It is essential to taking care of ourselves. And although everyone takes care of themselves differently, something that seems to work across the board, is being mindful about what we consume. We also cannot separate how we think about what’s good for our individual bodies from what’s going on in the world around us. We are part of very complex and fragile systems of nature, and the fact that we constantly ignore this causes so much destruction, to both the planet and ourselves. What’s good for our community is also good for us as individuals—so we understand that good food is produced and consumed within a context of our community being nurtured too—economically, creatively, and culturally.
We found our approach articulated perfectly by author Paul Greenberg: “…food rules are meant to be aspirational, even if they’re not always realistic. We are what we eat, in both our hearts and our minds.” In that spirit, here we share how we think about food:
- It’s best to eat fresh and organic foods. It’s simply worth the extra dollar or two — for you and for our water and soil. Food coops make organic and whole foods more affordable because there is less of a price mark up than in a conventional grocery store.
- Food journaling is a way to consciously monitor how food makes you feel. Get a cute notebook (Sara always loves a reason to get a new notebook) or begin tracking it on your phone. Start recording how you feel immediately after you eat, and then again around 20 minutes later. Notice patterns. Is there food that makes you feel happy initially, but then later doesn’t feel good? (Donuts, anyone?)
- Eat more food grown nearby—it’s what’s in season and more likely to have the nutrients your body needs at the moment. These foods will also most likely be more flavorful and gentler on the planet because they haven’t traveled as far and are more likely to be from smaller producers- which helps build the local economy. Waiting for a tomato or a strawberry until it’s actually summer and our bodies crave cooling, juicy fruits and vegetables, increases our enjoyment of them too. At this time of year, the vegetables growing in our east coast region that are affordable and yield a lot of food include butternut and kabocha squash, potatoes, escarole, carrots, beets, and apples. There are other delicious autumn vegetables that are slightly pricier but are very easy to work with, like cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, sunchokes, and chard. They can be prepared quickly and have rich flavor with nothing other than olive oil or butter, salt, a splash of lemon juice.
- Your body needs less animal protein than you think it does! Try eating smaller amounts of it along with larger portions of vegetables and grains. Also make sure that it has been raised in a healthy environment and without antibiotics. This quality meat will be more expensive than factory-farmed meat but you’ll be eating less of it so the cost evens out.
- Get most of your protein from other less expensive and healthier options such as:
- lentils and beans
- free range eggs (which have significantly less cholesterol and fat and way more vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids than factory eggs)
- nuts (if you have a food processor, you can make your own nut butters and spend less),
- whole milk yogurt (dairy fat isn’t the enemy we’ve been told it is)
- Sauce is the key to life! If you come home from work hungry and tired and you have a few sauces you’ve made on hand, it can be quick and easy. You can cook whatever grain you have around (rice? bulgur? pasta?), throw some veggies in a sauté pan or in the oven for 20-30 minutes with some olive oil, sea salt, and pepper (or whatever spice of your choice), throw some sauce on it, and enjoy dinner! Sara often keeps homemade pestos around. Ora’s fridge always contains dill yogurt dressing and tzchug (spicy cumin cilantro relish, check out her recipe below).
Ok. But let’s be real. How do we make all of this food?
Perhaps the most immediate question is: How do we find the time?! (Especially if we’re not as confident in the kitchen).
It takes time to eat well. There’s just no way around it. It takes commitment and planning. The trick to incorporating quality foods into our busy lives is not glamorous—it requires making things ahead of time, making substantial batches of things, preserving things. Then you can have a kind of mix and match approach to making meals throughout a week or a month (because for most of us, variety is as necessary as nutrition).
People spend an hour doing lots of things but won’t commit to cooking for an hour. Food is a necessity while also being a creative process, so for us it is fulfilling and even relaxing. This allows us to carve out the time for it. Not everyone needs to be that way. We all choose our different battles and priorities; it’s what makes the world go round. But…if you really want to eat healthy, delicious, fresh food… sorry, cooking is indeed magic, but not the kind that pulls things out of thin air. You’ll have to make some time for it!
But maybe a bigger question is: How do we afford to eat this way?
It’s true that a lot of quality, local, organic and/or small batch foods are more expensive than many of us are used to and too expensive for many of us to afford regularly.
Partly we have to accept the fact that we have grown accustomed to many foods being cheap only because we’re paying the price with our planet and our bodies. Mass-produced processed foods, factory-farmed animals, fish caught by giant bottom trawling nets, monoculture crops on agribusiness farms may have lower price tags in the grocery store, but are costing all of us in the long run. The pollution of our water, the degradation of our soil, the endangerment of species, the displacement of indigenous people from their lands, the rise of diabetes, obesity, and cancer…these are all of the real costs of these “cheaper foods.”
Small farmers diversifying their crops and pasturing their animals and food-makers making small batches of their product with a high level of quality ingredients, are not going to be able to produce the giant quantities and hit the wide distribution that will allow them to lower their prices that much.
In a big expensive city like New York, where everyone is hustling hard to make our increasingly high rents, there’s not a lot of time or space to grow and make our own food, which is always the best way to eat well. So what are our options?
Admittedly, farmers markets can be expensive. It takes a lot of resources for small farmers to bring their bounty to us in the city—they have to pay for the harvest labor, transportation, and staffing a market all day long. However, you can price check all of the stalls and find the ones that have the most affordable prices. Right now, you can get really decently priced winter squash, root vegetables, apples, and pears.
Ora has been a member of Brooklyn’s Park Slope Food Coop for 12 years and feels that putting up with the 2 hour and 45 minute shift every month is well worth it. It’s actually a valuable resource that allows us to cook in the ways we believe in. We can trust the consistent high quality, significantly lower prices, and intentional sourcing. We also appreciate being able to contribute to cooperative economic food businesses as an important alternative to the giant profit-driven corporations that have taken over our food system and whose values do not match ours.
Even if you don’t join a food coop in your neighborhood, you can cooperate with friends to lower the cost of eating well. Take turns making each other dinner or organize potlucks for which everyone makes more than is needed and then pack leftovers for each other’s lunches. Try bartering or hosting swaps every week—one person trading a jar of pasta sauce they’ve made for another person’s bread or pickles. These kinds of culinary collaborations don’t have to just be practical, they can be romantic, fun, and interesting ways to incorporate good food into your week.
Below, we’ve offered a short recipe from each of us: a quick and hearty meal that Sara throws together using whatever is in her fridge that provides dinner as well as leftovers galore! And a sauce that Ora keeps in her fridge to add a special kick to her quick meals.
Hearty Chicken Stew
yield: roughly 4 servings
- ¼ cup safflower oil (or another oil of your choice with a high smoke-point)
- 1 onion, minced
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1 small, whole chicken (broken down) (or ~2lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs)
- 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 2 cans of peeled, chopped tomatoes (with no other ingredients or chemicals added)
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
- A variety of items that you have in your fridge or in your pantry: fresh thyme, carrots (peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces), potatoes (peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces), cauliflower florets, spinach, kale, chard. Try different things that you have around and mix-and-match to your liking!
- 1.5 cups filtered water
Using a heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened. Put to the side. Add the brown sugar to the same pot without wiping it out and cook until very dark and sticky (around 2 minutes). Add the chicken pieces and brown for around 5 minutes in the sugar with the ginger, a teaspoon of salt, and ground pepper. Once the chicken is mostly cooked, add the onions, tomatoes, parsley, and the other vegetables you are including. Now, just cover the pot and simmer until the chicken is cooked through entirely and the vegetables are tender (around 30 minutes). Season with salt, pepper, paprika, and any other seasonings you’d like and simmer for around 10 minutes more. Serve over a grain (Sara loves coconut rice!) and garnish with the remaining parsley.
Tzchug (a North African hot pepper relish)
yield: roughly 4 cups
There are people that are addicted to this relish. My father keeps copies of his recipe to give to dinner guests who inevitably ask for it after almost every meal. It goes well with rice dishes, soups, eggs…you can mix it with some cream cheese or mayo to make a sandwich spread, combine it with yogurt to make a sauce…the possibilities are endless. You can also make it during the summer and early fall when all the ingredients are in season around here in New York and then freeze it in small containers to use it to brighten your winter meals.
5-7 cloves garlic
5 jalapenos (you can use fewer peppers or remove their seeds if you don’t like as much heat)
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tomato chopped into quarters
1 heaping tablespoon cumin
1 scant tablespoon kosher salt (salts have different saltiness levels so start with half that much and then taste and add more until it’s reached the saltiness you prefer)
juice of one lemon
Put the garlic, chilies, and herbs in the food processor and pulse a few times.
Add the remaining ingredients and puree until it reaches a sauce-like consistency.
Sara Elise and Ora are the collaborative partners behind the private event catering company, Bed Stuy Kitchen. At BSK, Sara Elise and Ora focus on using all natural, seasonal ingredients that are mostly organic and ethically sourced from nearby. Through BSK, Sara Elise and Ora aim to empower clients to learn how to choose food for themselves that provide them with the most positive sustenance so that they can put positive energy towards their art, relationships, growth, and community.