A couple of times a month, our local sustainability library shows a documentary on a subject of interest to us. Last night, I dropped by to watch Food, Inc. . It was very well done and I would strongly advise you to watch it if you get the chance.  One of things that was very clear to  me after watching the film was just how important it is for me to ramp up my supply of tasty, meatless meals.

The problem, besides the obvious one health related issues, is that to buy the good meat, non-factory raised, free range, humanely slaughtered is really expensive. We raise pork and this year will add chickens but raising beef requires hay to get through the winter and that means a barn which I don’t have. I can purchase stew beef and ground beef for $5.oo a pound which is not bad considering the amount of work that goes into the production but it puts a hole in my food budget to get a significant amount. What I need to do is eat less meat and when I do indulge, pay for the good stuff.

I happened to make a trip to Costco’s yesterday. I was disappointed not to find the Thrive brand of dehydrated fruits and vegetables (the reason I went) but I did find a good selection of organic grains. I brought home a bag of quinoa (pronounced keen-wa). I am looking forward to making a dish that I got a recipe for from Alice at the Creamery. I had this when I took a lesson on cooking with whole grains a couple of months ago. I am particularly interested in this grain as it is something that grows well in the Northeast.

Quinoa, Black Bean and Corn Salad

Heat a bit of olive oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add 2/3 cup of quinoa and fry for a minute. Add 1 cup of vegetable stock and 1 tsp salt, turn the heat up and bring it to a boil. Put on a tight-fitting lid, turn to a low simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes then fluff the grain. Mix 2 tsp olive oil, 1 1/2 tsp lime juice, 1/4 tsp ground cumin, 1/4 tsp coriander, 1/1/2 T chopped cilantro and 2 T minced scallions in a bowl. Add the cooked, chilled quinoa, 1 1/2 cups black beans, 1 cup diced red or yellow peppers, 1 cup diced tomatoes, 2 tsp minced chilis and 1 cup cooked corn and stir well. This is a complete protein with a low-calorie count. The main ingredients can all be grown locally as long as it is a summer dish. I need to call Alice and get some winter recipes for this grain. I know it can be prepared as a cereal with fruit and sweetener for breakfast or as a side dish the same way you would serve rice. I will say that the use of stock rather than water makes a big difference in the flavor. Obviously, you would not do this if you were making it for breakfast.

When we abdicated our kitchens and let Betty Crocker and Pillsbury do the cooking for our families, we lost so much. What could matter more than the food we eat? It do understand. It creeps up on a person. A busy day, a stretched check book, the kids clamoring for what their friends are eating and you give in once. The flavor is good (Of course it is. It’s loaded with sugar, salt and fat.) and it’s harder to say no the next time. It’s easy to justify, especially when the big marketing agencies spend millions of dollars and hire psychological experts designing commercials to make us believe that the convenience food is good for us and that we deserve to get a break today. They forget to mention the real cost to our health, our families, our communities and our planet.

I am well aware that  many families are struggling out there and I know how hard it is to change ingrained lifestyles but if there is any good to come out of this recession it may be in bringing people back home, back to their kitchens and to a family table. If we can’t afford meat, let us eat grains. Grains and beans and fruits and vegetables. They can be grown at home, preserved at home, prepared at home and stored for years if handled properly.

A good place to start is with a pot-luck dinner. Introduce a new dish in a festive atmosphere and it will likely be accepted. Cook together. Eat together. Say a grace. If you prefer, you can thank Mother Earth but say thank you. Good food is a gift and gratitude is a good thing.