One creative cook’s unorthodox approach to sustainability

"We have more resources than most realize to feed ourselves well and at a low cost."

Photo Credit: Sonia Arkkelin

One creative cook’s unorthodox approach to sustainability

Written by: Kathy Sipple
July 16, 2018


When I first learned about sustainability and the food system’s impact on it, I did my best to support local growers, buy organic, eat what’s in season, eat less meat, and grow my own vegetables. I’ve added a few twists, however, based on my desire to lower my carbon footprint, save money and build community, too. Here are just a few of my ideas on how to acquire food in ways that cost less and are more sustainable. 

MY LOW CARB(ON) DIET
About a third of the food raised or prepared doesn’t even make it from farm or factory to fork, according to drawdown.org. Food waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions.  

So, how to divert food from the dumpster?

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When I first learned about sustainability and the food system’s impact on it, I did my best to support local growers, buy organic, eat what’s in season, eat less meat, and grow my own vegetables. I’ve added a few twists, however, based on my desire to lower my carbon footprint, save money and build community, too. Here are just a few of my ideas on how to acquire food in ways that cost less and are more sustainable. 

MY LOW CARB(ON) DIET
About a third of the food raised or prepared doesn’t even make it from farm or factory to fork, according to drawdown.org. Food waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions.  

So, how to divert food from the dumpster?

Not willing to resort to “dumpster diving,” I was able to retain my dignity and shop at the Indiana Hope Center in Grovertown, Indiana, instead. This facility is what is sometimes called a salvage grocery store, carrying items a traditional store can’t or won’t sell: food at or near expiration, items in dented or torn packaging, past season items, closeouts, salvage from truck accidents, overstocks, etc. On my first visit I spent about $100 for nearly $600 worth of groceries that included whole free-range organic chickens for $4, coffee from a well-known brand for $2, organic oatmeal for 50 cents, a two-pound container of burrata cheese for 10 cents and even some free items, such as artisanal bread, Icelandic yogurt and more.  

NATURE’S ABUNDANCE
I first learned about wild edibles when I took the Indiana Master Naturalist program in 2015. I learned when each edible came into season, their growing habitats, and safety precautions. I began to develop a “food map” of where and when wild edibles grew in the areas I visit regularly.  

Once my eyes were opened to the possibilities, I began to notice more free food everywhere! The “blue flowers” I used to spot along the highway? Those are chicory/coffee. The really tall sunflower-like plants? Those are Jerusalem artichokes! Cattails? The base can be peeled and used in place of cucumber. Though there are wild edible identification apps and several good Facebook groups (such as Eat Wild), it’s a good idea to get an in-person mentor who can help safely and accurately identify plants before eating them.

BUILDING COMMUNITY

Photo Credit: Sonia Arkkelin
Kathy Sipple
Photo Credit: Sonia Arkkelin
Kathy Sipple

Not willing to resort to “dumpster diving,” I was able to retain my dignity and shop at the Indiana Hope Center in Grovertown, Indiana, instead. This facility is what is sometimes called a salvage grocery store, carrying items a traditional store can’t or won’t sell: food at or near expiration, items in dented or torn packaging, past season items, closeouts, salvage from truck accidents, overstocks, etc. On my first visit I spent about $100 for nearly $600 worth of groceries that included whole free-range organic chickens for $4, coffee from a well-known brand for $2, organic oatmeal for 50 cents, a two-pound container of burrata cheese for 10 cents and even some free items, such as artisanal bread, Icelandic yogurt and more.  

NATURE’S ABUNDANCE
I first learned about wild edibles when I took the Indiana Master Naturalist program in 2015. I learned when each edible came into season, their growing habitats, and safety precautions. I began to develop a “food map” of where and when wild edibles grew in the areas I visit regularly.  

Once my eyes were opened to the possibilities, I began to notice more free food everywhere! The “blue flowers” I used to spot along the highway? Those are chicory/coffee. The really tall sunflower-like plants? Those are Jerusalem artichokes! Cattails? The base can be peeled and used in place of cucumber. Though there are wild edible identification apps and several good Facebook groups (such as Eat Wild), it’s a good idea to get an in-person mentor who can help safely and accurately identify plants before eating them.

BUILDING COMMUNITY

Once when I was walking in downtown Valpo, I noticed a heavily laden apricot tree in a yard with ripe fruit falling all over the sidewalk. I noticed the homeowner in the backyard, playing with her young daughter, and caught her eye. I asked whether she planned to pick the fruit and she said no, she had no time to do that. I asked if I might pick the fruit and bring her a jar of jam; she accepted gladly. 

We don’t eat a lot of jellies and jams in my household, yet I can’t pass up an opportunity to preserve the harvest. Luckily, there is the Northwest Indiana Food Swap, where I can use my jars of jam as “currency.” At a food swap, participants bring items they either grew, cooked or foraged (and of course, I love the foraged!) and trade with one another. No money is exchanged. It’s a great way to share items you have in abundance and to diversify your pantry. It’s also a lot of fun. People make new friends and learn from one another.  

The week following a swap it is not uncommon for swappers to post images of the food they are enjoying on social media and to credit the swapper who “provided their meal.” People bring everything from homebrew to hummus to homemade yogurt. 

Photo Credit: Sonia Arkkelin
Kathy Sipple
Photo Credit: Sonia Arkkelin
Photo Credit: Sonia Arkkelin
Kathy Sipple
Photo Credit: Sonia Arkkelin

The NWI Food Swap is in its sixth year in Valparaiso and is held six times a year at the Art Barn in Valparaiso. The venue offers the space not for money, but rather for time credit: in return for us using their venue, we help them staff events, assist with their website, and other tasks.  

WEAVING A LOCAL FOOD WEB
We have more resources than most realize to feed ourselves well and at a low cost. Working together we can do more. These are just a few of the ideas I have explored. I’m looking forward to coordinating and expanding the effort with more like-minded sustainable foodies.