Lots of friends have asked me how our Sabbath weeks have changed the way we buy and cook food. In real life, I’m a bumbling, inarticulate mess when it comes to communicating things I haven’t worded in advance – so, apologies to all those friends who have patiently listened, nodding but confused, to my incoherent reply. You have my permission to ignore everything I said then, and replace with the following, which hopefully makes more sense. So, what has changed?
1) Sabbath week has given me a more long-term approach when shopping for food. We now have a fruit and veg box delivered weekly; we’re trying to use the butcher and fishmonger as much as possible; and we use an online supermarket every seven weeks for storecupboard staples. (This fits with the Sabbath week model: food arrives at the start of week 1, with week 7 being our ‘Sabbath’.) None of this is new – we’ve dabbled in farmer’s markets, veg boxes, local butchers and ethical supermarkets before – but our way of food shopping has been pretty constant for a few years, so the change feels exciting and different, and a little bit like new jeans you have to wear a bit before they become totally comfortable.
The problem is that any change of this nature has to be sustainable.
That’s why we haven’t stuck with any previous changes we’ve tried to make. Supermarket shopping is cheap (hello, single salaried family) and convenient (one trip, one hour, done). So any changes we take on board have to fit into our budget, and also be convenient for a busy family. Of course, no system is ever perfect, but after a few months of trying out these changes, it seems to be working fairly well, balancing out the competing factors of ethics, convenience and cost.
(An aside: please don’t think I’m against supermarkets. They hold many advantages, not least the convenience. We have six within a 10-minute drive of our home – extend that to twenty minutes and the number easily goes into double figures, many of which are open 24 hours. At any time of the day or night, I can buy pretty much whatever food we’re short of: this is a total dream. I’m not against supermarkets, I just have concerns over some of the ways they use their power. I don’t want to have to rely on them for the bulk of our fresh produce, but, realistically, there will be times when it isn’t in the best interests of my family to drag them to a local shop, and therefore supermarkets save the day.)
2) Sabbath week has taught me not to over-consume. Do I eat because I’m actually hungry, or because I like the taste? I’m more aware of saving leftovers for another day, rather than finishing them up just because they’re there.
3) Sabbath week has taught me to use up absolutely everything. I didn’t think we were too bad at this, to be honest, but then I realised how often I throw out limp, once-fresh herbs, or the last bit of a jar of pesto, because I forgot it was open and it went bad.
4) Sabbath week has given me useful tools for other weeks. Now that I’m more confident in cooking with what we have (we’ve had three Sabbath weeks so far), this philosophy spills over into other weeks when perhaps we’ve been spending too much (summer holidays, anyone?) and need to tighten the purse strings. It has led to more vegetarian meals, and more simple cooking. I still love to get out recipes and challenge myself with something new, but for weeknight meals things have really been pared back. The quality of the veg we’re now getting means they taste good as side dishes in their own right, so I’m not having to ‘hide’ them as much in one-pots or traybakes. (The greens, above, are spring onions, green pepper and runner beans, stir-fried with garlic and a good amount of fennel seeds. Yum!)
5) The kids are starting to be more involved with our food. They enjoy making pizzas, or mixing a batter to make veggie fritters. And, being summer, we’ve been able to do a bit of pick-your-own too!
Of course, like a new pair of jeans, none of this will last forever. It would be naive to think that these were our food habits for life; they simply suit us now. I’m happy.