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Culinary Comfort: Nourishing Your Soul with CSA-Inspired Recipes

June 26, 2024

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Culinary Comfort: Nourishing Your Soul with CSA-Inspired Recipes

The Highs and Lows of Food Bank Eating

I remember a time, not too long ago, when I took the simple pleasures of a fresh, juicy apple for granted. It was at a professional training session that I witnessed a colleague, who came from a lower socioeconomic background, take a bite of an organic, locally-grown apple slice from the snack table. The look of pure delight on their face as they proclaimed, “Damn, this is what an apple is supposed to taste like. I didn’t even think I liked apples!” was a poignant reminder of just how far removed many of us have become from the true flavors of real food.

Growing up in a middle-class household in the 1970s, even though we always had enough to eat, much of the food was highly processed, low in quality, and devoid of nutrients. In fact, I even had some nutritional deficiencies as a child, despite never going hungry. It wasn’t until I tasted a truly fresh, ripe tomato that I understood the revelation of what real food can taste like. The insipid, nondescript tomatoes we used to get, sitting in green plastic baskets wrapped in cellophane, had never nourished my body, let alone my palate or soul.

That interaction with my colleague stuck with me, and from that point on, whenever I donated to food drives, I made sure to give organic food and something for the soul, like a nice box of specialty tea. I wanted the recipients to have that touchstone of the synergistic health-life-soul nourishing properties as a guiding light of what is possible, even if they couldn’t afford to buy it regularly.

The Realities of Food Bank Eating

Over the past few months, I’ve found myself in the unexpected position of being a patron of food banks, from Flagstaff to the Columbia Gorge in Washington. And let me tell you, the experience has been eye-opening, to say the least. The quality and variety of what is available can vary significantly, and the way it is distributed can be equally inconsistent.

At one place, I was simply handed a huge box of stuff, most of which I couldn’t eat due to my food sensitivities. Another church gave me a brown grocery bag, less than half filled with single-use plastic bowls of ramen and individually wrapped peanut butter and cheese crackers. The oddest experience was in Felton, CA, where I received 5 lbs of dried, sweetened cranberries and several cans of cranberry sauce in July, as well as a 10 lb bag of pre-cut, pre-washed carrot chunks and a 5 lb bag of pre-cut iceberg lettuce that wouldn’t even fit in my RV fridge. Just what am I supposed to make with that?

And then there’s always the ubiquitous dried pinto beans, which, to be fair, are at least a real food and, depending on your constitution and ethnic background, may be the perfect staple. But for me, the extreme change in diet, coupled with the extra stress, has resulted in a 20 lb weight gain in just a few months.

The Highs of Food Bank Eating

Not all of my food bank experiences have been less than ideal, however. There have been some real windfalls, like the unlimited amount of organic raspberries being given out outside a homeless service center in Santa Cruz. I took a bunch, figuring I could freeze them for smoothies or more barren times. Unfortunately, I didn’t have electricity for a week, and my fridge stopped working, so they went bad before I could eat them all.

My favorite type of food bank is where you get to go “shopping” and pick what you prefer. It’s nice to have a choice when so much control has been lost in other areas of life. And when I’ve landed in places where the eatin’ has been good, my diet has improved exponentially. I’m eating a lot more organic vegetables and fruits, as well as better-quality protein.

Recently, I got a pound of organic, grass-fed stew beef in my box that’s going to make a nice pot of chili. And here in the Columbia Gorge, my jaw dropped when they handed me 23 lbs of frozen, wild-caught local salmon. Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful for that jar of Dollar Tree peanut butter when I was crossing the desert and didn’t have a dollar to spare to buy my own. But as I’ve been healing my body from several chronic and autoimmune health conditions, I’ve come to understand the truth that food is indeed medicine.

The Nourishing Power of CSA-Inspired Recipes

When you live somewhere where food grows abundantly, and grocery stores are stocked with healthful, real food, this is the kind of bounty you can glean from food banks. And let me tell you, it’s a far cry from the ramen in single-use bowls and Dollar Tree GMO peanut butter that I’ve encountered in more arid, food desert regions.

Tonight’s food pantry dinner is a perfect example of the nourishing power of CSA-inspired recipes. I’m enjoying a feast of local, wild-caught salmon, organic cauliflower, spinach, and red onion, all served over brown rice with a Trader Joe’s Island Soyaki marinade and glaze. Literally every single ingredient came from local food banks, and it’s a meal that’s not only delicious but also deeply nourishing on a soul level.

Salmon, in particular, holds a special significance in the Pacific Northwest, where I currently reside. The Native peoples of this area have been sustaining themselves on this abundant, local resource for millennia, and the entire culture and lore is built around this incredible fish. Not only is it delicious, but it’s also synergistic, building brain and body health, as well as emotional well-being, with every bite.

When I sit down to a meal like this, I’m reminded of who I really am, what I believe, and what I want to create in my life. That simply doesn’t happen when I’m eating pinto beans out of a BPA-lined can that inexplicably contains preservatives and additives. Salmon, on the other hand, nourishes me on a spiritual and visionary level, and in return, I’m more able to protect the waters in which it swims.

The Reciprocal Nature of Nourishment

In the Peruvian Cosmovision, the central organizing principle is called Ayni, which is often reductively translated as “reciprocity” in English. But it’s so much more than that – it’s a dynamic, holographic concept of regeneration and balance. By supporting local fishers and food producers, the local economy gets a boost, and the healthier I am, body-mind-spirit, the less of a burden I am on the healthcare system and the more I’m able to contribute to a healthy, vibrant world.

For those who can afford it, I encourage you to donate not just the cheap, mass-produced crap, but the good stuff – the organic, locally-grown, nutrient-dense foods that will truly nourish both body and soul. And for those experiencing hunger, using food stamps or food banks, I hope you’ll take heart in the knowledge that there are pockets of abundance, where the eatin’ can be good, and the synergistic benefits of real food can be a guiding light.

Because at the end of the day, we’re all in this together, and the more we can support and nourish one another, the stronger and more resilient our communities will become. And that, my friends, is the true meaning of culinary comfort – food that feeds not just our bellies, but our very souls.

So, the next time you’re perusing the offerings at your local Thorn Apple CSA, I encourage you to let your imagination run wild. What soulful, nourishing dishes can you create with the bounty of fresh, seasonal produce at your fingertips? The possibilities are endless, and the rewards, both physical and spiritual, are waiting to be discovered.

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Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

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