Sunday, January 21, 2007

Pre-ground or whole bean?

We had a small gathering at our place last night and baked bread and made dip, hummus, etc. This meant a fair amount of stuff to discard or reuse, but aside from the beer bottles actually not a horrible amount because of the amount of bulk foods and fresh produce we used to make everything except the chips from scratch.

I like making food from scratch, especially with bulk and fresh ingredients. I generally assume that homemade is better in many ways. For one, I have complete control over each of the ingredients if I make something from scratch, and can use fresh, local and organic ingredients, often more cheaply than buying a fresh, local, organic product made by someone else. One of my resolutions for the year (alongside the less drastic resolution that eventually became this project) was to try to eat and cook with single ingredient foods as much as possible, and particularly to avoid anything with more than five ingredients.

But since I am focused here on packaging, and on minimizing and reusing said packaging, I began comparing yesterday the amount and types of packaging used for prepared foods versus homemade. For example, to make hummus I bought bulk garbanzo beans (using a "biodegradable" plastic bag), a lemon, and a jar of tahini, and used some oil and spices I had around. I think this is better than buying a plastic container of hummus--besides being fresher and (I hope) tastier, a bag of bulk garbanzo beans makes a huge amount of beans, and a jar of tahini can make several batches of hummus. In fact, I see now that tahini is pretty easy to make from scratch, basically from sesame seeds, oil and spices, so that the tahini jar purchase could have been avoided. Other ingredients are in pretty miniscule amounts or from fresh produce. So I think the amount of packaging used for my own batch of hummus, when compared to a store-bought container, is at least comparable, the ingredients cheaper, and the result as good or better. Plus packaging for homemade is mainly the glass holding the oil, tahini, and spices, and glass is a material I would prefer over plastic if I am reusing.

On the basis of packaging alone, sometimes it is difficult to choose between prepared and homemade. I made two loaves of bread yesterday. Most of the ingredients were basic bulk ingredients, but one of the loaves had an entire jar of kalamata olives in it and the other had half a carton of buttermilk. Had I bought these prepared I would have brought home two paper or plastic bread bags; as it is I will have an empty buttermilk container and an empty glass jar. Here I have to remember that any food production will result in containers being discarded along the way. I guess, in general, the fewer intermediate steps the food takes on its way to my house the better.


Carolyn said...

D'oh! Why hadn't I thought of making my own tahini? I have sesame seeds for baking and DH has sesame oil for cooking...

Thank you for jarring my brain!

the lucky achiever said...

My thoughts exactly! I could have bought a few sesame seeds in bulk instead of a jar of tahini, since I have all the other ingredients already. If you're already making hummus, it shouldn't be much extra work, since all the same equipment is needed. The recipe warned that sesame seeds can go rancid, so I guess I wouldn't want to go nuts stocking up on them. Though I don't see why you can't prevent them going rancid by storing at cold temperatures as with other nuts and seeds.