by Kylie Foster September 21, 2022
Back in 2018 when I started Kiwi Family Kitchen, there was a lot of general noise about going zero waste. At the time, the excessive levels of single use and not easily recyclable packaging was a big issue for me, but behind that I was actually more concerned about the high levels of food waste. Food waste that may be at the grower end, due to supermarket and consumer demands, or at the consumer end due to the realities of living a busy life. There is no judgement there, this is the reality of the world we live in today. Once the floodgates of food waste were opened, I started to see it everywhere - the laden feijoa or orange trees that dropped fruit which were left to rot when these could have been food for many families or stored or preserved to provide food in the off-season is just one example.
When Mike and I started our preserving journey around 10 year ago, it was really only Mike who was making an old-fashioned style tomato sauce using a family recipe he had modified and perfected over the years. I then started making marmalade using excess fruit from my parents property and later a reduced sugar strawberry jam. I only started using a water bath to heat process the preserves when I got to the reduced sugar jam and my water bath was a basic stock pot which I used preserving bands in to make a trivet at the bottom. I didn't have a decent funnel and there was no jar lifter (the horror that is using tongs to remove jars!).
Just prior to opening Kiwi Family Kitchen, I had added stewed fruits into the foray. But as they say, great things can start from small beginnings. Along this journey, I got set up with a decent water bath, good utensils, a pressure canner (life changing) and, naturally, more jars. And, we set up our own vegetable gardens at home which we seem to expand every year - we have a residential plot so there is a limit to how far we can go with this. We can now preserve whatever we can get our hands on but my main focus is on meals. So, from tomato sauce, marmalade and strawberry jam, we are now bottling beef and chicken along with vegetables, more fruits, sauces, pickles and jams. But there is still so much more to learn and try because it is a journey after all and there are some big lessons that come with growing and preserving your own food and becoming deeply connected with the process. I have reflected a lot on this journey of late - the whys, the lessons, the unknowns, the possibilities - which leads me to share why I preserve food and why you might like to also.
Why I preserve food...
1. Reducing food waste and saving money
Reducing food waste was my starting point. There is usually free (or very cheap) produce all around us if we look for it. Fallen fruit is an opportunity for great things and it saves you money on your weekly grocery bill. We can buy produce cheaper when it is in season, preserve it and enjoy it later when out of season. We can also enjoy the savings of buying in bulk knowing we can preserve it and nothing will go to waste.
2. Being prepared
About 6 years ago, we were without power for days due to an unfortunate accident locally. Fortunately for us, we still had gas so could cook and heat our home and it wasn't so long that we had to worry about our chest freezer. But it did leave me wondering about what we would do if we were left without power for a longer period of time.
We also live in an earthquake prone area and back in 2021 we had a tsunami alert. We were fine in our location and aside from keeping an eye on the news all day, there was no issue for us. But, it did stimulate some scenario planning - how would we cope if disaster struck, would we go or stay put, what would we do if we were separated, what if we couldn't access food and water readily?
Alongside this, we have the situation of the last few years where our food supply has been strained, international freight is problematic with no sign of relief, food prices have gone up (along with almost everything else) and there is currently no sign that this will improve anytime soon. It has really rung home for me how vulnerable we can be if we are relying completely on big food systems.
So, the questions remain, what would we do if we couldn't access food from a supermarket or dairy for an extended period of time? Would we be ok? What would we do if we lost power for a significant period of time? Would our stored food be ok?
3. Having control over what we eat
Following on from potential supply issues, we have chronic health issues in my family and diet is hugely important. We cannot eat gluten and there is a whole host of other things we stay away from. For me, it is better if we make our own, know exactly what is in our food and have stores available when we need them.
As our vegetable gardens continue to grow and be more productive, we have even more control over what we consume.
4. Slowing down
There is something deeply grounding when we slow down and reconnect with the land, the food we grow, and the food we prepare. Nature is a good teacher in care, timing, value, patience and acceptance. Likewise, preserving our own food requires us to slow down and take the time required to achieve good results. It also prompts reflection (priorities being one) and memories. I often wonder about previous generations, the traditions that have been passed on and the role of new technologies and better scientific understanding (from soil and plant health to optimal post-harvest practices, food storage, food preparation, and preservation processes).
5. Preserving traditions
One of the biggest gifts we can give our children is to teach them how to grow and prepare food and actually cook from scratch. These skills will serve them well for the rest of their lives and having confidence in the kitchen allows them to try new things. The best way to learn new skills is to work alongside someone competent. Preparing food together whether that be baking a cake, making gravy, preparing produce for bottling, making yoghurt from scratch, drying herbs from the garden or any other host of traditional food preparation techniques sets up our children to be as self reliant as they want to be in the future and gives them confidence and the ability to feed themselves well and teach others to do the same. There's also a whole lot of science and technology involved in all of the above so they are great learning opportunities.
6. Increasing food security and providing a buffer
If disaster struck and we could not access a supermarket, what would we do? How long could we live off the food we have already in our own home? These are questions I've asked myself many times over the last few years. Likewise, if our ability to earn a living was compromised or we incurred some major expenses, would we be able to cope? For me, preserving food provides us with a buffer for those unknown circumstances as we have full meals, vegetables, fruits and condiments that we can use if times are tough. Food security is a concern for many around the world and preserving food is a big step towards improving that. Connecting with local farmers, sharing excess produce and bulk storage of dry goods are also positive steps forward too.
Where are you at on your food preservation journey and why do you preserve food? Please feel free to comment below, I'd love to hear how your journey is going.
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by Kylie Foster November 21, 2022
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