Thursday, September 9, 2010

Arabella Forge discusses Frugavore

We talk to Arabella Forge about her first book, Frugavore: How to Grow Your Own, Buy Local, Waste Nothing & Eat Well.

What is a frugavore?

A frugavore is a person ‘who loves all things frugal’. From a cooking perspective, this means that they shop locally, buy good quality produce, but waste nothing along the way.

What inspired you to write Frugavore?

I have a background in health sciences and am a registered Nutritionist, so I have always been interested in good quality, healthy food and the importance of eating well.

Yet, the real inspiration for writing Frugavore came after I had been teaching a series of cooking classes for kids in temporary housing estates out in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. I was forever in a debate with the co-ordinator of the class about how to shop and cook effectively on a low budget. They kept wanting to include processed and pre-packaged foods for their menu, and I kept arguing against it, stating that people could eat just as well, if not better on a low budget if they ate frugally.

So I decided to put together a guide on how to eat well and save costs. I wanted to communicate to people that nutrient-dense, healthy foods are within everyone’s grasp; it might involve starting a vegie patch, keeping some chickens or developing some peasant-style cooking methods in your home kitchen, but the end result is always worth it. I also wanted to alert people about many of the grass-root food movements that currently developing throughout Australia. In an effort to access better quality produce, people are creating networks such as land-shares, farm-shares or community co-ops. This can be a great way to access better quality produce at a cheaper price.

Can you tell us a little about your book, Frugavore?

Frugavore is a ‘hands-on-guide’ to everything frugal about food; there’s information on how to grow your own produce, keep chickens, start a vegie patch and compost all of your waste.

The recipes in Frugavore have been developed in my home kitchen and they focus on traditional cooking techniques that enhance the available nutrients in food. If you are going to eat frugally, you may as well choose the best foods possible, and make the most of what you have. Frugavore explains clearly what “healthy” food is – how to access it and prepare it in home kitchen, whilst simultaneously keeping the grocery bills down!

When did you become a frugavore, and how has your life changed since becoming a frugavore?

That’s a tricky one! I think I have always been a frugavore at heart. Growing up, I lived in a very busy household in the suburbs. We kept plenty of chickens, had our own vegie patch and despite my mother working full-time we cooked all our own meals and very rarely bought take out. My family instilled in me from a young age, the importance of not wasting food, never throwing things out, and always looking to buy the best quality produce possible.

Yet it was not until I was in my early 20s, when I was living in a busy household and doing most of the cooking and sourcing of food myself that these peasant habits of frugality suddenly became useful. I was keen for everyone in my house to be enjoying the best quality food (we loved organic and locally-produced produce!) but our food bills began to escalate with a big household and plenty of mouths to feed.

So instead of buying ‘cheaper’ food, I just made a decision one day that we were going to be more ‘frugal’ with what we bought.  We started by pulling up our front lawn and building a vegetable patch, then getting some chickens that were ‘on sale’ from a local battery farm. I also did some investigating and started to connect directly to a local farm for much of our produce. We invested in a large freezer and bought much of our food directly from the farm and kept it there in bulk.

In terms of my life ‘changing’ from this experience – I have to say it has changed for the better. If anything there is actually a lot less work involved in cooking and running a household once you become a frugavore. I find that shopping and going to the supermarket is incredibly tiring – particularly if you need to go there several times per week. As a frugavore, you are able to run your own mini-ecosystem in your backyard.

There are  always fresh vegetables on hand, some eggs in the chook-house, and plentiful storage in the freezer. So you need to plan your meals in advance, but with peasant-style thrify dishes and less contact with the supermarket, you actually can prepare meals that are a lot healthier, and easier to cook. As my grandmother used to say, ‘simple food, is always the best!’

Is being a frugavore hard work?

Yes and no. Sure, it takes a lot more energy and time to produce a meal instead of buying take-out but you also pay a certain ‘price’ each time you buy inexpensive, nutrient-empty food.

Ironically, I actually started writing this book as a means to save time and money when I was cooking and sourcing food in a busy household. I really hate driving to and from the supermarket or organic foodstore every few days – it is not only expensive, it also takes a lot of energy to pack the car, get the shopping, unload it home, then cook a whole meal! So I started developing habits of ‘frugality’, I started growing some of our own produce, keeping chickens, and buying meat, directly from the farm in bulk. With this change in cooking habits, our household started to eat the most nutrient-dense foods possible, but what’s more, these habits actually made it a lot easier to prepare simple, healthy meals for every night of the week.

I’ll give you an example – if you live in a small or standard-size block, you should or could have the capacity to grow some of your own produce, or even keep a few chickens – our house is the size of a postage stamp, and we’re still able to do all that!!

So, you get home late from work, you’re tired, exhausted and you start to reach for the phone to find your local dial-a-pizza, BUT, if you are a frugavore, you will find the answers much more easily at your fingertips. Last night for instance, I got home late, but I went to our chickens, sourced out 2 eggs, then I went to the vegie patch and picked various greens to make a delicious and nourishing omelet.
Just like our parents or grandparents used to do, I make a lot of nutrient-dense food in bulk, that I can store for these last minute dishes – I make a big pot of stock on a weekly basis, and store this in recycled containers in the freezer together with excess meat and sausages from our local farm (despite popular opinion, meat freezes and stores extremely well), there is always sauerkraut and pickled foods in my pantry and plentiful herbs and fresh greens on my doorstep.

So back to the question – is being a frugavore hard work?  Sure, setting up a herb garden initially takes time, making stock in advance takes time, visiting your local farm once per month takes time – but the result – you spend less time driving back and forth to your conventional retail outlets buying over-priced and nutrient-empty food, you become connected to your food source and have a better understanding of where your food comes from, and finally, you have less trips to the Dr’s, Dentist, weight loss clinic, and less days off work!

How can someone living in the city or in apartment become a frugavore?

People who live in inner city areas are showing an increasing demand for better quality food at more reasonable prices. They are using ‘frugal innovations’ to develop systems such as landsharing (where people build gardens on neighbouring properties), rooftop and community gardens and guerilla gardening (where people start planting in local parks or even on nature strips). Growing food in this manner – with little available space, but plenty of enthusiasm, is one of the best ways to be a frugavore and access better quality produce at lower prices.

Similarly, people who live in inner city areas are often craving a closer connection to local farms. I have plenty of frugavore friends who buy their produce in bulk from local organic farms and car-share the drive so that they only need to make the trip out there once every month or so. So even though they live in the city, they still have all the benefits of good-quality, local produce. Along this theme, there are plentiful farmer’s markets in inner city areas now.

There are also new systems of food access developing such as Buyer’s Clubs and Farm-Shares, which allow city people to buy food directly from farms from either a warehouse, or home-delivery. In many of these cases, these systems have developed to make certain foods (ie raw milk or farmer-made sauerkraut) legally accessible. They also allow city folk to enjoy the best quality foods possible, and avoid the added prices of going through a retailer.

What are benefits of being a frugavore?

The primary benefit of being a frugavore is that you are able to cook and prepare the most nutrient-dense foods possible. This means that you will feel healthier, stronger and have less days off work!

Being a healthy person and keeping my grocery bills down was my primary motivation for becoming a frugavore, but as my household and chicken coop developed I also realized that there were several other benefits. As a frugavore you can significantly reduce your waste output – which means that you will lessen your impact into local landfills. Did you know, that just by buying less processed and pre-packaged foods, and by keeping a compost heap or wormfarm, waste output can be reduced by 1 tonne per person every year?!

We are a society that is becoming increasingly aware of its environmental impact, but for us to truly make change, we need to think a lot more carefully about how we dispose of our waste. By composting or keeping a worm farm there is double benefit – not only do we reduce our waste output, we also create a superb garden fertilizer for our plants.

What kind of recipes will readers find in your book?

Frugavore is intended as an overall guidebook for the frugal kitchen, so the recipes are based on traditional style cooking methods that are thrifty and easy to prepare.

Readers will find recipes for vegetables dishes - using vegetables that are easy to grow at home, egg dishes -from your lovely hens, meat dishes – using thrifty cuts of meat and whole-animal cooking, grain dishes – using  traditional grain preparation methods such as sourdough bread making and leavening, milk dishes – using good quality dairy products, and of course wonderful and easy sweet dishes using natural sweeteners.

There are many frugal ingredients and cooking techniques, which are aimed at maximizing your produce and wasting nothing! For instance – peasant-style soups, stock-making and cooking with lentils, beans and pulses.

What are your favourite recipes in the book?

I love peasant style soups, as they are so nourishing and easy to prepare. I have plenty of recipes along this theme such as minestrone, stracciattella and pea and ham soup. But of course, I also love desserts – so my two ingredient chocolate mousse is always a winner!

If we looked inside your pantry right now, what would we find?

In my pantry you would find plentiful preserves that I made from last summer when fresh fruit and berries were in season. I also have large jars of sauerkraut, home-brewed beers and other fermented foods that I put together in winter. I also keep plenty of long-life storage foods in there such as dried beans, lentils and chickpeas, which are wonderfully economical foods to cook with.

Frugavore: How to Grow Your Own, Buy Local, Waste Nothing & Eat Well is out now in all good bookstores.

Arabella will be discussing Frugavore at 6.30pm on Thursday 16 September at Readings Hawthorn bookstore, 701 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn, Victoria. For bookings and further details click here.

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