FoodShare Toronto's delivery of fresh produce has made eating fun and interesting, while helping out the city's nutritionally vulnerable
Near the end of January, I signed up for FoodShare Toronto’s weekly Good Food Produce Box. It was 10 months into the pandemic, and frankly I was tired of cycling through the same 10 to 12 recipes using the same boring ingredients – call it quarantine cooking fatigue.
Plus, the city was in second lockdown, and I felt less enthusiastic about trekking out to grocery stores in the dead of winter. I figured I would try out the box, see if I liked it, and if I wasn’t happy I would cancel.
Well, I’ve been receiving the Good Food Box for about a month-and-a-half now, and I’m hooked.
Every Saturday, it’s delivered directly to my door – a driver texts me about half an hour in advance to tell me the box is on its way. I can’t wait to see what fresh, tasty and often locally grown fruits and veggies will arrive. I’m trying out some new items. My grocery runs are less frequent – and much lighter. In fact, I’ve never eaten so well in my life. And I’m saving money – there’s no way I could buy everything I receive for my weekly $17 charge for a small box. (It’s $24 for a large box, and $30-$40 for organic produce.)
Plus, my subscription contributes to community food programs and helps out the nutritionally vulnerable.
Here are some things I’ve learned since using the Good Food Box.
Call me a food snob, but I prefer buying romaine hearts and celery hearts – I just find I waste less. Now, after receiving three enormous heads of romaine, I’ve learned that the outer leaves are pretty tasty, and are perfect not just for salads but for layering in sandwiches or tearing up and tossing into a bowl of ramen. And the bitter outside stalks of celery, while not as tender as those hearts, are perfectly fine for cooking.
You know those TV shows where contestants are tasked with making dishes out of certain ingredients? That’s what it’s like sometimes when you suddenly find yourself with a surplus of an ingredient. A few weeks ago I found myself with 5 pounds of potatoes, plus more onions to add to my filled crisper. So I dug up an old recipe for scalloped potatoes that used 2 ½ pounds of the potatoes and 4 onions. I’m sure the reality show judges would have been very pleased with the result.
When I received five pounds of potatoes and a bag of onions, I made scalloped potatoes and a filling tossed salad.
Before this year, I found tossed salads acceptable as a side dish or as a nutritious bed for some slabs of hot protein. I also found them a pain to make. Now I’ve learned that half the work in making a good salad is having your salad spinner ready, so you can get those washed leaves nice and dry. With the Good Food Box, I never know what I’ll have on hand to add: spinach, peppers, cucumbers, carrots. Once I add some cheese, a good dressing (which I’ve started making at home) and some nuts and seeds, it’s a filling meal all by itself. I’ve also noticed that, if I eat a salad first, I’ll eat less of my entrée – which means more leftovers.
We all have our irrational food fears. I used to hate baby carrots – they seemed slimy and non-hygienic. And I avoided sprouts ever since those recalls over salmonella and E. coli. Well, thanks to the Good Food Box, I’ve learned that baby carrots – washed – are big time-savers. They’re perfect to add to a plate of crudités and don’t need chopping for that tossed salad. Washed sprouts are fine to add to the top of the salad or to add moisture to a sandwich. And they’ve got a pleasantly nutty taste all their own. (Keep in mind that you’ll find the little tendrils all over your sink and countertop.)
One thing I’ve noticed during the last year is that, because of mandatory mask-wearing in markets, it’s hard to tell if some fruit is ripe. Ordinarily, I would hold cantaloupes, melons or mangos up to my nose to see if I could detect a pleasant aroma. Not possible these days. And I used to only buy peeled and cored pineapples so I could see if they were that delicious rich golden colour signifying ripeness. Over the past few weeks I’ve received a pineapple, a melon and two mangos. If they’re not ripe, I put them in a perforated paper bag and within a few days they’re fine.
If a vegetable has been sitting in the fridge for a while, use it up by dousing it with some olive oil and salt and roast it for an hour or so. Voila, you’ve got a quick nutritious snack. Or cut it up and toss it into a stir-fry or soup. And if you have too much of an item, consider giving it to a neighbour or friend.
Speaking of friends, since sharing my Good Food Box experiences on social media, I’ve found a small but fierce community of people who are receiving the same ingredients every week. We now occasionally swap recipes and stories about how we’re using ingredients – an unexpected social benefit that is much-appreciated during lockdown.