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Grow what you eat VS Eat what you grow

 
gardener
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Hello!

One of my current goals is being able to grow & produce 75% of my calories ( for me & my partner ) over the next 3 years. One of the things I'm running up against is figuring out a balance between growing the things I want to eat vs eating the things I can grow/forage.


Meat has been one of the things I've recently learned to raise & process myself.

Do you learn to eat what is easily available? Or do you learn to grow things you like to eat?  Or is it a journey to find the happy medium?

I live in a climate where the window to grow food or forage is limited to about 6 months of the year; which, to me, is a pretty solid indicator of of needing to learn how to preserve food. This was not something a grew up with so I find myself forgetting to plant things in the garden for winter storage. In addition, planting things in the garden that I like to eat canned or dried. I often default to freezing items only to forget their existence in the back of the fridge.

- What do you do to ensure your garden continues to provide in the winter months?
- How do you ensure what you do preserve gets consumed?
- Do you choose to preserve food using methods that preserve the food's desirability or simply its shelf life?

Another barrier I run into is learning how to eat things that are easy to grow or forage. I find when I'm busy or stressed I just want to fall back to my "comfort" foods and recipes.
- How do you learn to incorporate new foods into your regular diet?

I would say a personal success of mine was learning to incorporate lard into my diet to replace other fats & oils (it's the first oil/fat i learned to produce myself that I can preserve)


Finally, I often find I need to learn to develop a 'taste' for what grows in my climate. I love avocados and bananas but there is no way those are ever going to be a staple crop in a zone 4 environment.
- Any tips or tricks for replacing staple foods that aren't available in your bio-region?

 
pollinator
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Ooh some good questions there, I can only answer personaly of course but here goes.


- How do you ensure what you do preserve gets consumed?
- Do you choose to preserve food using methods that preserve the food's desirability or simply its shelf life?  



The latter is the answer to the former. No point preserving something that you don't want to eat later, very few of us have to eat what we grow and if the house is full of perfectly edible but not yummy things then the local takeaway starts to look more and more appealing.

One way I do that is to turn the items we are not so keen on into comfort foods, so winter squash which I find horrible to eat, I don't like the texture at all. I turn into bread, gnocchi and a paste which replaces cream in curries. all of those items can go into the freezer to be pulled out on one of those I can't be f€@*!s days. It also finds it's way into meat sauces as a bulking agent and replaces swede (who's taste I loath) in pasties. Squash gives bread a lovely golden colour and slightly sweet taste, much better than the thick cloying mush it turns into when cooked on it's own.

Eating foraged food is not something we really do, there are very very few state owned areas here and 90% of those are sand-dune and the scrubby pine forests that are planted on them and even there you can only pick fruit or leaves. Picking anywhere else is theft and not something I would condone. That said I do sometimes go mushroom hunting, as a source of food it is a terrible idea it takes fuel and way more calories walking to find the little blighters than they provide when eaten, but a nice cream and mushroom sauce over a pork chop oh yes please.

As to eating things that are easy to grow, well um.. what is easiest to grow here, courgettes and runner beans I would say are the absolutely easiest annuals to grow, courgettes can be peeled and cooked down to a pulp and then added to flour products or sauces, but beans are harder to hide. Apples and pears are the easiest trees, at least both of those make good drinks.  Potatoes are a good case in point for us, neither of us are big potato eaters, he prefers pasta and I prefer rice, rice doesn't grow here (no heat and no water) and pasta, well that takes wheat which isn't great grown here and is a lot more effort than potatoes. So I try to force potatoes into us once a week at least, it's easy with the new potatoes from around now (late May to June) but when they get "old" and boring it's much harder. I find that using them for breakfast is a good way to do it. so hashbrowns, or fried potatoes or croquettes... that type of thing.

Remembering to eat things is difficult and it gets worse the more you preserve. After a trip down to the cellar I can see we need to eat more pickled beetroot, it's not really going down and I didn't even make any last year! But with it down in the cellar it's out of sight and out of mind, so what I do is I bring whatever the item is that most needs eating and I put it in the fridge or on the counter, for frozen foods I write them onto a piece of paper on the fridge door, that way every time I stand in the kitchen going.. what shall I do for dinner there they are staring at me.

As to eating things you can grow over imported things, I wouldn't say we are very good at that, I don't fancy the WWII solution to bananas, mashed parsnip with artificial banana flavouring.. but there is a thread HEREthat has some recipes for fake guacamole that is pretty good.

 
pollinator
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 What do you do to ensure your garden continues to provide in the winter months?
- How do you ensure what you do preserve gets consumed?
- Do you choose to preserve food using methods that preserve the food's desirability or simply its shelf life?
- How do you learn to incorporate new foods into your regular diet?



We are blessed to live in a zone that is frost-free 7+ months a year. I am learning to overwinter more foods like brassicas and onions. I've tried unsuccessfully a few times to work with high tunnels and cold frames.

I try to grow foods my family likes. We don't particularly care for radishes, so I don't grow those. We REALLY like tomatoes, so I have an abundance of different varieties growing.

I am learning that we don't like some foods prepared in different ways, ie: we LOVE fried okra, but I tried pickling okra last year which was not pleasant to us. I still have those jars of pickled okra in my pantry...taunting me...LOL I will probably offer them to the chickens or ditch them in the worm bin. I tried pickling watermelon rind, which was downright detestable to us. However, I learned to make a watermelon rind pie filling which my family adores.

We are learning to incorporate "new" foods. For instance, I only just learned last year that sweet potato greens are edible (smacks forehead with a "duh!!!") We enjoyed a boatload of stir-fried greens last year. I canned up several pints, which my family didn't particularly care for. So I won't can them anymore, but we did enjoy adding crushed, dried greens into soups. So I'll do that more often.

My philosophy is that I want my garden to work for my family, livestock, and me. If I find that we don't like a type of food, even if it grows well here, I'm not going to spend my energy to grow it. I want to ENJOY the fruits of my labor!

 
Posts: 26
Location: Virginia
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I am trying every year to be a better gardener. I am also putting in more perennial and more trees. We are making progress. We eat most of our weeds (chickweed, sorrel, dandelion, lambs quarter), but I have yet to preserve any. We have tried our hand at canning and kudos to those who grow, harvest, and preserve. I look for surplus, one year I put up 7 bushels of apples, another year we did 100 lbs of corn and 5 bushels of tomatoes. But we purchased all those from farmers.
I have been growing my own for the past decade or so and have found that I can produce my own meat with more success than produce. We have raised meat chickens, hogs, and steers. Next up trying my hand at lamb.
But I will continue to try my hand in the garden. Grow what you eat vs eat what you grow? I think it is a balancing act and ease of growing plays a significant part for me. I am also always on the lookout for new wild edibles that aren't in our current diet. No work required, just knowledge and hunger.
 
pollinator
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General answer would be both. There is little point in growing things we don't like or won't eat. It takes some trial and error to find preservation techniques that suit your family's palette. I really like freezing things in these large silicon ice cube trays that I have. Each cube is about 1/2 cup, it makes using them easy. I use them for various stocks, chile puree, squash puree - summer and winter, compound butters, cooked greens, pestos.

I've found that we are much more likely to eat fruit salsas than jam. They are great for tacos or pork cutlets.

I like to do much food processing upfront. So when I get a slaughtered pig, I make all the pork stock immediately, as well as starting hams, bacon etc.

We will likely always buy some rice, wheat, pasta, if available, but I'm okay with that.

Today was spent making thyme salt, an endeavor that will continue for months. We go through about a gallon a year.
 
gardener & author
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An excellent topic.

I am working towards finding that happy medium. I think having flexibility with recipes can help - if you have lots of ways of using any kind of cooking greens, then it’s a lot easier to make use of whatever is growing in your garden at that time of year rather than specifically needing one particular type of kale or chard. If one type of greens doesn’t go well, then the other one might go well instead. The same can be applied with many other vegetables and meats.

Sometimes it helps to ‘read between the lines’ of recipes, and where some recipes might call for fresh tomatoes, home canned ones will work just as well in a lot of cases. Some recipes might insist on real parmesan, but any homemade or local hard cheese might work just as well.

I do a lot of fermenting, and am still trying to grow cabbages well here, but in the meantime, daikon and turnip grow really well for me and are good fermented, so I try to use more of these and less of cabbage. We use a lot of carrot, both fermented, and in cooking, and I’d like to grow more of this too, along with parsnip and beetroot.

I can grow a lot of potatoes here, and I like to vary things by growing different varieties - this year it was just King Edward (floury) and Pink Eye (waxy), but other years I’ve grown blue and red varieties too. The floury potatoes are in some ways a completely different vegetable from the waxy ones, but are grown in the same way.

Appreciating the seasonality of garden foods is another thing that helps. In the spring, our stored potatoes start to go a bit bad and we eat less of them, sometimes having a break with no potatoes at all, relying on grains more, and then when the new waxy potatoes are ready in early summer we appreciate them so much and eat a lot of them, sometimes nearly every day. I don’t freeze any vegetables, and don’t do much canning, but rely on low tech methods such as fermenting and root cellaring, so we’re not eating the same vegetables year round in frozen, dried, or canned form, but eating roots, cabbage, winter squashes and cured pork over winter, fresh greens and lots of eggs and dairy in the spring, dairy and many kinds of fresh vegetables over the summer and autumn, and then back to storage vegetables again. Nothing really gets boring or old because it’s different all through the year.

What do you do to ensure your garden continues to provide in the winter months?


I am working towards finding the best time to plant things for winter harvest. Things don’t grow in winter here, but if they’ve grown enough over the autumn, then they can be harvested through the winter, and they just stay in the garden or root cellar ready for eating.

The kale that I plant in spring seems to struggle a bit over the summer and then take off again in autumn, and gives us plenty of winter harvest if the wildlife don’t get through our fences. Conventional gardening advice for my area is to plant winter greens in the heat of midsummer or in early autumn, but as more seasons pass I am finding that the growing conditions of early spring are far better for doing this, so every year I try to plant more then.

Every year the pressure from wildlife seems to get more over the autumn and winter, so I am wondering if it would be better for me to be focusing instead more on root cellaring and preserving, and having a small bed near the house that is absolutely possum/wallaby proof that provides fresh greens and herbs. This is probably similar to what many people with harsher winters do - having a small greenhouse or other protected space for some things, but relying on root cellaring and other low-tech preserving methods for winter food. Growing a surplus over the summer of things that can be preserved in low tech ways such as cabbage and roots is always a good idea.

[quoteHow do you ensure what you do preserve gets consumed?
I figure out things we like to eat. Most of my family are not keen on sauerkraut, but will eat huge amounts of kimchi, so even though sauerkraut is easier to make, I make lots of kimchi because I know it will be eaten. I usually will just try things on a smaller scale, and if they get eaten, then I’ll do larger batches next time. I observe our patterns over the year, and take note about whether I’ll need to do more or less of something next year.

We go through a lot of tomato passata, which for us is just smashed up tomatoes that are boiled down a little, put in jars, and then water bath canned - this can be used anywhere that calls for tomatoes, so I like to have a lot of this around rather than specialist sauces in jars, because if one year we have more curries and less pasta sauce, then we can just be making that with our passata, rather than having a bunch of jars that are only suitable for one purpose rather than many.

Do you choose to preserve food using methods that preserve the food's desirability or simply its shelf life?



Fermenting is so good for busy times, because many of the things I make turn out to be a kind of salad in a jar, so that if I’m so busy or tired that I don’t have time to make a vegetable dish, there is always a salad waiting there for us, so it increases the chance of us eating it.

I like to make sauces, chutneys, and pickles that have a decent shelf life after being opened, because I’m more likely to use stuff once it’s already opened, rather than thinking about opening a jar and knowing it needs to be used within a few days. Ferments are good in this regard too.

Root cellaring is a kind of preserving, and these vegetables can be used from the cellar just as they would be from the garden. Not the best shelf life compared to more energy-intensive preserving methods, but in the right conditions they will keep long enough.


Any tips or tricks for replacing staple foods that aren't available in your bio-region?



One way is to just pretend it doesn’t exist. We learn to appreciate the foods that are local here, and to focus on those. There are usually imported bananas and avocados available at the shops here, but I just ignore them. Meal planning in advance can help as well, so that if you’re stuck buying food in the shops, you don’t end up getting overwhelmed with all the options, and just get stuff that’s in your plan.

I am working towards trialing some rice varieties here to see how they grow here. We like rice and go through around 50 kilos a year, so even though rice is not commercially grown in Tasmania, growing 50 kilos on a homestead scale will not be such a big task if I can find the right variety that will tolerate our growing conditions. Every year I trial some new potential staple foods (or trial new ways of growing them) to see how they handle things here, and if any of them would work well as a larger staple crop.
 
author & gardener
Posts: 1682
Location: Southeastern U.S. - Zone 7b
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Ashley, what an excellent post. I can so relate to your goals and all your questions.

In my experience, I found it too labor intensive to try to grow what we were used to eating. So, I've moved our diet toward the direction of eating what our climate can grow. As you pointed out, it's a slow transition, however, with a lot of re-thinking of what we eat, what we can grow, and what it takes to prepare it. Time is the biggest factor for me. Growing, preserving, and preparing mostly homegrown and foraged foods are time and labor intensive. It easily could be a full-time job all by itself! I don't mind the work, but there's so much to do that most days, I'm very busy working outside. So, I make some compromises in our diet, but always in my mind I'm trying to figure out how to do without whatever I choose to buy at the grocery.

I do a lot of experimenting, with dairy, for example, trying to incorporate it in less common ways into our diet. I've learned that whey ricotta can be substituted for fat in baking, and makes a good base with kefir for salad dressing. Kefir with baking soda is an excellent substitute for baking powder. Experiments like that.

It seems like we have to re-learn how we think about diet and eating.
 
pollinator
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Wow. so many good points in these posts, so I'll try not to repeat too much. One that I didn't see addressed much is differences between what the various meal partakers like. That can quickly throw a monkey wrench in the best laid plans. I love veggies, the fresher the better, raw if possible. My hubby loves to cook and is more of a meat and potato guy, pasta, rice, pizza.
I love asparagus, green peas, green beans, cilantro. Ron positively hates these foods, won't eat any of them. When the smell of asparagus is in the air, he turns into quite the Drama queen. I have 50 asparagus plants and they are generous! He will eat fresh tomatoes, and with broccoli, that's about it.
Over the years, our pantry has gotten fuller and fuller with veggies I've canned or frozen... but he won't serve. To save energy and money, when I make a batch, I make 3-4-5, so that is a lot of ratatouille waiting to be served. I use pints only, of course!
We don't really have that problem solved. "He cooks the meat, I cook the vegetables" is about the best compromise we've figured out, but it is frustrating. He will much on broccoli while cooking the meat and I figure out what I want for vegetables. So many jars are full that there are not enough jars for this coming season, for example.
We freeze meat, but not so much veggies: they seem to have a different color, consistency that is off putting, plus, they use energy all year We do corn that way, but I would not mind canning jars of corn. I rely on cooked veggies in jars in the winter, because that is actually pretty convenient.
Hmmm... I guess I didn't solve any problem with this one, did I?
 
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I loved reading through all these comments! I'm in zone 6, and my main winter foods i grow (other than meat, which I have a chest freezer for) are sweet potatoes, white potatos and squash. Id say it was a balance, i learned sweet potatoes bc I love them, and I grew squash because it is prolific and I learned to like it. It did take a bit but we've learned to enjoy them and use one or the other at pretty much every meal to replace the traditonal starches of  bread, rice, or pasta. Im lucky that my partner will eat anything I make and love it, but i did ease the transition by spiralizing these and other veggies and making pasta-like dishes with them. They dont require any special preservation to last the whole winter.
I also want to try sun drying my squash in slices after reading thats how Native Americans stored much of their squash for winter.

That is so hardcore that you produce your own lard and dont need to buy cooking fat! I would love to get to that point someday.

I love fermenting everything after reading both of Sandor Ellix Katz's books. I put some sort of fermented veggie on the table at every meal as a condiment. If I lived in a colder place I'd do even more storage by fermenting. But I definitely put taste as the highest priority. Im like you, I dont want to force myself to eat weird textured frozen veggies. Unless its peas or green beans. If its unappetizing and makes me want to go to the grocery store for something better, its the last time i'll do it. (fermented spinach!)

I am in the same boat re: bananas and avos! Love them and have one most days in a smoothie... could just use just my own blackberries instead but I want the bananas lol. I have recently discovered the existence of paw paws though and found some on my road! I think theyre a promising replacement for those missing tropical fruit. They are zone 5-9 but maybe with a good microclimate could survive 4? I dont know if they can grow on the west coast but I'd be so interested if someone has had success there!
 
Katerina Rhame
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Fruit salsas, thats brilliant! Would be way more practical than jam. I have only had mango salsa though....would you share what  you make yours with?
 
Stacy Witscher
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Katerina - Last year, I made a lot of peach salsa. I based it on the Fiery Peach Salsa recipe in one of the Ball canning books but I left out the habanero so it wasn't so spicy, and the cilantro because my youngest has that cilantro soap thing.

I would like to try a cherry salsa if our tart cherries produce well this year.
 
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Ashley - you appear to be heavy into eating meat, so I'm not sure how valuable my comments will be, but I'll pass them along in case there is a nugget of useful info.  By choice I stopped using refrigeration a couple years ago, so storing large quantities of fresh meat is no longer an option.  I do eat meat, but generally not as a primary source of calories.  The meat I eat is mostly fresh caught salmon and trout.  Anything beyond what is consumed the day of the catch is smoked and consumed over the next couple weeks.  Beyond that, meat is a treat much like other things that I can't grow but buy occasionally in town.  Like citrus, bananas, avocados, pineapple, papaya, and coffee.  I love these things but much like chocolate, I could do without if they are no longer available.  I go to town once a month and pick up some of these "treat" items, along with fresh meat for a  meal or two which is consumed within a couple days.  Also a couple dozen eggs that last through the month without refrigeration.  I used to raise chickens for eggs, but I got so attached to the girls while they were laying that I never ate them after they stopped.  They were good company though and a constant source of entertainment.

I stopped trying to grow all my calories years ago.  I still grow potatoes and squash for variety, but not raw calories.  They compliment a multitude of garden vegetables and berries that I grow for nutrition and flavor.  I also have 3 apple and 2 plum trees.  I dislike canning, so any excess that isn't eaten fresh is dehydrated or fermented.  However, my "sustaining" calories are from stored grains and legumes.  Wheat, barley, oats, corn, rice, pinto beans, black beans, navy beans, and lentils.  I've laid in a supply of these staples adequate to provide all my calories for several years and I top off periodically.  In a pinch I could expand and grow more potatoes and squash as well as sow 1/2 an acre of oats which grows well enough in my area, but it's a lot of work and raw calories in the form of easily stored grains and legumes are still pretty cheap.  Also, I'm getting older now and its very comforting to know that I can survive for years with what is stored, augmented by my simple garden... and maybe a lazy day of fishing once and a while!
 
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This is something I've thought about a lot.  It took me years to realize that it was stupid to grow things I don't like, just because I could.  So I started to concentrate on things I DO like.  I live in a difficult climate---it's Mediterranean, but cool and foggy and rainless all summer.  A lot of the things that grow well here I don't actually like: kale, collards, etc.  I finally settled on a plan (still tweaking it, after 25 years) of a 2 garden year.  Winter and summer.  In the winter, I grow lots of scallions, mustard and cabbages.  I eat the mustard until I get sick of it, which is right around when the cabbage comes in.  I like raw cabbage, sauerkraut and coleslaw.  Don't really like it cooked except for cabbage rolls.  My winter garden is incredibly productive, much more so than the summer garden.

In late winter/early spring, as the last of the cabbage gets used (just pulled up my last scallions a week ago), I spread a few bags of manure on top, and fork it in lightly.  Last 2 years I grew a lot of corn.  First year I got over 100 ears from my tiny (4'x10') plot.  Last year, the rats found it and ate all the ears right on the stalks.  Very frustrating.  So I'm not growing corn this year.  

Instead, I'm growing black oil sunflowers for my quail.  I got quail last summer, and have been giving a lot of thought as to how to supplement their crumble diet.  I buy organic feed, and it's expensive.  I also like to give them fresh things.  In addition to the BOSS, I'm growing Lady Godiva squash.  The quail love squash, and Lady Godiva has naked seeds!  They eat a lot of the peelings and outer leaves of things, too.  Then they lay eggs, and feed me, since I am not such a big vegetable eater.

I have tried for 25 years to grow tomatoes, and had very little success because of the cool, dark climate.  This year, I bought one of those little vinyl greenhouses.  4'x4'x3' high.  I put it over part of my plot, and planted tomatoes, basil and one cuke.  I also planted the same seedlings out in the main part of the plot.  The difference is phenomenal: the plants in the GH are already flowering.  The outside ones are just sitting there.  

Instead of using the space for green beans, which I don't like all that much, I started growing cukes 2 years ago, because I love pickles.  They don't grow that great, but I do get something out of them.  It's been an awfully cold and windy spring, so everything is just sitting there, huddled up against the miserable weather.  Except the Lady Godivas!  I'm amazed at how well they're doing!  I'm growing some wax beans instead of green beans, which I find I actually like.

Sorry for being so long-winded.  I really don't have anyone to talk about this stuff with, and I'm sort of bursting with it, LOL.  Anyway, my point is, life is too short to grow stuff you don't like, and if you don't like it, you won't eat it.  I love to grow, but I'm not a big veggie eater, so I get around it by growing a lot of stuff for my birds!  Saves money, and we all benefit.  

Next year, maybe for my winter garden, I want to see if I can source nettle seed.  Nettles are THE most nutritious green you can grow.  And the best tasting, IMHO.  They are delicious steamed, and easy to dry.  Once dry, they no longer sting, take up very little room (I have a tiny apartment) and you can add them to everything.  I may devote half my plot to them.
 
pollinator
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Probably I am an 'eat what you grow (and forage)' person. Every plant considered edible I can eat (as a salad, a stew, sautéed, in a pie, etc.), I am not a fussy eater. But I am not a vegetarian ... and there's no way I can have animals (not even chickens for eggs). My allotment garden is also too small for growing grain (like wheat, barley, oat). So I can't grow all I eat.
 
jack vegas
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Yes, growing everything one eats takes a lot more space than most of us have available, and it's a lot of work that takes a lot of time.  Full self sufficiency is a full time job.  Its among the reasons I have opt to buy and store my basic calories.  Grains and legumes are relatively inexpensive and store well for years.  Buying these staples eliminates several acres of necessary growing space and saves a lifetime of hard work.  I supplement this with garden vegetables for flavor, nutrition, and variety.  This way I get long term food security while still only having to tend a relatively small garden.

Vegetables are essential, but they cost more than my basic calories if purchased in stores.  Maybe a good way to look at this is that I grow the majority of the VALUE of my food.  The vegetables may only provide 20% of my calories, but by growing them myself, I save 80% of my food cost.  So in a way, I'm growing 80% of my food.  Not bad for a small garden!

Regarding eating things we don't particularly like - First, most tastes are acquired.  We learn to like things over time.  Second, look around for recipes that feature those items but include flavors you do like.  A simple example for me is that I never really liked cabbage as a kid.  Growing up I found that cabbage was nutritious and easily grown, so I looked for things that included cabbage that I did like.  A hearty white bean cabbage soup with barley is now one of my favorites, and I can eat sauerkraut all day.  I've now gotten completely over my cabbage phobia and eat it enthusiastically in just about any form.

Finally, one of the easiest ways to learn to like simple foods is to be poor.  In my life I've crossed a couple rough patches where I fell back on simple fare.  I can guarantee we get a lot less picky when we are hungry!   When I was a young starving student with essentially no food budget, I spent an entire winter eating nothing but homemade bread, lintels with rice, and sprouted wheat and lintels for greens.  That's it.  Only money I spent for food was on a handful of spices.  Oddly, I look back fondly on those days as some of my best.
 
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