Monday, April 29, 2013

Making Food More Sustainable - Chicken and Rice

It has been a long time since my last post in the Making Food More Sustainable series. Today I had one of my favorite regular meals, chicken and rice, which I thought would make a good topic for the series. Ingredients used in this meal include chicken breast, seasoning, peppers, onions, garlic, olive oil, white wine, white rice, and corn tortillas.


When I last mentioned chicken in this series, we had yet to find a regular source for acquiring it. Since then we have chosen Pike Valley Farm, near Lancaster, KY as our regular source for chicken. We like to buy directly from the farm, when possible, but also sometimes pick up Pike Valley products at either the Good Foods Market or the Marksbury Farm Store. Unfortunately Pike Valley does not raise heritage breeds for meat chicken, due to lack of consumer demand, but they will remain our to go place until we find a better source.

Even though we plan to acquire chickens next Spring, we will not be raising them for meat, at least not at first. I suspect that we'll eventually make that leap, though, at which point I'll feel better about the chicken that we eat. Until then, however, I'm glad to at least be buying from a local farm that uses methods that we approve of.


We use a variety of seasonings for chicken, some of which are purchased and some of which are homemade. When we purchase seasoning blends, they normally come from Herb'n Renewal, also of Lancaster, KY. When Andrea makes homemade blends the spices come from the Good Foods Market.

We are trying to grow more of our own spices, which will eventually be used in our homemade seasoning blends. I doubt that we'll ever be able to grow all of them, however, due to the limitations of our climate. Any that we are unable to grow will continue to come from the Good Foods Market, unless we find another similar local supplier.


Today I used yellow and green bell peppers in the dish, although the variety of peppers will sometimes vary based on what is available. All of the peppers we are using came from last year's garden. Currently we are using the peppers that we froze for long term storage, but will switch to fresh peppers later in the year when they become available.

I'm very happy that we were able to produce enough peppers last year to completely fill our needs. Assuming the same holds true this year, we will hopefully never buy another pepper. The next steps towards sustainability have to do with our methods for growing peppers. Last year we grew them from plants that we purchased from a nursery. This year Andrea has started plants from seed, which we hope will be all that we need to plant. In the coming years we hope to begin saving our own seeds.


I'm actually not sure where the onions we are currently using came from. Hopefully they came from the Good Foods Market, but there is a chance they came from a conventional grocery store. We do not use a lot of onions, so this hasn't been a big focus, but is clearly something we need to work on.

We are attempting to grow onions for the first time this year. With this being our first year, I really don't know what to expect. I'm hopeful that we'll at least grow enough to last for several months, if not the entire year. Andrea would also like to experiment with some perennial onions, which would be a more sustainable option.


I normally use garlic in the dish, but didn't have anything available today, so used garlic powder instead. The garlic powder came from our own garlic crop, so is a good sustainable choice. The garlic I have been using most recently, however, was purchased from the Good Foods Market. We didn't have enough garlic from last year's crop to last through the winter, but even if we had, I'm not sure it would have stored well enough.

I've planted significantly more garlic this year, in hopes of having enough to last much later into the year. I still have concerns about how long we will be able to store it, however, so will likely have to rely on garlic powder as a method of storing as well as buying some garlic. Hopefully, though, we'll continue improving our process and will eventually be able to produce a crop that will last at least until Spring, when I can begin harvesting green garlic.

Olive Oil

We try to buy good quality olive oil from trusted sources if at all possible. Regardless of the source, however, olive oil will always be one of those products that is shipped long distances to reach us. The only good solution I see to this is to switch to an oil that can be produced from locally grown plants.

Eventually I'd like to be able to create our own oil from nuts or seeds that we grow ourselves. Some possible candidates include sunflower or walnut oil. Until then, however, we'll continue trying to buy our oil from sources that we can feel good about.

White Wine

Our use of wine for cooking is a very recent thing. We use the wine for deglazing the pan that the chicken is heated in, which makes cleanup easier, and also provides some additional flavor when added to the dish. We're only on our second bottle of wine, so haven't even began the process of finding the best source. Now that we know we're likely to continue the process, however, we'll have to consider where we buy the wine.

The obvious choice is to buy from a local winery, especially if we can find one that uses the agricultural practices that we approve. I can't imagine that we'll ever produce our own wine, since we do not drink it, and we do not need very much for cooking.

White Rice

We buy our rice in bulk from the Good Foods Market. We had just been buying from the bulk dry goods bins, but the last time we bought an entire 25lb bag. I suspect that we'll continue this practice, as long as we continue eating large quantities of rice.

We're never going to grow our own rice, so at some point, we probably do need to consider the impacts of using large quantities of a product that is shipped from across the world. We also need to consider switching to brown rice, which is not only healthier, but also requires less resources to produce due to less processing.

Corn Tortillas

The corn tortilla isn't entirely necessary for this dish, but I like to have one to eat along with. From a health perspective I certainly prefer the corn tortilla to bread or even a flour tortilla. We're currently just buying large packs from the super-market, which obviously isn't the best option.

We plan to experiment with making homemade tortillas, but just haven't gotten around to trying it yet. Andrea has a tortilla press, so its just a matter of taking the time to actually do it. Even when we begin making our own, however, the ingredients will primarily be store bought unless we eventually grind our own corn, which may be a possibility. At the very least, it is something I'd like to consider trying.

This isn't a meal that I can ever see us being able to produce entirely from homegrown ingredients. However, there are a lot of components that we can produce ourselves, which I believe should be our goal.

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