Shannon Hodgen Jacobs,
Student Life and Leadership Coordinator, Idyllwild Arts Academy

At Idyllwild Arts Academy, we have begun to implement sustainable practices in many aspects of our campus life.

Some of the greatest successes have occurred in our dining hall. We’ve become deliberate in sourcing our food locally, seasonally and in pursuit of organic produce. We have moved forward in establishing relationships with local farmers who can provide fresh, humanely raised and chemical free meat, poultry and eggs.

We are moving in the direction of collecting and utilizing our compost and again working with community resources to handle our recycling. We see a greenhouse and garden in the near future. There we can put to good use things that are being taken to the transfer station and later thrown into a mega trash heap.

Most people would agree that the above actions, taking place at Idyllwild Arts, are wonderful and important.

But, I also think the food choices we make as individuals matter. These individual choices bear greater weight on our planet as our life spans become longer, our numbers grow and our choices about what and where to eat become more varied with each passing minute.

I had an interaction a couple months ago that challenged me to think about how I choose what I cook in my home.

It started with me gazing at a small, rather, innocent looking pumpkin I’d purchased a month before with the plan to carve it into a jack-o-lantern. I’d not gotten around to carving it, so it had remained on my front patio as Halloween came and went.

Some may classify me as a risk taker because of my next move. I took that pumpkin and I constructed a meal out of it. Actually, I made many meals out of it. They were absolutely delicious. Many others agreed because I shared some with them, too.

Most of us are driven to fix a meal based on what we feel like eating or seeing a recipe we wish to try. We then go to Fairway or Village Market or Mountain Harvest. We may even drive to Stater Brothers or Trader Joes. If we are really food savvy, perhaps we go to Jensen’s Market or Bristol Farms to pick up ingredients. This is one way to view the acquisition of food ingredients.

Here is another. What if you let what was in your home right now, in your pantry, your fridge, heck, your yard, direct what will be for dinner?

What if you cooked “ingredient first” rather than “recipe first?” For example, since I already had a Halloween pumpkin, how could I prepare a meal from it?

I also had some kale and cooked quinoa in my fridge, I also had some turkey kielbasa sausage in my freezer. In my garden, I had a hardy plant that many of us have even in winter — sage.

What if we decided on our meal basd on the contents of our pantry or refridgerator? Voila! Pumpkin-kale soup with kielbasa and sage brown butter. If it helps, think of it as a game, a puzzle. If you think you may want to try, but need some help, check out “The Flavor Bible: The essential guide to culinary creativity,” by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. It allows you to look up a food, a spice or an herb and find complementary foods that pair well with what you’ve already got.

When you use items that are already in your home, you don’t burn gas to drive to the market. When you use plants growing in your yard, you aren’t buying packaging such as plastic bags, clamshell boxes and styrofoam containers. When you use things like whole produce, you get to use all of it and you get more of it.

Cooking “ingredient first,” otherwise known as cooking “Slow Food,” also will allow you to eat more seasonally and locally. Last, we actually get to practice something that we don’t tend to do anymore with the advent of fast food and frequent restaurant dining … critical thinking.

Creating meals this way takes ingenuity; but it doesn’t require any more time to cook this way than cooking “recipe first.”

This concept of ingredient driven cooking, “Slow Food,” is what we are practice as an aspect of sustainable living and make the world a slightly better place.

In the preparation of one meal we have eliminated pollutant emissions, we bypassed the landfill, we have supported our local farmers (which in some cases, might be us) and we have re-engaged our ability to think critically and used perhaps our MacGyver-like sense of ingenuity.

We also may have shown our children and our guests a new, thoughtful way of cooking and eating all the while promoting positive human interaction and fun.

In conclusion, food can help make the world a better place if we all think about it. Ingredient driven, thoughtful cooking is yet one of many ways that food really can have a huge impact.