Photo via Goodlifer
Cathy Erway is an acclaimed food writer and sustainability activist based in New York City. Two or so years ago, she renounced the consumptive culinary culture of the big apple, and set out to eat in--for every meal. An ambitious undertaking in a city practically built on dining out. Erway documented the ordeal on her blog Not Eating Out in New York, where she shared her trials and tribulations, insights on the sustainable benefits of cooking at home, and her favorite new recipes. We caught up with Erway to discuss her new book, The Art of Eating In, a memoir/cookbook/sustainable eating manifesto that collects her experiences and recipes into a very readable narrative.TH: What are the sustainable benefits of making it a point to eat in?
Cathy Erway: Take-out food waste is enormous compared to the garbage involved in cooking a meal from scratch. I tried to explore that by weighing all the disposables from one average Chinese take-out meal and comparing it to that of my own home-cooked version of it in the book. But most of all, the biggest benefit to cooking rather than purchasing prepared food is having the ability to choose the ingredients yourself, and know that's exactly what you're eating. And, you can afford to support more sustainable, humanely raised, pesticide or cage-free foods and have a better control over this when you purchase them raw yourself, rather than forking over big bucks for this at a restaurant.
TH: What were the challenges in both eating ethically and eating in every day?
Cathy Erway: I think doing both at the same time actually made it less challenging. For instance, I wouldn't want to purchase factory-farmed, hormone-treated chicken, so having to be faced with that decision because I was cooking all the time led to my change in buying habits. On the other hand, seeing some really beautiful, heirloom produce at the Greenmarket or from my CSA was encouraging to creating a meal at home.
TH: Your endeavor seems to have some parallels with the slow food movement, at least ideologically--was it an inspiration?
Cathy Erway: Yes, I definitely look up to Slow Food and plenty of other great groups that are fostering good, clean, fresh food for everyone. I think that cooking goes hand in hand with wanting to better our food system; if we want to support more responsibly raised foods, someone has got to cook them, and as of now, most restaurants and processed food companies where Americans get the majority of their diets don't. But this didn't become my motivation until later. When I began the two-year project and blog in 2006, I was actually inspired by Henry David Thoreau's retreat to the wilderness in Walden, which something as unlikely as "not eating out in New York" seemed almost like.
TH: Did you find yourself feeling healthier during your two-year period of eating in?
Cathy Erway: I definitely felt much healthier and looking back, am not surprised why. A snack for me might be a roasted beet, wrapped up in the tinfoil that I'd thrown it in the oven to roast. An apple, a couple of unpeeled carrots. These were the easiest "snacks" to make because they barely consisted of any cooking -- they're just whole foods. Works for my health and my schedule! Then, I would add just enough oil, butter or salt to my meals to satisfy my taste buds. I think that restaurants can be all too loose with these ingredients, and tend to make food overly fatty and decadent -- not something you should really be eating every day.
TH: Was there one great meal that met all of the criteria that you found yourself returning to?
Cathy Erway: Ooh, that's a tough one! I can't say any one meal or recipe in particular, because there's always different produce in season. But one technique I tend to use a lot nowadays is making a sautee of vegetables, serving it on top of polenta (or leftover rice, other grains, or potatoes), and topping it all with a poached egg. It's quick, cheap and should cover all your food groups, plus you can be creative with whatever goes in.
See here for more info on her book, The Art of Eating In.