Who Rescued Whom? How rescued produce rescues me

Who rescued whom? I love those animal-rescue bumper stickers. I say it often about my cat, Dansby, who came to me in 2020 as a foster from the Feline Foundation of Greater Washington. He’d become homeless when his humans moved to an elder care center. And I was alone, with my husband working abroad and travel cut off, and my previous two beloved cats having succumbed to illnesses. Dansby rescued me from loneliness and isolation.

Meanwhile, every week, even during the pandemic, I receive a box of rescued produce on my doorstep. And that rescues me too.

Grocery stores often reject fruits and vegetables that are misshapen (I get a lot of forked carrots in my boxes), or have little spots, or are oddly sized. Sometimes the produce is simply left over after the supermarkets have taken all they wanted. Of course, this is also an ideal source for kitchens that help feed people in need, and rescued produce does and should go to them too, but there is still plenty to be rescued in the short window of time before it spoils.

Where do I get it?

The company I use is called Hungry Harvest, which unfortunately only serves some parts of the Eastern U.S. (Note: I’m not an affiliate, just a happy customer!) There are other services, with widely varying reviews, but I haven’t tried any of them. I hope something like this serves your area. In the past I’ve also signed up for a community-supported agriculture (CSA) share with weekly pickups of whatever vegetables and fruits were produced that week on a local farm or cooperative. I loved that system, but it ran only during the warmer part of the year.

How does it work?

With Hungry Harvest, I receive an email on Mondays with the lineup of rescued produce available that week and the cost for each kind. I can choose different box sizes/types: mini, full, super or all-organic, and I can customize what is in the box each week, choosing among the available items and specifying the quantity. There’s also a Marketplace of extra products, ranging from strudel made from rescued apples to gourmet pasta sauce near its sell-by date. Shipping is free if I reach $29.99, which I always do (otherwise $4.99). If I don’t need much in a certain week, or if I’m traveling, I can easily skip deliveries.

The Marketplace definitely does not cover all my pantry needs. The items are interesting but limited. BUT since I mostly eat proteins, fruits and vegetables anyway, I can cover most of my meals with Hungry Harvest and my monthly pickup of eggs and frozen meats from the free-range and sustainable Polyface Farms (P.S. Polyface ships via UPS too). Then I just need to visit grocery stores occasionally for fish, tofu, olive oil, spices, whole grains, beans and similar.

I also submitted a never listwhen I signed up with Hungry Harvest. Sometimes when an item runs out they will substitute another at the last minute, so it’s good to exclude things we really don’t want. Since I’m fortunate not to have allergies, the only thing on my never list is papaya, because I evidently have a gene that ruins the taste for me.

Why does rescued produce rescue me?

Because it shows up every week on my doorstep. Because I dislike waste, so I make sure to use it all. It partly inspires and partly forces me to batch-cook every week. And then I need to eat (or prepare and freeze) all those veggies and fruits.

Doing that, I easily and happily get 4-7 servings of vegetables plus 2-3 servings of fruit a day. And we know that eating plenty of vegetables and fruits in their natural form (not orange juice, applesauce or processed veggie chips) has a huge range of benefits. The scientific and medical sources I follow (like Medscape) seem to provide more evidence for this every week:

  • The fiber in whole plant foods nourishes helpful bacteria which can affect not only our digestion but also our immune system and even our moods.
  • Natural plant substances like polyphenols can reduce inflammation and lower our risk of heart disease, cancer and even dementia.
  • Fruits and vegetables can help stabilize our blood sugar. Yes, although fruit does of course contain sugar, consuming natural whole fruit in reasonable amounts can actually reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Plus, non-starchy vegetables are free!

I’m logging my food in an app this month because it’s finally time for a reset: I reached an all-time low in my body fat percentage last February, but I did it with a little too much determination (instead of slowly, gradually, joyfully), and then I rebounded with too much abandon. I hope I’ve finally learned (and accepted) that I can add one of the following to my days, but not all: Belgian chocolates, sourdough bread, gingerbread cookies from an Amish bakery, and interesting Belgian beers. I gained even more abdominal fat than I had lost, the very common and unhealthful yo-yo effect.

As I log my food once again and observe the levels of protein, fiber, and calories, I celebrate the low energy density of non-starchy plant foods.

  • One cup of baby arugula, 10 calories.
  • Half a cup of cooked beets, 24 calories.
  • A whole cup of blueberries (thawed from frozen to go with my yogurt), 77 calories
  • And half a cup of roasted Brussels sprouts, 29 calories.

I always include some high-quality olive oil (1 tablespoon, 120 calories, many health benefits) to coat my vegetables for roasting or drizzle on top.

I love this huge list from Weight Watchers of vegetables that are zero points.

I’m also using Dr. Gregers Daily Dozen checklist and app this month, to remind myself to include a full range of healthy foods, even though I’m not doing a Veganuary, just a Dry January. Dr. Greger calls for a daily half cup of a cruciferous vegetable (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower) because of their bonus health benefits, plus two servings of greens and two other other vegetable servings. I have no trouble with the two other vegetable servings because I can always pull out batch-cooked onions, mushrooms, carrots, roasted squashes and other veggies and add them freely to my meals.

Dr. Greger also reminds me to include three servings of true whole grains (such as corn, oats, a slice of a true whole-grain bread like Ezekiel or a cracker like Wasa), and three servings of beans, legumes, tofu or tempeh. And his ideal fruit plan includes half a cup of berries, plus three other servings of fruit (let’s say another half-cup of berries, a mandarin and an apple).

What happened when I stopped getting my boxes?

For a while last year, I turned off my Hungry Harvest subscription. I have wonderful Asian supermarkets near me, like H Mart and Good Fortune, with hugely diverse displays of fresh produce at great prices. There I can find items that rarely or never show up in Hungry Harvest boxes, like fresh bean sprouts, long Thai eggplants, persimmons or kabocha squash. I resolved to shop weekly at an Asian grocery store and have fun with all of these exotic and delicious foods. Plus maybe I’d even be brave and shop in their seafood section, with its gleaming whole fish and unfamiliar creatures on ice or swimming in tanks.

It didn’t work out that way. Instead I went a few times and then just started buying produce sporadically from my local Giant supermarket or Trader Joe’s. My refrigerator and fruit bowls no longer brimmed with bunches of collard greens and paper bags of snow peas and glossy avocados and blushing rutabagas.

My fruit and vegetable consumption went way down. Just because it was a little bit harder to schedule grocery trips and decide what to buy when I got there. It’s so much easier to customize it on my computer and have it show up in a box!

But what do I do with all those fresh vegetables?

Of course some of them need no cooking, or just washing and cutting: salad greens, radishes, cucumbers (which I cut up and mix with yogurt for a great tzatziki).

Since starting my Hungry Harvest journey in 2018 (thank you Jan Fischer Bachman), I’ve become a master of batch cooking. No need for recipes, just a few instructions from the Internet. Once or twice a week, I pull out my Instant Pot pressure cooker, one or two large frying pans, and flat oven pans with parchment paper to make cleanup easy.

I cook tough vegetables like kale, collard greens and whole beets in the Instant Pot. Tender vegetables like broccoli and cabbage go into the large saute pans. Root vegetables and Brussels sprouts are roasted. Carrots may be boiled (keeping the liquid for soup) or roasted. Sometimes I’ll start a Polyface beef stew or bean soup in the Instant Pot, and I add cut-up vegetables at the end for three more minutes of pressure cooking. I wrote two blog posts about my easy batch-cooking methods; you can find them here and here!

While cooking, I might flavor the vegetables with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, or nothing at all. With less seasoning, they are easy to toss into meals and flavor later with herbs and spice blends. But sometimes I’ll season the vegetables while cooking, since some of the combinations are SO yummy, like roasted carrots with garam masala, roasted Brussels sprouts with garlic and balsamic vinegar, or cooked greens with garlic and Cajun spices. Vegetables can be bland, or mushy, but I make sure they are not (see my blog post on adding flavor here!).

Today is Wednesday, and my Hungry Harvest box came today, delivered by a nice gentleman about my age. I got a text message when it arrived. My husband and I unpacked it together with joy and anticipation. I’ll batch-cook the veggies on Friday afternoon or over the weekend. We even use the sturdy boxes to store things in the basement. 😇

I feel good knowing that I’m making good use of produce that might otherwise rot and go to waste. And I feel radiant, healthy and well-nourished eating abundant portions of healthy vegetables and fruits every day. Crunchy or tender and well-seasoned, they make sure I don’t miss the processed foods I’ve mainly left behind. I feel grateful, and rescued.

Thank you for reading this blog post! If you’d like to keep up with me and my free online events, please join my twice-monthly “Jetpack” email updates here. (It’s easy to unsubscribe, and I never share your info…). I’d also love it if you could share my work with any women over 45 you know who might be looking for ways to be more active, eat well, sleep well, manage stress and honor themselves and their bodies in a culture that pushes us in so many ways to do the opposite. Thank you, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments below or here! Stay fierce, and I hope to see you again soon!

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