Pantry Makeover: Caring for Creation in the Kitchen Cupboard

Creation care means fighting the affects of the Fall wherever you find them—even in the pantry. (cc image courtesy of mullica via Flickr).

[Ed. note: This article is part of our weekly series of resources for churches and families called Cultivating Community published on Thursdays.]

It’s not difficult to stock your kitchen with fresh whole foods. Go to your local farmer’s market. Join a CSA and get farm-fresh food delivered to your doorstep. You can even start a garden or a community garden with your neighbors or church. But how do you find healthy, natural versions of flour, oil,  sweeteners, cereals and other items that are hard to find at a farmer’s market? Today’s Cultivating Community is dedicated to helping you take a good, hard look at your pantry and change out unhealthy or processed items for healthier and delicious substitutes.

What Do Natural Ingredients Have To Do With Creation Care?

Creation care is a comprehensive calling. It means we need to conserve the earth’s resources by recycling and reducing waste, by resisting consumerism, by opposing destructive practices like mountaintop removal mining. But it also means promoting justice in the food system and health in our bodies by what we choose to eat. We are called to beat back the effects of the Fall wherever we find them—even in the pantry.

Why Are Natural Foods Healthier?

Many foods on supermarket shelves have been processed to make them more attractive to the consumer (flavor or nutrient enhancements, color, texture, etc.) or to give them qualities like longer shelf-life. Processing foods generally makes them less healthy because of the loss of nutrients and the addition of man-made chemicals. Its a rule of thumb that replacing processed ingredients with natural ones will lead to healthier, better tasting and higher quality foods on the dinner table.

A Pantry Makeover

The truth is there are probably lots of ingredients in your pantry that could easily be changed for more nutritious substitutes; it is just a matter of knowing what to change and why. Below are a few basic food categories and a couple of ideas for how to replace the processed food products with more natural ones.

  • Flour:
    Most bleached white flour has been processed to 60% extraction—meaning that 40% of the original wheat grain has been removed and 60% is left. This increases shelf-life and transportability but decreases nutritional value.
    Swap it out for: Whole wheat flour is “whole” because the whole grain is used. The nutrient-rich parts of the wheat grain are left in tact. You might also try flours made from other grains such as multigrain flour, buckwheat flour, amaranth flour, oat flour or gram (chickpea) flour.
  • Sweeteners:
    In addition to the loss of nutrients during processing, refined white cane sugar causes an unhealthy spike in blood sugar levels when eaten.
    Swap it out for: Agave nectar dissolves easily even in cold drinks and can be a great substitute for sugar. It has a high glycemic index—meaning it won’t make your energy bounce up and down but is digested slowly, giving steady, long-lasting energy. Molasses, turbinado sugar (known as “raw sugar”) and maple syrup are also natural, full-flavored white sugar substitutes.
  • Rice:
    Similar things happen in the processing of rice as in the processing of wheat. White rice is created by milling the rice until the bran and germ layers are removed, which also removes most of the nutritional value.
    Swap it out for: Brown rice and other complex grains like barley, wheat berries, millet, quinoa or spelt.
  • Beans:
    Canned beans are “ready to eat” but can be packaged with man-made preservatives to increase shelf-life.
    Swap it out for: Dried beans have no preservatives and will still last years in the pantry. Cooking them just takes a little forethought since they have to be soaked and cooked longer before they are soft enough to eat.
  • Peanut Butter:
    Most popular brands of supermarket peanut butter are mixed with a lot of sugar and salt plus partially hydrogenated oils to increase spreadability.
    Swap it out for: If you have a food processor or spice grinder, making your own peanut butter is as easy as dropping the nuts in, turning it on and waiting. The nuts will break down into powder, then turn to butter as the oils are released. You can also experiment with making butters out of other nuts—try almonds, hazelnuts or cashews—to get new flavors.
  • Meat:
    Ground meat at the supermarket can be inexpensive, but is also often the product of a factory farm in which the cows were kept in inhumane conditions. Because the cows are fed on fattening grains, their meat contains a high content of unhealthy fats.
    Swap it out for: Buying local beef from grass-fed cows is a great way to support your local economy, meet the people who make your food and bypass the factory meat lots. Also, studies have shown that meat from grass-fed cows is healthier for your heart because it contains less fat and more omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Cereals:
    Sugary cereals that offer little nutritional value might catch the kids’ eyes in the aisles, but won’t make for a healthy breakfast. The boxes might advertise vitamins and minerals, but many of these are added back in after being lost during processing and have less value than what whole foods offer.
    Swap it out for: Muesli with nuts and dried fruit for a touch of sweetness is a great substitute for processed cereals. You can also stop by the bulk bins at your local grocery store and pick up ingredients for homemade granola.

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