The Green Plate: 10 Seasonal Experiential Food Gifts for Foodies

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Buying stuff is out. Doing stuff is in. Everybody loves food and it seems like these days you can’t walk down the street without tripping over a self-identified “foodie.” No question, as we change the way we think about food, it’s taking on a new importance in our culture. Now it’s time to change the way we think about holiday food gifts.

This year, let’s lose the plastic wrapped gift baskets of packaged “gourmet” food items that are shipped from far away, gathered up together and then flung across the country in trains, trucks, and planes. All that petroleum and packaging just so some foodie can have yet another bottle of flavored vinegar or sickly sweet jam. What a waste!

Likewise, it’s time to lay off single use, gimmicky food utensils that exist solely to provide stumped gift givers with something to spend money on.

Experiences are more meaningful and memorable than things. They’re also more thoughtful, environmentally responsible, and supportive of local businesses. Some are even free.

Here are our best ideas for bringing the joy of real food to your family, friends, and community this holiday season.

1. Host a Canning Party You supply the jars and a case or two of something seasonal like apples, pears or citrus. Your friends bring the snacks and their willingness to work. Spend the afternoon eating and socializing while you all work together to produce apple or pear butter or orange marmalade. It’s a fun party and everyone gets to go home with a homemade party favor.

2. Host a Baking or Jam Exchange You supply the food and drink (or make it a potluck) and your friends bring a batch of either jam they’ve canned or a batch of goodies they’ve baked. Everybody trades. Everybody wins.

3. Host a Skill Share Poll your friends to see what skills they’d like to learn, and what skills they’d like to share. Ideas include yogurt making, sprouting, sourdough bread baking, sauerkraut making, meat curing, coffee roasting, beer brewing, jamming, or pickling. Match up learners with teachers over a series of Saturdays.

4. Give the Gift of Knowledge There’s been an explosion of affordable and interesting homesteading and eco-cooking classes and talks. Check into gift certificates for the DIY types on your list. Urban Kitchen SF hosts hands-on classes on butchering, fermenting, and more with local experts. The Institute for Urban Homesteading teaches cheesemaking, brewing, and beekeeping. 18 Reasons hosts talks, educational dinners, and a variety of creative food events. Look around in your local area for similar programs. Lest you think this is only applicable to the San Francisco Bay Area, note that The University of Utah offers classes in Urban Homesteading, and there’s also an organization in Denver.

5. Hold a Bake Sale for a Local Food Charity Want to help out a local food bank or soup kitchen? Why not get your friends together for a bake sale? What a great excuse to talk to passers-by and one another while raising money to help make sure everyone gets enough to eat.

6. Host a Potluck Movie Night Looking for a gentle way to get friends and relatives more engaged in food issues without being preachy? Host a potluck movie night and show one of the many excellent food documentaries that have come out over the past few years. If Food Inc. is a little too hard-hitting, try Fresh or Nourish.

7. Host a Potluck of Local or Foraged Foods Even if your local farmers’ market shuts down for the winter, you can still find local foods. Look for local dairy, egg, or meat producers. Also invite your foraging friends and ask everyone to bring a dish whose main ingredient is from within 20 miles away. The idea is for participants to be exposed to local goodies they wouldn’t otherwise know about.

8. Visiting family? Hit up a Farmers’ market or Farmstand You’d really like to get your family off the packaged food, but don’t want to nag. Remember that lots of people eat packaged food because they don’t know how to prepare fresh stuff or because what’s available in the grocery store fresh just doesn’t taste that good. Introduce them to the amazing difference in flavor between fresh from the farm produce and the grocery store offerings by visiting a farmers’ market or farm stand and cooking together.

9. Bake or Cook with a Child We’re doomed if we don’t teach our children to cook. So let go a little of your need for perfect food or a clean kitchen and get those kids in there with you. And keep it light and fun. Enough said.

10. Support a Local Farmer or Fisher for your Holiday Meal Want to directly support a small farmer or fisher? Consider special-ordering a heritage turkey or goose from a local farm or, if you live near the coast, buy some fish right off the boat from a fisherman. Maybe you can’t afford it every day, but for a special occasion, it’s a great way to make a direct connection with your food producers.

This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate, on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.

Image: L. Marie

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