You know the story: the CSA box arrives and you dash to the door to pick up that brown box of sustenance. Unfolding the top flaps of the box, you relish the reveal, pulling back the top flaps and gazing into this week’s produce as a magician might plumb his bag of tricks. Sometimes, though, a bumper crop of bok choy peeking out in its sea of leafy greens can cause heart palpitations. What can I do with all of it? I’ve heard this declaration from a friend regarding kale, although it sounded something like, “we’re eating kale. Again.” If we could only be so lucky. A CSA box of fresh produce can be a source of menu inspiration or a point of consternation.
For the consummate traveler, they have something else to consider: “what is going to go bad quickly that must be gobbled up?” Or, just as importantly, “what is there to eat?” I’ve been thinking about boxed food and “processed foods” a lot more lately as I think about why they were created and why we sometimes turn to them. Perhaps the other part of that equation is the idea that they have to have umpteen ingredients to stay shelf-stable. At some point in time, I have a hunch that you and I scamper toward convenience with open arms and devil may care attitude. Far be it from me to condemn those random acts of convenience. I would be inclined to think we’ve become better at stocking our pantry and reading labels though, right?
Enter Mana in Our Foods. As things sometimes go, a mutual friend Pete reached out with an introduction to the lovely Alyssa who started Mana in our Foods with a simple mission: provide real food meals to pair with locally grown produce in CSA boxes. Alyssa’s story of becoming real food aware and seeing a real correlation between real, whole foods with her child’s food allergies is quick and compelling. Namely, after having a baby, she began reading labels and finding unrecognizable ingredients listed. Her child was diagnosed with numerous food allergies and in her attempts to feed her first child happened upon a method of cooking that helped. Alyssa sells Mana in Our Foods kits in a number of co-ops around Georgia that participate in a jar recycling program.
Recently, I had a chance to interview her to share with you about Mana in our Foods and she kindly sent me two of her complete meal in a jar kits which are 95 percent organic and hold spices matched with legumes and grains to take out for a spin. “Mana” is Hawaiian for personal essence or spirit and she struck out with her small food company believing if you eat whole foods, your whole person will benefit from them. And, did we ever benefit from them as did all those pattypan squash in our recent CSA box? Well, the Lentil and Rice Dressing made fine work of a pattypan squash and onion saute.
THE FOOD POET: Who do you think would most benefit from Mana in Our Food?
ALYSSA DUVALL: Eaters who love good, real food! Busy people because you can make several jars at one time and freeze them – just warm them up for those crazy nights; and non-cooks because it’s all laid out for them – a complete protein to which you only have to add veggies; and people who enjoy cooking because the meals can act as a foundation – the eater can decide to create something completely unique (Our Bean and Caraway with Barley Soup is lovely pulsed in the food processor, then spread on dry, grilled toast with a little grating of hard parmesan. And, our 3-Bean Chili makes a wonderful meatless burrito filling. And, you can add coconut milk to our Lentils and Rice Dressing and create an Indian-inspired soup. The possibilities are endless!); and the CSA/ farmer’s market frequenters because you don’t have to figure out what to do with all your beautiful produce – the meals will be changing with the season to best complement fresh veggies!
TFP: How is the approach you take different from boxed food in grocery stores?
AD: Every part of each of our meals has been intentionally designed – from our commitment to high quality, organic ingredients to our reusable jars to our labels printed locally on 100% hydro-electric powered mill paper. Simply put, we dedicate our mana (Hawaiian word for spirit, essence) into every meal we make – from the individually layered spice kits through each hand-assembled jar.
TFP: Have you collaborated with any farmers by offering your food with theirs?
AD: My husband is an organic farmer at Full Moon Farms here in Athens, GA. The concept of the jars was actually meant to be a solution to the many CSA (community supported agriculture) members who have said, “I love all these fresh veggies! Now what do I do with them?” Each meal is created to complement local, seasonal produce. Mana In Our Foods is a part of many CSA subscription programs in Georgia and also a member of Athens Locally Grown (online farmer’s market). We love our farmers!
TFP: To someone interested in eating healthier, what one piece of advice would you give?
AD: Explore! One step at a time – the worst that can happen is that you have to order in pizza, and you know what not to do next time.
TFP: To someone with a dream of starting a food biz, what piece of advice would you give?
AD: Stay true to the intentions and values you established when first dreaming up your business.
TFP: Lastly, what are you reading now?
AD: “Women Who Run with the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp, and I am constantly re-reading “An Everlasting Meal” by Tamar Adler.
NOTE: The Mana in our Foods jars were freely sent to me to try out and all opinions here (as always) are my own without compensation other than the belief that if you share good work, you feel good.