One of the first criticisms people level against local/natural/organic food is the cost. My first impulse is to paraphrase Joel Salatin and respond, “Have you priced cancer lately?” Cost is a real and valid concern, however. People address it in a number of ways, and, when they make responsible eating a priority, they find their own solutions. Some eat less meat, some cut down on other areas of the budget, and others start gardens. I’ve done all of these things. The single most important thing is waste reduction. The amount of food waste that goes on around us is astounding. When food is cheap, it’s often treated as such. When we pay a fair price, we often also pay a bit more attention. Everyone has their own budget and limits within which they make choices. I’m not making judgements so much as I am recounting my own experience.

The more comfortable people get with cooking and straying from ingredient lists, the easier time they have using up what’s on hand. Adeptness in cooking skills and techniques serves better than strict recipes. Grasp of basic components and knowledge of substitutions is key. If you know how to turn milk into yogurt or ricotta, you’re going to waste a lot less milk. If you keep a list of options in your head, knowing that you can replace buttermilk with sour milk in pancakes and biscuits, waste is reduced further.

These thoughts were in my head when I decided to make spaghetti and meatballs. My cooking club made these a while back for our second From Scratch Saturday, and they were amazingly good. Although the recipe is top-notch, I didn’t follow it exactly. I took note of what I had on hand. Beefalo replaced the veal. Pork sausage stood in for the ground pork, and I lessened the herbs to account for the seasonings in the sausage. Milk just shy of its expiration date became ricotta, and I added somewhat more than the original recipe contained. Standing in for slices of white bread were leftover dinner rolls.

That’s the way I cook, the way I learned to cook. I can make both ricotta and pasta much more quickly than I can make a run to the store. And the process is far more enjoyable.