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Eat at Home, Save the World

Cathy Erway talks about why she chose to not eat out. New York has more than 20,000 inspected restaurants and over 3,000 food carts. There's at...


Cathy Erway talks about why she chose to not eat out.
New York has more than 20,000 inspected restaurants and over 3,000 food carts. There's at least 30 McDonald's within city limits and it's the only U.S. city with its own James Beard Best Chef award. Food culture in the city seems to be, in essence, restaurant culture.

Cathy Erway lives in Brooklyn and for two years, she stopped eating food from restaurants, take-out joints, or mobile food carts. She brown-bagged it to work, went Dumpster diving, and threw amateur cook-offs at home. While Michael Pollan claims that nobody cooks anymore, Erway and her friends bucked the cobwedded kitchen trend in one of the epicenters of eating out.

While she's stopped the full-on experiment in not eating out, her fridge is still stocked with foods made in New York: homemade hot sauce from Rooftop Farms, Mama-O's Kimchi, and fruits from the Greenmarket.

Cathy Erway's website is Not Eating Out in New York and her new book, The Art of Eating In, comes out this week. I talked with her from New York.

GOOD: You're dedicated to something that a lot of New Yorkers might find insane. Why did you start eating in?

Cathy Erway: As somebody who grew up in a kitchen where my parents cooked, I missed simple, homemade food. Even if it takes some time out of your schedule, anyone can cook something simple. I was also starting to get disillusioned with the foods I was getting a restaurants. I felt that I could make something a little more satisfying with just a little bit of time and, at the same time, eat healthier and spend more wisely.

G: Isn't that why eating out is so good. Because you don't know how much salt and butter is in something?

CE: I guess. Cheap eats tends to be pretty greasy-pizza, cheap Mexican take-out-and it's not a very healthy diet for someone who is trying to spend less. The best idea is to buy ingredients yourself and cook them yourself.

G: At one point, you went out Dumpster diving with freegans. Why isn't your project called, Not Buying Food in New York?

CE: I think that would be a little extreme for my lifestyle. But I've seen it being done. I know people grow a lot of the their own food. It's definitely a possible to eat only food you freegan foraged or grew yourself-even in the city.

G: Your blog lists a bunch of reasons not to eat out, like the most recent, "Because the Hair In My Food Is Always Mine." What's the biggest reason you choose not to eat out?

CE: The top of my list is being able to choose your ingredients wisely, having a greater consciousness about your food, where it came from, whether that's organic, free-range, or pesticide-free.

G: Eating out continues to be so much a part of New York. Did your social life suffer?

CE: There's were some awkward moments. I'd be like, ‘I can come with you guys but I can only have a coffee.' I allowed myself coffee. But my friends tend to be into home gatherings and potlucks. Going out to eat wasn't an everyday thing. It was exciting to have more people get into home parties.

G: Were you actively trying to convert people?

CE: No, I wasn't trying to convince anyone else to eat at home. I would throw dinner parties. It's fun. There's a different atmosphere than being in a restaurant. You can play whatever music you want. You can cook whatever you want. You can put your feet on the table. You can do whatever you want. You can dance.

G: Everyone should try it.

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