The locavore answer to meal kit delivery services is flourishing in Southern California: the brainchild of screenwriter and film producer Jennifer Piette, Out of the Box Collective combines the ease of meal kits with the sustainability and interpersonal connection that defines the local food movement.
Pitte started Out of the Box Collective in 2010, when she returned to her native United States after having spent several years living in Europe where she says the relationship to food seemed miles away from what she encountered Stateside.
In the U.S., there was a "disconnect," Piette found: people were so busy they hardly had time to sit down to dinner together, much less cook it or take the time to examine where their food was coming from. The "deep connection to seasonality" that she had witnessed abroad seemed to be "missing from our culture."
But Piette sensed that the desire to reconnect with local food was there, and she had the perfect idea to make it a reality.
Out of the Box Collective: Local Food Boxes and Recipe Inspiration
Piette's idea united the best of the local food movement and the interconnected world we live in: a curated box packed with delicious, humane, sustainable, local products from small producers, delivered right to your door. Today, that is the reality of B Corp-Certified Out of the Box Collective.
The company's signature item is the Culinary Inspirations box, which contains the fresh ingredients needed for five meals. These boxes are curated weekly based on a theme: picnic, 30 minutes or less, Jamie Oliver, poetry and tamales... even the Cannes film festival has inspired a box.
“Sometimes it's a holiday, it's a cookbook, it's a restaurant," explains Piette. "It's somebody or something that we find inspiring."
Unlike other meal kit companies, however, Out of the Box Collective doesn’t seek to be the be-all and end-all for your weekly grocery shop.
“You don't get everything measured out in little plastic cups,” she explains. “Our boxes are more like, 'Here are your fresh foods for the week.'”
The result usually follows a basic template of produce, three meats, a fair trade item, and a nut or dried fruit, though items can vary based on what's inspiring Piette and her team at any given time. Recipes are provided as well – two vegetarian meals and three meat-based per week – but, as Piette explains, they’re mostly there for inspiration.
“I think in practice, maybe people will make some of them, but you can do completely different things,” she says. “I want people to go off-road. Really, it's about confidence, and those ingredients will work together in one form or another.”
The Collective also offers a vegetarian version of its Culinary Inspiration box, as well as produce-only boxes (just fruit, just veg, or a mix of both), and specialty boxes tailored to breakfast, brunch, or a nice dinner for two.
In addition to the boxes, Out of the Box Collective also features a pantry service that functions like an online farmers market: instead of choosing a curated box, consumers can pick and choose which ingredients they’d most like or need and have them delivered to their doorsteps.
A Local Food Philosophy for a Changing Food Culture
Interest in and funding for local food in the United States continues to increase; for Piette, addressing this interest and making it easier for families to partake in the local food movement is a key goal of Out of the Box Collective.
The ingredients in the boxes are carefully sourced to be artisanal, humane, and organic whenever possible and come from local California producers. In keeping with the local food theme, fresh boxes are only delivered in California, from San Diego to Santa Barbara (people living in other areas of Southern California can order boxes via AmazonFresh; the pantry ships nationally), and Piette has no intention of expanding outside of the state.
"I've never seen this as a business that needs to be a national thing," she says. "I don't think that's scale-appropriate to what we do."
Instead, she wants to address what local food means in California, with its variety, its richness, and its seasonality.
“I would love to think that families with young children like our service because it's introducing a certain food literacy to their kids,” says Piette who notes that children from families who receive a box, in the same way as families who have grown their own food, “are never going to have to be told when cherries are in season, because they remember pulling it out of the box at the end of the school year.”
But even more than seasonality, this company's core is the people behind these products. Piette has developed close relationships with many of her producers, like The Garden Of, which produces lettuces that Piette says are each “a work of art,” or jam maker Margaret Greenwood, who agrees to take any excess fruit that Piette has and turn it into jam.
“She keeps some, and she gives me back some, and we can sell it and put it in the boxes,” says Piette.
“At the end of the day there's just so much love that goes into it from the way these people are growing, the way these small makers are producing their jam, their pickles, their kraut," she says. "And then the families have to put all this love into cooking it and preparing it and putting it on the table and enjoying it together. It's a different kind of experience."
This is the experience that Piette feels that we, as a culture, have lost. And this is the void that Piette hopes, through Out of the Box Collective, to fill. "It's that human element," she says.
"It's sharing that and feeling that nourishment that comes from another level."
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images via Out of the Box Collective
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