"A gallon of milk is $3-something. A bottle of orange soda is 89 cents," she says. "Do the math."
In my notebook I wrote:
I couldn't stop thinking about this story all day. About the son who worried constantly about food yet would snub Brussels sprouts in favor of chocolate. I don't think that's unusual. Is a child who gets up in the middle of the night foraging for these things unusual? When does a person decide everything is available at all times? Is it a question of family rules about snack time, or is it commercials about junk food? Is it confusing needs with wants, and interpreting your body's requests for certain nutrients as tastes? Is it a habit that is taught or something deeper?
It's so hard to loose that appetite for sweets. I have to a certain degree -- partly because of hypoglycemia (obviously not the ideal path) and, for me, the poverty helps. But it hasn't helped these people nor most of the people in this country.
I looked up the story when I got home and did the math. This family receives $600 in food stamps. If we assume a four week month this adds up to $120 a week, or $30 per person. (Setting aside the question of portions.) Thirty dollars. That's about what we have been spending on groceries, per week, for two people in my house. A little more than what we've been spending, actually.
While this certainly has me reevaluating the qualifications for benefits in the state of Oregon, I don't know that poverty is the key to the question. The reason we can get by with two people on about $30 a week is because we have completely changed the way we eat, the way we shop, and the way we look at food. I did not learn it from my family (we ate mostly Meat With Sides when I was younger,) and I did not really learn it from school (so we can't chalk it up to education directly). So how do we do it? How is it that we eat healthily for cheap while millions of families across the country have the paradoxical yet very real crisis of hunger and obesity?
I can't answer for America. But I can answer for myself.
HOW I CAME TO BE THIS WAY: A SOMEWHAT DISORGANIZED LIST OF WHAT I'VE DONE TO TRY AND EAT AS HEALTHILY AND AS CHEAPLY AS POSSIBLE
1. Learn what one should eat.
- dark leafy greens
- lots of colorful fruits and veg (i.e., a variety of colors)
- whole grains. Any food that might show up on a Martha Stewart wellness list seems to be a particularly wise choice, especially if it shows up in more than one place.
- eat what's in season when it's in season ("greener", but also cheaper)
- eat lower on the food chain (make meals that focus on grains and legumes rather than meat.)
None of this is compelling if you don't normally eat this way, thus:
2. Learn to cook.
- accept this as a new challenge
- a positive thing -- think of it in terms of learning
- excuse to find new food (i.e., what orange things can we eat in summer? fall? winter? spring?)
- learn how to fiddle with recipes (swap beans, omit things, substitute things, etc.)
- plan meals for the week that use similar ingredients (play the Shop As Little As Possible game)
- think about food in terms of what you have
MAKE A LIST OF EVERYTHING IN THE FREEZER, FRIDGE, AND PANTRY RIGHT NOW!
- Learn how to tell what's in season when. (Don't be daunted by produce, learn about it.) (And get that book from the libary. Ask the librarian about similar books. Ask the grocer about what is fresh and what isn't.)
- Learn how to store food.
- Learn how to keep something. (What freezes? How long will it keep in the fridge? When do spices go bad?)
- Know that everything can be made at home (the pioneers did it. Tribes people do it.)
- food processor, morter and pestle? Can be a knife and a rock
- books like this one teach you crackers, chips, popsicles, bacon. (THIS book even has a recipe for grape-nuts!)
MAKE A LIST OF WHAT YOU LIKE TO EAT THE MOST
- find recipes for those things (esp. the "junk" food. Try to find recipes that do not have lots of junk in them.)
- Do not be intimidated by vegan/vegetarian/ethnic cookbooks. Learn to substitute. (i.e., ghee = canola oil, vegan cheese= real cheese, etc.)
IF you want to cut something out (like for me: cheezits) find something with a similar taste in the world of real food. (super sharp chedder broke my habit). Chunks of cheese alone are not winning health-points, but I notice how much I am eating.
LOOK FOR GOOD RECIPES
- avoid badly written ones, or, find a similar recipe written well and sub
- if you can't conquer something: learn from a friend, take classes, ask someone.
EAT SLOWER, TASTE YOUR FOOD.
- supposedly it takes the brain 8 minutes to realize it's full.
- also eat slower lets you appreciate it a lot more, and in a bind it can make, for example, my sad little lunch of carrot sticks and raisins feel like a big meal.
START TO LIKE FOOD
- people sometimes don't, they just mindlessly eat. That ain't no way to live!
- Food love perhaps not difficult for us fugitives, but it's important
- we can start to listen to what we actually want
- we can then give ourselves what we want
SHOP WELL RESTED AND RELAXED
- haste makes waste,
- hunger makes off-list items more appealing
- unit prices are the key. Bulk, large packaging are not always best. Bring a calculator. Look at the bottom of the receipt to find out the state's grocery tax and use Wolfram Alpha to learn how to calculate that tax into your total. (Or do it the lazy way and always round up).
- only use coupons for products you usually buy.
- buy staples. Save the fancy pre-made stuff for special occasions, if at all
American Public Media's The Splendid Table has been very influential in changing the way I look at food. It did not start with the Locavore Nation project, but there is a lot of good stuff in there about regular folks musing on the eating-local challenge. This episode wraps up that project from the folks themselves.
What I think helped me most about food of course is the way Lynne talks about food during the caller-question segment of the show. Listen to a few podcasts and see what I mean. For her food comes naturally, and it's in sentences like "sage loves pears" where I was able to start understanding what food could be beyond what I'd learned from my mother.
Lately they have been running more segments equating eating healthy and eating thriftily, which I have found very helpful. Recently Lynne interviewed Tamasin Day-Lewis, author of Supper for a Song, who is a little severe but brings up some VERY good points about eating everything one buys.
Food blogs are helpful. Food blogs give you a back story, a reason why something is made a certain way. Often there is trial and error, full disclosure, and lots of pictures. It is like Cook's Illustrated without the snobbery. There is a Food blog search, wherein you can type in whatever you happen to have on hand and see what comes up, and can help you find some solid ones. Lately I find I visit 101 Cookbooks almost on a daily basis, because I am using so many of her recipes. She is very in line with the way I am cooking right now, partly responsible for it.