Friday, January 29, 2010

How to be a Snob on $7 a Day

Okay, I admit it, I'm grouchy. If I were in a better mood, I might say these people were misguided or that they didn't think things through. Instead, I'm kind of offended.

I'm talking about the United Way Hunger Challenge. These people want us all to sympathize with the plight of the poor by living on $7 worth of food each day, for five days. Apparently this is the maximum benefit for an individual on food stamps.

Problem: my food budget, which feeds two (and a half!), is somewhat less than $7 a day. These people who are trying to empathize with the plight of the hungry are spending more for food each day than I do.

Part of me is insulted that I am being grouped as a "poor person" according to their system.

Part of me is outraged that you can get a better food budget from the state than from working. Though I know more of the poverty problem in this country is not food, but rent, heat, doctor bills, and so forth -- which, of course, food stamps are no help for.

Part of me is scornful at the people who are doing this. "Wimps," I found myself muttering. They are complaining half the time that they can't eat the way they're used to, and the other half of the time they're patting themselves on the back at how well they are managing "so little" and how in solidarity with the poor they are.

And the food they eat just seems ridiculous to me. For example, this, from the Foodista blog:

"Now then, I started off my $7 day with a slice of .16 oat bran bread with a .15 slather of pure peanut butter. On the side I had one 1/2 cup of defrosted frozen strawberries (.25 from $1.69 package) in one 1/2 cup of plain yogurt (.31 from $2.50 quart). I drank 1 cup of organic milk for .37 (from a $2.99 half gallon)."

Who eats that fancy of a breakfast on a daily basis? I don't know, I guess some people take breakfast kind of seriously. But I leave for work early, so I don't have time for all that. Instead I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of milk. My estimated price for this was something under 70 cents. (However, I didn't actually spend this much, because the jam was from John's mother. I haven't bought jam in months.)

Or the lunch: "For lunch I had a citrus salad made from a grapefruit (.20, bought on sale for 5/$1), a navel orange (.33), and 1/4 cup organic arugula (.50). I also had 1 pan-fried egg (.20) with a negligible sprinkle of sea salt and some baked potato wedges (.10 for 1/2 pound) with ketchup (.08). I had water with lunch." Total: $1.46.

A working person doesn't generally have time for that kind of food prep for lunch. I either have leftovers or something premade. A ramen cup is 50 cents. Canned soup generally costs $1.20 or so, depending on the variety. If I had time to home-cook a lunch, I could save a ton. But I don't usually, so I tend to have canned soup, and for other snacks at work (I eat several), I have granola bars (a bigger expense than I'd like, but I'm hoping to homemake these this weekend), a banana, crackers, or something similar. I promise you, no one "poor" is eating organic arugula on a regular basis. No one.

Now, I could do healthier with a bit more money and/or effort. I just don't have the time to spend on these meals. So dinner ends up being my big time focus (though it is often cheaper than lunch).

I actually respected this blogger's dinner: it was a pineapple chicken coconut curry. Rather gourmet, but she went to an Asian market to get the ingredients quite frugally (you will find ethnic food is often significantly cheaper than standard American fare, because of these ethnic stores), and she made enough for four meals, so that she could live off the leftovers. I am all in favor of leftovers.

I can't share what we ate this week, because I have been so exhausted and lazy I haven't made dinner on a regular basis, so I can't even remember what we ate. Some days it was leftover stew, some days sandwiches, and some days we fended for ourselves. But in an average week, I'm likely to make the same food count for several meals.

Last week, I seem to remember that I roasted a chicken on the weekend. That was Sunday's dinner: a drumstick and a thigh for John, and a wing for me (my appetite has gone down a bit lately). Then there was some kind of vegetable on the side. Monday, we had the other drumstick, thigh, and wing, as well as all the meat we could get off the back. Tuesday, I pulled off the breast meat and made a pasta dish with it, along with the drippings from the chicken to go in the sauce. I think the other ingredients were cream cheese, onions (a bag of them costs barely more than a single onion), and peas. Wednesday I can't remember for sure, I think it was one of my extremely cheap vegetable-potato soups. (Broccoli-cheddar is my favorite, but cheese has been expensive lately.) Thursday I simmered the chicken carcass and the giblets to make stock, and made a chicken soup with rice and peas. It was a little thin, so I added some of this failed lentil dish I made over the weekend to up the thickness and the protein, and I believe I put in an egg drop as well. It wasn't very good, mainly because I forgot to take the liver out of the other giblets, and I ended up eating a big bite of it. However, I'm sure it's for the best, as I'd had blood drawn that morning. Friday, I baked fish with lemon juice and served canned spinach on the side. I used to find fish too expensive, until I found a 3-lb. bag at Aldi for $3.99, and discovered it takes us about four or five meals to finish one. And Saturday was that venison stew -- something that would normally be quite expensive and not on our usual menu, but which cost almost nothing to make, thanks to the generosity of friends.

I doubt a single one of these dinners cost more than $3. The chicken was about $5, sure, but it lasted for three dinners. Eating frozen vegetables on the side of each meal keeps the price way down, over fresh. (I do buy fresh carrots and celery from time to time, and fresh fruit.)

I'm not 100% sure where I'm going with telling you all I'm eating. Mostly, I think I'm bragging a bit. These people might have more money than me, but when it comes to eating cheaply, they haven't got half my mojo. And this is what I do while working a full-time job -- when I can stay home, I know I will do better, both for better health and less money.

Aside from that, I guess I just wanted to show it can be done. It is not hard to live on less than $7 a day. In fact, I would maintain that most of us shouldn't be spending a whole lot more than that -- if we do, we're probably either wasting food, overeating, or spoiling ourselves. We Americans tend to imagine our luxuries are necessities. They're not.

Elsewhere in the world, there are people who are actually starving. People for whom a cup of rice that costs a few cents would make all the difference. Who wants to practice solidarity with those people? More importantly, who wants to lend a hand?

1 comment:

The Sojourner said...

Celebrity "food stamp diet" things do tend to be like that. I know my mother's commented to me before about people doing silly things like buying angel-hair pasta. (Spaghetti is pretty much exactly the same but cheaper.)

While I don't know the specifics of my mom's grocery budget, I'm guessing she probably spends 3 or 4 dollars a day per person. (There are five of us, when I'm home.) And we hardly eat spartan diets.

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