Friday, April 18, 2008

Let's see Rachel do this trick...

First off, if you're not already reading Cookin' at Cafe D, you should be. Dana is a fellow Briner, and the kind of hardcore foodie that I aspire to be.

Recently, Dana blogged about a challenge that had been put to her. Someone suggested that, in our country, where food is plentiful, it might be educational to see how the other half lives by eating for a week on a poverty diet, specifically spending only $2 a day on food.

Like a good Briner, Dana also posted about her concept on the board where it received the usual share of curiosity, skepticism and commentary. A general theme seems to be that this is not going to give one any piercing insight into the life of poverty stricken cultures due to the difference in overall economy, lifestyle and amenities. i.e. to get the full affect, strip down to a pair of ratty pants, bare feet, a ratty shirt, go sleep outside and beg for your $2 a day.

I, however, am not quite that skeptical. I have an economical bone in my body. I think it's an interesting experiment in efficiency and penurious budgeting. I expect to gain some perspective on the nutritional content of a poverty diet and the price per calorie in this country right now.

It also serves to give me a perspective on a very non-archetypal dietary regimen. In our country, we still lust after the kind of meals our parents and grandparents wanted. We want the big steak and potato meal and with todays food prices and distribution, even the moderately poor can afford some semblance of that kind of farmer/working man meal that was meant for people who were far more physically active than we are these days as a whole.

Much of the rest of the world exists on the "Big pile o'starch/ little bit of flavoring" meal. Rice and fish, shrimp and grits, Fufu and stew, Polenta and sausage. Much lower fat, often much higher in fiber and very high in carbs.

So I've decided to join Dana in her little culinary experiment. She's going to running from April 21–25 while I'm going to be running for my next working week: April 22-26th.

Here are my parameters for the exercise:

I will only eat $10 worth of food all week. This includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and any snacks. I will turn down any windfalls or office treats and consume ONLY what I have alloted. I will allow myself the use of two condiments, my trusty bottle of hot sauce and Kosher salt (though little should be needed).

I'm going shopping on Monday for my supplies and I'm going to spend my $10 up front. I'm actually going to spend more than $10 in the long run because I can't get individual servings of some of the items. Example, I'm buying 1 dozen eggs but I'm only eating 5 of them. I'll provide pics of what $10 of food looks like.

I've spent some time this afternoon doing some "pre-shopping" with Peapod. My initial menu is actually not to much of a stretch. I don't actually see myself getting that hungry in the long run.

It's not horribly original though. For five days I'm going to be eating the same thing every day for breakfast, the same thing for lunch and the same thing for dinner. 3 meals for 5 days and honestly, that's being generous. There are cultures that only eat one food type, 3 meals a day, all the time with the occasional treat to break up the monotony.

My diet will be (hopefully, I haven't shopped yet and I may have to change things on the fly):

Breakfast: Tea, Sugar, Oatmeal w/ butter and sugar (There ya go Dana, no coffee but still get my caffeine)
Lunch: Peanut Butter Sandwiches.
Dinner: Ramen Noodles w/ egg and mixed vegetables.

Price wise, using Peapods pricing. (which is high as I plan to buy this stuff at our local ethnic and Aldi.) Per Peapods pricing, I'm over by about $6 bucks. I'm hoping Aldi or Yueh Wah's is cheap enough to bring that down to ten or else things will have to be cut. Peapod does have a nice "price per unit" or "price per ounce" feature that lets you know what you get for your money and made conversion easier.

So, my initial list looks like this:
  • 5 teabags at .04 each - $.20
  • Quaker Old Fashioned Oats - $4.39 per can, 30 servings. I'll be eating 14 servings, or about 2 servings for breakfast. 14 servings means about $2.20 of oatmeal for breakfast.
  • 5 Packages of Ramen Noodles .20 cents each - $1.00
  • 1 loaf of cheap white bread. $1.09
  • 1 jar of store brand peanut butter - $2.39
  • 1 doz Eggs - $2.39, using 5 eggs - $1 (I'm cracking an egg into my Ramen noodles to add protein and calories.)
  • 1 lb of butter $4 - using one stick - $1 (I'm throwing a tablespoon of butter into my oatmeal in the morning for extra calories)
  • 2.69 for Sugar, using 30 tablespoons = $.54 (SUGAR ADDICT. 3 tablespoons in my tea, 3 tablespoons in my oatmeal)
  • Evaporated Milk, 12 oz can, $1.09 (Added to my oatmeal and perhaps to my tea).
  • 5 Red Delicious Apples - $3.95 (I'm hoping Aldi has some cheap apples, this is where I start going over budget. I threw them in because, looking back, I realized I'd be facing scurvy if I extrapolated this base diet for over a month)
  • 1 bag of frozen broccoli - $1.69 (Again, vitamin C, fiber, vitamins for adding to my bowl of Ramen.)

Total at Peapod prices: $16.15

Now the question becomes, can I bargain shop my way under $10.00?

Some of these things, like the sugar, butter and evaporated milk may seem like unnecessary splurges to some. But I take umbrage with that. The food, has to taste good. One may hear cries of "toughen up sucker, drink that tea plain, eat raw oatmeal ya big pansy" but that goes against the whole nature of cooking.

For many, many centuries before the rise of the medical profession, the person who had the biggest day to day impact on your physical health was the person doing your cooking. Via boiling, roasting, frying or infusing, their talents in the kitchen or around the fire were the secret to unlocking the caloric and nutritional content of the food you ate. In an age when the majority of illnesses were either caused or exacerbated by malnutrition, whoever first figured out the use of calcium hydroxide to soften corn to nixtamal is probably one of the worlds greatest heroes. She probably saved BILLIONS from starvation with one little cooking trick.

The cooks second big trick was to make food palatable. After a long hard day of work, you wanted your big strong boys to clean their plates. More calories taken in meant more energy that meant more work done tilling fields, building walls, digging wells and more security for the tribe, village, town or city. If all you've got to eat every day is a bland, starchy staple (which is pretty much what EVERY culture starts with), you get to the point where you are sick of it. Have you ever eaten unleavened bread plain? Or dry rice for every meal? Or sat and ate half a loaf of bread with no butter or other lubrication? It's dry, mealy and no matter how hungry you are, you get to the point where you just can't choke down another bite. If your cook can do something, ANYTHING to make that stuff taste a little better, you'll bless them and you'll probably eat more. In my mind, it's that trick that really invented cooking. It's what turned a plain pot of bland beans into sublime cassoulet.

So yes, my food has to taste good. If I'm stuck eating it and I have the means within my budget, I'm gonna do it.

Rant gland temporarily spent, we return to the topic at hand.

I shall keep you updated, sweet reader, as I go along. I imagine Dana's Blog will also be updated with lots of tasty observations as she goes along.

Already I'm looking forward to a big steak the Sunday after I finish.


kat said...

I'm just shocked you're going to eat - gasp! - store brand peanut butter.

All kidding aside, I'm proud of you, Pumpkin. And will be cheering you on from the sidelines.

DanaMc said...

I'm humbled by your comments - especially since I highly value your opinion.

Glad to have the company.