Thursday, April 24, 2008

Many hands make light work...

One of the things that I have always wholly believed is that with the right tools and preparation, one could feed oneself very, very cheaply with the offset of some effort and planning.

Let us take our two dollar budgie here as an example. 10 dollars a week. Okay, maybe for the first week I live on Ramen and hot dogs and manage to squirrel away two dollars. Next week, as annoying as it is, I do the same. Eventually I have the $4/$4.50 necessary to buy a small fryer chicken. I throw that bad boy in the stock pot and make a basic chicken stock. I meet out the meat from the bird in, as Dana puts it, chicken McNugget sized portions, just enough to add a few shots to my Ramen. This might last me a week, saves me from having to buy eggs to put in my Ramen so I spend some money on in-season fruit, past it's prime, at the Farmer's market. I take it home, oven dry it and make it last for a few weeks.

Let's extrapolate further. Let's assume that I actually have some start-up capitol to set up housekeeping. I buy pickling jars and a pickling crock. I buy canning equipment and a pressure cooker for storing long term. I set up one of AB's drying rigs. I have enough land for a large kitchen garden and the skills necessary to take my once-a-year surplus of fresh veggies and turn it into canned goodness I can eat off all year.

You can go further than this. Maybe I live out in the country and I have enough room for a small chicken coop. Maybe I've got a .22 and a keen enough eye to bag a rabbit on occasion. Maybe I've got enough firepower to go deer-hunting and part of my initial purchases included a chest freezer. I've got meat for a long, long time if I bag a deer or two every year. Maybe I've got enough land to raise goats, or sheep, or cows, or corn. Maybe I've got a sustenance farm and other than the occasional outlay for exotics (assuming I can't trade for them), I spend Sweet Fanny Adams on food.

In the opposite direction, I've been doing my eating this week with the understanding at the outset that I can boil my water, toast my bread and store my food without risk of spoilage. How would my diet have changed if I didn't have a fridge?

I don't think I'd be eating hot dogs as they'd probably be a little funky by now. My eggs would no doubt be a little suspect as well before the end of the week. Maybe if, like many less developed countries, I had a market I could go to where the food was fresh, sold out daily and able to be purchased in small quantities. I.E. Can I have one egg and two crap hot dogs to go please?

In this country though, we don't have that. You must have a fridge, don't you? Even a little one? My local big box has got a tiny 1.7 cubic fridge for $59.00.

Ever been on vacation and walked though a quaint food market where they have their food in stacks. Know why they are like that? Because either they have no refrigeration or they do and none of their clients do. We forget what a financial boon having a refrigerator is. Compared to a lot of places, everything in America comes in bulk and if you've ever taken a finance class, you know, it's always cheaper to buy in bulk.

But let's go further than that. I did my shopping this week with the understanding that I'd have a stove to cook on. Not only a stove, but a fancy toaster oven to toast my bread when plain PB&J got dull.

How would my diet have changed when I had no place to cook? No ramen, no eggs (unless I wanted to pull a Rocky Balboa and drink em' raw... blech). I could still have my PB&J, unless I had no fridge then that jam might not last to long. I'd probably be living out of a can, eating pork and beans with a spoon. Even then I'm counting on the fact that while I did not have a stove to release the caloric content of my food, the canning company did.

Of course, I could always light a fire but it'd have to be outside, no fireplace. It's also illegal to light a fire outside just about everywhere in Madison, so I'd be pretty screwed. I can see it now, huddled over a campfire, pot in hand, Ramen in the other, busted like Benjamin Bunny. Only man every arrested for Ramen heating.

This, of course, leads me to wonder how homeless people eat. I've been in Taco Bell on State Street when one of the Family came in with cup full of change to cash out for the evening. He walked out with a pretty decent haul, couple bean burritos, a few tacos and a big cold soda that he made his first order of business and walked out happily slurping on. Probably cost him two or three dollars.

In our country, we've got mass marketing, mass production and mass distribution to keep the price low. How is Ramen so cheap? Because they make millions of packs every day in totally automated plants and are tied into the global food distribution market. Every grocery store, even the ethnic groceries, carries Ramen. It's a staple. It has to be there. How is McMeat so cheap? Says it on the sign when you drive in, over one Trillion sold.

What you spend on food is highly dependent on where you come from and what resources you have available to you. In America, we've got a lot of resources and for many, many reasons, both good and bad, we should be aware of our surroundings. What lies beneath us, in support and what lies before us... in wait.

1 comment:

Jules said...

Interesting visual:

"Soooo ... watcha' in for?"
"Who me? I was just ummm heatin' up some Ramen."
"Oh yeah man, I hear ya'. That quote unquote Ramen gets ya' everytime."

It's when you stop taking things for granted that you see how much you're really blessed with. Good for you, Pari.