HOW WELL can a family of four eat on just $68.88 a week? For more than 38 million Americans, it’s more than a matter of conjecture…To find out how well you can eat on food stamps, we asked two chefs and a magazine food editor to plan seven days of meals for a family of four using that budget: $68.88.
I like best the solutions proposed by Jose Garces, who went 66 cents over budget, and explains his solutions thus:
Inexpensive basics – such as pasta, beans, greens and potatoes – can get tons of flavor from spices and herbs. The same foods also can taste radically different from one meal to the next – Indian flavors one night, Asian the next and Mexican on the third.
Garces suggests that budget shoppers start in the grocer’s ethnic aisle, where the products generally are less expensive.
Budget cooking “traces back to roots in ethnic cooking,” he said. “If you look back in history, people had to survive, and using inexpensive products became ways to survive and using those inexpensive products became traditional dishes.”
To create his menu, Garces drew on his Mexican roots, as well as his love of Indian food. Beans, spices, herbs and produce are at the heart of both cuisines – and are among the least expensive ingredients at the grocer.
At the article site, you can find links to proposed menus from the three cooks/editors, and some recipes.
A few problems with any of these solutions: as noted in the article, cooking from fresh ingredients takes more time than buying processed food, so although you get more, and more nutritious, food for your dollar, there is the time cost. And the working poor are generally exhausted at the end of the workday. If you have not ever been a member of the working poor and cannot conceive of just how exhausted you might be, I recommend reading Nickel and Dimed for a glimpse.
The other problem is that, in order to cook from fresh ingredients, one needs to build up a certain set of basic tools and general cooking ingredients that you use over and over. Pots, pans, knives, a cutting board, cooking oil. Even spices, though you don’t use much of them in any one meal, cost a good bit to buy a whole jar at a time. One can probably shop second-hand stores for some of this stuff but still, money has to be allocated for these things, and where is the money to come from, if you don’t already have this stuff?
Sixty-eight dollars and eighty-eight cents is not a lot of money. I am impressed that any of the three were able to come up with 84 meals for anything like that sum. I wonder if Sharon Astyk could do a better job – with more greens and less meat, maybe? All three seemed to spend a big portion of their budgets on meat. Seems like if you focused on non-meat protein sources you could stretch your budget further, but I suppose they didn’t want to seem like they were imposing vegetarianism on the poor.
Or maybe the whole thing was just an exercise in illustrating how shabbily we treat the poor. “Here, try to feed yourself and your family on this pittance in our nation that worships expensive cuts of meat*! We realize you are exhausted and forced by economics to live in neighborhoods that haven’t seen a fresh vegetable in decades. That’s why we created fast food restaurants! I believe if you look under the bun you’ll find an only moderately limp leaf of lettuce! Now, good day – I’m off to the martini bar!”
No wonder Sharon wants everybody to grow at least a little of their own food.
*oh hell, it’s worth quoting from that restaurant review.
The gaudy theatrics of an opening-night extravaganza have become as expected as meat and potatoes for Philadelphia’s new herd of luxury steak houses. But when Union Trust threw its preview bash in February, just as the economy was spiraling toward the abyss, it haughtily raised the bar to a prime new grade of crass.
With showtime searchlights on Chestnut Street strafing the night, a $550 vertical rib-eye tasting for four on the menu, ice sculptures channeling rivers of vodka, and a Brink’s truck making special delivery of a $29,000 bottle of Black Pearl Cognac, the bombastic debut was meant to send a message: In a city being courted by ever-grander palaces of beef, the $12.8 million, 280-seat Union Trust intended to be the grandest of them all.
The soaring former bank space (and Jack Kellmer jewelry store), with its ornately coffered ceiling arching 60 feet over the terraced dining room of velveteen booths, private rooms peering down through Palladian windows, and a marble staircase sweeping up to a glass-wrapped mezzanine, was the closest thing we’d get to a carnivore’s cathedral.
Indeed. Let’s see…$550 for a vertical rib-eye tasting for four…that’s just about eight weeks worth of food-stamp meals for a family of four. But who’s counting.