Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Good and Cheap

That is the name of my new favorite cookbook.  And author, Leanne Brown, conquers something very near to my heart.  Affordable food that tastes great.  Ms. Brown started this cookbook as a project while getting her master's degree in food studies. She took a budget of $4 a day and made some of the best dishes I've seen in a long while.

Why $4 a day?  Because there are 47 million Americans on food stamps and the average monthly stipend for food is $126.  Could you feed yourself for an entire month on $126 plus a little supplemental cash?  Most couldn't without resorting to eating Top Ramen or boxed mac n cheese for most meals.  That results in too much sodium, too many unhealthy carbs, and not much in the way of vitamins, minerals, or fiber.  

There was a time in our lives when food stamps was all the currency we had.  My husband lost his job while I was staying home with a 18 month old and a 4 month old.  We were devastated.  It took us a very long time to recover from those months of no income.  We had to move several times over the following 2 years.  And though the hubs found a full time job and a part time job, we stayed on food stamps during most of that time.  As his income increased, our stipend decreased.  Then he got a $20/month raise and we lost our food stamps completely, nearly $200 a month.  I was scrambling to replace what amounted to about 2 weeks worth of groceries with $20!  How I wish Ms. Brown had written her cookbook then!!

So, with the complete understanding of what it means to have little money for food, I have always searched for low cost food that will taste great.  People like Martha Stewart or Rachael Ray have been invaluable for the best recipes but not always the cheapest ingredients.  Things like prosciutto or even bacon, at times, ain't cheap.  And while I can make some really tasty ciabatta bread for pennies thanks to Martha, a meal it does not make.  Ms. Brown took what the government did an ok job with and made it appetizing and appealing.  Pictures so wonderful, you can practically smell the spices and warm stew cooking.  Upscale recipes that appeal to the foodie in me.  Meatless recipes to stretch the budget and boost my overall health.  To me, this book is the perfect marriage of practicality and indulgence.

I know food stamps is a hot button issue but my convictions are firmly grounded in my own experiences.  Every single person-man, woman, child-should have access to affordable food.  Fresh produce and milk should not be a premium item (that is often traded for gallons of $1 fruit drink instead).  Because here is what is worse, there are millions of Americans considered the "working poor".  Sure, some of those people qualify for food stamps but often times, they do not.  Then what?  Like our family, a very slight increase in wage disqualified us completely and caused major financial havoc.  So regardless of your own opinion about food stamps, we should all be able to agree that a trip to the grocery store should not bankrupt you nor should you have to sacrifice staple, nutritious items that are simply too expensive.

 Could you make it on $4 a day per person in your family?  It definitely takes planning and strategy but it is doable.  So, armed with this amazing cookbook and your wits, I challenge YOU to take the Food Stamp Challenge.  Do it!  For a week, a month, forever.  Whatever time you can take to shop like millions of others are doing daily, it will be eye opening.  And hopefully, delicious!

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Like George Washington Carver said:

1. Be clean both inside and outside.
2. Neither look up to the rich nor down on the poor.
3. Lose, if need be, without squealing.
4. Win without bragging.
5. Always be considerate of women, children and old people.
6. Be too brave to lie.
7. Be too generous to cheat.
8. Take your share of the world and let others take theirs.


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