Is it possible to eat local organic food on a food-stamp budget? That’s the question Salon’s Siobhan Phillips set out to answer recently. For one month, Phillips and her husband gave themselves a budget of $248 to “eat ethically” in New Haven, Connecticut. She writes:
When Alice Waters told Americans that they could dine better by forgoing “the cellphone or the third pair of Nike shoes,” my monthly cellphone bill totaled zero and I owned just one pair of sneakers. When Michael Pollan urged citizens to plant a garden, I was living on the 10th floor of an urban apartment building. When Barbara Kingsolver wrote in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that sustainable cooking could be thrifty, her recommendations included a plot of land and a second freezer that I didn’t own.
My kitchen had the dimensions of a medium-size walk-in closet. And I was better off than many in my neighborhood.
I like this article because it doesn’t delve so much into the politics of food choice as it does the practicalities. If, as meat eaters, you limit yourself to a single chicken and a pound of beef for the month, how do you make meals interesting? How easy is it to go from store-bought bread to home-made bread? What about coffee? Milk?
When you opt out of the convenience of the local supermarket for whatever reason, food choices become more challenging. Ultimately, however, Phillips and her husband deemed their project a success. With inspiration from sources like M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, they were able to eat organic food for a month on a frugal budget. But she cautions:
Our test methods wouldn’t work for everyone, I know: I relied on the sort of reasonably flexible schedule that is a luxury in far too many households, and I started with some basic cooking knowledge…Yet our four-week hypothetical did provide a feasible way for my husband and me to eat sustainably long-term: When the month finished — with a magisterial $1.20 left in the cache — we decided to stick with most of our experimental changes.
Here are three other sources of inspiration for Phillips’ experiment:
- Rebecca’s Pocket: The (Organic) Thrifty Food Plan Challenge
- USDA: “Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals” [PDF]
- More-with-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre
This story reminds me of an anecdote from our trip to the grocery store last weekend. As we were carrying our food out to the car, Kris scanned the receipt. “52%!” she said. “That’s a record for me!” She had orchestrated our trip so that we purchased $80 of groceries for just under $40. My wife’s got mad skillz.
[Salon: Can we afford to eat ethically?]