We’re pretty blessed around here. We know that. We may drive a 16-year-old car and buy our clothes at the island thrift store, but we feel rich with experiences and the community we have created.
Danny has a cooking job he loves on the island where we live.
Little Bean and I bake together nearly every day, blending gluten-free flours into something that becomes wonderful (or not).
We’re working hard all week on the final copy edits of our cookbook.
There’s no complaining here.
Lately, however, we have been worrying about money, for various reasons. We’re a freelance writer and a chef, in this economy. Everyone is cutting corners, right? Also, we spend too much money on food. It’s our work, we tell ourselves, as we drive to the grocery store again to pick up eggs for baking and leave with a full bag of foods we find inspiring. We really should stop.
Here is our chance to learn.
This week is the King County United Way’s Hunger Action Week. From January 25th to the 29th (today through Friday), many of us food bloggers will be living on a bare minimum of food money each day, equal to the maximum food assistance available to an individual living in Washington state.
Here, in King County, that’s $7 a day.
For a family of three, the maximum allowed is $18 a day.
That’s a heck of a lot less than we have been spending.
As little as that sounds, there are people who are living on far less. I started talking about this on the Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef Facebook page, as well as my profile page on Facebook. The conversation has been inspiring. Here’s some of what you have been saying:
“I feed a family of 11 on $250 bi-weekly…That’s $17.85 a day for the whole family… and we eat well!! Organic beef, organic chicken, organic home-canned veggies, home-canned fruits (organic when I can get them) and organic flours… 2 children do receive WIC (adopted foster kids) but that’s it, no other “services”… Buy in bulk, buy local, buy in season… and then can, can, can!!! We also belong to a food co-op that offers all organic or all-natural foods in bulk.” (Christie Siefer)
“Every now and then you buy a special ingredient until you have enough to make something. But the staples are rice and potatoes, not bread or baked or convenience foods. If you have a good blender you can make your own rice flour for a LOT cheaper.” (Cassie McFadden)
“I often buy onions and carrots at Costco to bulk up our meals. Lots of vegetable soups from seasonal and (on sale) frozen veggies. And beans, lentils, and more beans. I haven’t tried making my own flours, because I can get organic brown rice flour in bulk (25# bags) for about $1 a pound, which I think is about the same as the rice? We use a fair amount of masa and cornmeal too, because it is more affordable than many flours, and easy to find.” (Laura Austin)
“That’s pretty much it: ‘Buy in bulk, buy local, buy in season… and then can, can, can!!!’ I also do hit the asian markets, and mexican groceries for GF flours on the cheap. Using every part of our meat and making stock from scratch in the crock pot helps too. And I only use homemade almond milk for baking or cooking now, instead of the store bought stuff, that’s been a huge boon.” (Bailey Witwer)
“We feed a family of 3 a gluten/corn/dairy/soy/MSG/beef free diet for about $100 per week. Costco bags of potatoes, rice, beans, frozen & fresh fruit & veggies, etc help us stretch our food budget.” (Michelle Forsman)
Come join the conversation. Clearly, we have much to learn from each other.
We’re not trying to pretend we are homeless around here. We’re not trying to go hungry. We’re certainly not going to deprive Little Bean to prove a point.
Yesterday, we talked for a couple of hours about how we eat, and what we could buy as staples for the week. We decided to buy as little food in packages as possible, something we naturally do anyway. (There goes the occasional small bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, which we seem to fall into once a month when we’re in the city and at a gas station.)
We’re out of smoked paprika, which I love, but we didn’t buy any.
We kept our shopping trip to whole grains, healthy proteins, the staple produce we always have in the house, and some good fats (particularly for Little Bean. kids under 2 need lots of good fats for their development).
Here’s what we bought:
brown rice (short grain, in bulk)
corn tortillas (we got about 100 in this package; buying the bigger package was definitely a deal)
a bag of puffed millet cereal (only $1.99. the sugar cereals were much more expensive)
celery (these three are always in our house. they make up mirepoix, the aromatic vegetables for homemade stock. each has other vital uses as well)
parsnips (it’s winter. we love roasted root vegetables)
apples (Little Bean loves these. plus, they go great with pork. something for dessert)
russet potatoes (a five-pound bag cost an insane 72 cents!)
whole chicken (it’s SO much more economical to break down a chicken than buy parts)
brown lentils (I love French du puy lentils, but these are cheap as dirt. and good.)
pork shoulder (with a big cut, we can make several meals)
eggs (best inexpensive protein there is)
bacon (not only for breakfast, but a bit of rendered bacon makes flavoring for other foods)
cheddar cheese (quesadillas; tacos; snacks for Little Bean)
whole milk yogurt, organic (our kid could eat her weight in this)
lactose-free milk for Danny (he doesn’t do well with milk. this is expensive. for his coffee)
soy milk for Little Bean (she doesn’t do well with milk either. takes after her papa.)
canola oil (olive oil is great, but this is more useful)
pepper (the challenge says we don’t have to count these, but we did)
butter (for Little Bean’s veggies and flavoring)
1/2 pound of coffee beans (we cannot survive without it)
We had a big bag of frozen blueberries in the freezer, so we decided to add the price of those into the total. Little Bean loves them, especially in smoothies with yogurt. We also added the price of a small package of raisins, one of her favorite treats.
Our total for the week so far? $72.37.
That leaves us with $15.63 until Friday. We are saving that — in cash — for daily purchases of vegetables and fruit at our local farmstands. Another tub of yogurt. Or, possibly more coffee.
What is not on that list? Chocolate. Seafood. Quinoa. Goat’s milk powder. Sugar or any kind of sweetener. Almond flour. These are, normally, a regular purchase for us.
We decided not to eat any homemade baked goods this week, even though we have plenty of flours in the cupboard. We want to spend what little money we have left on produce and more protein, if we need it. Gluten-free flours can be expensive.
(Full disclosure here: we are baking this week. The copy edits for our cookbook are due back to the publishers on Monday. We don’t want to send this to print without every recipe being right. However, after one taste to make sure the baked goods are great, we’re freezing them for next week, or Danny is taking them to work to give to his co-workers.
We actually get all our flours through Amazon, from the small amount of money that comes to us each month through this website. Did you know that? If you click on this link of gluten-free groceries on Amazon (a good way to save money — buying in bulk) and buy something, we get a tiny portion of the price for being associates. That’s true for anything you buy on Amazon. We almost always use that monthly sum to buy more flours and xanthan gum. Otherwise, I could not bake every day, testing recipe for this site. So, if you want to see more recipes here, feel free to shop.)
This means we are not having dessert, other than apples and raisins. We’re not eating out. We’re not sampling food from other people. We’re going to do this as best we can.
So far, so good. Danny braised the pork shoulder with rosemary and thyme (we still have them growing in our garden), homemade chicken stock, apples, onions, garlic, and salt and pepper. After ten hours in the slow cooker, it smells fantastic. (In fact, I have to stop writing so I can eat.)
We’ll have the leftovers of that tomorrow night, over brown rice with roasted carrots and parsnips. Danny will make a sauce by reducing the braising liquid. (We’ll eat the last third of the tw0-pound roast as tacos for the next day.) The next night, we’ll roast the chicken, using Thomas Keller’s stunning method, which only requires salt and oil. (This is how I roast a chicken now, no matter what kinds of spices we have in the pantry.) We’ll eat the roasted chicken legs and wings, with baked potato fries with cheddar cheese. After that, we’ll enjoy the roasted chicken breasts sliced up over brown rice, again with roasted vegetables, or mashed potatoes, and maybe a salad with vegetables from the farmstand. On Friday night, we’re having a lentil soup made with homemade chicken stock.
For breakfasts? Eggs and bacon. Warm rice with milk. Millet cereal. Yogurt and blueberries. Lunches? Quesadillas. Lentils cooked with onions, garlic, and bacon. Sauteed veggies with poached eggs on top. Snacks? Carrots. Apples. Yogurt and cereal with raisins. Roasted kale.
Actually, I’m really excited about this week. We’re going to eat well. It will be plain food, no enticing ingredients or unexpected tastes. That’s okay. We have enough to eat.
Besides, we could all use the reminder. After all.…
There has been a 17% increase in people using food banks in the last year in King County.
According to the Seattle Times in December, “In the past two years… the number of people in Washington state receiving food stamps has soared by nearly 60 percent, about twice the national increase…. In October, a record 12.8 percent of the state’s population — about 855,000 people — were on food stamps.”
A 2009 USDA report revealed that 47 million Americans are “food insecure.” 1 in every 7 Americans don’t have enough to eat.
The food insecurity is not just in this country, either. Someone from the UK left this on the Facebook page:
“On the UK news this morning, severe poverty was defined as having less than £20GBP ($32USD) per week to feed a family of 4. Figures show that 13% of children in England live in this level of extreme poverty.”
Anyone who has enough food to write a food blog, or enough time to read a food blog, is pretty damned lucky. This week, we know that even more clearly than before.