Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How to be a Foodie on $4.00 a Day

I find Leanne Brown's Good & Cheap cookbook to be absolutely fascinating. The book is targeted to those on SNAP, the program previously known as food stamps. Like most cookbooks, this is an exercise in creative constraints, and her goal of "eating well on $4.00 per day" is about as constraining as you can get.

In hindsight, publishing a cookbook targeting food stamp recipients just makes good sense. According to one study, there's 7.3 million vegetarians in the US, a population with countless cookbook options. Contrast that to the 46 million(!) people on SNAP, and you see that there's absolutely a market there.

But Brown isn't in it for the big bucks. She offers Good & Cheap for free on her website, and has allowed people to donate the books to those in need. What a fantastic example of using a personal passion (cooking and cookbooks) to help change the world for the better. It's great reminder that with a bit of creativity, what you love to do can be turned into a force for good.

What I find most surprising, however, is how Brown meets her goal of cooking on $4.00 per day. I'd sum up her apparent strategy like so: buying generic pasta at the store is cheap, but buying flour and eggs and making your own pasta is even cheaper! In Brown's universe, you spend the bulk of your money on quality staples and splurge on spices and other extravagances that will go the distance. The result is a cookbook that's as much of a learning tool as it is a source of frugal living. I'd never considered making my own pasta, or perogies or tortillas. Those are items you *have* to buy at the store, right? Apparently not.

That's not to say that every recipe in the book is replicating store bought items. In fact, many are (to me) quite original (cauliflower tacos, anyone?), with a large emphasis on vegetarian options. Perhaps a better subtitle for the book should have been how to be a foodie on $4.00 per day. I say that in the best sense of the word foodie, where a person truly enjoys the food they're eating and is eager to seek out quality and originality. To bring that mindset to those on a limited budget is incredibly empowering.

Ultimately, I think Brown made a simple calculation: people on food stamps lack money, not brains. Her reasoning makes for a terrifically powerful resource. Instead of being a ruled by the deal of the day at the supermarket, you can control your own food destiny. That's an important lesson for people on any budget.

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