Day 5 – Eat on $30 – This is my brain on $30 a week. October 16, 2009

Carrots-1 Day 5 really isn't any big deal, food wise. After a half day of thinking I was having an aneurysm from the caffeine withdrawl, my trusty sidekick Abby came to the house bearing some coffee beans in a plastic bag – I traded these for her paycheck so I think I'm still in the black. Outside of that, eating on this budget becomes pretty routine. The sweetie has been taking big turkey sandwiches and hearty soups. I made another gratin, which I ate half of for lunch and we split it for dinner with the leftover chicken thighs from earlier in the week. No big deal – we even still have cookies to bake for after dinner treats. Dare I say I'm probably gonna come in UNDER budget? 

It's not so much the actual PHYSICAL part of the challenge that is the tough part for me. It's amazing how you adjust to a food level after just a few short days. For me, the rough patches have been the emotional ups and downs and the lifestyle and personal philosophy changes that are hard. All I've done for the past week is think about how I take food for granted. I think about the produce that goes to waste in our house because we get lazy and don't cook. It's even prompted us to set a food (and going-out-to-dinner) budget that is a dramatic departure from where we were before this challenge. There's a spreadsheet and everything, I tell ya.

You know what? This challenge is EASY for me – no doubt about it. I get to live this life for a week – or however long i CHOOSE to – and go back to whatever life I want after this. I have the tools to cook – times 10. I have the KitchenAid, the immersion blender, the good knives, the proper containers for food storage. I'm also armed with the knowledge of basic cooking and the art of improvisation with food. I can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, as they say. I also have the luxury of TIME. Hours to prepare sauces, soups, separate proteins into portion sizes, make chicken salad from leftover roasted chicken. I have easy access to the Internet so if I don't know how to do it, I can find out.

Not everyone's life is like this…and I know it. I am spoiled by all the things I have and all the things I know.

The average person who receives financial assistance in Georgia - which is 57% of working families in this state – doesn't have the luxury of time and skill. How do we encourage people, some of whom don't have stoves in their homes, to eat healthfully? How does someone working two jobs – or one full time job with one or more children – have the energy and resources to do this? As I said in an earlier post, the effort it takes to plan meals, shop in advance and know where every dime goes is so overwhelming, it's no surprise that many people resort to the Value Menu. 

This campaign I've taken on here at RWT is just the tiniest little whisper in what should be a crowd of voices trying to help people get basic cooking utensils, extra produce leftover from CSAs and markets, and arm them with the basic knowledge that boxed food isn't better and that they CAN feed themselves and their families in a more nutritious way. How do I, just one frustrated and (feeling a bit) helpless person, make this happen? I'm not sure – this challenge for me doesn't end on Sunday morning. I continue on thinking about these issues and doing whatever I can – in however large a way is possible – to make improvements. 

The photo from this post was taken by my dear friend Tony Clark and MacGuyvered up by yours truly for a magazine editorial a few years ago. I still love this photo. 


maybelles mom Oct 16, 2009 02:10 pm

fantastic and true post.

atlnav Oct 16, 2009 02:10 pm

Tami – well done once again – have been following and reading most of the posts from the others. Some personal things in my life (and being lazy) I have not started the challenge myself but i promised myself I would do it – just still not sure when.

Tartelette Oct 16, 2009 02:10 pm

Every year I volunteer for the hunger food drive here. We basically fill bags with foods for pp receiving assistance. There were 6K pp this year in line versus 3K last year. I have to add that yes, it is about time and planning but also about education. I was talking to a young woman of 24 who was in like with her 2 year-old and her 2 week-old. She was on assistance because “her mom and her aunties were too.” She had been “taught” that this was the way life was and could not understand why she should try to find a job since “the state would take care of her and her kids” (her words). I wasn’t sure who to be the most upset at. Her? Her family dynamics? The state? The system? Me?
I am still unsure. Her case is really not an isolated one where I live and I feel hopeless trying to change it or wanting to change it.
You’re doing great Tami! And I appreciate your thoughts on it.

Patti Davis Oct 16, 2009 02:10 pm

It’s amazing all the things we take for granted, isn’t it? I live in what is considered to be a neighborhood fraught with poverty and crime and I just don’t think most of the families want to change how things are. It’s terribly sad.

Jarrett Oct 16, 2009 02:10 pm

Hey, It seems from the comments that your name is Tami. This is the first post I’ve read of yours. Your writing is impressive. I think the answer is coordinated school health and a reinvestment in garden/cooking education. It will take 10-15 years, or sooner with a passionate catalyst. I’d love to talk.
– Jarrett

bettyjoan Oct 16, 2009 03:10 pm

What a wonderful post. You may think of yourself as only a whisper, but you are doing a great thing, even if it is on a small scale (for now).

Christiane Oct 16, 2009 04:10 pm

I completely agree with you – what a beautifully written post.
When I made the change of living with a roommate to living on my own and not splitting a grocery bill anymore, I was devastated. Yet, after a few weeks of keeping to my grocery budget, I really started to realize how much excess I had been wasting – buying produce that would just go bad in the fridge, eating out when I had more than enough food in the fridge to cook and just being lazy.
Thanks for giving us something to pause and think about.

Wendy Oct 16, 2009 05:10 pm

I actually love these challenges…not because I’m doing it, but because most leave people feeling grateful for their “normal” life. There was a blog I stumbled across where food bank execs and politicians ate on what the typical food stamp recipient does. They all got bummed from tedious preps, too careful shopping, being hungry and not being able to grab food while out.
I am disabled with myasthenia gravis, lupus and a few other things. I’ve had several strokes. On my blog I give folks a glimpse into the reality of my life. Some sort of understand. A challenge like you are doing opens eyes even further.
I recently posted my year’s worth of income and expenses.Seeing it and living it are waaaay different….

kazzles Oct 20, 2009 01:10 am

I just found out about your $30 a week challenge, I’ve just had a financial challenge come my way so I’m now forced to live on less and $30 a week is pretty much what I’ve settled on as a reasonable figure. Its really hard though and I, like you can cook and have great gadgets and equipment. I’m convinced that it’s cheaper to cook from scratch and eat fresh produce if you know where to buy it, something I’m sure a lot of people are not aware of.

Sean Oct 20, 2009 07:10 am

Great post and a true one at that. Living on $30 a week can be done but to eat healthily and in a non-monotonous way can be difficult.
I think this is why so many college kids eat the things they do ($1 menus, “pizza”). They think that they don’t have the time or the skills to cook when this is completely untrue.
I’m constantly trying to motivate classmates to get in the kitchen but it’s an ongoing battle.