Eat on $30 – Days 6 & 7 – The wrap-up post that almost wasn’t. October 20, 2009

Lentilsoup1 It's now been three days since Eat on $30 ended…and I haven't been able to write a wrap-up or put down my conclusions about the challenge until now. The story of the last two days goes: for us, the challenge ended on Saturday with not so much a bang but a whimper – and that would be me whining. We spent Friday evening (after a trip to Trader Joe's for pasta, sausage, canned tomatoes, and cheap wine) at home enjoying our most luxurious meal of the week – sitting down with protein and a bottle of wine was quite the luxury. Saturday morning, we woke up at 5 am to help out at Mike's company flea market, where I had the OMG of allergy attacks. I sneezed and blew my nose for 4 hours and felt generally horrible. Let's not even talk about the free chicken biscuit I got…which fell in my coffee cup and was deemed too soggy to eat it (but I actually considered it for a second – that's Eat on $30 for you).

The rest of our day was spent at the farmers market and at home readying ourselves for the party Sunday night, climbing up and down ladders, hemming curtains, mopping the loft. Arduous physical work all day…and only eating a piece of bread with butter and leftover lentil soup. The day continued like this until around 10 pm when, after 15 hours of going and doing, I called the challenge. We sulked over to our neighborhood place where I ate the best tasting-most poorly cooked burger ever, washed it down with a glass of red wine, and went to bed. Not exactly the ending I had planned. I was riddled with guilt and felt like a failure for not making it those last two hours...but fatigue trumped guilt in the end. Before our late dinner, we were coming in UNDER budget by about $2. 

The next morning…we really didn't eat anything. At all. We were head down getting the loft and all the food ready for folks coming over. For those that didn't know, we had a "break the fast" party Sunday evening…and asked people to donate $10 per person, all the money going to Project Open Hand, which I talked about it a previous post. I was disappointed that more of the Eat on $30 crew wasn't there…but our friends turned out and were so generous with their donations. As people noshed on gravlax crostini, BLT deviled eggs, Mike's famous latkes (rosemary ginger version this time), Jen's insane ginger chewies, and Betty Joan's pumpkin cupcakes…the pitcher we put out for donations began to fill. It was a great evening filled with  lots of laughter and good conversation. I had more wine than I did food – neither of us ate much at all Sunday being focused on the party. We have raised – including donations from folks via PayPal that couldn't attend the party – somewhere close to $300 just by having a cocktail party. I'm getting choked up about it now as I did when I made the toast to everyone at the party on Sunday.

Those are the logistics. So what do I have to say about the challenge? I've come out of this week pissed off. Angry. Incredulous. Disappointed. Enthralled. Energized. Motivated. We talked some at the party about how doing this challenge changes you. You don't look at food the same way. You don't shop for groceries the same way. Something in the back of your mind is making you account for what you buy. Not waste food as much. Let me tell you…it doesn't go away. This challenge has inspired a lifestyle change by both Mike and I. Cooking at home more. Saving bones and veggie scraps for stock. We've been good about tallying our budget. It's changed me forever on a personal level…and I'll be doing this challenge again soon.

What about beyond that? I've made it a point to do whatever I can to help give back to the community I live in and focus on hunger issues and charities that deal with them. I'm determined to educate myself – and by association, those around me,  about hunger issues on a larger scale. Being a "foodie" is a privilege of the middle to upper class and does not excuse me from knowing about the struggles of the rest of the world. Just because I *can* go into a store and haphazardly throw anything I want into a shopping cart doesn't mean I should…and it doesn't mean others CAN. Ignorance is something I can remedy and I can't choose to ignore it anymore. We folks here in the food world – and especially bloggers – live in a world that few get access to. Let's not forget that as of today, ok?

This challenge would not have been possible without the other bloggers that took part. They've done a really wonderful job about chronicling their experiences, being honest on how it made them feel, and how this week has changed them. There have been many really thoughtful posts and my heart is full because you took the time to do this with me. Please visit their blogs, get involved in the dialogues there and see the changes their making:

Since I said earlier in the week that I'd post my lentil soup recipe, here it is. The photo is definitely from the "looks like crap, tastes like delicious" files. What can I say? You eat a lot of brown food during Eat on $30. This soup is a lighter version of lentil soup than you're used to and could be made year-round. 

Lemon and Rosemary Lentil Soup – makes 6 to 8 servings 

  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup lentils, uncooked but sorted through for stones and broken pieces, rinsed and drained
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 large rosemary sprig – half of the leaves removed, chopped and reserved
  • 1 lemon, cut in half, juiced but fruit & juice reserved
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • garnish ideas: olive oil, parmesan cheese, chopped herbs, green onion

– In a large stockpot, melt the butter. Add garlic and saute until cooked but not brown – 2 minutes or so. Add lentils, water, chopped rosemary and sprig, lemon juice and the juiced lemon halves, salt and pepper. Simmer for about 1 – 1 1/2 hours – cooking time will vary depending on your lentils. Remove hard rosemary sprig and lemon halves. Once cooked, taste your soup and season again if necessary. If you want your soup thinner, you can add more water or some stock and heat through. You could also puree this soup if you like it that way. I garnished mine with a little Parmesan cheese and chopped green onion. Serve immediately. 


Juanita Oct 20, 2009 07:10 am

I am going to try this starting today!!!!! Hope to gain some prespective for my 16 year old daughter and family. Thanks’s for the inspiration!

Jen Yu Oct 20, 2009 08:10 am

You did admirably as did everyone else. I learned so much and I thank you for the inspiration and the encouragement. My readers learned a lot – and they thank you too. You rock, Tami. I so wish we could have celebrated with you on Sunday. Toasting you from CO. xxoo

Wendy Oct 20, 2009 08:10 am

Next time you do this challenge, do it as if you really are on food stamps. That means no eating out. It’s a whole other world when you actually have to follow food stamp rules and cannot eat unless you cook it. It will give you a whole new perspective!

Carrie Neal Walden Oct 20, 2009 08:10 am

Lovely post, T! I am still, ahem, digesting everything for my adventuroustastes write up but I had very similar-to-you thoughts/feelings on the week!! Will do it with you again.

maybelles mom Oct 20, 2009 09:10 am

wonderful wrap up. I will be there next time you do it. (Actually, I would love to see if we could try to set it up in various cities as fundraisers for the local food banks. this challenge made me send a donation to the Cleveland Food bank.)

Kate @ Savour Fare Oct 20, 2009 10:10 am

I wasn’t able to do the challenge this time (timing just wasn’t right, which is in itself a luxury), but even reading all your eat on $30 posts (and I also followed Jen and Kristina) changed the way I looked at food. My grocery budget was down 30% this week as I tried to think about using up leftovers better and eking out more from what I got.

The Frugal Hostess Oct 20, 2009 12:10 pm

Even your lentil soup pic is gorgeous! I’m sorry to have bailed on the party last minute, but I’d still like to give if it’s not too late. I decided I’m doing Eat on $30 on Week a month, and my savings is going to Wholesome Wave. Thanks for letting me participate and for creating this brilliant, eye-opening, and important experiment. I can honestly say that my life was changed as a result – thank you!

Hailey Hodges Oct 20, 2009 08:10 pm

Tami, thanks for being such an inspiration. I agree, my approach to food/shopping has changed forever. You’ve kick-started a lifestyle change that I desperately needed. Thank you for the opportunity to join you and the others. It certainly was a privilege!

Buy Prozac Online Oct 20, 2009 11:10 pm

What a unique challenge you’ve been through. I find your post very entertaining to read although I haven’t quite finished yet but I already feel the need to comment on this wonderful posts. Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience with us.
Leah Marie

Kristina Oct 22, 2009 07:10 pm

Tami – thanks so much for organizing this. It was a great way for my husband and I to refocus on what we’re eating and how we can do it more mindfully and with more compassion.

milla Oct 23, 2009 06:10 am

“Being a “foodie” is a privilege of the middle to upper class and does not excuse me from knowing about the struggles of the rest of the world.”
sorry but in many ways i completely disagree with this. if you look at the food cultures that are considered among the greatest, all of it is based on poor-people’s cooking. france’s cassoulet is nothing but baked beans and meat. indian food is basically grains, vegetables, and legumes. chinese food is primarily vegetables, small amounts of protein, and carbs (rice). italian polenta is essentially grits with vegetables or a protein.
most of the food we admire in other cultures is nothing but peasant cooking. in fact, it is only up until relatively recently in human history that we have this amazing abundance of a steady supply of food. so, obviously before that, people made due with what they had. the great food we see is the fruit of their struggle.
we americans, who lack a real homegrown cooking culture (outside of louisiana and the south) see these foods and quality meals as something only a so-called foodie could attain or appreciate. it is because we do not cook and are spoiled that we have these bizarre views that eating well has to come at a large price.
my mother, who is black and from louisiana, grew up poor in a house with no running water. yet, she raves about her mother’s cooking. how can that be? everything was homemade and people used creativity when cooking. just as is the case with the person who decided to create the cassoulet – a filling, nutritious, good-tasting, but cheap meal – the food she made would make any so-called foodie salivate.
we need to accept that we are overindulged, spoiled, and a tad bit delusional and misguided in the food choices we make.
this is not about seeing the struggles others have. that’s rather condescending to me.

Helen Oct 23, 2009 07:10 am

Milla: I can see why that statement could rub you the wrong way. You can be a foodie and be on a budget. I am. I am picky about the quality of what I eat. In my definition of things, that makes me a foodie. Not the $10 one would spend for heirloom apples. Cassoulet is a poor people’s cooking? Duck? Duck fat? I don’t know when duck began a poor man’s meat. I agree with the Indian diet being based on grains and vegetables but Italians eat a lot of meat, not just polenta and veggies. One of their culinary prowess is Osso Bucco.
The South is far from being the only american region to now abut homegrown culture. Look how far behind we are compared to the West coast!
Seeing other people’s struggle is condescending? I think it is the first step to opening one’s eyes to the world around as well as opening one’s heart. Ignoring the struggles of others would be better? Wow….Ignoring period is the worst thing mankind could do.

milla Oct 23, 2009 08:10 am

helen: the bulk of italian food is poor people’s food. polenta (grits) was an easy dish accessible dish. corn is not necessarily considered a high class “grain” or vegetable. and yes, cassoulet is a poor person’s dish. the beans alone are the giveaway. but it is clearly a dish made with whatever was on-hand. but here’s a historical take:
Indeed, cassoulet is the stuff of legend. As the story goes, it dates back to the 14th-century siege of Castelnaudary during the Hundred Years’ War. With the city surrounded, desperate citizen soldiers are said to have gathered their remaining provisions to create a communal dish robust enough to power their counterattack and send their invaders packing. The battle was in fact lost, but cassoulet went on to become part and parcel of the Southwest’s Occitan identity—the langue d’oc was spoken throughout the southwest, except in the Basque and Catalan regions.

do not confuse upperclass people adopting a dish and adding their “haute” touches (like mutton and duck) with the real origin which is basically pork and beans and herbs.
also, french cooking is regional so it of course has different variations.
so, just because culinary prowess is in meat, does not mean that the backbone of cultural cuisine is wealth. like i said, in most of human history, people were poor. most italians were poor. osso bucco is an aberration that does not disprove the norm or prevailing reality of a given time.
really, all you have to do is google peasant food – italy, france, world , etc. and you will find out. this is commmon knowledge and nothing that is worth even disagreeing about. seriously.
it’s just that now, we regard simple beans, organ meats, innards, and the like, as high class foodie foods, especially if they sound italian or french and assign the gourmet (even that word is french) label and high price to it. that’s our bias/ignorance/problem. doesn’t negate the actual genesis of people’s food.
well, i’m born and raise in california – l.a. while we have the best japanese food, mexican food, thai food, etc., off the top of my head, i can’t really think of a single regional california meal i could cook or that exists. seriously. can you? much of what people think of as california food is what was born in restaurants which is the complete opposite of southern and louisiana food which though may not be the healthiest, is really the u.s.’ saving grace when it comes to our culinary legacy.
for me it’s condescending the way this article was put. the entire thrust of it is that of a typical spoiled american supposedly walking in another person’s shoes. i found it a little ridunculous but if it inspires folk to live lighter and to cook and to be creative in their food preparations, then great. more power to you…
i’m not poor. but the way i eat – mostly vegetarian and i cook very well – i don’t spend much money at all, unless i eat out. i found the whole concept kinda weird, especially considering i grew up with little money but ate very well, thanks to my louisiana mother.

Brian J. Geiger Oct 23, 2009 09:10 am

Hi, milla,
I think you agree with some of the things I’m about to write, and not with others, so don’t think that because some of my conclusions are different than yours that I’m wholeheartedly disagreeing with what you wrote. That being said:
The difference between cassoulet being something for poor people and something for foodies primarily depends on where you are and what resources you have. Take salt cod, for example. For a thousand years it was a staple food that was popular because it was relatively inexpensive. Now it’s a delicacy because of overfishing. Same with lobster – it used to be icky sea bug, now it’s a special treat.
As for regional California food, well, what do you expect? As far as a political entity, it’s a relatively young state. It’s also very long north-to-south, so it has a wide range of climates and weather patterns. You’d have to look at a smaller area to determine what individually might be considered traditional cuisine. For example, Southern California has a lot of influence of Mexican food that just isn’t part of Northern California.
So, again: The difference between being a foodie and just eating good food is a matter of choice. I can choose to eat locally because the food is better whether it’s more expensive than megamart food or not. People without my income may be able to eat better food than I can if they can substitute something for money, such as time, community effort, or growing your own food. However, take away whatever it is you’re substituting for money, and you’re going to have difficulty making good food.
As someone who didn’t participate in the $30 challenge, I hesitate to speak for those who did, but I think part of the challenge is seeing what can be done when you lose a resource. Can you take yourself out of the zone that you are comfortable in and still make good and/or nutritious food? And, if so, what can you learn from this? Are there long-term lessons that can be gained?
As I said, I didn’t do this. I have too much going on right now to feel comfortable trying to do the challenge properly. I’ve done it before, though not intentionally, during the Dot Com Crash of the turn of the millennium, but I didn’t know then what I do now, and the world’s change a bit since. I think that if I had the attention to devote to it, I might be able to learn something useful about myself and about cooking.
I never think it’s bad to try to learn new things and try to accept new challenges. I don’t think that the people who participated in this challenge are really trying to say that they fully understand what it means to be poor or how they would cope with it. But is it really better not to try, even if only a little bit? Or is it better that if they do try, that they don’t write about it?

Helen Oct 23, 2009 09:10 am

As a European I doubt I need a lesson in peasant food and some of the things you say about European peasant foods are way off base. Pork, chicken, lamb, beef, fish are at the roots of peasant foods in Europe. It was raised in large quantities and every bit used to the last inch. Mutton was/is cheap in Europe so is pork and have been used for centuries, they never suddenly replaced beans because people became foodies. I grew up in rural Europe when we never had a meal without meat or fish and my parents were on an extremely low income.
I think it is fantastic that your Louisana mother knew how to cook on a low budget and you never lacked for anything. What about people who never grew up in a family where people knew how to shop and cook?
Tami never pretended to do more than she did: bring awareness to another person’s plight. I don’t see where that would condescending. Especially if she was able to raise money to give to people who need some help.
A lot of the people who did the challenge felt a certain sense of awareness and humility. Isn’t this a start? I plan to hold them accountable for all they eperienced and said they would change after doing this challenge. This is important when humans often experience something, feel touched about it and go back to their old ways.

Mike Boutté Oct 23, 2009 10:10 am

DISCLAIMER: I am Tami’s boyfriend, so there’s that.
I’ve been reading this since it was posted and now i feel like chiming in.
First of all -let’s take the term foodie out of this. That word is nothing more than a marketing gimmick. It’s being used in much the same way as “green” and “local”. To enjoy food of any kind from any region is not a privilege. To enjoy food is human. All food and all humans. Celebrating food, be it based on peasant food or some new form of foie gras, is a celebration nonetheless and I think everyone can relate to that. Tami used the word foodie to illustrate that some of us, myself included, go a little beyond sometimes in our eating. We can afford nitrous oxide raspberries with a glass of Zinfandel. And we like it. But it’s good to be grounded, thus the Eat On $30 challenge.
Going out on a limb, but I don’t think at any point, any participant of the Eat On $30 challenge said anything about wanting to “live in someone else’s shoes.” That was never the point of this idea in the first place. To do that would indeed be “condescending” and a fruitless endeavor.
“I found the whole concept kinda weird, especially considering i grew up with little money but ate very well, thanks to my louisiana mother.”
If you look at the majority of anyone’s blog posts on this topic, you’ll see a lot of people talking about how happy they were that they could spend such a little amount of money and crank out some really wonderful dishes. Growing up that way must be quite a treat. I know I didn’t. I too grew up in a poor family, oddly enough, in Louisiana. I had to learn to cook for myself and my little brother while my mother spent nights at college. There were some awful meals, but I eventually got the hang of it. And to this day, as someone who enjoys meals that cost way too much, cajun family food is still at the top of my list. Why? Because it’s good. Because it means something. Not because it’s cheap.
“we need to accept that we are overindulged, spoiled, and a tad bit delusional and misguided in the food choices we make.
this is not about seeing the struggles others have. that’s rather condescending to me. ”
You pretty much summed it up right there. That’s exactly what Tami was talking about. As people who love food and cooking and everything that goes along with it, the majority of the participants in this challenge are realizing things about the culinary world, their communities and most importantly, themselves. In all of your effort to discredit what is happening here, you missed the entire point and it is exactly the point you made.
I urge you to take a deeper look into things of this nature before you decide it’s all wrong. That is the only way we can see real change in anything we do.

Tara Oct 23, 2009 11:10 am

Nobody mentioned how osso bucco is made out of the shank which is a “less desirable” cut, and is cheaper! So osso bucco IS peasant food!
good food, no matter what or how much (time, money) was spent on it, is about making the best out of the resources you have!

Elizabeth Nov 19, 2009 10:11 am

Please excuse the late response to this. I just learned about it via Maybelle’s Mom.
Well done for doing this challenge! I am really intrigued. When you started, did you start from scratch and disallow yourself from using anything that was already in the kitchen? (We tend to buy in bulk and always have staples like dried beans, dried pasta, powdered milk, flour, salt on hand.)
Our local Food Bank has a Holiday Challenge on right now and this seems like a perfect way to raise funds by either taking the $30 a week challenge and donating the amount that would have been spent to the local food bank.
Eating normally and keeping track of how much is spent in a week and donating that amount (or that amount minus $30) to the local food bank.

emiglia Dec 7, 2009 11:12 am

Amazing recipe! I love it because I always have these ingredients on hand… and it’s perfect for my college student budget (and ridiculously tasty to boot!) Thanks!

Jofoto Sep 27, 2012 04:09 pm

When you state : You don’t look at food the same way. You don’t shop for groceries the same way. Something in the back of your mind is making you account for what you buy. Not waste food as much. Let me tell you…it doesn’t go away.
That is exactly right…. i do not come from a rich family nor a very poor one… we were on a budget and no one went without… but my mother did a lot of gymnastics to stretch her all mighty dollar… and taught that lesson to me and now that i have a more comfortable life style… I still don’t look at food the same way. I still don’t shop for groceries the same way. Something in the back of my mind is making me account for what I buy. Not to waste food as much. I can tell you…it never go’s away.