Sunday, April 29, 2007

Cheap-o Wrap-up

I don't usually budget my meals. It's not because I can afford to eat anything I want.
I have a horror of letting food go to waste. I'm not inclined to buy expensive stuff on a whim. I totally avoid prepared foods in the grocery store.
So I'm sensible, but I didn't really think I was frugal.
For a whole week, I kept tabs on my expenses while eating food produced within 100 miles of my home. I ate well, but I did try to economize because it seemed like the right thing to do for the Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge.
What I didn't know was that I would come in so far under the Department of Labor's statistics, $144 for the average family of two wage-earning adults. (Cranky and I are both retired, but our nest egg makes money for us, so we like to consider that "wages.")
We spent just over $70. Not counting the final meal of the week, totally off the reservation (we sneaked over to the local Chili's for beer and nachos).
But I think we proved something, which was the point of the challenge: eating locally doesn't have to be expensive.
We don't usually eat breakfast, but for this event, I thought I'd try to eat breakfast most days, even if it was just a few spoonfuls of homemade yogurt. The photo is of some of that yogurt spooned over cooked local wheatberries, topped with local honey. Heaven.
All other meals were rich, filling and nutritious. We didn't starve. We feasted.
I could leave you with several exhortations about how to make it through a week on this challenge, such as using fats and proteins sparingly, using flavors vigorously, embracing humble foods, getting out of your frozen mind set ("But I always eat toast!"), and all.
No. I will leave you with this observation: You will have to cook. To get the most out of your food dollar, you will have to use your kitchen.
It doesn't mean the end of the world. Your rice can simmer while you watch American Idol. The beans can soak overnight, and then you can leave them bubbling in your slow cooker the next day while you're at work. The chicken stock can enrich itself while you're over there blogging.
Give it a try.


tammy said...

Excellent. I'm inspired.

Passionate Eater said...

CLAP, CLAP, CLAP!! Excellent series Cookie! I didn't leave a lot of comments during the week, but I read every single post ravenously, sponging in all of the details. I am amazed. I am not the best about eating locally, but your posts were like a suspense (or juicy romance) novel. Thank you so much for this educational and (as Tammy said) inspiring series. Now off to eat locally, and cheap! By the way, can I forage some food from your garden? I am always in awe of the food you grow. :)

Moonbear said...

Awesomely inspiring. And congrats on your new place. I would wish you best of luck on your composting, but as I have mentioned before, luck is not required.
The local eating/cooking challenge seems a little steep for me, until I read the part about ducking out for beer and nachos. That somehow gives me permission to try. I could certainly manage not to buy any packaged foods, I think. hmmmm.

Era said...

I really enjoyed your posts this week, and though I also didn't comment much I read every one. I live in Davis and it's really awesome to read about what you've done right in my back yard. Just as a side note I learned today that Sierra Nevada beer (brewed and distributed locally, in Chico, CA) has really admirable business ethics and tries to "operate the brewery in as ecologically clean and efficient a manner as possible" which includes byproduct recycling and retrofitted energy efficient fixtures. No, I do not work for them, I just thought it fit in with your week of local food eating and wanted to share that fabulous info!

Freya and Paul said...

Not sure if we can get wheatberries here but you have inspired me to hunt some out! They look delicious!

kudzu said...

A postscript from you might be of use, too --encouragement to preserve foods in season, as you did. I know those frozen tomatoes made a world of flavor difference. Which reminds me, I have some from last season in the bottom of my freezer and should use them!

Katie said...

I got out of the habit of buying prepared foods when we moved 'across the pond'. Now it's just normal to make everything from scratch - and it really doesn't hold up the salad with the 1 minute it takes to make the salad dressing.....
Grerat series! (actually, all the food on my website is made from scratch - okay, 95% of it)

cookiecrumb said...

Tammy: Wow, you're not even cracking a snark? Thank you very much.

PE: I know you're out there! This is something you can try meal by meal; you don't have to take a weeklong challenge. But thanks so much.

Moonbear: Like I said to PE, you get to cheat. The thing is, you just want to establish for yourself that this is doable. And then it just sort of takes over. No melamine in mine foods!

Era: I'm pleased you followed my progress. Great tip on the Sierra folks!! (Only problem with most local breweries is that malt and hops and whatever are not grown locally... but it's always excellent to hear about a decent employer.)

Freya and Paul: Look for spelt or farro if you can't locate the wheatberries. My wheatberries were surprisingly tender; I'm not sure they always are... but such good eating. (Soak 'em overnight, and then cook for a few hours gently; we used a small slow cooker.)

Kudzu: Right on, O, prescient one! In fact, the monthlong Eat Local Challenge this September will be focused on the theme of preserving foods. Can you think of a better month for that? Yay.

Katie: I love that you make your salad dressings ad hoc. Everyone else, you should read Katie's blog for great recipes.

ChrisB said...

You've done brilliantly and you put me to shame, I could never feed embee and I for this small amount of money and as I think I've said before it's impossible to get all local grown food.

Jamie said...

YES. People need to use that thing in the kitchen with the dials and burners. Most cooking is not hard and doesn't take away from other things you can be doing at the same time!

Sam said...

I beginning to think - who wants to be frugal if they can afford not to have to be? At the same time, if you choose to indulge yourself by eating well, then you need to take responsibility for that enjoyment and take the time to think about where your food comes from. I shall carry on like I have been.

I can't believe my mum still says it is impossible to get local grown food in Bristol when she has just written a post about exactly that and also there is a farmer's market in Britstol every single week.

cookiecrumb said...

ChrisB: It has become so easy for us, it's not even a challenge. But the bottom line is -- we have it pretty easy here in Northern California.

Jamie: Woo-hoo! Teach your (or others') children well. When did eating become all about convenience? Back in the '50s and '60s, food was supposed to be all frozen and "just add water." That ended. Oh, right. It got worse. Now we just buy it already made.

Sam: I completely agree. I spend wisely because that is my nature, but I don't forgo expensive food (that I can afford), just on the principle of economizing. Come see my Spanish sherry vinegar collection.
I don't think this week's challenge was about promoting a trend. I think it was about seeing whether the "average American" (and that is such bunk) could do it. I can. But I live in Marin County, which makes me not average.