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Fresh food on food stamps cookbook

Stashed in: Awesome, Poverty, World Hunger, America, Recipes!, Economics, Food, Food Hacks

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A truly wondrous achievement -- a free downloadable cookbook for people who can only spend $4/day on food -- that is also a damning testament to what life is like on food stamps. I suspect that only people like me who actually cook all their own meals will understand the supreme level of skill, the amount of time required to shop, and the unending discipline it would require to actually eat like this.

Here's a concrete example: everyone knows that oatmeal is a healthy, cheap, and easily available breakfast food. You can fill up for literally pennies! Everyone also knows that plain oatmeal is not very tasty -- almost everyone wants to add a little bit of something to make it go down better. The cookbook author here, who works with low-income families in NYC, suggests some healthy taste additions like a pinch each of powdered ginger and cloves.

If you've never been in a situation where you have to think about whether you can afford to buy SPICES, this is what it's like. First you wonder how often you're going to use ginger and cloves -- which for most of us is once a year at Thanksgiving for pumpkin pie, but if you're on food stamps and can't afford any breakfast but oatmeal it could be every day. Then you go to the supermarket and realize that a small container of each spice is more than $5... so buying these spices there would take 2.5 DAYS worth of your entire food budget. That's a major investment when you're poor. So then you try to remember if they might have these spices cheaper at the Mexican or Indian or Chinese groceries -- if you're lucky enough to live within walking distance of one or all of these. If you go there, you might find packets of spices for less... maybe a dollar or two each. If you live within walking distance of a Whole Foods or other purveyor of Spicely brand, their prices can be lower because their quantities are smaller. Cookbook writers always talk about bulk spices, but honestly I only know one place that sells spices in true bulk form and the selection is low -- I imagine it's probably just not worth the hassle to the store. But let's say you have the time and the moral courage to go into a nearby bulk spice vendor and spoon less than a dollar's worth of ginger powder into a plastic bag, and then presumably transfer it to a small glass or plastic jar when you get home. Good for you, but is that a reasonable expectation for anyone? Most people will give up after Step 1.

Repeat this process for practically every recipe in this cookbook -- I won't even go into the question of how you can meet the nutritional needs of growing children on nothing but a bowl of delicious-looking butternut squash soup for dinner -- and now you know why poor people eat ramen noodles and hot dogs and Cheetos. And I honestly wonder how many people living on $4/day are going to make their own roti and bok-choy crostini and brussels sprouts hash. Maybe I'm underestimating the latent "foodiness" of the poor, but these recipes inadvertently highlight how truly Herculean a task it is to live with dignity and joy on what today's legislators consider a decent food budget for the richest country in the world.

Great link and great analysis, Joyce.

It really makes me think about what people on tight food budgets go through.

Hey guys, 

I agree with you in one point Joyce, most of the food is far from meeting the nutricional needs of kids, for example, but i disagree on the spices matter. There is only a few recipes where she goes as far as powdered ginger and other more expensive stuff. If you face the book as a guide to, at least, initiate people on low budget on trying new alternatives, and go healthier, I think she did a great job. The book is beautiful and colorful, and as all cookbooks has recipes that we won't try either because has an item that we won't find or because has an ingredient that we can't stand.

Thanks for bringing it up! 

Still, it's too bad there's no such thing as an inexpensive spices starter kit.

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