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Food & Frugality

[I have not been missing because I was on the beach in Rio; we have all had stomach flu. As Shakespeare wrote: “Something there is in rotovirus that hath the power to blight the keenest appetite.”]

Mr. Annie recently forwarded me this very interesting article by Sarah Dickerson about the fact that, while many Americans are suffering from economic woes, and facing hard choices in the grocery store, most food media are focusing on luxury ingredients unaffordable to most readers. Dickerson points out that there are, historically and currently, many resources for home cooks to cook and eat well on a budget, and that perhaps it would be better for our pocketbooks and the environment if we made some effort in that direction. In closing, she writes that:

“The time seems right for a mainstream voice (better yet, voices) to marry the pleasures of the table with the reality of a reduced budget, perhaps by using what we’ve learned from the food revolution. Michael Pollan has already made a big splash this year by recommending that people shy away from packaged products and eat less meat-two steps that are not only a grassroots vote for a new kind of food system but that will help save money. It’s possible, after all, to economize without reverting to a freezer full of Tex-Mex lasagna (one of those “mock-ethnic dishes that American dieticians love,” as Jeffrey Steingarten puts it). A new home economics could harness seasonal ingredients and real ethnic flavors; it could weave a lusty appreciation of food with a sober appreciation of the grocery dollar.”

I am not ashamed to tell you that our food budget is tight, and that the reason we eat relatively well is that I know how to cook. I buy what’s on sale, I make at least one non-meat meal a week (more, in summer), I know how to make tough protein come out silky, and bland protein more flavorful. I buy very little that is processed or “convenient” not just because it is unhealthy (I love me some Cheetos) but because it is far more expensive to buy potatoes that are cooked and packaged than it is to cook them myself, and they taste better. I can get much better cheese in block form, and it tastes better grated fresh. I cut up my own pineapples and save a couple of bucks. I can, and sometimes do, bone my own chickens, and I always make my own stock. Lest you should think I am idle, and have nothing better to do than swan around the kitchen boning chickens and singing camp songs, I can assure you that is not the case; it takes planning and thought.

I know that people are busy, and that some folks just don’t like to cook, but if you’re eating out often these days, or buying lots of easy-prep, prepared foods, think of what you could do with the money you saved if you just (really) cooked once or twice more a week. I’m thinking of beach vacations, theater in Manhattan…much better stuff than a pre-cooked pot roast and some Ore-Ida frozen potatoes. (Or my all-time favorite: Sandra Lee’s “Buche de Noel which begins with buying a pound cake and cutting it up). You can also use the money you save to buy the “unattainable” ingredients in recipes and make yourself potatoes with truffle shavings, or wallow in Saffron.

Read what Dickerson writes, think about your own consumption and budget, and maybe you can make a plan that saves you cash, helps the environment and still lets you feed yourself comfortably and well.


About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

6 responses »

  1. Boy, this is a timely post. When I first met my partner, we ate out all the time and our credit card bill was outrageous, more so since we had nothing to show for the purchases when the bill came except fuzzy memories of Fettucine Carbonara or our favorite Chinese sit down restaurant several weeks in the past. We forced ourselves to learn how to cook and it was the best thing for our finances, our waistlines and our relationship. Ann, if I didn’t know better, I would think you had channeled Dale with this comment “I love me some Cheetos” except he says “I loves me some Cheetos” Cheers!

  2. Nothin’ better than home cooked. I very rarely eat out. It is kind of a bummer to be too busy and have to eat out. It is like a dreaded chore. My sweetie and I would rather have a good ole homemade sandwich made out of available items. We surely have had some strange sandwiches! A little homemade pesto mixed with the mayo makes ordinary ham sandwich a gourmet treat! Long live frugality and yummy stuff from the kitchen!

  3. imagineannie

    Eric, back in the day when I was working full time and we had no kids, we ate out a LOT. I still like to eat out, mind you, but it is much better to have splurged on a memorable meal (or spent $20.00 for the three of us at our favorite Thai dive) than to spend money on the Irish Grillmaster Kick of Chili Grande Burger at Chilis-Bennigans-Fridays-Tuesdays-Whatever. (shhhh. The Cheetos thing is a secret).

    Chris, you are a woman after my own heart. Some of my favorite meals (and posts, actually) have come from one-of-a-kind sandwiches made possible by whatever happened to be left in the fridge.

  4. Eric Williams

    You and Dale aren’t the only ones who (shhh) like Cheetos, our little cat Iva loves them. Even if she’s dead asleep in another room, one crunch of a cheeto will have her trotting out looking for the stash. She reaches up with one paw, claws splayed, like a monkey trying to pull it out of your hand. She doesn’t do that with anything else (except maybe cheezits–could be the orange color or smell). We do have to limit her cheeto intake, though. Too many and we find an orange upchucked mass later, usually in an inconvenient place, like the side of the bed. yuck.

  5. Interesting post. I haven’t worked out exactly how much I’ve saved since we moved onto eating home-cooked meals for nearly every meal, but it would have to be a fair amount. It became a necessity when fuel prices here in Australia increased by 30% or more.

    Sigh. I still miss takeaway hamburgers, though.

  6. meowmie, given the fuel price situation in the US these days,it will get to be an increasingly pressing issue for families here. I’ll say that U worked full time for the past 4 months, and every time I was just too dead tired to cook and we bought a couple of pizzas for $20.00, I cringed just thinking that I could have cooked at least two (healthier) dinners for that amount. As for the hamburgers, I hear you; every now and then I require a McDonald’s “Happy Meal” to balance my spiritual quilibrium.


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