“…Maybe just think about that fact, which is that poor people are more likely to be overweight. Why is that? In the vast majority of the world, poor people are underweight, not in America. Stop giving them so much money, and they won't eat so much.”
-“Son of the American Revolution,” New York Times commenter
I wonder if “Son” could healthily feed himself on $5 or $6 per day.* Day in and day out. What if he had a family? Could he do it if he lived in a “food desert,” with no practical access to an actual grocery store, as so many of our impoverished citizens do? What if he lost his job and had to pay his mortgage or rent, utilities, healthcare, childcare, and transportation costs on a maximum of $240/week?** Imagine the kind of gluttony he could support with that sort of excess cash!
Or perhaps he would do the right thing, pull himself up by his bootstraps, get a minimum wage job, and dine finely on the McDonald’s Employee Budget? Surely he’d have no trouble re-educating himself at a local community college while doing so. He would certainly be eligible for a full scholarship, and be bright eyed, studying late, and scoring straight A’s, after a week of double shifts and countless hours spent on public buses getting from home to workplace to classroom and back each day. Oh right, there might be some kids in the picture, too. Do you suppose, after all this, he just might - just might - fall victim to inexpensive, subsidized, and readily available high fructose corn syrup laden foods and/or the dollar menu at his place of employment? Or would he have the extra time, energy, and money to pick up some whole grains and organic broccoli rabe at the Circle K on his way home? Does he even have the necessary skills to make himself a healthy dinner on a few bucks, if he could acquire the necessary ingredients?
As it turns out, in addressing this last question, someone is actually doing something to help our poorer citizens - no, no, not just them, but everyone - eat not just healthy food, but satisfying taste-good food on a budget. Leanne Brown, as part of her master’s degree in food studies at New York University, has written “Good and Cheap,” a beautiful (and free!) cookbook that advises SNAP recipients (or anyone else who is interested, and who isn’t?) how to eat well on $4 a day. It’s free for anyone to download. Go ahead, I did. For those without the luxury of computer and internet access, she has funded printed copies though her successful Kickstarter Campaign. Although the scope of her work can not address most of the challenges to eating well listed earlier, Ms. Brown rightly points out that “kitchen skill, not budget, is the key to great food.” Do you have the kitchen kung-fu to feed yourself well on $4 a day, every day? Does “Son?” We aren’t born knowing our way around the kitchen, and fewer and fewer of us are being taught this essential life skill. Her book isn’t perfect***, but Leanne Brown is doing more than most in teaching us all how to fish for ourselves.
Don’t just stand there. Do something.
Tonight’s Cheap Eats: Make a couple corn tortillas by mixing together a few cents worth of Maseca and a splash of water in a bowl. Or get some masa at your local tortilleria. Or go full-on kitchen psycho, and make and grind your own nixtamal. Anyway, shape the dough, however you've acquired it, into smallish golf balls, and flatten them until they, you know, look like tortillas. You don’t necessarily need a tortilla press for this. I am known to use a flat, heavy pot to press them between the cut apart sides of that annoying ziplock bag in the back of the drawer that refuses to close properly anymore. I must say at this point, though, after using an actual tortilla press for the first time today, (borrowed), I’m sold****. Cook the tortillas a few seconds to a minute on each side in a dry skillet, and adorn them with some bits and scraps of leftover vegetables (corn, tomatoes, and onions, in this case), and a few gratings of whatever cheese needs using up in the fridge drawer (cheddar). Serve with some salsa and a dollop of that great multi-tasker, drained whole milk plain yogurt, since you never actually buy real sour cream and you're certainly not going to pay for Greek style yogurt. Eat quickly and run off to your low paying job.
*Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aka Food Stamp benefits can be found here.
**Arizona maximum unemployment benefits. After 26 weeks, you’re on your own.
***I really wish she offered tips on reducing food waste (using your freezer skillfully, getting into the habit of eating in order of perishability, etc.), and more on buying and cooking in bulk when it makes sense, for example.
****Yup, I've been too cheap to buy a press. Plus, I wasn't sure it would be worth the footprint space in my small kitchen. It totally is.