On his simplegoodandtasty.com blog, Lawrence Black wrote about Elizabeth Archerd’s “What-If” Food Challenge, describing what he learned in a post titled “Good Food Only for the Elite? Working to Dispel the Myth.” We have excerpted from his post with permission.
For the “What-If” Food Challenge, Elizabeth Archerd blogs about her daily discoveries while living on a tight food budget. The premise had been tested by others, but never with this amount of disclosure and honesty. Archerd started from the vantage point of people who have no income to spend on food beyond SNAP benefits (food stamps). She noticed that other challenges had folks making things from mixes and processed foods. What about those who want to shop at a natural foods store?
Archerd’s question turned into a mission to reverse the image of organic, local food lovers as elitist—a test to the dismissive statement, “Well, that’s great, if you can afford it.” Archerd points out that co-ops were originally founded as a response to rising food prices.
Her challenge looked like this:
• Budget: $367 a month, the maximum allotment for a two person household
• Full month’s benefits in hand at beginning of month
• Shopping exclusively at the Wedge Co-op and taking advantage of member specials
• Buying “elitist” foods such as local, organic and fair trade, co-op-made and bulk products
• Tracking time to test the notion that cooking at home takes too much time for a working person.
Not only did Archerd and her husband survive, they thrived. They had cupboards full of extra food. The freezer was stocked with leftovers. They drank coffee! Their bounty gave me hope. Archerd shared these lessons from her experience:
• Cleaning out your cupboards, you discover what food you actually use compared to what you imagine you use.
• It’s important to shop to a plan when on a budget: less money, fewer shopping trips, less randomness.
• Weekly cooking is simpler, more efficient, and requires nothing fancier than a slow cooker or a blender.
• Planning ahead and making larger batches to last for a few days increases flexibility.
• The bulk section at the co-op has amazing diversity and great value.
• Planning meals and freezing leftovers reduces waste.
• The slow cooker saves time and is a real pleasure to come home to at the end of the day.
• It’s important to get the whole family involved with planning and cooking.
It comes down to what you buy: even though they are tempting, I have to stay away from those middle aisles with their fancy packaging and high prices. We have choices: Shop at a co-op and be very thrifty or go to a huge discount supermarket and spend a ton on prepared foods. Or vice versa.
Too often we get lost taking sides: Organic vs. conventional. Local vs. global. High price vs. discount. These are important considerations, but if you only consider organic, you may miss out on valuable local foods. If you only consider local, you may buy something with low quality ingredients that is terribly overpriced. Slow down, simplify, and purchase food with intention: these are lessons I take from this challenge.
Let’s take back our food. We spend lots of money on packaging as well as unnecessary, non-essential “food” items. The moment we refuse to buy overpriced, processed food is the moment we give the power back to the local, sustainable, small producer. Make the choice, create your own challenge and let us know what you learn.
Note from River Valley Market: Also check out this interesting <a href=”">documentarycoming soon about living on a food stamp budget.