Working with and around food, farmers and vendors, I have an ever-growing interest in food security, food access and the general public’s ability to make healthy and sustainable meals to nourish themselves. I’m also a gal who works full-time, is on a budget myself and wants to eat smart. Which is why, when I found out about a new (free!) cookbook marketed towards those trying to cook healthy, delicious meals on a shoestring budget I knew I had to check it out. Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day aims to help the 40 million families enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP) but it’s a wealth of information for any individual trying to do more with less. Families enrolled in SNAP receive, on average, $133 per person, per month for food. Which, according to a recent article in National Geographic, “To eat well on that tiny amount, you have to be canny and creative. Most of all, though, you have to know how to cook—not showily, Food Network style, but thriftily, from dried beans and root vegetables and the bony bits of meat. It’s the sort of thing that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers knew, but that most of us never had to learn.”
Creator of this new cookbook masterpiece, Leanne Brown, moved from Canada to New York City to study food policy. She volunteered with food access programs to understand the very real struggles of food insecurity and devise a solution–a collection of recipes, ideas and methods that would help mold $4 a day into a nourishing, sustainable way of eating.
I LOVE her cookbook for several reasons. Most notably, her focus on produce. With a couple of bucks in hand to spend on food, it’s easy to look at your choices in the supermarket and settle on a few packaged boxes. Those seem to be the cheapest options. This just isn’t the case. Fruits and vegetables, in season, actually give you far more bang for your buck. Combine this produce with eggs, whole grains, beans and an assortment of spices and you’re well on your way to a multitude of meals. Many of Brown’s recipes are vegetarian which I also think is refreshing. Too often, resources geared towards individuals on food stamps or a strict budget offer plans that try to squeeze meat into most meals. Purchasing that much meat just isn’t feasible for many and trying to work it in can drain your funds quickly, forcing you to make sacrifices with other ingredients–canned instead of fresh, processed instead of whole-grain. The recipes in Good and Cheap are adaptable. Add in the meat when you can spend more, when you can’t–they’ll still be delicious and contain plenty of protein. And it’s this idea, that Brown is teaching you the tricks to cooking from scratch (literally and figuratively), which is another great thing about this resource. Instead of giving individuals who are financially struggling a sermon about how they should be using their limited resources, she writes whole sections of “ideas” and “methods” not hard and fast RULES. Her tone is gentle and encouraging not condescending and preachy.
Not to mention, Brown addresses several of my own go-to tricks I’ve learned during summers spent scrappily trying to squeak by on a 9 month contract or weeks when unexpected expenses left the piggy bank a little bare– 1) Oatmeal and yogurt for breakfast–they’re basically just vehicles for other odds and ends you have in your kitchen, ie. they’ll taste like anything you put in them. Plus, super cheap to buy a whole bunch of ‘em. 2) Need protein? Add an egg. 3) PUT SHIT ON TOAST–BAM! Now it’s a meal. 4) Just drink water. 5) Seasonal produce can be your best friend. Even better? Grow your own. 6) Spend a few bucks each time you shop to build up your pantry. Think spices, olive oil, bulk dry goods.
If you haven’t yet, go check out this fantastic resource. Brown is doing amazing work and her cookbook is a far cry from the government issued pamphlets usually doled out to those receiving food assistance. Her produce-driven plan for eating sustainably makes shopping local seem affordable and attainable for those on a budget. Offering the added benefit of a supported local economy and more farmers staying on the farm. All in all, Brown’s book gets a HUGE thumbs up from this girl!
Oh, and check back tomorrow! I’ll be sharing my own experiences with some of the recipes from Good and Cheap along with… a SURPRISE!