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Friday, September 30, 2011

The $5 Meal Challenge -- Slow Food USA

(Two posts today -- check here for my post on our Front Porch.)

On the very same day back in June,
when our daughter Alida married Josh, one of their grad school
classmates also got married, to a young lady named Emily.

Emily's Black Bean and Tomato Soup.  Mmmm . . . soup!
Emily keeps a blog called Feeding Philosophers, where she writes about -- well, Emily can explain better than I.  This is from her "About" page on the blog:

"I’m a currently unemployed philosophy wife with a master’s degree in college administration.  I love food and I have a growing interest in green/sustainable living.  This blog gives me a chance to share my cooking and baking experiments, as well as a space to further explore healthy living.  It also serves as a fun distraction from the soul crushing pursuit of finding a job during a recession (sigh)."

Two weeks ago, Emily and Alida paired up to host a special dinner party,
part of Slow Food USA's $5 Challenge.

$5 Challenge Banner
According to the Slow Foods website, this was the challenge:

"You're invited to help take back the 'value meal' by getting together
with family, friends and neighbors for a slow food meal
that costs no more than $5 per person."

Emily and Alida signed up for the challenge, got their newly minted husbands on board,
and invited several other people for the feast.  Everyone was to bring something, and play by the rules.

Please visit Emily's blog here, and let her tell the story.

The dinner party was at Josh and Alida's apartment, and those are the
only pictures I've ever seen of it.  I'm just sayin' . . . .

But back to the business at hand.  The $5 Challenge.
If you've gone to Emily's Feeding Philosophers blog and read her entry,
you can stop here and go eat a Mallomar, or a batch of beans and rice.
You've gotten the important information.  What follows is just my own tale of the $5 Challenge.
We've got two examples of people who signed up and participated in this.
One group did things the right way -- that would be Emily and Alida and their
dinner guests in Los Angeles on that Saturday night, the 17th of September.

Then there's the people who did things the less-than-right way.
That would be me and Howard.

In our defense, we didn't have much warning, plus I didn't actually read all of Slow Foods USA's info.
Although the "slow food" part should have cued me in.
This is what slow food looks like!
After Alida told us about the upcoming dinner party, I thought of what a good idea it is,
to make people aware of what they are spending with an at-home meal,
as opposed to a McMeal that (probably!) isn't as healthy.

I say probably, because it all depends on what you make at home, doesn't it?

Howard is That Old House's official hunter-gatherer.  He likes supermarkets; I loathe them.
Off he trotted to the local stores, with instructions to bring home food for that evening,
costing no more than ten dollars total -- $5 each.  And he did just that.

Here's what he bought:

A package of beer brats, a bag of pre-shredded cabbage and carrots, one big sweet potato, and
a steam-in-the-microwave bag of creamed spinach because he knows I love creamed spinach.

So we grilled up the brats, baked and mashed the sweet, nuked the spinach,
and I mixed up a dressing and made cole slaw.
Well, it wasn't curried lentils, no tofu or homemade focaccia bread,
and there wasn't any slow food cooking involved unless you count the time spent baking the sweet,
but it was certainly under $5 a person, was way better tasting than a Value Meal,
and certainly couldn't have been any worse nutritionally and probably a whole lot better.
 And we even had leftovers.
All kidding aside, it is sad and worrisome that the diets of so many people -- particularly in lower economic brackets -- are very lopsided, with fast food and convenience foods dominating.

Emily writes that she found cooking for $5 per person "easy."
And for Emily, and Alida, their friends and families -- it is easy.
But they have something special that makes it easy -- the incalculable resource of good educations and creative minds.  (Not to mention excellent parents, of course.)
Lunch -- Leftover asparagus made into cold soup; leftover fish, broiled, on grilled bread.
A philosopher's stamp of approval.  Alida chows down, May '10.

Lots of us were lucky enough to learn real cooking from our mothers,
who hopefully learned cooking from their mothers,
who themselves learned back when peanut butter was considered a convenience food.

Others of us can teach ourselves how to cook real food.
This requires time, good reading and comprehension, patience, books or the internet,
and enough money to afford mistakes.
  That's luxury.
Tomato herb omelette, fresh blueberries with Greek yogurt -- faster than an Egg McMuffin.  July '10.

I wonder what are the lasting effects of a challenge like this.
Did it reach the people who need the message most?
 How do we encourage cooking -- slow food or any other kind -- when fast food is so quick, relatively cheap, and people like it?
How do we educate both the fast food consumers who don't know alternatives,
and also the ones who buy fast food for pure convenience?

Persuasion and education is a more powerful tool than legislation
and, to me, philosophically more acceptable.
Anyone got a good sturdy soapbox?

If you haven't visited Emily's blog, she's got lovely thrifty recipes,
and there's the post about the $5 Challenge.  Plus, let's all make a wish that she
finds her job soon, and can afford to buy saffron and very ugly mushrooms.  Click here!

Also visit Designs By Gollum for Foodie Friday.  Click here
and go see what Michael is up to!
Loads of foodie posts await you there, thrifty and otherwise.

 As for Howard and me, we've got a work weekend out at the beach house.
Visit my other Friday post,
about our front porch, by clicking here!
Fab weekends to all -- Cass


  1. I've always been a from scratch slow cooker, often making up a meal with what's around ... it is a lot cheaper this way. $5 a person is a good goal--oe even less. As far as your lima bean comment, I'm with you. I hated them as a child and still do. But I love how pretty they make the calico beans (the variety helps to give the "calico" look. ;-). And I've found the frozen tiny limas go down better, plus with the other beans you hardly notice! I often use black or whatever I think will look better and if you want it as it should be, it should bake in the oven not a crock pot, and no pumpkin.

  2. There's not a lot of convenience food in our pantry - probably because I spent much of our early married life in Europe at a time when people shopped more in small local markets than large grocery stores, and where our fridge/freezer was about the size of a picnic cooler. Consequently, root veg, fresh leafy things and smaller cuts of meat were the rule. I love that the next generation is embracing the cooking style of their grandmothers - at least the ones that you and I know. I worry about the children of the ones who aren't cooking this way.

  3. Cass - thank you for the lovely post. I love your sense of humor on this blog. Alida and I will have to host another $5 potluck if you and Howard come out to visit LA. Have a great weekend at your beach house!

  4. Okay, just mark me down with a great big FAIL. This is a challenge I could never accomplish because it contains a bunch of my least favorite things. I hate to cook. I hate grocery stores. I'm not too crazy about vegetables. I hate leftovers. I haven't spent less than $5 on a meal since 1972!

    Oops, time for my run to Mickey D's! :)

  5. Just mouthwatering...looks delicious!

  6. $5 , I reckon if you convert that to GBP I make a meal costing that regular . I like beans, black eyes and spinach or courgettes and spinach. Dishes using minced beef and beans , fresh or dried .

    It is food for thought


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