20 January 2009

"I'm broke" food.

Podcast Episode for this entry.

I've been watching the economy crash and burn. Then, I've been watching the people around me try to cope with said crash and burn, by doing incredibly stupid things when it comes to feeding themselves.

"Buy ramen."

Are you shitting me? If you want a grain that's cheap, filling, and easy to make, get rice. They're about three oz each package, and loaded with salt, fat, and white flour. None of these things will actually fill you up. In fact, because the white flour is a simple carbohydrate, you stand the risk of those sugar highs and lows that you'd get from chugging sugar.

Get. Rice. At my local store, the ramen runs about 6/$1. That means that 3 x 6 = 18 oz, which ends up being a bit more than a pound. If I'm paying for brown rice in the small packages (1 lb or less), the final cost ends up being about $1 per pound. If I have some sense, and snag a 20 pound bag, I end up paying far less. But, let's suppose that I do go and spend $1 per pound. One pound of rice can feed a LOT of people. It's packed with fibre (which is slower to digest, thereby keeping you full for a long time), magnesium and manganese, B complex vitamins, and only a small sliver of fat. They're also a source of protein, potassium, and complex carbohydrates.

"What about hot dogs."

What about chemicals, sodium, and "fillers." Frankly, the tofu ones are pretty foul as well (I guess tofu lips and anuses sort of taste as bad as the animal ones?) when it comes to bizarre amounts of weird crap they cram in there. Tofu, when bought in most of the country, still costs about $2.50/lb. Don't buy that either.

Get beans.

One pound of tofu can be finished by my husband very easily in one meal. If he makes a tofu scramble or something, it'll be gone. One pound of dry beans will easily feed him, me, and any guests coming over. If you feel like you're lacking in time, make Venn Pongal, and use split peas. There's your beans and rice.

While you're at it, avoid those tinned soups. It doesn't take but a few minutes of chopping, some fenugreek seeds, some aromatics, and dried herbs to make a wonderful soup. I have a three part episode based purely on soup.

All this stuff that I've been behind y'all to do wasn't just for my benefit; it's for everyone's benefit. Just because you're poor doesn't mean that you have to compromise your family's health. And while you're there, remember that eating produce and beans and rice is actually good for your body anyway. It tastes good. It doesn't require fancy equipment. You can keep an eye on exactly what you're putting in there.

Don't have time? Get other cheap ingredients that don't take as long to cook.

At my grocery store, I can get 7 plantains for a dollar. Plantains, when cooked with the skin, are extremely high in fibre, vitamins, and minerals. They also require very little complicated cooking techniques. Wash them well, take off the top and bottom, and toss them with your favourite herbs or spices. I like cumin, coriander, turmeric, and a bit of salt and black pepper. Drizzle on a bit of oil, and sautee it on the stove, or throw it in the oven. When cooked this way, the skins become crispy and the plantain gets crusty and delicious. It only takes about 25 minutes in the oven at 350 (covered for the first 15 minutes). If you want it even faster, play around with the microwave, and nuke 'em for about seven to ten minutes.

Cabbage I can usually get for 4lbs/$1. If it's not on sale, it's closer to 2lbs/$1. That'll still feed a lot of people if you don't cook it. Grate the cabbage finely, along with some carrots, combine it with some chopped up onion, a bit of lemon juice (yes, the bottled is fine), some salt, and you're done. Because you grated it finely, you won't be wearing out your jaws by chewing it. The lemon juice adds a lot of flavour, and sort of softens up the cabbage nicely. Again, loaded with fibre and vitamins and minerals.

The point is that we should be working with what we have, at whatever amount of money we make, so that we're eating well. I don't recall any amount of time in my childhood (and we did grow up very poor) where I felt like I was eating garbage, because this is the sort of thing that my mother would make on a regular basis.

It's easy, and tasty, and very beautiful to look at. Give it a shot, and you'll be pleasantly surprised.


  1. Very true. I complained about how much more tofu is than cheap meat, but you're right -- beans are good. I can make seitan for cheap too. And then there're chickpea cutlets.

    Now... the plantains... you eat the skin? Or is that just left on for cooking?

  2. The skin is most definitely edible, one it's cooked. Why waste it, y'know?

  3. Thanks for the tip on plantains!

    I would add - buy grains and beans in bulk section. (and bring your bag - don't load your cart with plastic :)

    As for tofu.. I love it. Since when I finally mastered cooking it, that is. I buy organic tofu - 19oz for $1.19 in Trader Joe's and think it's a good deal. Where can one buy organic meat for that price?

  4. Exactly, Kim. It's a really good idea to get comfortable with the bulk sections of your stores, so that you can save significant amounts of money on it.

  5. i think borscht is in this category, i made a pot last night, clearing the kitchen of all the stuff that needed "eating up" like some celery that was just starting to get limp etc. i pretty much disreguarded the recipe amounts and just stuck to the structure what i ended up with is a huge and amazingly tasty pot of soup for probably 2 bucks worth of produce that would have to be tossed in one or 2 more days.

  6. I couldn't agree more! I can't believe how many people that it's expensive to be vegan. I pretty only buy bulk brown rice and quinoa, steel cut oats, kale, sweet potatoes,coconut milk and whatever fresh veggies are on sale (oh. and chocolate). I spend maybe $15/week on groceries and I'm never hungry. People are silly.