When the Mayor of Las Vegas, Nevada, issued the challenge; can you live off of less than $5 a day for food, responder Ms. Cottrell said what I’ve been saying for several years.
Ms. Cottrell said:
“Absolutely. We can make meals that will feed both my husband and I for at least two, sometimes three, meals for less than $10. Meals that are delicious! In fact, we eat better than a lot of people I know. The trick is knowing HOW TO COOK. I'll admit I am not as creative as my husband. I can't believe the meals he can put together on just a few dollars. What we need are more community programs to each people how to make delicious meals on a strict budget. (Now for the bad news, you're going to have to give up your coffee, sodas, cookies, and daily McDonalds runs. I know, what a horrible life).”
Ms. Cottrell has it exactly right. A bag of dried black beans is 89 cents. An onion and a can of stewed tomatoes (or raw, in-season vegetables/fruits) can both be purchased for less than a dollar. A small bag of rice can be purchased for less than a dollar. Most people have salt and pepper on hand. Most people have cooking oil on hand. If you know how to cook beans and rice, add the onion and stewed tomatoes, salt and pepper, and you’ll have a dish that is easily two or three meals, very nutritious, tasty and less than $5. You can buy a “tube” of ground turkey for $1.65, box of spaghetti for under $1, a can of Hunt’s Spaghetti Sauce for 89 cents, an onion if you like, and make enough spaghetti for one person to eat for up to four meals.
Plain, inexpensive oatmeal, not in individual serving packets but in the quart-size cardboard container, is a good source of several meals. Most Americans have never tried oatmeal as anything but breakfast material or in a cookie. Oatmeal can be cooked with soy sauce, spices, mixed with vegetables, fried and baked. And oatmeal is nutritious, filling and easy to prepare…if you think outside the stereotypical norm.
The problem is people today don’t know how to cook. They don’t know how to shop, and most importantly, they don’t really know how to problem-solve. Most suburban and urban folks have forgotten or were never taught the basics of survival. They don’t know how to prepare food, so they don’t know what to buy in bulk versus what they can onesie-twosie within their budgets to maximize their food supply with what money they have.
Remember home economics? Those of us who are older remember it was mandatory for all the girls to take in junior high and high school. And I’ve always believed it was the beginning of “unlearning” basic survival skills. There was very little cooking taught, but a whole lot of presentation. How to properly set a table, present a centerpiece, decorate, coordinate – but almost nothing of nutrition, food preparation, cooking. Well, in those days, they pre-supposed that you were learning it at home. But we were already in the generation of frozen food and TV dinners. Drive-through windows and fast-food were becoming the standard – not the Leave It To Beaver sit-down dinner that mom cooked and everybody ate.
We’re running out of time to get smarter in our choices. The economic situation is not going to get better. Gas and energy prices are going to drive the cost of food sky-high. Other countries’ citizens spend 80% or more of their disposable incomes for food. We might not reach that point, but ff we’re going to learn to survive in the new economy of making do with less and less, we better re-discover some basic culinary skills – or be prepared to go hungry.
Budgeting for $5 a day in food costs is a good place to start practicing. Take the challenge and be prepared for when it becomes a necessity rather than a personal experiment. Game on.