Monday, April 29, 2013

What's Cooking? Meals Below the Line

Today is the first day of the week-long Live Below the Line Challenge. Having heard me harp on about endeavor for over a month, most of you are aware that for the next five days I will be eating on $1.50 per day. Why? It is part of an effort to raise awareness and money to combat poverty and hunger (more on those topics later). So stop for a moment, and think. How much did that coffee run this morning cost? Or the salad you threw together for lunch? Or maybe that impulse purchase of a pack of gum at the checkout counter. Now think - I have $7.50 for five days, 50 cents, five dimes, two quarters per meal, if I stick to three solid meals. 

Last year's experience taught me a few lessons that I incorporated into this year's plan - and yes, a plan is an extremely helpful luxury that if I were really living day-to-day, I likely would not have. First of all, variety is key. Changing things up, even just alternating the same two meals from lunch to dinner, makes a huge difference psychologically. Second, I'm OK sacrificing a few calories for some vegetables that make more feel overall more nourished, rather than an unsatisfied "full." With these two breakthroughs as a base, what am I actually eating for the week?

The week, with five bananas MIA....that white bowl is salt, FYI.
16 oz bag carrots (organic), Trader Joe's - $0.89
5 bananas, Trader Joe's - $0.95 
16 oz green split peas (dry), Target - $0.99
16 oz brown rice, Target - $0.92*
10 oz rolled oats (bulk dry), Whole Foods - $0.95
5 oz hulled barley (bulk dry), Whole Foods - $0.46
10 oz black beans (dry), Best World - $0.92
3 chayote squash, Best World - $0.99
5.5 oz onion, Farmers Market - $0.35
35 g salt (scaled price), Trader Joe's - $0.07

Total: $7.49

Nutritionally, this clocked in at 1230 calories, 8 grams fat, 58 grams protein, and 65 grams fiber (plus some vitamins and minerals...). While not ideal, I'm really excited to have some flavor with the onion and some greenery with the squash. But while I could prove that it is possible to eat whole foods (as in not highly processes) and incorporate vegetables on a very small budget, it is clear that the biggest bang for your buck is in starchy staples and protein-dense legumes.

While the week is supposed to mirror the experience of one of the millions living below the poverty line in the developing world, an NPR article last week reminded me how close to home this issue can hit. 47 million people (that is close to 16% of the population) in the United States are on food stamps, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as it is now called. On SNAP, individuals receive on average between $1 and $1.50 per meal, and a family four is considered below the domestic "poverty line" when making less than $22,113 per year. In this country, poverty tends to correlate with risks of diabetes and obesity, because access to fresh and healthy food is much more limited. SNAP definitely helps improve this disparity by supplementing income, and even opening access to farmers markets for low-income households. However, there is along way still to go in order to ensure that food price more accurately reflects price for production as well as cost to society (e.g. health and environmental.

As this week progresses, I expect this very element, the choice between cost and nutrition, will come very much into the forefront. Stay tuned for more posts related to this topic in the coming days, and check out my Live Below page to learn more about the challenge.

*note - brown rice includes the hull of the rice. White rice was ten cents cheaper, but has less fiber, and lacks the magnesium, manganese, vitamin E, and zinc found in brown rice.

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