Living on $4.38/day – Day 4: Groundhog’s Day and the best cookbook ever

Pulled this nugget from

Pulled this nugget from

Yep, you are right, the above photo is a first world problems meme from this site.  The title of today’s post is an ode to one of America’s true funny men, Bill Murray and this movie. Today’s meals are basically a reprise of Day 2, which is a useful time to point out that one of the things you almost certainly give up when you can’t make the money work is variety.  That I’m even typing about the variety in my food options with the tragically bad refugee situation in Europe right now is the worst possible version of first world problems. That last link is to the fifty funniest first world problems memes because, well, if all I write about is serious stuff I probably wouldn’t read it, either.  No one reading this personally created the conditions that cause so many people to experience hunger, so while we can work together for policy that helps improve it, I’m not out to shame people or create some sad beginning to the day. Instead, today I’ll give  a brief reprise of the day’s meals and then delve into something really, really cool.  Here goes.As mentioned, I started the day with these eggs

The eggs and toast

The eggs and toast

In fact, the meal was so similar I just used the same photo from the last time and spent a few more seconds enjoying the only time today that I’m likely to feel comfortable. Lunch rolled around and I went for another helping of, wait for it…change of plans! I decided to go with the frozen burrito that my wife picked at $1.50 each on sale.

Delightfully high in protein and pretty cheap when bought on sale!

Delightfully high in protein and pretty cheap when bought on sale!

I skipped the picture for dinner, which was the remaining “tacos.”  Before I get to the best cookbook ever I need to take a little side journey.  This evening I had two events – a thing to celebrate United Way of San Diego County’s 95th birthday at a fancy new restaurant called Coasterra and a thing to celebrate the San Diego Community College District, a big client of my firm.  Both things were worthy causes, both involved many people who care deeply about improving the region and the economic opportunities for the people in it…and both involved a substantial amount of free food and drink that I had to cleverly pass on to stick to the mission.  I’m not playing a martyr here, I didn’t mind passing on the stuff. But just to play along, here are all the things I DID pass on.

IMAG1614 IMAG1616 IMAG1617 IMAG1618

The point is just that the very people who most need free food events like this can almost never get them unless they stand in long bread lines.  It kind of makes me wonder if I shouldn’t just start recruiting homeless people to serve on volunteer boards.  I mean, they are probably more dialed in to the issues that exist and could certainly benefit from all the free stuff and connections.  I know this is an overly simplistic view of the circumstance, but it might not be wholly off-base.

I had a nice conversation today with a legislator friend about how to deal with addressing the needs of poor citizens. I’m hopeful that more like her will lead to a better balanced society. I mentioned really wanting to work on universal child care – the ultimate win for businesses, the people they employ, and society as a whole. We’ll see.




The best cookbook ever

My friends Staci Wilkins and Mike Flores own a restaurant called Ritual Tavern, Kitchen & Garden in the North Park community of San Diego. They make one of the three best burgers in the city, the fish and chips is top shelf, the Shepard’s pie (which is not typically my thing) is fantastic, and the craft beer list is shockingly good for a place that is about food.  They posted a link to this cookbook on my facebook page the other day

An awesome cookbook of recipes under $4 each

An awesome cookbook of recipes under $4 each

First, can I just say that besides the food one of the reasons I support people like Mike and Staci is that they care enough about the world beyond themselves to mention things like this and to very often put their money (profit) where their mouths are (into the well-being of people other than themselves).  For me, living my values means trying to choose restaurants like theirs that make time to care about the community in which they operate. Moving on to the cookbook, this thing is pretty damn awesome. Good and Cheap is the brainchild of Leanne Brown, a former graduate student at NYU. I want to get into this cookbook a little, but first, here’s a link to the FREE download, and here’s a photo of just one item that can be made on the cheap.

My apologies for not spelling panzanella right, but it looks good.

My apologies for not spelling panzanella right, but it looks good.

Looks good, right? I decided it might be fun to try out a few of these recipes.  As I thumbed through the book, I wondered if I could string together recipes I’d want to eat and still remain at the $4.38/day budget.  Since my wife and I are doing this together we technically have $8.76 per day between the two of us.  Here are a couple sample daily meal plans I put together.  The one caveat, of course, is that unless you buy in shopping collectives, you can’t buy just enough for two servings. So I’m aware of that and tried to pick meals that had the same or substitute ingredients. Here’s my sample set of Good and Cheap meals:

Option #1

  • Breakfast: Banana Pancakes (p. 18) – $2.80/4 servings
  • Lunch: Broccoli Apple Salad (p. 54) – $3.20/4 servings
  • Dinner: Filipino Chicken Adobo (p. 98) – $5.20/4 servings (thanks to a strong Filipina presence growing up, this is one of my favorite food items – bonus!)
  • Total: $11.20 or $5.60 for two people per day (still leaves room to splurge on something sweet or carry over the $3 for our next day!)

Option #2

  • Breakfast: Omelette with dill, onion and cheese (p. 17) – $3.20/4 servings
  • Lunch: Cold and Spicy Asian Noodles (p.50) – $5.00/4 servings
  • Dinner: Shrimp & Grits (p.116) – $12/4 servings
  • Total: $20.20 or $10.10 for two people per day (have to borrow $2.68 from the other day to make this one work and stay under budget)

A couple notes. To make this whole thing work I had to do it in four servings each to last over two days.  This compromises the whole variety problem, but is more realistic in terms of buying the ingredients you need.  Also, it assumes there are exactly two single adults. About half of the children in California are living at or near poverty (yes, you read that right). So obviously many of the families receiving aid are not a couple single adults. Next year I may redo this effort as if we were a family with three kids in it to get a better picture. As far as I can tell from this calculator, a family of three (two kids and single mom – yes, unfortunately, it’s usually the mom who has to pull all the weight) maxes out at about $132 per week, or about $6.30/day – better but not great. And that’s the MAXIMUM.  It’s also worth noting that food stamps are meant to be a life raft to get people across difficult water until they can get a firm footing on dry land. Way too often this is just a story those of us who don’t need the help tell ourselves to deal with the severity of the problem. No, just because you or I aren’t receiving help any more doesn’t mean everyone can just miraculously overcome. These problems are complex. I promise not to spend too much time on my soapbox on this, but I really think we’d do better with more empathy and less blame, more ladders and fewer walls.

We’ve made it over halfway through the challenge and mostly stayed to the plan. Given the reality that some families confront hunger with fast food or the corner store/neighborhood market, I plan to take a look next time at meals to be found if you just have to get a fast food fix. I’m taking a break for the weekend and will finish explaining about my journey next week. Thanks for reading.

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