In case you missed it, I was doing the Hunger Challenge last week. Dramatic as that sounds, all it amounts to is feeding myself using only $7/day (which is the maximum food stamp benefit). No food from other people or anything either. (That means no Google food. I did drink their coffee and tea, though. Call it necessary medication for the office lifestyle. If you really want to split hairs, next time I'll buy a bunch of cheap tea for a dollar.)
I went to QFC, to prove that any of you can do this too at your local grocery store. I could probably do better at Trader's Joe, maybe I could do better at the Pike Place Market, and I could definitely do better at an International District Asian grocery store (a small one, not Uwajimaya). I only charged things that I actually ate, and if I used something that I already had in the house, I approximated how much it would cost.
Here's how my expenses turned out:
A honeydew melon: 2.23 (on super sale, 40c/lb)
1/2 dozen eggs: 2.89/2 = 1.45 (not the cheap eggs, these were somewhat "free range" or something- whatever, if you're at QFC you're not going to get humane eggs anyway. you can pay more, but all you get is "organic" or "omega-3".)
1 1/2 lb onions (about half a 3-lb bag): 1.99/2 = 1.00
Tofu: 2.69 (why is tofu so expensive at QFC?)
1 green pepper: 1.50
2 apples: 1.01
1/2 bulb garlic: 0.72/2=0.36
about 5 carrots: 0.88 (fact: actual big carrots usually cost about half of the "baby-cut" kind)
2 broccolis: 0.89 (on sale)
1 c. brown rice (1/50 of a huge $20 bag): 0.40
2 c. groats, barley, quinoa, and millet: about 2.00
3 c. whole wheat flour: 0.70
1/2 bunch spinach that we already had: 1.00
1/2 cabbage that we already had: about 1.50
1/2 stick butter: about 0.50
about 1/2 c. peanut butter throughout the week: maybe 1.00? I didn't track the peanut butter so well...
1 tsp caraway, 2 bay leaves, some marjoram, thyme, and an occasional glug of soy sauce: about 1.00
1 package whole wheat orzo: 4.00
2 more apples: 1.30
maybe 1/4 c. tahini? 0.50?
3 beers (rolling rock/henry weinhard): 3.30
1 beer at a bar (rainier): 2.00 + 1.00 = 3.00
We'll call it even at $35, to allow for error in the spices and stuff.
Things I made out of all this include a loaf of bread, orzo and broccoli soup, a tofu scramble, cabbage and spinach with eggs (which was great), and a big thing of mixed grains (like oatmeal but better). I did pretty well for 4.5 days.
Friday, work was rough. (To be fair, Thursday, Wednesday, and Tuesday were also rough. To be even more fair, it was I who made them rough. But still, no fun.) So by Friday, they announced at work that they were bringing in ice cream because we (previously) donated the most to a food bank, and goddamn if I'm not going to eat ice cream. So I had that. And then I drank more beer that night too which was not in the budget. So I guess I didn't quite make it.
But the point is, you can make it. You can eat cheaply and not eat crap. You will probably eat more cheaply if you don't eat crap. Also, it doesn't really take that much time: I cooked on Monday for a few hours, and then made the tofu on I think Wednesday. AND, I'm not a super chef blogger. This goes out to all you "starving" college students. (not to actual poor people. I mean, I hope they can eat well and cheaply too, but if they don't, I'm not going to say it's their own fault. being poor is not easy.)
And the further point is just that! Being poor is not easy! $7 per day doesn't sound so bad, but then it's $2.33 per meal. No other food. (maybe your grocery budget is less than that, but what about restaurants and takeout?) And when you're looking at that, even a teaspoon of a spice can become a significant fraction of the meal. I did eat a little grainier than I would have liked, and not so vegetableful. And a couple times, I was actually hungry (imagine that). I guess 4 beers/week fits in with this budget, or maybe like a thing of ice cream instead or whatever, but there is not much room for luxury.
That's all! Enjoy your food, and maybe pause for a moment and be like "it is nice to have this."