This is the third in a 5-part series of posts on living on $200 food budget for one month. Read on, or click below to read the rest in this series:
Post 1: The What and Why
Post 2: Planning and The First Two Weeks
Post 3: How Feeding Others Comes Back To Feed You
Post 4: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Post 5: The Parameters and How We Did
So far we’ve talked a lot about how to tighten your food budget through proper planning of your purchases, but there are a lot of other ways that you can eat healthy, eat well, and have better food experiences while reducing your monthly food bill.
For the past year, we’ve done a weekly roast night. We invite people over to our place, a mix of friends and people we don’t know as well but want to get to know better (often interesting people we’ve talked with on Twitter), and cook a roast. These nights have never failed to provide our group with great food and some fascinating conversations. We usually consult Chris at Meat Mongers to find a local roast will fit our budget and the number of guests. That roast is paired with as many local veggies as are in season. We opt for wine or dessert, rarely both. Our budget for these meals usually comes in under $50 and feeds us leftovers for up to 3 nights.
What this has driven home for us is that there is a lot of power in the act of breaking bread together. This is something that we all know, as it is an integral part of our social fabric. I read quite a bit, frequently historical fiction like Jack Whyte’s books on King Arthur and fantasy like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. It seems that every important meeting included in books like these happens over food. I can personally attest that businesses have been born at our dinner table, and countless other personal and business problems have found solutions.
But wait, how does spending money to feed friends and family cut down on food spending? The immediate advantage is low-cost, in-home entertainment (raise your hand if you can easily spend $50 on a night out). The long-term advantage is creating a culture of community and trade in your immediate circles.
Supper clubs and cooking parties are a great way to have fun with food and keep your freezer full with diverse, healthy meals. Gillian spoke with the owner of Local Source, Sean, a few nights ago. He talked about the social and practical benefits of cooking parties. The idea is simple – each person brings the ingredients for a single dish. Over a few hours friends work together to create meals, and then split the spoils. Each person leaves after a fun night out with a different meal for each day that week for the price of the single meal they selected.
These exchanges and gatherings can even be organized at work. At my work, our staff participates in a Soup Group. Every Tuesday a different staff member is responsible for cooking a big pot of soup, bread and dessert for the whole staff. Each person only needs to take a turn three times throughout the year, and our lunches every Tuesday are covered for us, and invariably delicious. It’s no surprise that this is the day that our staff room is also the fullest as we take what time we can from our work to talk with each other. Luckily, my turn was in December so February has been covered for me. The cost of our soup (a slight variation on Chef Craig Finn’s Spicy Ginger Carrot) cost around $18 including dessert.
Every Sunday, we have supper with extended family, so that has been a huge relief on our budget for the month. Some might say that this is “cheating” on our challenge. However, we have also fed others this month. We had a houseguest during the first weekend and kept him fed from our original haul of food. Some eggs, potatoes, onions, spinach, bacon ends, cheese, apples and peanut butter, and many compliments on our cooking and hospitality in return. And again, some great conversation.
So, various forms of sharing food have been a big part of our Food Security Challenge this month. It is easier, and cheaper, to cook for two than it is for one. It is even easier and cheaper to cook for four than it is for two, and so on.
We have been thinking a lot about ways in which people come together to share food and grow ideas. In getting engaged with the community and offering time and skills, we’ve found food is a common (and welcome) exchange. Gillian attended a talk and brainstorming session this week where she was rewarded with new knowledge and delicious appetizers, and we are looking forward to attending SupperNova this month because of the wealth of great food, wonderful entertainment and interesting exchanges that we always find at this event.
Over the past few weeks, I volunteered my services for a friend who ran her first big event this month. To show her appreciation for her volunteers, she hosted everyone at her place for a big thank you meal. She received the support she needed to run a successful event and we filled our need for food and conversation. For me, this was a wonderful example of how we can look after each other and help others by being engaged in our community. It is a way that we can exchange what we have for what we need while building a network of people who can support one another.
All of this has given us a lot of opportunity for reflection. We’ve been thinking a lot about the role of government and NGOs in food security and community building. We are big fans of the community kitchen model, where space is provided for community members to come together to cook and eat together. Something we’ve been learning through our conversations has been that poverty, and hunger, can breed feelings of isolation. Community kitchens address both these issues by bringing people together to break bread with others.
This month there has been exciting news that the Dartmouth Family Centre is opening a new community kitchen in Dartmouth North (http://www.dartmouthfamilycentre.ca/index.php/community-food-centre) and Chebucto Connections, which runs a community kitchen in the Spryfield area, is having its grand opening of its new location (http://chebuctoconnections.ca/).
Community kitchens are great because people attend for a wide variety of reasons. People with no financial issues when it comes to food choose to attend to meet new people, fulfill a desire to connect with their community, or to share or learn new skills in the kitchen. It is a wonderful model where those from all different backgrounds can gather together around food and everyone leaves with something they need.
As always, please take part in this conversation on #FoodSecurity in the comment section or with us on Twitter (@DrewMooreNS and @GillianWesleyNS). Also, we will be compiling a list of all the organizations and initiatives addressing these topics so please send us any that you know of.