This is part 2 in a 5-part series of posts. 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
The most important part in embarking on this challenge was planning. $200 doesn’t go that far these days, and we were intent on eating fresh, healthy, local foods as much as possible. For us, true food security requires that people are not just physically full, but nutritionally full and able to have a sense of enjoyment from their meals. As we discussed in our last post, it is also important to support food systems close to home.
We started thinking about low cost, locally sourced, affordable meals in mid-January. Our local clause actually made planning a little bit easier. February in Nova Scotia brings with it a smaller offering of local, seasonal products, making it easier to plan recipes that shared ingredients.
Below is a (close to complete) list of what we purchased:
3 bags of kale
2 bags of apples (we only had two apples on the list but they were on 2 bags of seconds for $6)
2 butternut squash
1 box of mushrooms
2 5lb bag potatoes
1 5lb bag carrots
2 loaves gluten free bread
2 loaves of brown bread
4 dozen eggs
3 small pieces of gouda
1 small tub of goat cheese
1 Chorizo sausage
400g bacon ends
1 bone (for stock)
5 large onions
2L of milk
2 500g bags of Java Blend coffee (2nd was our free one after buying 10)
1 small tub of firm tofu
2 bundles of spinach
2 bunches of bananas
1 medium sized jar of peanut butter (from Yum Foods in Windsor)
3 habernero peppers
2 bunches green onion
1 can of tomato sauce
1 pack of rice lasagna noodles
1 small brick of mozzarella
2 packs of rice noodles
2 500g blocks of butter
2L of milk
2 lobster dinners (Valentine’s Day fundraiser) – $40
That food was to be turned into some immediate meals, but mostly prepared meals to be frozen.
The first week was easy. We’ll get into community eating and the importance of community kitchens and shared meals in our next post, but the first week of February involved a few shared meals which cut down on our immediate food strain.
We got two nights out of our favourite winter meal, a spicy tofu soup, tried a yummy eggs en coquette recipe from local food blogger Kathy Jollimore (Eat Halifax),had bacon ends in our morning skillet (about $1 worth) for the first time since December, and really dug into our snack rations (left over popcorn kernels and oil from January and kale chips made with one bunch of the kale).
Everything turned into food – peels from our potatos became delicious chips, and the left over egg yolks (from an impromptu scrounge the cupboard and see what we can turn into dessert – macaroons) became the base for French toast the next morning.
By the end of week one, we still had a few prepared meals that we hadn’t gotten around to making, so I took half of Thursday and most of Friday finishing up most of those meals before things started to spoil. The butternut squash, kale, apples and potato made up the base for a number of frozen meals made in bulk, namely a butternut squash and kale stew on a bed of mashed potatoes (AMAZING!), potato apple pancakes, this really amazing butternut squash and garlic cream lasagna from local food blogger Purple House Cafe (we omitted the prosciutto and flour), and a lot of carrot soup. We also made a few crustless quiche with a whole mix of ingredients – bits of spinach, onion, garlic and potato with a small amount of cheese.
I didn’t get to our beef bones in time, something I started regretting very soon afterwards. I also lost a whole bunch of kale to spoilage. I did a big batch of kale chips the second day of our challenge but I didn’t want to make them all at once because chips have a habit of calling to us from the cupboard. I also needed kale in a few recipes, so I held off and it spoiled.
Before starting this challenge, we didn’t empty our cupboards. We buy primarily fresh foods, but our cupboards had items I *think* many kitchens have – items bought for a specific recipe we never got around to making, or left overs from a recipe that didn’t use the whole bag or container. Bits and pieces and scraps that, in our instance anyway, sit around forever and eventually after a couple years end up in the trash. Our cupboards will almost definitely be cleared out by the end of this month. Hunger has led to creativity. It has also led to a sharp realization of how much food we waste.
Naturally, food has been on my mind a LOT this month, but wastage has probably been the thing I’ve been thinking about most. The statistics from reports we’ve been reading indicate that anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of the food grown or produced worldwide for human consumption is wasted. It isn’t all at the household level, but the majority is. The Cut Waste, Grow Profit draft report from the Ontario-based Value Chain Management Centre (VCMC) indicates that just over half (51%) of the food wastage in Canada results from what consumers throw out. Here are a few other stats we learned that are making us feel a little sick to our increasingly hungry stomachs:
- 17.5% of Nova Scotians experience some level of food insecurity. 13% of Canadians on a national scale experience some level of food insecurity (Household Food Insecurity in Canada Report, Canadian Institutes of Health Research – Thanks to @debata)
- 50 percent of fish and seafood initially caught in North America and Oceania is wasted (Global Food Losses and Food Waste – Commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)
- 70% of the worlds water (drinkable water) is used to irrigate crops (Feeding A Thirsty World, 2012, The Stockholm International Water Institute).
- 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from the wealthiest countries come from growing food that is never consumed (Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, Penguin, 2009).
- A single hamburger takes 2500 litres of water to produce (Feeding A Thirsty World, 2012, The Stockholm International Water Institute).
We started paying attention to food wastage in our home a few years ago when we joined a CSA. We have become much, much better at using what we buy, but I’d guess that about 10% – 15% of what we buy ends up in the compost. On our current budget, that would be like taking 30 bucks and chucking it in the trash, but it’s even worse when thinking about how much we normally spend on food a month, which is more in the range of 600 dollars, so the equivalent of throwing about $90 away. (Side note – I’m really embarrassed to admit how much we spend on food. In our home, food is both entertainment and a big part of what I write about on this travel blog and it takes up almost every cent of our income. I can’t remember the last time I bought clothing or furniture, but food…we buy a lot of delicious food).
Back to this budget. We spent $123 up front (see the list above), and an additional $19 the next weekend to refresh our eggs, bread, milk, and a few small items at the market (also included in that list). Our biggest hit was on Valentines Day. We were part of a fundraiser called Love and Lobster, and had kind of forgotten that we had planned to buy a plate each. That delicious straight from the fisherman lobster and trimmings took another $40 (a full 20 percent!!) out of the budget, a great price for a much enjoyed Valentine’s Day dinner, but a killer for our budget.
Now it’s mid February and our fridge and cupboards are starting to look pretty bare. We have just $4 left (No we don’t, I bought 2L of milk tonight so the budget is tapped – Drew), something Drew and I have been debating how to spend for the last three days. I’ve started living with a mild feeling of panic about food and a constant slight hunger. I spend a lot of time looking in the fridge and cupboards and trying to dream up things that could become meals – like the sparse pad Thai I threw together with some left over soup noodles and tofu that needed to be consumed, ketchup, peanut butter, brown sugar and hot sauce. It was actually pretty good.
Drew’s also been spending a lot of time just opening the fridge and looking inside. He’s even been doing it at work, not to take anyone else’s food, but just to look at food. (Last weekend I went out for a post-event celebration to Freeman’s, one of my favourite late night joints. I watched while everyone around me ordered full meals. It was bittersweet for me when everyone got doggy bags, no waste, but none for me to intercept on the way back to the kitchen. – Drew)
We’ve spent a lot of time laughing at ourselves, but it’s also made me hyper aware that while this month is a choice for us, hunger is a huge issue worldwide, including right here in our home province. Not having access to regular meals, let alone healthy and substantial food is a stark reality for too many people, something that needs to change. It has made me aware just how much I take food for granted and how much I treat it as an endless resource, something that simply isn’t true. That sort of thinking is what helps to contribute to the estimated 27 billion dollars in food wasted annually in Canada alone while 13% of our country lives in some state of food insecurity (not to mention that close to 1 billion people worldwide who are considered undernourished).
And it’s about so much more than hunger – it’s about wasted resources – water and farmland that could otherwise be reallocated, and rotting food in landfills contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. It’s about the negative impacts both physical and mental that come from malnourishment and not having access to regular food, and the increasing disconnect we have between our food, where it comes from, how much we need, and how it nourishes us. This is something we’ll be continuing to examine during February with your help.
Thank you to everyone on Twitter, facebook, and in the comments who are helping to turn this series of posts into a conversation. We’d like to invite you to take part in the comment section or with us on Twitter (@drewmoorens & @gillianwesleyns) with the hashtag #FoodSecurity. On Sunday, you helped open our eyes to connections between healthy food and mental health (check out @Steve_SR_’s blog http://ocdsurvival.com/). We want to hear what concerns you about food security, food budgets, access to healthy food, and possible ways to improve access to healthy food while strengthening local food growth and distribution.