Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What we're going to do, and why it's not especially noble

I'm so ready for spring, so unready for Lent. Who came up with this idea of giving up things, anyway?

But yes. We are going to do it--try, that is, to keep our food budget under $12/day, starting tomorrow.

We will serve wine, but only when sharing a meal with others. We will eat in restaurants as required--which means that Mr Neff will continue to do business occasionally over meals. And I will use some items that are already in the pantry--flour, sugar, oatmeal, tea, spices, etc.

However, since we are trying to approximate a food-stamp budget, I will report wine and restaurant expenditures on this blog. You may ridicule or shame me if they seem excessive. I may also note pantry-cheating, but I don't plan to "pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin" (Matthew 23.23). I figure that if I use January's flour in March, I'll probably be using March's flour in May, and it will all even out.

And I'm planning to forget the whole experiment for a week in March when we have a family reunion and celebrate our anniversary.

It won't be so bad, I tell myself. As I discovered last week, my normal food budget is depressingly close to my Lenten budget anyway; at least it was this month as I've been thinking about the Lenten Experiment. A few more beans, a little less wine, an absence of pignoli and almond butter--this is not suffering.

Last month I offered 10 reasons to try the $6/day food experiment. In rereading them, I'd like to take issue with #8: "You would like to show solidarity with the poor." I'm all for showing solidarity with the poor, but this experiment is not going to do it. "If you really want to know how it feels to be poor," said a friend of mine as we ate at a lovely Indian restaurant on Sunday, "first come clean my house for $2/hour, then clean three or four other houses, and then go home and try to cook a meal for your family for less than $12."

If I were poor, I wouldn't have time to cook meals from scratch, compare prices in different stores, clip coupons, collect recipes, or beg friends (that would be you) to give me ideas for thrifty meals.

If I were poor, another friend pointed out, there probably wouldn't be an Aldi's or a Trader Joe's in my neighborhood, let alone within walking distance. There might not even be a major grocery store nearby. I'd probably have to shop at convenience stores and small neighborhood shops, which often cost more than the chains and have much less variety to choose from.

If I were poor and uneducated, I might not realize what foods I need or what foods I should avoid. I might not be skilled at budgeting, and I wouldn't have a PC and Excel to help me keep track of expenses.

If I were poor, I probably wouldn't have all of the following: a large refrigerator with plenty of freezer space, a gas stove, a microwave oven, a dishwasher, a slow cooker, plenty of cupboards, and lots of pots and pans to make food storage and preparation easy. Nor would I have attractive plates, glasses, flatware, and tablecloths to make even the simplest fare seem like a feast.

Most of all, if I were poor, this would be no experiment. Cheap eats would be my life. No week off in March. No wine when friends gather (unless, of course, I took my daughter's suggestion and traded groceries for Mad Dog 20/20). No well-stocked pantry. No business lunches. No promise of release on Easter Sunday.

Eating cheaply for a few weeks will be a fine discipline. It will not be a sacrifice. If you join us for Lent or just for a week, let me know how it goes.


Karen Tornberg said...

We're with you! I've been thinking perhaps a bigger sacrifice for me would be giving up Facebook or perhaps online word games.

Kathleen said...

This counts materially, but, I'm afraid, has nothing to do with spirituality, but ... we gave up most of our house before Christmas and the renovation probably won't be done by Easter.

More seriously, Epicurious.com has an excellent recipe for Mujeddrah--middle eastern rice, lentils, onions, and yogurt (are you making homemade yogurt?).