Monday, November 14, 2011

The Big Food Lie

Little Milton--"Grits Ain't Groceries" (mp3)

The book currently at the top of my "Personal Unwritten Bestsellers" list is called The Big Food Lie.

Here's the premise: the media regularly links obsesity and poverty, claiming that to eat well is too expensive for the poor, but I believe that the complete opposite is true. I believe that anyone can eat a very healthy, hearty, varied diet while being very frugal.

Case in point: buy a chicken. Not an uncooked chicken, but one of the ubiquitous rotisserie chickens that are available in most every grocery store in America. These, of course, vary in price and quality. At an exclusive grocery store, they are likely to cost as much as $7.99 for one; in the Wal-Mart or the Costco, you can get one for $4.99 (the Costco version has the added benefit of not being pumped full of the various chemical crap that taints its Wal-Mart counterpart).

Okay, so 5 bucks for the Costco one I bought last night. It must have weighed about 6 pounds, at least 5 pounds. I pulled all of the white meat off of it and put it on a platter, an ample display of copious breast meat, along with two wings, two thighs, two legs. I made a bowl of mashed potatoes from two large russets, and steamed some green beans, and heated some leftover bread from the freezer.

All four of us ate our fill, and when we were finished, there was still about a pound of white meat, plus all of the dark meat. Meal #1 complete.

Anytime I buy or cook a chicken, I immediately strip the meat, save all of the bones, toss them in a pot with an onion, a carrot, a couple of stalks of celery, two garlic cloves, a teaspoon of peppercorns and enough water to cover all of it. After I bring that to a boil, I let it simmer for about an hour and, unless I forget it and it really boils down, I usually end up with about 3 quarts of incredible chicken stock.

Last night, while I was making that, I was also making white chicken chili. From a mix. You know those overpriced soup mixes; you see them all over the place. Add a packet of spices to some dried beans and you can charge several dollars for them instead of a buck. This one was $2.99 for some white cannelini beans and an "all-natural" spice packet. But even for that price, I was making supper for my daughter's sleepover tonight by using those beans, that spice packet, 7 cups of water, and the white meat from my purchased chicken. When it was all done 90 minutes, I had Meal #2 complete. All it would need would be some tortilla chips and cheese and sour cream and whatever else was around (tomatoes, chopped onions, etc.) to make the white chili a complete meal.

In addition to the chili that I left in the pot for my daughter and her friend, I also froze two quarts of the chili. That's a couple more meals frozen, ready, and waiting.

There are a lot of uses for chicken stock and you may want to freeze some for another use, but when mine was finished, I strained it, added the dark meat from my purchased chicken, chopped up the celery and carrots that had gone into the making of stock, added about 1/2 cup of dried pasta from my cupboard, let all of that simmer for awhile, seasoned it, and then I had two quarts of homemade chicken noodle soup (and without all of the crazy amounts of sodium that are in the canned versions). That's Meal #3 and more.

I also froze a quart of the chicken stock. It will come in handy when I'm making shrimp and oyster dressing at Christmas.

How much did I spend in total? I don't really know, since I have a pretty well-stocked house, but in addition to that $4.99 chicken and that $2.99 chili kit, I didn't use much besides a couple of potatoes, part of a bag of carrots, part of a bag of celery, an onion, a little garlic, and a bunch of stuff (like cheese and chips) that most people always have around their houses. So, what, maybe 20 bucks? How does that compare with taking your family of four to even the cheapest restaurant in the country?

I served three meals for sure, with the potential for perhaps four more waiting in my refrigerator and freezer. Nothing was time consuming. Nothing was complicated. Nothing called for exotic ingredients or special skills.

And, of course, anyone could do any of this perhaps even more cheaply and naturally by doing all of the steps themselves, roasting their own chicken, etc. But I wanted to combine ease with economy to make my point.

There are a myriad of other foods, other ingredients, that would allow for this kind of meal creation and dollar stretching--a bag of black beans, a jar of pasta sauce, a head of cabbage, a carton of eggs. To pretend that eating well is somehow a privilege of the wealthy is the big food lie. I think it's a lie that we, as a society, are content with because it allows us to pretend that nothing can be done about obesity or malnutrition, that our poor are doomed to live on processed, salty starches, even though tackling obesity and malnutrition would be stepping stones to shoring up education and then reaping all of the benefits that would result from that. That's the biggest tragedy we accept.

1 comment:

troutking said...

I like this post. I need to be better about making things this way.