Three Days In
The June Food Stamp Challenge continues.
I was going to cook something interesting for dinner tonight but when I saw that we still have chicken, corn on the cob, sausage and eggplant parm left over from earlier JFSC dinners, plus a salad I made for Mr. Husband’s lunch that he didn’t take to work, I said heck no. Leftovers it is. The salad may have cost $1 counting the lettuce, tomatoes, green onion (from my garden), celery and radish (from previous week’s trip to the farmers’ market), plus homegrown alfalfa sprouts off my kitchen counter. Cost of the salad: $1. Everything else is already accounted for.
Breakfast: Oatmeal, coffee (from pantry*), hardboiled egg. (I ate a bigger breakfast since I would be busy until a business lunch meeting.) No snack.
Snack: Coffee, fresh fruit
Dinner: Leftovers as mentioned above. Tonight there should be four of us, which would make it $0.25 per person.
Look at me doing the math!
** Business lunch
I firmly believe in gleaning from the neighborhood or environs of town. In recent months I have picked fresh mustard greens from a field, rose hips from the meridian of a city street, and a different kind of mustard greens from another vacant house. We also continued to harvest green garlic and artichokes from an abandoned spring garden in a neighborhood empty rental. This food would have otherwise gone to seed. But we enjoyed these taste treats with abandon.
I think a resourceful person should take advantage of what food is available. As summer comes, there will be fruit literally dropping on the ground in some neighborhoods, from lychees, plums, olives, pears and apples, apricots and almonds. Later in winter, there will be all kinds of citrus fruit. If I really were on food stamps, I wouldn’t miss the obvious opportunities, and further, I would make friends with neighbors with fruit trees or vegetable gardens, if I didn’t have one myself.
No room for a vegetable garden doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy good veggies. Offer to trade pulling weeds or watering for a basket of zucchini and tomatoes. Offer to pick the fruit in exchange for half of it. The seasonal fruits can be made into jam, fruit leather (fruit rollups, they call them at the store, but those are full of HFCS, preservatives and artificial colors); applesauce or other baby food; frozen for later snacking or pies, pickled, and so on. One of the reasons we have a vegetable garden is to help feed our brood. That’s why I have frozen tomatoes in my freezer from last year, as well as green onions and herbs in the garden right now. It feeds us, costs little to nothing except time and energy, and it makes simple food taste better. I like to trade my jams, pickles and produce to others — for computer repair, advice, yarn, fruit from their trees, or for good will, if nothing else. On a food stamp budget, barter and trade is a very good thing.
Just because you’re on food stamps doesn’t mean you are helpless, or a pawn in a dastardly game. I encourage anyone who is hungry to think outside the box, to use a cliche — what else can you eat and how can you get it, at no cost to your food budget? What can you make for yourself, like fruit leather, that is better for you than store-bought and “free”?
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of six books: three novels, one poetry collection, and two women's history. She was the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California, in 2014-17. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. She has a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, and MA in Early 20th C. British Literature from Cal State Hayward. Julia's articles have appeared on Salon, Thrillist, Paste, Scary Mommy, Narratively, Yahoo News, Your Tango, and Sweatpants & Coffee. Her articles have also run in Redbook, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Town & Country, the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Magazine, Quill, and MadeLocal. She was the founding editor of weekly Alameda Sun and literary zine Red Hills Review. Her poetry has been in The East Bay Literary review, Postcard Poems, Americus Review, Cicada, Tiferet Review, and many others. Julia has been recognized several times by the San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs as well as the California Newspaper Association for her blogging since 2003.