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Unburdening: The Fallacy of Fresh Veggies

September 16, 2014

Cooking is work. Sure, it’s a form of work that I enjoy. But I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that everyone should be able to take pleasure or satisfaction from the task. For example, I know there are people who really enjoy ironing. I’m happy to let the dry cleaners press my shirts, and living in a house without an ironing board.

Yes, ironing is a life-skill that everyone should possess. However, living with wrinkled shirts won’t make your hair fall out, and outsourcing the job won’t lead to gout, diabetes or obesity.

Cooking is important. You may never love it, but maybe I can help to make it a little less awful.

There are lots of ways a chore can become a burden. Fortunately, some sociologists at North Carolina State University conducted a lengthy study. And in it, they identified many solvable problems. Unfortunately, their solutions had nothing to do with making cooking easier. So I’ve offered my suggestions for overcoming the demands of the ideal meal and explained how less expensive cuts of fattier meats can still be part of a healthful meal.

Today, we’ll cover the price and perishability of produce.

Being poor makes it nearly impossible to enact the foodie version of a home-cooked meal. The ingredients that go into meals considered to be healthy—fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats—are expensive. A recent study of food prices around the globe found that it costs $1.50 more per day—or about $550 a year per person—to eat a healthier diet than a less healthy diet.

The cost of healthy ingredients is not the only barrier. Many of the poor mothers we met also lacked reliable transportation, and therefore typically shopped just once a month. As a result, they avoided buying fresh produce, which spoiled quickly.

Without a doubt, the poor do have significant barriers to eating well. You can’t cook if you don’t have any pots. And it’s a lot harder to cook without knives and other utensils. These aren’t problems I can solve. However, the ones outlines in the excerpt above can be addressed with some savvy shopping tips and recipe ideas.

It’s easy to spend a lot of money in the produce section of the grocery store without buying that much food. All of those big bunches of organic spinach will cook down into just a few tablespoons of sauteed greens. And little is more heartbreaking than to spend limited resources on fresh produce, only to watch your garden treasures wilt and mold on the kitchen counter (or in the fridge).

The trick is to know what vegetables are cheap, healthful and long lasting. And then of course, you need to know what to do with them.

Here’s a good year-round starter list:
– Conventional onions (low pesticide load)
– Frozen organic corn (reduces exposure to GMOs)
– Conventional cabbage (low pesticide load)
– Frozen conventional peas (low pesticide load)
– Organic sweet potatoes (BudNip aka Chlorpropham)
– Organic starchy potatoes (See #4)
– Organic carrots (conventional crop has a high pesticide load)
– Organic hot peppers (conventional crop has a high pesticide load)
– Conventional bananas (low pesticide load)

Remember too that as crops hit the peak of their season, you can find great deals. Plus there can be volume discounts to boot.

In addition to fruits and vegetables, one should remember the health benefits of dried legumes and pulses. Take black beans for example. A 1/2 cup serving has over 7g of protein, 6g of dietary fiber, and are rich in folate, iron, magnesium and thiamine. Oh, and they are also super cheap and last for a long long time.

Little Miss Fussy isn’t poor, yet her favorite home cooked meal is black beans and rice with baked sweet potatoes.

There is nothing expensive about the ingredients required to cook this healthful meal. That said, it does take pots, pans, and about four hours of cooking time. However, one could make a giant batch and freeze meal sized portions for reheating in the future. That’s what I do, and it’s a life saver.

But even if you have just one large skillet and leftover brown rice, with the vegetables above, you could make a very healthful fried rice. When Mrs. Fussy isn’t around, I’ll put onions and cabbage in with some frozen peas and corn. One egg really brings the whole thing together. Season with soy sauce, or a little hoisin. Non-GMO tofu is another inexpensive way to add plenty of protein, but this dish is a great vehicle for leftover bits of meat too.

If that’s a little too involved, a good starting place is simply learning how to get away from highly processed foods by making your own pasta sauce. This is one of those rare meals that can truly be made in fewer than 30 minutes.

Yeah, cooking time is a problem too. On our next installment, we should probably talk about the unreality of 30-minute meals.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura K. permalink
    September 16, 2014 1:19 pm

    The freezer is one of the most important tools for a cook on a budget. If I am taking the time to make a lasagne or a big pot of sauce, there will always be some for the freezer to take out for a weekday meal. The leftover chicken goes in for weekend stock-making and few slices of bacon are usually reserved for flavoring some future meal.

  2. September 16, 2014 1:19 pm

    I agree. I’ve witnessed first hand the difficulties of feeding a family on a limited budget. I’ve been working with a local food non-profit on trying to find a way to teach people of food disadvantage how to create wholesome meals on a budget. Part of the problem is lack of resource beyond ingredients – time, tools, knowledge. It’s been a challenge to come up with a list of the bare-bone essentials, but a challenge that makes me a better cook and teacher, I believe. If I can show the people with the fewest resources how to do this, I can show anyone.

    I’m really proud of you for doing this series. Keep it up!

  3. September 16, 2014 4:54 pm

    Love the freezer meals idea. I am single and live alone so it’s often wine, cheese and bread night with some fresh berries or caprese salad in the summer. Whenever I get tired of eating a big batch I freeze it for later in individual portions. It’s either a little sad or really smart lol

  4. September 17, 2014 10:19 am

    Thanks for the list of produce: my policy is usually if I eat the skin and or eat it raw I go for organic when possible (fruit, carrots, celery, spinach) but if its something I cook or peel I’m not as picky (potatoes, bananas) but now you’ve got me thinking more!

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