Sunday, September 08, 2013

below the line

As various people are gearing up to do the 'Live below the line' challenge links to the TEAR Fund's Live Below the Line cookbook have been popping up around the place. I can't quite see Countdown's Feed Four for $15 being all that helpful for the challenge, but at least it is addressing the issue of eating well on a budget and making it normal to cook to a budget - and with careful shopping locally at Bin Inns etc and markets you could probably cook those same meals for less.

As I've said before it is all very well being able to cook a cheap meal, but it isn't always cheap to buy the ingredients if that makes sense. For example recipe might call for 1/4tsp of cayenne pepper which would cost very little, but generally you have to buy at least 50g at a time at around $2-$3. If your food budget is $2.25 a day then buying a box of spices costing a full days allocation probably isn't even on your radar.

The recommendation in the TEAR fund cookbook is to club together with others and pool your money to make it go further - brilliant suggestion, but why only do it for one week of the year? Cooking for one is not a very good economical model - three people cooking for themselves uses far more power than one person cooking for three! (three lots of cooking, three lots of washing up, three people's time...) Plus many folk are like me and don't really enjoy just cooking for themselves but are more than happy to make the effort for others.

It makes sense to share meals, it is more sociable too. In Otago Presbyterian Support do a lot to support those in poverty, one of the community schemes we heard about at the Peace in Education conference in Dunedin last year was where local groups of single parents of young children were enabled to get to know each other and have shared meals together once a week in each others homes. This way the kids got to make friends and have someone to play with, the adults had other adults to talk to and the support that this can provide, and by having a pot luck meal everyone contributed something simple but together it made a really good meal for everyone. This struck me as such a fantastic idea, and one that would work with all sorts of people, not just single parents.

We've just had our two monthly shared meal for the local TimeBank, one of the co-ordinators was suggesting it goes back to being quarterly as only a fraction of the membership turn up each time, her thinking being more people would make the effort if it were less frequent. But I'll be arguing against that - I've only been involved for two so far, but each time I've met new people, and other people new to TimeBank so the networking which is a key part of how TimeBank works can happen at these meals and get things going far faster than if we had to wait for a quarterly get-together. But more critically I heard a few people say how they appreciate getting together for shared meals as they live alone. Poverty can be a poverty of social life, or company as well as, or instead of, financial.

I don't know exactly how much the food contributions I took cost (it would be interesting to work it out) but I do know it wasn't a lot - especially the rice dish (cheers Audra, I'm still using your Indian cookery course recipes!), yet the meal we all just had was a good spread and certainly filling enough to count as our main meal of the day (and I have brough home some left-overs!). I feel well fed physically and socially.

Whilst I'm living on a budget at least it isn't as bad as $2.25 a day for food (more like $6) and I have the luxury of being able to buy in bulk and average out my budget over months. But one thing I have found since I've been working far fewer hours in a week is how much richer my life feels, and if I have to live with a paucity of anything, I'd far rather it was money than heath, happiness or a sense of fullfilment.

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