Thursday, January 24, 2013

Another Interesting Project

For the last couple of weeks I've been obsessed by a number - $2.25. It was a number I read on Lynda's blog. Attempting to live on just $2.25 a day on food...

So as many of you know, I love cooking. It's a feat of engineering and it's always fun setting up challenges. But $2.25 a day... wouldn't you just be tempted to stop off by the local fish and chip shop and buy a scoop of chips? It wouldn't be healthy, but you'd at the very least get fill.

Of course, the problem with being fill without everything your body needs - you tend to eat more to try and get those nutrients. Try to lose weight and you'll find that you're constantly hungry because the body's been trained into thinking that you need a certain amount (way higher than necessary) of food in order to get the nutrients needed.

But why $2.25? It's a poverty line. Sure, New Zealand doesn't have an "official" poverty line and, from what I can tell, we have no clear definition for poverty. So $2.25 is probably as good a number as any (although, I would personally push it up a little bit - I feel it would be more productive to include more people rather than less).

Let's talk about poverty for a second. When I talk about "living in poverty", I mean, LIVING in poverty. There is no time limit to it. It's life. It often happens as a multi-generational thing. In New Zealand, we've got the state dependency cycle. While people are able to live (barely), they find themselves not knowing how to pull themselves out of the situation.

Case in point: When people imagine themselves out of the poverty cycle, they imagine themselves as sports stars being able to spend ridiculous amounts on cars. Given a sudden influx of income, it would be spent, not on pulling themselves out of a hole, but on what they believe to be symbols of wealth. The food wouldn't be healthier, there'd just be more of it.

There are ways out of the cycle.

I've briefly talked about sports. I don't like this way out as:

  1. It only works on an individual level and we tend to focus on the exceptions. How many people spend their early lives training for sports only to find they're not at the absolute top of the game? I'm willing to bet that there are more losers than winners (A bit like saying "I heard of a guy who won $20,000 at the casino!". The horribly flawed "You've got to be in it to win it" argument). I'm not denying there are some benefits to be had - getting into other school's for example. But then even that has the same feel as point 2.
  2. There's something that feels quite... perverted about it. While there were some people upset about "The Hunger Games" when it came out - teens killing teens - professional sports has a similar feel to me. Sports stars are paid big money to be held up as idols. I can imagine Donald Sutherland (President Snow) proclaiming these players as being the finest examples that society has to offer... 
Military. While I'm a not a fan of military, during peace time, the military is actually a pretty good way out. During war time, not so much. Sacrifice our poor for our agendas (whether that be freedom, sucking up to someone with a bigger army than us, we want cheaper oil etc.)... Not cool.

Education. Part of the poverty cycle is not only not having the resources to be able to make decisions, but, because of the lack of options, making the right one is something of a challenge. So what those not in poverty would see as obvious and common sense, need remember, common sense might not be so common (I don't mean people don't have it, I mean that what I see as sense isn't necessarily what other's see as sense - it's not common to us all. I so wish set theory was still taught in school). There are businesses out there that pray on this sort of thing. Think finance company's with high interest rates, "convenient" shopping via trucks - with hire purchase deals, or even, dare I say it, the likes of Chrisco (really, if you put that regular payment into a bank account, you'd probably find you could afford 3 times as much food down at the local supermarket). Of course, the people who own those businesses "have to eat" (without any real accountability to what they do to people).

Okay - so never mind all of that. Let's imagine for a second that we're all horrendously rich and we have 2-3 times that much to spend on food and drink in a day. $4.50 - 6.75 a day (per person) to spend on food. I know! Pure bliss right?

It kind of puts things into perspective. Do I REALLY need that $4.50 cup of coffee? Is $10-15 really a cheap meal at the local kebab shop? For the last couple of weeks I've been cooking with the goal of creating balanced (individual) meals at about $2 a meal. I haven't been terribly militant about it - though there's time for that.

I've got a goal in mind. Start coming up with recipes for these meals (and start to document them). Start the Trading Post movement and then revisit those meals. Do they become cheaper or better with trading?

I've been genuinely surprised with what I've been able to get away with. A 1KG $15 bag of prawns, assuming that it has at least 100 prawns, and a meal only really needs 6 prawns, is good for a little over 16 meals - $0.94 per prawn meal leaving quite a bit for veges (I haven't quantified these yet - we always have a big sack of onions around for example and given that it's seasonable, I think this is going to be hardest bit of this little project). Chicken Sausages - $4 for 8, assuming you need 2 sausages for a meal, are actually more expensive ($1).

From a very personal point of view, I want to make this a way of eating for me. To be conscious of how much I'm spending on food and know what it is that I'm eating. To keep things in perspective. 

Actually, it's a "fun" little experiment reading the nutritional information on the back of products. Use the "per 100g" listing rather than the "per serve". You'd be surprised by the number of crackers and the like that are a quarter fat or more (Pringles I think were something like 30g fat / 100g - it's been years since I've had Pringles). See if knowing the percentage of fat/salt (sodium)/sugar (simple carbohydrates) changes your diet or purchasing decisions...

So what do others think? Interesting project? I realise it kind of lacks an aim... it's kind of "living to excess with perspective". Still... if the outcome is a little perspective, I'll be happy.

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