The Point

Monday, January 11, 2010

A friend posted a comment the other day about my new project, and about how doing it at Whole Foods makes the project Not Useful for the average shopper.

I posted my reply, and he responded with a somewhat biting character attack.

As he stated in his comment, my friend believed that my point was to show people that “eating ‘differently’ was not only possible but could be done practically and without much effort or money.”

For the record, this is not actually my point.

My point is that one can eat a very nutritious diet for not very much money, shopping even at what is perceived to be a very expensive grocery store.

My average annual grocery bill is around $1,000. Whenever I tell people that, they say, “What do you eat?” And I never have a good answer.

This project is an attempt to answer that question.

The other key point of the project is to try to find some recipes for dishes with whole grains and vegetables that are inexpensive and good, and to try to make myself eat better for the next few months. Nothing like posting information on the internet to provide a little motivation.

In terms of trying to show people that eating “differently” can be done “practically and without much effort or money,” there’s an interesting article from the Tightwad Gazette called “The Not-So-Simple Life,” where Amy Dacyczyn discusses the paradoxes inherent in the “voluntary simplicity” movement. It’s on page 768 of The Complete Tightwad Gazette and is worth reading.

Basically she talks about how living a more “simple” life isn’t always that simple, and how many of the strategies required for transitioning to a simple life can be rather complex. She said that many people she talked to are frustrated by this:

“People are attracted to simple answers because they want to skip crucial steps that require brainwork. But real brainwork is required to become an excellent shopper and do-it-yourselfer.”

There may be simple strategies that will allow you to effortlessly cut your grocery bill and eat better at the same time, but I can’t promise that I’m going to write about them.

The way I shop, cook, and eat is so different from how most people shop, cook, and eat that it’s very difficult for me to know what will be simple for others and what will be complicated. It’s also very difficult for me to know what will be Useful and what will be Not Useful.

The only thing I can do is tell you what I bought and ate, give recipes for what I cooked, and tell you how much it cost. If that helps people to figure out things that work for their life, that’s great. If not, there are scads of people all over the internet writing about food and money, and you likely can find something more useful somewhere else.

In terms of simplicity versus complexity, I’ll end with FZ’s analogy that she gave to the TV producer who was trying to decide if she would be a good person to have on the show with the “simplicity authors:”

“Remember when you learned to ride a bike? That wasn’t so simple. In fact, if I had to explain in an interview how to ride, it would sound even more complicated. It would be easy to conclude that walking is simpler than biking. But walking is a much slower method of transportation than biking, so if you walk, everything else in your life must be compressed to compensate for the extra transportation time. So, if you put in the necessary time and effort to learn to ride, it will ultimately seem simple and simplify your life.”

17 Responses to “The Point”

  1. Curious Says:

    Don’t let a frenemy get you down. I don’t have access to Whole Foods aka Whole Paycheck. However, I can tell from your other work that your ideas are useful beyond your grocery store. I am going to try the chili recipe asap and I m really looking forward to your future posts in this new project. I believe you said it earlier, “Au contraire, mon frere.”

  2. CherylK Says:

    With friends like that…etc. :-)

  3. fivecats Says:

    i take issue with your biting character attack by claiming that i, of all people, was engaging in a biting character attack! me?!

    were i less of a gentleman i would suspect this was done just to elicit the sympathies of your loyal fanbase, to clear away any further questions concerning the “free” promotion you’re providing to Whole Foods and to give you and Rachael Ray something new to talk about the next time you’re flown up to NYC to appear on her show. (“So, Rebecca, I heard you were attacked on your web site for your latest food experiment. Tell me all about it!”)

    however, being the gentleman that I am, I wouldn’t think of suggesting such a thing.

  4. Lorrie Says:

    I, for one, never thought you were trying to promote Whole Foods. There is no Whole Foods store near me, but I have been to one a few times and I found some things to be very good buys (the grains and flours in the open bins, for example), and other things that I can get more cheaply elsewhere. Your posts are an inspiration to me and I think that what you are doing is a great service to many. We all need to find what works best for us.

    Relative to your chili recipe, it is very similar to one I make with ground beef or turkey, but I’m sure it (mine)would be great without the meat. I make mine with ground beef or turkey because my daughter is allergic to legumes. Then I take out a large portion for her and add lots of beans for the rest of us, adjusting the seasonings. I also do not use bay leaves, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper or chili peppers. I use more chili powder than your recipe calls for which I think makes up for the other things. It’s probably a little cheaper to make that way as well. Your photo looks like the chili is over brown rice. I frequently make brown rice and/or corn muffins to go with mine. Any way you serve it, it’s a healthy and frugal meal with tons of variations.

    In any event, I am a great fan of your blog. I also love the Tightwad Gazette Series and subscribed to the newsletter when it was available. I wish the FZ (aka Frugal Zealot or Amy Dacyczyn) would start her own blog. So, thank you for your blog. It reminds me of what is important.

  5. lessisenough Says:

    Thank you for this.

    You definitely could make the chili with meat. I think the thing that makes it especially good is sauteeing the onions and pepper with the spices before mixing it with the tomatoes. I got a slow cooker last year and threw everything together in that, but it wasn’t nearly as good. I didn’t really know what I was doing with the slow cooker (and I still don’t — I basically use it as a big chafing dish, so I can make stuff and take it somewhere else) and I didn’t realize that you need to use less water. It was too soupy and overall not as flavorful.

    But it was very good this time, and you’re right, I did have it over brown rice. This is one of my whole grain new year’s resolutions, brown rice instead of white rice. I used to think I didn’t like brown rice, but I’ve realized that if I think of it as its own thing and don’t compare it to white rice, it’s pretty good. Though I need to adjust to the longer cooking time. I keep thinking of starting it when I would normally start white rice, but it takes twice as long, so my timing for everything is all off.

    And yes, I agree with you about Amy Dacyczyn. I think she’s an amazing person and such a great writer, and on the one hand I do wish she was still writing for the public, but on the other, I love that she did what she wanted to do and said what she wanted to say and then moved on. Like Bill Watterson with Calvin and Hobbes. When you’re done, you’re done, and it doesn’t matter how much more money you could make or how long you could hang on doing the same thing over and over. I really respect that.

  6. Lorrie Says:

    I have the same problem with the time that brown rice takes to cook, even though I’m a stay-at-home mom whose time is pretty flexible. If I remember, I make it at the same time that I cook the dry beans. It freezes well if you make a big batch, and since I frequently use it for other meals like vegetable fried rice, I usually do make more for leftovers and for another meal. If I need rice quickly, though, I use white rice. Another problem with brown rice is that it is more expensive than white rice. I haven’t been able to figure out why that is given that it is less processed — maybe because its shelf life is shorter or maybe it’s because of supply and demand. I found that Walmart has brown rice much cheaper than our other local grocery stores, so I stock up when I go there and put extra bags in the freezer.

    Funny that you mention Bill Watterson. My son was a huge fan of Calvin and Hobbes and owns all the books, which my daughter has also read. You are right that sometimes, when you’re done you’re done, and that is admirable, but sometimes folks are done before I’m done with them. So, I’m hoping that you won’t be done any time soon. I guess you’re good for another year anyway.

  7. Marcia Says:

    seemed like a bit of a biting character attack to me. I’m paraphrasing, but “I thought you CARED about the PEOPLE but NOOOO you’re just a SHILL for the ELITE!!”

  8. fivecats Says:

    my, but that is paraphrasing, isn’t it?

  9. Sharon Says:

    Often with a crockpot, it helps if you sautee vegetables(onions, celery, etc) or brown meat before adding it to the crockpot. Much better flavor.

    The less liquid helps too as you said. If you look at some similar crockpot recipes that can give you ideas about proportions for your own recipes.

  10. Marcia Says:

    “I had thought that you were One of the People, striving to Make a Positive Difference in the World. I now see that you are, obviously, a shill for the Elitist Edibles Gourmet Emporium who merely pretends to blog as “a normal person” and not as an Elitist Edibles Gourmet Emporium paid staffer. “

  11. Marcia Says:

    Assuming, of course, that 5cats = Tom, if not, my apologies.

  12. bernard Says:

    I love this website, thank you so much for all the useful information! I was already economizing (run out of money a long time ago..), but began to enjoy the whole enterprise living inexpensively.. Right now it’s not only necessary but also become a bit of a fun ‘sport’ to find cheap recipes. Actually, I feel I eat a lot better and nicer than before.

  13. lessisenough Says:

    Thanks! I’m glad you’re finding things you can use. I definitely feel like attitude is important, and picking the right recipe is half the battle. When I come across a new recipe that seems like it might be good, I’ll scan it and if it has things I don’t normally have on hand or that I know are expensive, I don’t even bother with it. There are so many good things you can make from inexpensive ingredients, there’s no reason to even try those that don’t meet that criteria.

  14. bernard Says:

    Hi, I agree, though sometimes I can replace an expensive ingredient (by more herbs for instance) or just leave it out. Good recipes often have many flavour-components and leaving out one component often doesn’t mean the dish isn’t tasteful anymore. I try to find recipes from top chefs, that contain cheap ingredients. I once saw a banquet of state at Buckingham Palace on tv, the president of France attended and they ate creme brulee as dessert, which is one of the greatest desserts ever…but basically, sugar, eggs and cream. I make that if I have guests who love it and with the farm eggs it doesn’t cost me anything much. I try to live copiously, spending as little as possible. Though not saving as much as you do; one dollar a day is amazing and I love food maybe a bit too much to only eat as little and as cheap as possible.

  15. lessisenough Says:

    Yes, true. Recipes can nearly always be adjusted to make them cheaper, and are often just as good. I have “minimalist” versions of recipes like pad thai and salsa that are somewhat better if you include everything but can also be made with fewer things and still come out okay. I think my minimalist pad thai has sauce (lime juice, garlic, fish sauce, chili paste with garlic), rice noodles, egg. The full version adds shrimp or tofu, scallions, cilantro, bean sprouts.

    And also good point about dessert. Another really good dessert that you can make with almost nothing is bread pudding — basically the same ingredients as creme brulee, with the addition of stale bread. It’s a good thing to make on the days you scrounged up a dinner and after you were done realized you didn’t have quite as much food as you thought you did and are still a little bit hungry. Bread pudding really hits the spot.

    And the dollar a day thing was really just a demonstration project. Normally I spend about $3 a day, which is still a lot less than most people, but three times what I was doing on the project. Though it’s empowering to know that I could eat for a dollar if I needed to.

  16. kathleen Says:

    I have a question. I have been reading your blog and I wanted to know what your end goal was. With all your posts about personal finance I was just curious. Are you trying to be debt free? Save x amount of dollars for retirement? Maybe I just haven’t read back through enough of your older posts.

  17. lessisenough Says:

    Well the original point of the blog was to chronicle the Dollar a Day project, where I ate for a dollar a day spending one dollar a time. I didn’t really have a plan for it after that, and still don’t.

    I am interested in food and eating well for less. I am sometimes struck by the absurdity of life, so occasionally there will be a completely random post on something unrelated to anything, that I think is funny.

    Often I find myself talking to people about a topic, or thinking a lot about something, and tell them I will write something up or think that I should. And sometimes I manage to get to it, and sometimes I start to write but it never makes it out of my drafts folder, and sometimes I keep thinking I’ll get to it but don’t.

    I feel like the main point is helping people see things differently — that there are things they can do, and things they can think about, and ways they can live, that will make their life better in a way that isn’t nearly as difficult as they might think.

    It’s funny that you ask about my goal, because I’ve spent the last week or so thinking about writing a post on “Step Zero,” which is what you need to do before the Step One that the personal finance books I’ve been reading talk about. Step Zero is to think about what you want from your life. You need to do that first, so you know how much money you will need to live the way you want.

    I guess my goal in general is not as specific as most people — save x amount or be debt free. And I’m reading personal finance books not in search of advice for me to follow personally, but to see what I can come up with that will help other people. So I’m going for a broad overview.

    Overall my goal is to have a nice life, to work on things that are interesting to me, to live on an amount that I can make without it being the only thing I have time to think about, and to just go from there. And I’m sure I will touch on that in the Step Zero post, but this isn’t a blog where you follow my progress, so the goal thing isn’t integral to it, nor is my specific personal experience. I’m trying to make it more general than that.

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