Sunday, October 11, 2009

Frugality in the Kitchen (No Corners Cut)

These are Mama's scarlet runner beans. They bounce out of their leathery pods when you shell them, hot pink and flaming purple. They're a fun genetic study, too, as they mingle in the garden (purple is dominant -- all the beans on the left grew from seeds of their own color, but the beans on the right were grown from brown and tan seeds, and picked up the purple from their neighbors. I think white might be a different species).

To follow up on my frugality post, I'm putting together ten of my own favorite tactics for spending less on wholesome, satisfying food. I grew up in a household that ate a lot of scarlet runner beans and venison, and we lived very comfortably on a tiny food budget. That said, money is not the only resource worth saving. Your health is much more important. Also, I currently share a communal kitchen with four fellows who spend their days biking to and fro, so I'm not talking about saving money by eating less.

Things to eat:

(1) Dry beans. Canned beans are a convenient waste of money. Plus, soaking and partially sprouting beans increases the availability of their nutrients as the seeds tap their nutrient stores in preparation for germination. Partially sprouted beans take much less time to cook, saving time and energy. I keep a big bowl or two of beans soaking at all times in the pantry. To soak beans, cover them with three times their volume in water. Change the water twice a day for two days. Then drain the beans and either cook them at this point or rinse them twice daily until they've formed 1/4" sprouts.

(2) Eggs. Eggs are one of the least expensive, most thorough sources of high-quality protein you can buy. Even the best pastured eggs cost less than most meat, pound for pound (and they've got essential fatty acids and vitamin D, which you won't find in regular, cage-free, or free-range eggs). In short: the tryptophan! the selenium! the B vitamins! the choline, oh heavens, the choline!

(3) Homemade yogurt. Yogurt is so easy to make. You can buy the highest-quality raw milk for much less than the equivalent volume of mediocre yogurt, and make it into yogurt yourself.

(4) Fresh produce. Fresh produce tastes better, looks better, and has more nutritional value than produce that spends a long time getting shipped all over and stored in warehouses before you eat it. At farmer's markets, you don't have to give money to a middleman. Growing your own veggies is the best option if you have the space, of course.

(5) Lard. Even lard from the healthiest, happiest pigs is quite inexpensive, very satisfying, and rich in vitamins. Put tons of it in all those beans you cook to make them filling and easy to digest. You can get pork fat very cheaply from a butcher and render it yourself if you like.

(6) Organ meats. Not only are organ meats just teeming with nutrients, but they're less expensive than fancy cuts of steak. Personally, I'd take a braised heart or tongue any day over a steak, but even if you don't share my enthusiasm, try making some chopped liver for supper. It always wins over the liver-phobes.

(7) Porridge. Boxed cereal and ready-made granola are some of the most expensive foods you can buy -- especially given that they're half made of sugar and leave you hungry by ten o'clock. Make your own convenient oatmeal by soaking rolled oats overnight.

Things to avoid:

(8) Storebought alcohol. Ever since college, I have had many friends who complain that they have no money for good food, but spend five or ten dollars a day on alcohol. That's a couple hundred a month. Yes, yes, I understand. If you want it every day, brew your own or go get high on endorphins instead.

(9) Prepared food. Packaged food costs a ridiculous amount of money, and usually contains ingredients you'd never add for yourself -- strange preservatives and whatnot. This includes not just the obvious candy bars, but all sorts of organic faux-wholesome foods. Take packaged instant oatmeal. It's heavily sugared, wrapped in wasteful packaging, and costs ten times as much as plain rolled oats. And tastes like mealy spit-up.

(10) Reduced-fat anything. You'd pay to have someone strip your food of flavor and nutritional value?


Ken Albala said...

You know I LOVE these beans. Can you guess what was served the first night of this 1849 conference I just threw? Scarlet Runners and Venison. Amazing.


j-st-n- said...

Huzzah for lard! As most people in the know will tell you the best flavor comes from the mixing of meat types. However, we can't all buy three different kinds of meat for one meal. Using lard as your saute fat offers a good depth of flavor for meat and meatless dishes alike, not to mention it avoids the whole smoke point oxidation problem. The same concept holds for breakfast cooked in the fat of last night's meat. For pies I prefer a blend of fats since lard doesn't always result in the structural integrity I desire for a good solid pie. Either way if you're using lard, you're eating good!