When you are doing a poverty or hunger challenge like Live Below The Line and shopping for 5 days food with only $8.75 per person you don’t think you have a lot of choices. But you do. Especially here in downtown Toronto where it’s a short walk to 7 or more grocery stores, 2 major markets, 2 Chinatowns and countless corner stores.
You can choose where to shop. You can choose alternative proteins like TVP or tofu. You can choose from a wide variety of cheap carbs to fill you up. You can even choose from a vast array of bulk spices at places like the Bulk Barn where it’s easy to get 5¢ of cinnamon or 7¢ of black pepper. You even have choices of how finely ground you want your pepper.
As I was shopping I was thinking about how few choices many people have in what they can buy. In some cases the cost of transportation can affect their ability to get to the stores with better prices, or more selection or better quality. In others, it’s just the lack of choice.
My Food Choices
Note: this is for 2 people, so our budget is $17.50. There should be a ¢ sign beside most of the numbers. The editing tool dropped that when I hit save and I’m too lazy to do it all over again.
What I did chose:
I spent 50¢ on salt, pepper, cinnamon, celery seed (which packs more punch and is easier to buy in small quantities than celery) and chili flakes. I got a little sugar, molasses, and 2 heads of garlic. And I got them all because I don’t want to get bored with what I’m eating on top of being hungry. I also find that the bigger the flavour the less I need to eat, so flavour helps in portion control for me.
I got a number of things just before the St. Lawrence Market closed. I got them cheap because they were bruised or just on the edge of overripe and wouldn’t last until the market opened up again on Tuesday. Not a problem for me. They all got cleaned up and trimmed. The apples immediately went into a compote. The pepper got diced and thrown in the freezer and the mushrooms are in a paper bag drying nicely.
Most of the meat I got are considered off cuts. I got 3/4kg of beautiful salmon belly for $1.65 just by asking the guy behind the fish counter if they sold fish heads or bones for stock. We’re going to have a wonderful meal tonight on that and the rest will go into a fish soup.
The turkey back I got for 93¢ still has a lot of meat on it, so I’m planning on roasting that too and then make a soup with chive dumplings (flour, water, a pinch of salt and a pinch of baking soda.)
What I didn’t chose:
I went into the stores expecting to get rice. Rice has been a staple in my home my entire life. Day in and day out, I prefer it to pasta or potatoes, however when checking out the nutrient charts at Bulk Barn even the white pasta beat out the brown rice in a nutritional value comparison. We figure it’s because the flour is fortified, but whatever way you look at it 99¢ for 900g of pasta is going to serve us better than the equivalent amount of rice (which as I priced it would be over $3 at the bulk barn.)
I drink one cup of coffee every morning but coffee is not in this budget, at least not the way I was choosing things.
I thought I might be able to get away with buying 5 chocolate covered coffee beans, but those came in at 5¢ a piece! That’s more than a 1/4c of my apple compote costs. So no coffee, not even chocolate covered coffee, for me.
Okay, no one really thought we’d get cookies on this budget. But when I saw that the Bulk Barn also had mini cookies I had to at least check if we could squeeze one mini cookie in a day. I tested with 5 oatmeal for Gerry and 5 gingersnaps for me. Turns out they cost 4-5¢ each. Not bad if you have the budget for it. This week we do not.
I considered making pasta, and even price the semolina. I thought it would be a nice and distracting way to get some pasta into our menu. But again, I can’t make the equivalent of 900g of dried pasta for 99¢. Not a chance with each egg costing 17¢ and flour setting me back between 25¢ per 100g.
What do you think of my choices? What choices would you have made?
There are a lot of things I would have liked to add, but I’m pretty happy with what we’ve got for the next 5 days given the constraints.
Note: this post is part of my Live Below The Line series where I will be on a $1.75 food & drink budget from April 29th-May 3rd.
This is a game for me but a serious reality for 1.4 billion people in our world today. Help support me by donating, or supporting Second Harvest and Daily Bread Food Bank.
If you want to know more about what I’m involved in, you can read my disclosure statement here.