Recently, Mr. Foodie and I stopped by our local library to browse their food writing section. I was in heaven seeing the many stacks filled with food writing after our experience with only three shelves in the Keys library. While I, like many of you I suppose, get most of my recipe ideas from online sources (hello Pinterest!), I still love the experience of reading cookbooks and, of course, food memoirs. I like studying how cookbook authors make decisions about what recipes to include, what stories to tell, and how they give instructions (some of which leave much to be desired). This week I picked my way through The Working Class Foodies Cookbook (WCFC). It caught my eye because Mr. Foodie and I are definitely on a tight budget, and yet we love to eat, cook, and bake on the regular. On the one hand, cooking all our own meals saves us money, but on the other, we can get carried away sometimes with primo ingredients (or I should say Mr. Foodie gets carried away; I tend to be more cautious). In any case, funding our recipe-making is always an ever-present factor in our cooking and baking lifestyle.
WCFC is written by Rebecca Lando who describes her conversion to eating only foods sourced locally, from small, organic farms as the basis for developing this cookbook. While her recipes are tasty and generally well-written, the most interesting part of her book is her chapters on how to adopt this lifestyle on the cheap and how to stock your pantry effectively. Her advice on getting to know the farmers at the market and/or getting a deal for the bruised, ripe fruit is something I can get behind, and, in fact, something my family does fairly regularly. And I would highly recommend her “Cooking from the Pantry” chapter to anyone interested in cooking more homemade meals. First, I like it because unlike some pie-in-the-sky “stock your pantry” chapters I’ve read (Is truffle oil, really a “staple”? C’mon), hers aligns fairly closely with my own which is based most definitely on following a fairly strict food budget. I also like how she notes “Not every item listed here is necessary” – and to build your pantry around the things you will actually cook. She gives some examples of how a well-stocked pantry can stretch your groceries further than you think, but I feel like she could have had a whole chapter on that – most people would *love* to know more about how oats and flour can transform your overripe apples into the most amazing dessert or breakfast, or how a little cauliflower and butter can morph into one of the tastiest pasta sauces you’ve ever had. Finally, I loved her advice about multi-tasking and using everything. Something many chefs and instructors neglect to address is the costs of time, energy, and ingredients when it comes to budget-friendly meals. Rebecca addresses this at some length, returning to it throughout the book: boiling potatoes? Save the water for making a stock. Chopping veggies for grilling? Save the end bits for said stock. Preheating the oven for a casserole? Toast up some Kale chips while you’re at it. And like many home chefs suggest, she is a proponent of setting aside one half of a day each week to do food prep (the cost of time!) to make everything easier, healthier, and less expensive throughout the week.
Where it falls apart for me is her contention that she can, using only fresh, organic, locally-sourced ingredients from CSAs and farmer’s markets, make each meal for $8 or less. The other day Mr. Foodie and I went to our local farmer’s market and spent $8 on four pears alone. Given that this book was published in 2013 (and therefore written possibly earlier), I will allow for some inflation differences and the impact of the “Great Recession.” Even so, it seems like a slightly outlandish declaration for someone living in my area in 2016. I have not, however, implemented this lifestyle fully or tested some of her money-saving advice (such as shopping around in a farmer’s market or joining a CSA), so I cannot say with authority that her claim is incorrect. The few experiences I’ve had with farmer’s markets, however, lead me to believe that buying all my groceries here would definitely double my grocery bill each week. I know the health trade-offs might be worth it, but our budget is what it is at the moment. Perhaps I’ll give it a partial go and return with an update later this year.
Do you follow Rebecca’s advice on the regular? Does her estimations hold up? I’d love to hear about it!