Posted by: A Part of the Solution | September 13, 2011

Slow Food USA $5 Challenge

On September 17th, Slow Food USA is challenging dedicated consumers to create ‘Value Meals’ which don’t cost more than a plate of fast food. AND which don’t rely on heinous labor practices, lots of petrochemicals, and trading off long-term health concerns for short-term convenience. Do I just love the folks at Slow Food or what?

Happily, the $5 per plate limit is actually more than I usually spend to get my household fed. And even more so at this time of year when so much of everything we consume comes right out of the garden. Sure, we paid for seed and fertilizer.  Sure we spent time weeding and mulching and pruning and so forth. But bean-for-bean, the produce we raise isn’t costly in terms of actual dollars.

If you want to give the Slow Food USA $5 Challenge a spin on September 17th, let me offer a few tips for keeping the cost of dinner down without compromising on taste.

Make Stock: Stock is composed of veggie scraps, and if you use flesh in your cooking animal parts as well–those that might otherwise be thrown out, like bones and cartilaginous bits. Stock means you’ll have the base for a stew, soup or sauce which cost you a couple of common vegetables and the space you didn’t use in your garbage can or compost heap.

Use Beans: These guys are flavorful and inexpensive both. What more could you ask for? Oh yeah, nutritious as all get-out. Cook them in that stock you just made and they’ll be even more delicious. If you’re using canned instead (much more expensive, really), you still want to simmer the beans in some stock for a few minutes to take that ‘canned’ edge off them. Here are some of the bean recipes I’ve already posted on the blog: Frijoles Negros, Gypsy Soup, Cassoulet, Lima Bean Stew, Beans ‘n’ Greens.

Add Seasonal Vegetables: This time of year, almost everything is ripe in the garden and harvestable in stunning quantities. So hit the farmers market for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, brassicas (kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage), potatoes, beets, green beans, you name it. It’s out there and it’s cheap as well as flavorful. If you live in the temperate zone, stay away from tropicals which traveled thousands of miles to get to your food store. I won’t even begin to link to all the veggie recipes I’ve posted. But I encourage you to explore this blog-site and any other food-focused locations on the web or in your home (say, in cookbooks) to find lovely recipes for inexpensive, nutrition packed delights.

Add Dessert: Don’t use bunches of sugar. Instead, serve fresh peaches or melons at their absolute peak. Or make an apple crisp–the cost limiting factor in my recipe is the handful of nuts and the maple syrup in the topping. You could even find a really sweet apple and cut back on the sugar even more (use only honey and maple syrup in the crisp for a truly locavorous experience).

Stay Away From: factory-farmed meats–even if they’re inexpensive, the cost to the environment, your health and karma is too high; most dairy–unless you’re using only a few ounces, the cost for the locally produced stuff is pretty stiff; imported oils–again, they travel too far to keep them genuinely in the spirit of the Slow Food event.

Happy Eating!



  1. The oil part stumps me. I had been using Canola for years, but it was whispered to me recently that most Canola is GMO now. Not sure where to turn, and adding “not trucked halfway around the country” adds a problem.

    If anyone has suggestions, I’m ready for ’em!

    • Oil is the hard part whenever I meditate on how to be more locavorous yet. I use the grease from my bacon, and save the fat from baked meats and use that as much as I can. By some time next month, I’ll have Buckland Farm lard–lots of it and low in cholesterol raising components. Other than building a nut press, or keeping a few cows, I don’t really known what the ‘right’ answer is. Especially for urban types, who can’t keep a cow. But maybe the urban types could get a ‘cow share’ and turn some of the milk to butter?

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