This week, I will donate the money I would’ve wasted on eating my way out of boredom to Foodbank. This week, my household will donate $449. Add $70 to that and you get the amount on money we spent on food the week before. And not only that, that is $100 MORE than we donated last year.

I just want to say a massive thankyou to everyone who blogged, tweeted, commented and participated in the $35 Challenge this year. The Challenge is all about raising money, raising awareness, and raising hope that perhaps, some day soon, there won’t be so many Australians for whom the next meal will be from a charity, serverely nutrionally deficient or no meal at all.

If you completed the Challenge and/or would like to donate, please fill out the survey below. To purchase your copy of The Potluck Club charity e-cookbook, with all proceeds going to Foodbank, please click here.

Full Name
Email Address
Amount donated

After completing the survey, please click here.


Because The $35 Challenge is based on my own experience, I’d always assumed, without realising it, that it was for people ‘just like me’, whatever that means. But what overwhelms me now is the vast spectrum of people living in poverty. People I’d never even considered- international students, refugees, those living in remote areas. And the list of people at risk of poverty is even more overwhelming – single parents, the unemployed, those who are single and of working age, women over 65, women generally. These are groups who face a unique set of challenges on top of living in poverty.

Last week, I visited Vincentian House, an inner-Sydney crisis accommodation centre run by the St Vincent de Paul Society. The reason for the visit was twofold – I would get to meet the team and see the centre, and we would discuss a way that I could possibly contribute with some kind of resource based on The $35 Challenge. The thinking was that if I could live so frugally, I may have something of value to offer their clients.

Emma, one of the case managers at Vincentian House, starts me off with a tour. The centre is a pristinely clean maze-like place; I would probably get lost if I went there again. We don’t see many people as she shows me around. There are a couple of play rooms, a small library, a computer room, a few meeting rooms, a floor of women’s rooms and two floors of studio apartments for families. The spaces are neat and sparsely decorated, and most floors have balconies.

Emma also shows me the group kitchen where they hold their popular weekly cooking class, which has been run since the centre officially opened in 2009. The kitchen they use is new, and smaller than my kitchen at home. I’m not sure what I’d imagined, I guess I had thought the kitchen would be bigger- not some kind of vast commercial space all kitted out with a bread oven and thermomix, but bigger than the kind of kitchen you find in a 1 bedroom apartment. I have to admire Antonia, the volunteer cooking class facilitator who comes in every week with a goody bag of ingredients in hand and teaches the class whether 10 people show up or 1. She won’t accept reimbursement for her ingredients either.

Vincentian House is classified as crisis accommodation. At capacity, they house over 70 people. The centre takes in single women and family units in crisis. The family units they accommodate are quite diverse; they could be siblings, single fathers with accompanying children, single mothers with a teenage son (over 12) or couples with children. The rationale for taking these kinds of family units is that many family crisis accommodation centres don’t accept men or teenage boys, as many women there will have experienced domestic violence. To prevent familiesfrom being separated, Vincentian House specifically admits these groups.

Each client at Vincentian House has a case manager. The majority of time spent with clients is focused on obtaining housing, usually on completing an application for the priority housing list for housing NSW. This is because finding accommodation is the most time consuming, expensive and crucial thing for those experiencing homelessness. Public housing lists are lengthy and meeting the criteria for the priority list is a complex process based on housing demand, with the private rental market in Sydney extremely competitive to say the least. Those who are allocated public or community housing are often given little choice of where to live, so things like keeping their kids in the same school become a luxury they can ill afford.

Vincentian House also provides Refugee Support Services, a service with a staff of two. Their clients are awaiting refugee status, are not eligible for other forms of income support such as Centrelink payments and cannot work in Australia until their refugee status is granted. They do not live on site and the St Vincent de Paul Society gives them up to $150 per week for up to 6 months. This was something I had not considered- what happens to those awaiting refugee status who live in our community? In many cases they are living far below the poverty line, surviving on charity sand making do with very little.

In crisis, you have to prioritise. Food becomes an optional extra and budgeting virtually non-existent. Case managers at Vincentian House are focused first and foremost on their clients’ wellbeing, with helping their clients find a place to live their main priority. As a result they have very little time and resources for much else. Most of the clients in crisis accommodation are living day to day and thus survive on fast food and prepared meals from the supermarket. What’s cheap or on special at inner-city supermarkets will usually be things like biscuits, soft drink and prepared meals, and buying many components for one meal can often end up quite expensive. Pop down to your local supermarket and try any buy enough ingredients to make a proper dinner and you’ll see what I mean – even just buying veggies, meat (or even tofu or chickpeas), oil, spices and rice will probably work out more expensive than a frozen pizza.

With food as an essential item which paradoxically becomes optional, the hope is that extreme food frugality can arm clients with the tools to save that little bit more money. Although no one in this country should have to live on such a meagre food budget as $35 per week, the reality is that some people are forced to. It is not a question of exercising ‘personal responsibility’ or ‘just trying harder’ or ‘budgeting’.

Because The $35 Challenge is based on my own experience, it is about people just like me. People who at some time in their lives have lived through poverty, or are living through it right now. Maybe they’ve had it easier than me, maybe they’ve had it harder. But we share an experience, an experience any one of us could find ourselves in one day. I am hoping that as our project begins to take shape, my experience of living for a couple of years on a pittance, an experience which frankly, I should never have had and no one else should have either, will be of use to someone, somewhere. And we’re starting with Vincentian House. This will definitely be a challenge, but it’s one I think is well worth taking on.


A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by the lovely Carrie Soderberg for and ABC online. You can read her article here.

I want to thank Carrie and the ABC for the article, and also a big thanks to Foodbank CEO John Webster and Anti-Poverty Week National Liaison Officer with Katheine McCallum for their supportive comments.

It’s not too late to support The $35 Challenge. During Anti-Poverty Week, from October 14-20, you have $5 a day to spend on food. By experiencing poverty for just 7 days, we come to a better understanding of the realities and stresses of living in poverty. By blogging or tweeting this experience, we can raise awareness of an issue so often swept under the rug. And by donating the remainder of the money we would usually spend on food to Foodbank, we can make a real difference. For more info, click here.

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At the heart of it, we food bloggers are food lovers. We all started blogging for different reasons, but the reason we keep going is for the love of food. But it’s important to remember that there are some Australians who aren’t so lucky. Some for whom their next meal will be a struggle, not a celebration. Some for whom ‘bringing a plate’ is a near impossibility. That’s why a bunch of us bloggers came together to release The Potluck Club, an e-cookbook with all proceeds going to Foodbank, Australia’s largest food relief organisation.

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The book retails for just $5.95 and comes in both mobile device-friendly portrait and a pc/printer-friendly landscape formats. You get both when you purchase the book. But more importantly, each copy sold will fund a dozen meals for those in need.

Today I just want to take a moment to thank all the bloggers who have donated their work and their time so that Elise, Amy and I could put together a 50 page e-cookbook of fantastic recipes. We each brought what we could to the table; a recipe, a photo or two and after seven whirlwind weeks from start to finish, it’s done. So thank you.

Ai-ling Truong – Food Endeavors of the Blue Apocalypse
Alana Dimou – Alanabread
Anna Brownrigg – The Littlest Anchovy
Carly Jacobs – Smaggle
Cheri Flewell-Smith – Ms Critique
Christina Soong-Kroeger – The Hungry Australian
Heather Sharpe – The Kitchen Crusader
Helen Lee – Sassybella
Jacky Lo – Shared Plate
John Bek – He Needs Food
Jules Clancy – The Stone Soup
Lorraine Elliott – Not Quite Nigella
Manuela Zangara – Manu’s Menu
Olivia Mackay – Scoff & Quaff
Sandra Reynolds – $120 food challenge
SarahKate Abercrombie – Mi Casa Su Casa
Sarah Shrapnel – Love, Swah
Sharon Chan – Colour me plate
Shez Lee – One Bite More
Sneh Roy – Cook Republic
Sophie West – The Sticky and Sweet

And I also want thank anyone who has purchased the book so far. Your contribution makes a real difference in the fight against poverty. In the last three days we have already raised more than $100 for Foodbank! That’s more than 200 meals.

Well, it’s day three of The $35 Challenge and I have to say I’m a little…fatigued. Last night’s dinner was an inspired but ultimately unimpressive pasta bake in four layers – a tomato-tuna-zuchini-garlic-penne layer, a spanikopita filling layer (half a portion), the pasta again and a layer of bechemal. It was fine, but it was 9:00pm by the time we ate it and I have to admit I was pretty over it by then. That’s a recipe which needs some work, maybe it’ll make an appearance here once it’s fixed. We’re eating a lot of veg, but we’re also eating a lot of carbs, more than usual. We started off with pizza, we’ve had three days of porridge breakfasts, and dinner leftovers for every lunch.

Shopping at the Markets
To be honest, after all the veg we bought, I’m doing a worse job of cooking balanced meals than I expected. The big shop at Paddy’s Markets was relatively stress free; the two of us had $70, we’d spent $10 on pizza ingredients and bought a steak at the butcher, so we went into the markets with about $55 in our pockets. Putting aside $20 for the non-fruit-and-veg items (and inspired idea on the part of my beau), we roved the markets that Sunday arvo and we were ruthless. Brocollini $3.50? Tell ‘em they’re dreaming. Hard tofu $2.30 for 500g? Well, silken firm is $3 for 900g, so that’s the one we’ll get. We came out with everything we were after (or substitutions) and money to spare.

Shopping at Aldi
Our next stop was Aldi, where we planned to buy tinned beans, tuna, flour and pasta. At this point it was about 2pm and we were pretty damn hungry, so we decided we needed to make a lunch decision stat. We went with pork sausages at $2.99 for a pack and a discount loaf of fluffy white bread, to be served with salad. The whole bill came to only $11.50 for 9 items. I spent another $2.95 today for tinned tomatoes and milk. At 59 cents a tin for tomatoes and $1.19 for a litre of full cream milk, I did pause briefly and consider whether or not someone producing these goods could ever make a decent wage. But to be honest, on this budget, that kind of concern is a luxury we can’t afford.

Total Spend
In total, we’ve spent $62.85. And when I look at the numbers on the receipts from Aldi, they are so so low. At an estimate those tomatoes and milk would’ve cost twice that price at my local IGA, and the quality would be no better. That raises another question – that of proximity to cheap food. It’s easy for me to walk the half hour to aldi and pick up a few things for my two person household. But what if you have kids? Or what if you live 50 ks from the nearest large market or supermarket? Or don’t have a car? Or there’s no public transport? It’s a lovely thought that we could all shop at local markets, but if I rock up to Eveleigh Farmer’s Market of a weekend, it’s unlikely I’ll be able feed my household for a week on less than $200.

The final numbers
In the week prior to the challenge this year, our household (2 people) spent a total of $519 on food and drink. $519. On food and drink. Yes there was booze in there, but only eighty bucks. It’s an average daily household spend of $74, $37 per person per day. So basically, this week, we are spending less money of food in a week than we would usually spend in one day.

It’s not too late to support The $35 Challenge. During Anti-Poverty Week, from October 14-20, you have $5 a day to spend on food. By experiencing poverty for just 7 days, we come to a better understanding of the realities and stresses of living in poverty. By blogging or tweeting this experience, we can raise awareness of an issue so often swept under the rug. And by donating the remainder of the money we would usually spend on food to Foodbank, we can make a real difference. For more info, click here.

The other night, Elise was coming round to finalise the launch of our The Potluck Club (you can read more about it here) and offered to bring some takeaway, and also her husband, Chris. But the $35 Food Challenge had just begun, so this was out of the question. So I offered for them to have some pizza with us, as last week, we’d bought a ton of toppings for a pizza that never eventuated. They agreed and offered to bring salad, so basically it was a mini potluck. Since I still had the receipt from Aldi I figured I could subtract the pepperoni, olives and cheese from our big shop the next morning. And then I looked in the cupboard. And there was no flour.

We’d done the exact opposite of what I always advise people – be prepared and do one big shop. So I popped out to our much-loathed local IGA for some flour, only to find black and gold products have been discontinued. My 1 kilo of plain white flour suddenly jumped in price from $1.59 to $2.39. Shit. My stomach dropped. Oh yes, The $35 Food Challenge really has begun.

People who live in poverty are not able to participate in many of the activities we take for granted. This could be anything from sending your child on a school excursion, to a visit to the dentist, to having your friends around for dinner. Foolishly, we decided the first night of the Challenge to do the latter of the three.

Imagine your friend invites you round for dinner. Your automatic response? Great! I’ll bring a bottle of wine. But you have no wine. And you have no money to buy any. Or maybe you have enough cash for a really shitty $4 bottle of wine. Will that be good enough? Maybe you just tell them you can’t go, I’m sick, or I’m busy, or something. Anyway, I’ll never be able to return the favour.

That was the feeling that hit me in the supermarket aisle. And it occurred to me that since I was doing the Challenge, since I INVENTED the challenge, I could tell Elise and Chris about the flour, a funny story, and publish it on my blog. Nice one, Lauren, you’ve just created some content. But if this were really my financial situation I’m not sure I could laugh it off. It wouldn’t be blog material. And when my dinner guests showed up, I certainly wouldn’t be telling them this story. You want your guests to feel welcome.

In the end, we had a great night, ate up all the pizza and the delicious salad Chris had made and drank the last of our wine. It made me realise though that there’s a conversation we need to be having about poverty and about that taboo subject, money. It needs to be ok to say we can’t afford something this week or it is just not in our budget. I doubt very much that your imaginary friend who invited you round for dinner would want you to stay home because you don’t have the cash for a bottle of wine or a box of choccies.

This is exactly why we started The Potluck Club in the first place; to share a meal among friends, to contribute what we can. It’s why 20+ bloggers donated their work for free to put together an e-cookbook of recipes to share among friends, and to raise money for Foodbank.

Maybe having friends around for dinner wasn’t a wise financial decision that week, but it was worth that short lived panic in the supermarket aisle to enjoy an evening with friends.

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In support of Anti-Poverty Week (October 14-20) and in partnership with the $35 Food Challenge, a group of Aussie food bloggers have come together to launch an e-cookbook of simple and affordable recipes called ‘The Potluck Club’, at the low price of $5.95. All proceeds from the book are going to Foodbank Australia via The $35 Food Challenge. By purchasing a copy of ‘The Potluck Club’ you will be doing your bit to in the fight against poverty and not only cooking for yourself but cooking for a cause.

This week I had the nerve racking but ultimately rewarding experience of presenting a talk (twice) on The $35 Food Challenge as part of the City of Sydney Library’s ‘Lunches with Bite’. It would be an understatement to say it was a fantastic experience. Once I started talking I found I just couldn’t shut my mouth. And the reason is this.

It is estimated that 2.2 million Australians live in poverty. That’s 11% of us, and that percentage has been increasing over the years. Well may we say that Australia, as a whole, has weathered the global financial crisis and its aftershocks. Well may we say that as a population, we are objectively materially better off than at any time in our history, and yet convinced we’re all hard done by. But for that 11% of us for whom something like meeting a friend for coffee, going to a restaurant, catching a bus, ordering a pizza, recharging their mobile phone credit or even using their heating in winter is something they really have to weigh up, that kind of information brings little comfort, if any.

In fact, it is a slap in the face to every person living in poverty, because if we are so well off, why are those people not being taken care of? Why are Australians in poverty not being given to opportunities the rest of us have? In fact, why is there ONE SINGLE AUSTRALIAN LIVING IN POVERTY AT ALL? Why is there any one of us for whom a visit to the doctor, or the dentist, or an interstate relative is a complete financial impossibility? And WHY the FUCK are there children in this country, IN THIS CITY who don’t have access to the coloured pencils they need to do their homework, or enough food for their school lunch? AND WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT??

*Ahem*. You can consider that rant as bonus content. They certainly didn’t get that at lunches with bite.

I can’t thank Ellen Lowry and the rest of the folks at the library enough for having me, I really appreciate having an opportunity to speak on this subject. A huge thank you also to everyone who came out to hear about the Challenge, especially those of you who asked questions, made comments and generally got angry about poverty in Australia and creative about how to navigate your way through the process of going without. When this was just a kernel of an idea, I never imagined it would get anywhere near the kind of attention and uptake it has so far, and it is only growing.

And on the subject of thank yous, did I tell you there’s a $35 Food Challenge Food Spending Tracking App? You can find it at, it is free (you just need a name and password to use it). The app was designed, completely unprompted and at no cost whatsoever, by Jacky Lo of the blog Food Rules, who had the idea, emailed me to ask if it was ok (to which I replied OH MY GOD YES THAT WOULD BE AMAZING SORRY TO YELL AT YOU IN CAPS, or words to that effect) and the rest is history.

I also had a few requests for the powerpoint slides I used, you can download them here. The reports I referred to in the presentation are here and here, however ACOSS (The Australian Council of Social Services) will release their most comprehensive survey of poverty in Australia to date tomorrow, to mark the beginning of Anti-Poverty Week. You should also check out Four Corners’ ‘Growing up poor’ if you get a chance.

*Phew*. So, The $35 Food Challenge starts tomorrow. Are you ready?

It’s not too late to support The $35 Challenge. During Anti-Poverty Week, from October 14-20, you have $5 a day to spend on food. By experiencing poverty for just 7 days, we come to a better understanding of the realities and stresses of living in poverty. By blogging or tweeting this experience, we can raise awareness of an issue so often swept under the rug. And by donating the remainder of the money we would usually spend on food to Foodbank, we can make a real difference. For more info, click here.

So its full steam ahead with The Potluck Club as we’ve been compiling and proofing recipes, chasing up submissions and sorting through ph

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otos. 24 bloggers have submitted a total of about 35 original recipes and as many photos. A huge thank you to everyone who has submitted their work to help raise money for Foodbank, in conjuction with The $35 Challenge.

This October, as part of the the City of Sydney Libraries’ ‘Lunches with bite’ series, I will be presenting a couple of talks on The $35 Challenge – one on Tuesday October 9th at the King’s Cross Library and one on Friday 12th of October at Custom’s House Library. The talks are on the week before the challenge, to get you ready-slash-psyched. Both talks are free but places are limited, so if you’re interested, follow the links to register.

I’ll also be hosting a recipe swap at the Glebe Library in November. We’re encouraging everyone to bring their favourite home recipes, cookbooks and food blog links – we’re calling it an ‘old-fashioned-meets-social-media recipe swap’. I’m both excited and phenomenally terrified, so come on down. If nothing else, it’ll be good for a laugh.

Since its been all about the e-cookbook lately, I thought it a good idea to post an actual recipe. I’ve been eating roasted cauliflower all winter as a side dish, but it also makes a fab ‘share plate’, as the kids say. Serve it with crusty bread and mediterranean dips, or maybe as a side to roast chicken or a comforting casserole.

Roasted Cauliflower Shareplate with Red Capsicum and Goat’s Cheese

  • 1 large red capsicum (you will only need half of what you roast)
  • 1 small head of cauliflower (about 900g), sliced into pieces of about 2cm thickness
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • the juice of half a lemon
  • a very generous slosh of extra virgin olive oil, to coat the cauliflower
  • 1 tsp baharat or, failing that, ground cumin
  • freshly cracked salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 50g goat’s cheese
  • chopped continental parsley, to garnish

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees c. Roast the capsicum in a large baking dish, turning every 10 minutes or so, until soft and slightly blackened. Put to one side in a bowl and when no longer hot but still warm, cover with cling wrap to sweat.

Toss the remaining ingredients together (except cheese and parsley) in a large bowl to coat the cauliflower. Pour onto the tray used to bake the capsicum. Turn the oven down to 175 degrees c and bake for 30 minutes. Then turn over the cauliflower and bake a further 15-30 minutes until soft and slightly brown.

Meanwhile, skin the almost-cool capsicum, discarding the stem and seeds. Slice finely.

Arrange the cauliflower on a plate, draping the capsicum and dolloping the goat’s cheese as desired. Share with friends.

The Sydney Food Bloggers Picnic 2012, hosted by Suze and Helen.

The Potluck Club
The Potluck Club is a new ecookbook of simple, affordable recipes that anyone can cook. A fundraising initiative for The $35 Food Challenge, the ebook will be sold to raise money for Foodbank Australia.  A collaboration between food bloggers and budding home chefs, we are now seeking submissions for our first issue.

  1. Submit 1-2 original recipes of 200-300 words and a brief 50 word bio by Tuesday September 4th 2012 to or
  2. Submit 1 high resolution photo (minimum height 1000px) per recipe and one avatar (300px square – optional).

Please note: Recipe photos will be cropped to fit our layout and cropped images will be roughly square in shape. With this in mind, please send photos with plenty of space around the food, suitable to be cropped – pre photo-shop photos are fine.

Deadline: Submissions close Tuesday September 4th.

What are we looking for?
We welcome a wide variety of recipe submissions to The Potluck Club, however the emphasis is on affordable food, so steer clear of hard to find or expensive ingredients- no truffle oil, expensive cuts of meat, isreali couscous, purslane,  etc.

We would love anything that is culturally specific or that people might not know how to make (shakshouka, summmer rolls) or really on trend (peanut butter bacon maple hotcakes, easy pulled pork)…while still being relatively inexpensive.

The book will be in 3 sections:

  1. Share Plates and Sides
  2. Something Substantial
  3. Sweets

The fine print:

  1. You are welcome to submit previously published recipes and images, on the understanding that they are your original work and you retain the rights to them.
  2. You can submit as many recipes as you like, but we will only publish a maximum of 2 recipes from each contributor. All contributions must be received via email by Saturday September 4th.
  3. We encourage you to promote The Potluck Club on your own blog and will provide a visual ‘badge’ to link to our online store so that your readers may purchase it.
  4. As The Potluck Club is a fundraising e-book, with all profits going to Foodbank Australia, submissions will not be paid for, however all recipes will be attributed to you and include your blog url. Your bio and picture will also be included in the ecookbook (submitting a photo of yourself is optional).
  5. If your photographs do not fit with the ecookbook aesthetic, we reserve the right to re-photograph your dish. We also reserve the right to reformat your recipe/s to fit with our layout.

The Potluck Club
Elise Phillips and Lauren Quinn

The Stats
If you only have $5 a day to spend on food, all it takes is $3 coffee and suddenly 60% of your daily food budget is spent. The fact is, this is reality for many Australians. In Australia, approximately 2.2 million people live below the poverty line – 11.1%. That’s 2.2 million Australians without access to basic necessities like healthy food, dental care, transport, affordable housing and education. This is in spite of the fact that Australians as a whole are living through good economic times.

How is this possible? What can we do?
The $35 Challenge asks you to experience poverty. During Anti-Poverty Week, from October 14-20, you have $5 a day to spend on food. For 1 week, experience what it feels like to eat below the poverty line. By experiencing poverty for just 7 days, we can come to a better understanding of the reality of living in poverty, and raise awareness of an issue so often swept under the rug. And by donating the remainder of the money we would usually spend on food to Foodbank, we can make a real difference.

Get involved!
There are 5 main ways to get involved in The $35 Challenge:
1. Participate in The $35 Challenge.
2. Blog your experiences of The $35 Challenge (sign up below).
3. Promote The $35 Challenge on your blog/twitter feed.
5. Donate to The $35 Challenge (details to come).

I hope you will join me in The $35 Food challenge, as we do our bit to raise awareness and funds in the fight against poverty.

What to do next:

Register now!

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