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.
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 spending.the35dollarchallenge.com, 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.
The $35 Challenge has only just begun and I’m already feeling the pinch – isn’t that pathetic?
The weekends are usually times we spend doing what we like and eating what we like, telling ourselves it’s a reward for a hard week’s work. Usually Senhor R and I will eat out a few times, grab a few coffees and spend an evening or afternoon in the pub. Harmelss weekend fun.
But it’s becoming all too clear to me that food and eating are my main pastimes. There isn’t anything wrong with food as a hobby, but eating? I’m not so sure. I can’t help but think back to times when I was less well off – I ate healthier than I do now, which flies in the face of almost every statistic on poverty and nutrition. And having just spent a week in bed with a head cold and resulting middle ear infection, I can’t help but think Senhor R is right when he points out that my current lifestyle isn’t really the path to a strong immune system.
I have been productive though. I’ve scoured the freezer, fridge and pantry and put together a veg-heavy menu for this week. It’s really made me appreciate the stuff we keep on hand. It’s the starting point for any meal. These are my 5 pantry must-haves, a pretty dull, but essential list.
If I’m at a loss for what to make, pasta takes 10 minutes to cook and goes with pretty much everything. I usually buy Barilla spaghetti no 5, but this week on the $35 challenge I’m testing out a 59 cent pack of spaghetti from woolies to see if my brand loyalty is warranted.
2. Tinned tomatoes
If you have tinned tomatoes, you have an amazing tomato sauce. Just fry some onions and garlic, add the tomatoes and a slosh of wine and simmer for up to an hour. Add a pinch of sugar at the end and it’s perfect for pasta, pizza or even on toast.
3. Extra virgin olive oil
I wait until it’s on special and then buy one of those massive 4 litre tins for about 20 bucks. If I could only have one kind of oil, this would be it. As it stands I currently have canola and sesame as well but they’re really just extras.
4. Basmati rice
It’s the rice with the lowest GI and also the easiest to cook. 1 cup of rice with 1½ cups water simmered for 20 minutes with the lid sealed tight and then left to sit for 5 – perfect every time. Just stir fry some veg and meat while the rice cooks.
This is my breakky staple whenever I’m skint. It’s also the key to ANZAC bikkies.
Find my porridge recipe below.
Lau’s Porridge (serves 1)
1/3 cup oats
About 1 cup water
A slosh of milk (whatever type)
Sweetener – honey, brown sugar, golden syrup
Dried fruit/nuts/fresh chopped fruit
On the back of a packet of oats they’ll tell you porridge consists of chucking equal amounts of oats and water into a pan and simmering until done. For me, porridge is more akin to risotto. I put the oats in a pan and then add a good slosh of water. Give it a stir while it simmers and once the water is soaked in, add some more and if you’re adding dried fruit, nuts or fresh banana, do so now. Keep adding water and stirring in until you’ve got the consistency you’re after. At that point, stir through some milk and turn off the heat.
Serve immediately with a slosh of cold milk, a sprinkling of brown sugar and whatever fresh fruit you have on hand – in my case, I used strawberries but you can use blueberries, pear, banana (although I like to add bananas early on so they get mushy) or whatever you fancy.
It’s not too late to support the $35 Challenge. During Anti-Poverty Week, from October 16-22, participantshave $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 those 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 OzHarvest, we can make a real difference.
What are your pantry must-haves?
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. That’s 11.1%. of us without access to basic necessities like healthy food, dental care, transport, affordable housing and education. The $35 Challenge aims to raise awareness of this fact, along with raising money for a worthy charity – OzHarvest.
The $35 Challenge asks you to experience poverty. During Anti-Poverty Week, from October 16-22, 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 OzHarvest, we can make a real difference.
Take the pledge!
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.
3. Promote The $35 Challenge on your blog/twitter feed.
4. Organise a a ‘Shout Lunch, Fight Hunger’ event in your workplace during anti-poverty week.
5. Donate to The $35 Challenge.
I hope you will join me in the inaugural $35 food challenge, as we do our bit to raise awareness and funds in the fight against poverty.
For the first few years I lived out of home, I remember quite clearly my grocery budget – $35 a week. That number is burned into my brain. $35 after rent, bills, a weekly train ticket and whatever uni required that week. And that’s if nothing else came up. When you only have $35 to live on, essentials tend to fall by the wayside. In fact, they have to. This was my experience. I’d have a coffee once a week, and my aunt paid. I only went to bulk-billing doctors in my area, all of whom were overworked and uninspired. I barely exercised, except to rush between the places I needed to go. I didn’t buy shoes. I didn’t go to the dentist for 6 years. Eventually I dropped out of uni and went and worked fulltime in a cafe.
And if you think I was frittering away my money on trivial things, you’re wrong. I never ate in restaurants. Me and my housemate drank two beers a week together, and that’s only because our pub had a thing called ‘free beer Wednesday’, so that cost us all of $3.80 each. My Friday ‘treat’ was a $4.50 toasted sandwich at the uni tuckshop. For my 20th birthday, I treated myself to a new top, $15 at Myer.
What’s crazy is that I didn’t know that I was living in poverty.
I don’t remember those times as miserable, in fact, I remember them as a lot of fun. But when I look back on it now I’m amazed at my resourcefulness, I’m amazed at anyone’s resourcefulness at surviving on so little for so long. I’m also very thankful for the family and friends who kept me from going under- I don’t know where I would be without their help. Many people out there don’t have such support network, I have no idea how they struggle through each day.
This is not a hard luck story, but it is an example of what it’s like to live in poverty. And what’s worse it’s not uncommon. Approximately 2.2 million Australians live in poverty. That’s 11.1% of us without access to basic necessities like healthy food, dental care, transport, affordable housing and education. In a country of relative wealth, in stable economic times, I think we can all agree that is a disgrace.
But this is not about despair, it’s about action. It’s time to act to raise awareness rather than hiding our heads in the sand. That’s what we’re aiming to do with The $35 Challenge; experience poverty, raise awareness and raise money for a worthy charity, Ozharvest, who do so much for Australians in poverty.
I hope you will join us in the inaugural $35 Challenge, as we do our bit to raise awareness and funds in the fight against poverty. Every little bit helps.
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