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All You Can Eat

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April 16, 2009 at 2:04 PM

Can you eat on $7 a day? What if you had to? How would you do it?

All You Can Eat, like many food blogs, celebrates the ways we love to eat: at home, in restaurants, perhaps with a glass of good wine in one hand and a friend or loved one nearby. I talk with you regularly about dining out, frequently mentioning some of the city’s more expensive venues: ones worth saving up the big bucks to explore. And I’ve turned you on to great restaurant-values and to the many cheap-eateries I frequent, whether I’m dining in or taking out.

Of course, I also exhort your support for businesses like FareStart, whose beautiful downtown restaurant employs the homeless and disadvantaged, and whose training program helps feed those in need and assists students in finding work in the hospitality industry. And St. Clouds, whose community efforts to feed the hungry include monthly “Homeless Cooking Wednesdays” — where friends and neighbors gather in Madrona to help feed those who don’t have a kitchen to cook in, or the money or wherewithal to cook. But hunger goes beyond homelessness and into the homes of many, and that’s where United Way of King County comes in.

United Way wants all of us to be more keenly aware of how hunger affects our lives and community. With unemployment growing and wallets shrinking, food banks and meals programs are overburdened and donations are down at a time when they’re needed most. To that end, United Way is asking all of us to do what we can to take part in Hunger Action Week, held next week on April 20 through 24. Through their efforts and ours, they’re hoping to create a “hunger-free community” — one that has a greater sense of what hunger truly means.

Posing the question, “If you had a choice between buying groceries and paying your rent, how would you choose?” they’re asking me to tell you that everywhere we turn the working poor are choosing a roof over their heads over a full fridge, cupboard and belly. And noting that far too many people in our community are being hit exceptionally hard as they choose to pay rent, utilities, transportation costs and medical bills while cutting back on food costs in order to do so.

Any idea how much the Washington food-assistance program (“food stamps”) provides an individual enrolled in the program? Seven bucks a day. Less than a fabulous bacon cheese burger with onion rings at Red Mill Burgers, a medium bowl of pho with “extra meat” at Than Brothers, a plate of charcuterie at Cafe Presse and a sashimi appetizer at Kisaku — the very foods I treat myself to often. And yes, that’s less than a couple of mocha grandes at your favorite coffee shop.

So, here’s what United Way of King County want us to do: get involved. Here’s how:

Donate money to Response to Basic Needs. Your gift will support food banks and meal programs that ensure people will have healthy food for their families. You can also donate directly to your local food bank or programs like Northwest Harvest and Food Lifeline, among others.

Volunteer. Serve a meal, stock a food pantry — find hundreds of ways to get involved on the volunteering section of the United Way Web site, with volunteering opportunities throughout the region.

Post your thoughts, stories, photos, recipes and more on the United Way blog. Tell everyone you know about Hunger Action Week and encourage them to get involved.

Check out United Way’s hunger fact sheet. Knowledge drives action to end hunger.

Take the Hunger Challenge: As an exercise in empathy, you’ll eat on only $7 a day (see below for additional household members), then share your story, recipes, shopping tips and reaction. The rules for this are as follows:

1) Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner spending only $7 a day (multiplied as follows: 2/$12, 3/$18, 4/$22, 5/$26, 6/$32, 7/$35, 8/$45).

2) Salt and pepper don’t count, but all other seasonings, cooking oils, condiments, snacks, drinks and everything else does.

3) Don’t use food you already own.

4) Don’t accept food from family, friends, coworkers and others — not even the free samples from Costco!

5) Try to include fresh produce and healthy protein each day.

Work/life issues will keep me from taking the challenge next week, but I plan to write a check to my local food bank and I hope, if you’re able, you consider helping the cause in whatever way possible — even if it’s just by spreading the word, as United Way suggests.

Meanwhile, since so many folks are trying to find ways to cut meal costs these days, I’d like to solicit some ideas from you Eaters for delicious, nutritious and inexpensive meals — and places to shop for them.

Me? Thinking out loud, I’d buy a chicken, roast it with some carrots and potatoes, use the leftovers for chicken salad sandwiches on homemade no-knead bread and make soup using the carcass, leaving out some broth for seasoning. I’d hit one of my favorite Asian supermarkets and roadside produce stand (just reopened!) for many of my shopping needs, make good use of eggs (an asparagus and cream cheese omelet for dinner), canned sardines (a cheap source of protein, plus I love ’em), and pasta: sauteed with fresh greens and the fond (that schmutz on the bottom of the pan) saved from my chicken-roasting:

I’d stock up on grains and lentils (for this filling soup), making better use than I usually do of garbanzo beans, split peas and black-eyed peas (Mac’s favorites), shop for meat bargains for making Nate’s favorite curry (QFC often has worthy markdowns if I hit the butcher counter at the right time, Albertson’s prices rock and don’t forget those Asian and other “ethnic” markets!). And maybe I’d even give up my expensive coffee and finally get around to roasting my own using the green coffee beans I bought at the Ethiopian grocery store.

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