Good and Cheap: Eat Well On $4 A Day
By Leanne Brown
Leanne: Hi there. I'm Leanne Brown and I'm the author of Good and Cheap, Eat Well on Four Dollars a Day.
Suzy Chase: This cookbook is so timely. Food and security is huge problem around the world and right in our backyard in the United States. Forty-six million Americans have to survive on four dollars a day through the food stamp program. Leanne, what prompted you to address this issue in your new cookbook, Good and Cheap, Eat Well on Four Dollars a Day?
Leanne: Well, so it was a combination of things. I certainly think you know the numbers that you just quoted really, really struck me. I think part of the reason that really in particular struck me was that I grew up in Canada and I moved to New York City about four years ago to begin the food studies program, the master's degree at NYU. There's forty-six million people living on food stamps. You know and millions more who are sort of on edges of that and there's only thirty-five million people in all of Canada. That really struck me as a really significant issue. I just think, I mean you hear those numbers and how you can not want to do something to address it.
Beyond that, I'd always really loved cooking. I had really come into the program thinking, yeah I want to be open minded and sort of see where this takes me but I also really want to spread my own personal joy of cooking and because I think it's one of the most powerful things we can do in our lives to just improve things, improve our health and just connect ourselves with food a little bit better.
What sort of better way to do that and when this issue came up and I had a lot of experiences during my degree that really lead me to realize that I think I'm sort of uniquely good at expressing, at really showing people that it's cooking and not budget that is the key to really, really good food.
Suzy Chase: So for any home cook on a budget this cookbook is a strategy guide. Give us some of your best super market strategies.
Leanne: Sure. It depends on where you're starting. You know, what your general habits are in the super market but one of the things is you're going to want to just start buying things in their most sort of raw state. Buying uncooked grains and dried beans and things like that. Then in the produce section you know there's some small things that you can do that will save you money in a big way. Those are buying things sort of in bulk, buying things like potatoes and onions and things that last quite a long time. Buying larger bags of those usually, it's less expensive. Now, of course, you should check and make sure that the cost per pound is in fact cheaper, not just sort of make that assumption. But for the most part it will be.
Doing things like rather than sort of buying the sort of perfect bag of freshly washed lettuce, which is usually double the price of the bunch of lettuce. Buy that bunch of lettuce and just wash it at home. Buy the bag of carrots rather than the sort of similar one pound bag of baby carrots, which is one of those funny things that is about double the price and really has almost no difference. It's just that they've sort of processed the carrots into baby carrots.
Suzy Chase: I know, they're not even babies. Right?
Leanne: Nope, it's just a name for chopped up sort of made to look like smaller carrots.
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Leanne: There's all kinds of things like that and then the other, this is a really big sort of super market in general cooking tool that I really recommend is to just think about buying and to think about making a pantry that is uniquely your own. That is made up of the sorts of things that you like to cook with so that you can have food on the table sort of quickly, most of time. For me, that means always buying eggs and it means making sure that I have things like canned tomatoes and maybe some pasta, rice, dried beans, things like that always around and dried spices so that then depending on the season, I can buy the wonderful seasonal fruits and vegetables and be inspired by that to make sort of a variety of meals.
Things like, I have this one recipe in the book that I always feel is really great example. It's the crustless quiche. So you take onions and you caramelize them on your beautiful crust and you sort of spread that on the bottom of your plate. Then you take whatever you know vegetables you happen to have around. Maybe it's the lovely fresh cauliflower that you bought yesterday. But maybe it's the little bits of wilted spinach that you had from earlier in the week and the like half a tomato from making a sandwich and maybe it's the leftover cabbage. It could be anything. You know, pieces of little chunks of ham from something. You throw that into your dish then you make your egg custard which is just you know eggs, some kind of dairy, often a little bit of cheese, you whip it up and you pour it over whatever you've decided to put in there. And then you bake it. That's really what you have.
I want people to sort of be in a position to be able to make, to sort of have dishes like that. They'll like I'll just make my quiche with this. You know, I'm just going to make my fried rice with this, my whatever sort of basic really flexible recipe and be able to substitute whatever you happen to have around. Whatever is seasonal, whatever sort of jumps to mind. Rather than having to go off to the store constantly to buy things for really specific recipes. I want people to be set up to walk into your kitchen, look at your pantry and just be able to make out of it whatever you have around so that you're not wasting and you're really just using every last ...
Suzy Chase: I love how you even have included a seasonal chart. Because I kind of think of lettuce as all seasons.
Leanne: Well and the funny thing is, I mean that was kind of a difficult thing. We tried to create a general guide for seasonality for the United States but of course the United States is a huge, huge place and every part has differences. You know, the Pacific Northwest has very different seasons than the Northeast and certainly than, you know there's some parts of the south, like Louisiana has really it's almost very own climate. That is a very general guide but you'll definitely want to sort of think about and get in touch with the seasonality of where ever you actually happen to live.
Suzy Chase: I love how you've designed these recipes to be personalized. For example, one of the best comfort foods, toast. You have thirteen variations of things on toast.
Leanne: For me, that's really kind of my comfort food. It's also sort of I felt one of the most perfect things to make if you're on your own, if you're single or you know you're just your roommates or your family or whoever happen to be away, it's a really wonderful way to kind of treat yourself well, make a really nice little meal for yourself while really not having to spend so much time. Because I know that cooking as a single can be really difficult sometimes, not only to get enough variety in your diet because you're sort of having to buy a certain amount of things and then use them up. You end up eating kind of some things over and over which can get dull.
I know for a lot of people just cooking for yourself can be kind of lack motivation. You know, eh why should I bother to make stuff just for me.
Suzy Chase: Right.
Leanne: But it can be, so stuff on toast, it's sort of a way to take whatever you around, again you know and really make it just a little bit special. Whether it's toasting or you know sauteing lightly some greens with some little bit, I love anchovies and garlic. You know with squeezing lemon onto things. Sort of taking maybe some leftovers that you might have and putting them on your toast and maybe grating a little cheese or some spices on top. Just something to kind of remake something and make it feel like something that matters and feel you know like you're taking care of yourself, which I think is very important.
Suzy Chase: This could be breakfast, lunch of dinner.
Leanne: Oh of course. Absolutely. Sort of whenever. I tend to think of it more as a dinner but I've certainly done lunchy things and you know things like beans on toast is like a classic breakfast in England and all over the place. I definitely don't feel like we have to be stuck eating breakfast things for breakfast or dinner things for dinner. I'm all for having a pile of lovely scrambled eggs for dinner when it makes sense.
Suzy Chase: Last night for dinner, I made your potato leak pizza recipe on page 120.
Leanne: Oh great.
Suzy Chase: You know, I've never had potato on pizza before.
Leanne: I know, it seems so strange but pleasant.
Suzy Chase: It was really nice because the potatoes were kind of moist and kind of crispy on the outside. I got this huge leak that also I can use for other things.
Leanne: Oh wow yeah great, you didn't use it all up.
Suzy Chase: No. So I noticed that it was two dollars and twenty-five cents a serving for this recipe. All your recipes have prices on them.
Leanne: They basically made up a giant list of ingredients, sort of basic pantry items that I knew would be the bulk of most of the recipes. You know, things from sort of every category of the store and the most what I consider to be the most valuable, sort of good, diverse ingredients. All of which you can make a you know hundred different things from. I went to all the grocery stores in this one neighborhood and I took down the prices for all of those items and then I sort of averaged out the cost across all those stores. That's how I sort of came to the prices that are in the book, they're based on those prices.
Of course they are only indicative of a point in time and space there but I think that they're pretty useful sort of guideline at least because they do exist in reality at one point. Sometimes things that are based on total national averages can almost be averaged out to the point of not being particularly useful. I felt like that was at least a good guide and I hope it sort of stands up reasonably well.
Suzy Chase: Talk to us about the you buy, we give program.
Leanne: Oh sure. Well, so that came out of obviously because it started out as my thesis project and you know, I designed the book to be a cookbook really in particular for people who probably couldn't really afford a cookbook, who maybe could really, really use one, would love one, it might be suddenly empowering but you know the twenty dollars or whatever to buy a book is just unaffordable. And so, it started out as a free PDF and then after that sort of gained some popularity, I did a Kickstarter program and just stole the Tom shoes model. The buy one, give one. That was incredibly popular and we worked with hundreds of non-profits across the country to get the books made out of that and then now that I am working with Workman Publishing to put out the second edition which has all of the extra wonderful goodies in it. For everyone that has bought at retail, whether it's online, whether it's a book store, we're donating to one to someone or some family who could use it and we're partnering with this wonderful organization called Access Wireless and they are a lifeline provider.
The lifeline program is this program that's been around since the eighties and it's basically to give a free phone or phone plan to folks who really can't afford it and it was designed with the intention that no one should ever have to chose between buying food and paying their food bill. The clients of Access Wireless are absolutely the people that we're really targeting. They have helped distribute the donated copies through non-profits all across the country, tons and tons of food pantries and in some cases to their own clients. At this point, they've distributed over ten thousand for us. That's just of the second edition. I and my husband during the Kickstarter campaign last year were able to distribute, donate nine thousand and then sell twenty-four thousand at cost to non-profits.
At this point, you know we have almost fifty or a little over fifty thousand that have gotten out there and it's fantastic. And if anyone wants to see the specific details of that, I have this wonderful map on my website at leannebrown.com/impact and it shows all the non-profits that we've worked with all across the country and we are all in all fifty states and there's over eight hundred organizations that we've worked with so you can see who we've worked with in your own community if you're really interested.
Suzy Chase: Thanks so much Leanne for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.
Leanne: You bet. It was really fun. Thank you.