Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Ladies a plate

Rising food prices are beginning to hurt. I'm fortunate to live in a two income family, so my pain threshold is greater than that of one-income households, and certainly of many desperately poor people around the world. Women in Haiti are feeding their children 'pancakes' made primarily with fine dirt, mixed with a little fat and water. The dirt gives the children an illusory sense of fullness as they move from malnutrition towards starvation. I'm not going to trivialise this sort of poverty by pretending I'm sharing in it. Nonetheless, checkout costs are causing me financial discomfort.

In my family, as in many others, mum does the shopping and cooking. This is despite my partner's committed pro-feminism: I do these tasks quicker than he does. So it falls to me to economise, stretching a static food budget further in the face of rising costs. It's a trade off between money and time. Before I had my second child, I had a better paying job. I spent more time at work and less at home, so we bought a lot more consumer items. Shopping was something done in ten minutes on the way home from work, when I was tired. I grabbed the first random, processed foodstuffs I saw from the shelves, and crammed them into my trolley. I'm surprised that none of my whanau contracted MSG poisoning.

These days, I earn less, and work harder at home to stretch our family income further. The higher food prices go, the more frugal – and creative – I have to be. The problem is this: when it comes to home-making, I suck. I simply don't have the skills of my foremothers, who were very good at economising around the home. They had to be, as they didn't have paid jobs and therefore the money/time trade off wasn't available to them. Case in point: my Scottish grandmother spent hours and hours knitting gloves for her sons, turning each finger on her knitting needles. If I were to buy gloves, I would likely get them from the Warehouse for two or three bucks. They would have been made by workers treated little better than slaves in China or the Philippines, and freighted across the world as part of a deregulated global capitalist economy which didn't exist when my grandmother, or even my mother, was raising kids. My kids would lose said gloves in a week, but I wouldn't care. It would be less effort for me to replace them than look for them.

I'm afraid that I don't have all the skills to run an economical household. I can make soup (kind of) and sew buttons back on, but that's about it. Domestically challenged people like myself have a harsh learning curve ahead of us. For financial, ethical and environmental reasons, we need to stop buying disposable or ready-to-serve, highly packaged, expensive consumer items. We have to substitute our own labour for the stuff we used to buy to make our pay packets and the earth's resources go further. We need our workplaces to recognise our large and potentially growing unpaid workloads.

In the meantime, I need a serious injection of homemaking skills, which seem to have died within my family over the last two generations. If you see children with three fingered gloves eating ghastly soup, pity them. They are mine.


Julie said...

I've been thinking about this too Anna, thanks for writing about it. We are pretty comfortably off compared to most, but now that the paid parental leave has run out we are finding things tight. This week we are trying a financial challenge thingy that I read about in Little Treasures - the idea is that you get by on $21 for the whole week, if you can. Of course you can adjust the rules to suit your situation, so we have decided to do $42 ($21 each, so it is a competition to see who spends the least!) and exclude bills which may come in this week.

These econimising measures do tend to fall more on women than men, imho. We have a reputation for being irresponsible spenders, but in fact many many women, particularly once they are mothers, take responsibility for organising their household, including the finances.

The ex-expat said...

Ask and yee shall receive. Although it has a long cooking time, not that much prep is involved.

Danielle said...

This may sound nutty - and, in fact, may not be particularly practical, given the time investment involved in flicking through things at the library - but old NZ Woman's Weeklies have really economical recipes in them. Particularly ones from the WWII rationing years. Of course, they tend to assume that you're at home all day and can spend hours stewing things... but there's also another more Web 2.0 way of economising, which is this site:


The dropdown boxes on the left there allow you to search recipes by ingredients and things like 'low cost', which I find very useful.

Also: beans. Beans, beans, beans. They are magically awesome foods. I mean, they might give you... issues (ahem), which is why I avoid red kidney beans at all cost, but I couldn't live without chickpeas and cannellini beans.

I can't help anyone with sewing and knitting, though. I'm utterly useless, unfortunately.

Deborah said...

Do you recall that when Julie set The Hand Mirror up, she suggested these possible topics?

.....the justice system, body image, capitalism, reproductive politics, social welfare, and cleaning tips.

Perhaps the time has come for housekeeping tips....

Anna McM said...

Danielle, I don't think any of that sounds nutty. Part of the problem with some living on the cheap recipes/advice is that it takes a big capital outlay on stuff to do it. Murial Newman - social welfare spokesman for ACT (they called men and women alike spokesmen as a powerful blow against political correctness) - released these crazy books in the 90s, advising people how to live on the cheap. Hints included things like knit your own jerseys - but obviously, you need to spend $50 plus on wool, buy needles, etc in order to do that, so it doesn't help you economise. I would guess that WWII recipes would be designed for people who basically had no resources! They would possible require more skill than I have though - 2 minute noodles challenge me.

And I am a recent convert to beans too!

Make Tea Not War said...

If you haven't already got it I recommend Alison Holst's Meals Without Meat. I basically taught myself to cook from it as a student. She consciously targets her recipes at people in New Zealand cooking on a budget- no weird, expensive ingredients and lots of down to earth, uncomplicated recipes for those days when you have silver beet and pumpkin to use up & not much else in the house.

I still make quite a lot of recipes from it and I found myself returning to it A LOT when we were on one income.

Nowadays on two incomes we haven't actually found our food bills have increased recently. I think this must be down to the fact we are vegetarian and increasingly are cooking a lot of vegan recipes and the current increases are mainly meat and dairy.

Julie said...

I find the Healthy Food Guide magazine (the same people who do the healthyfood.co.nz website Danielle mentioned) has heaps of v cheap recipes, and so far I've found most of the ones I've tried have been keepers.

Two other little money savers that I do are:
1. Buy treat packs of choc bars at the supermarket (if you get them on special you can often get 30 bite size bars for $6) and slip one (sometimes 2!) of these in my handbag when I go out. This way I don't splurge $2 on a choc bar when I'm at the shops.

2. Mix more expensive cereal like muesli with a cheap base like Homebrands Ricies-equivalent. This makes a box of muesli go a long way and if you pick a plain flavoured cheap base then it doesn't diminish the flavour much.

And finally (for now), on the issue of meat - many cultures just use meat as a garnish on food, and I find that shifting my thinking to this means we can make a normal serving of meat go a lot further than one meal.

homepaddock said...

Tomato Soup

Keep an eye out for tinned tomatoes & tomato paste on special.

Puree tomatoes (or roughly chop, bring to boil and mash if you don't have a food processor)

Roast or sautee as much garlic and onions as you like, add to pureed tomatoes, add tomato paste - about 1 x 140g container to every 2 cans of tomatoes.

Add basil, thyme and oregano, salt & pepper to taste.

Simmer, taste & add more herbs if needed.

This is an vague recipe because quantities don't really matter, it always tastes slightly different each time I make it. I love onions and garlic so use lots, but use less if you'd prefer.

You can add carrots or other vegetables if you've got them to spare.

I have a large stock pot so use about 16 cans of tomatoes to make a pot full then bottle or freeze what can't be used in a week or so.

If you boil it until it's really thick you can use it as a sauce for pasta or pizza too.