Live Below the Line – Day 3

Pasta in a hurryOh dear, still failing to meet the £1 a day target.

Tonight we are having our old favourite, a bargain version of Jamie Oliver’s Pasta al forno con pomodori e mozzarella using basics from Aldi. The most expensive item is the mozzarella at 44p per packet yet still it comes out at about 36p a portion. So with porridge at 7p, including milk and sugar, lunch at 40p as it was left over sausage casserole and tea at 4p for 2 cups (no milk) and a bottle of water I have ‘spent’ 94p on food and drink today.

I have now tallied what we have eaten the past 3 days, and what that has cost in real terms. So far this is £13.78 for three adults, or £1.53 per person per day. The most expensive meal was probably the sausage casserole followed by the pasta bake that was made before the challenge for supper on Saturday. Leftovers from this have been meals for The Gamer when he has not wanted to eat lentils or soup. Both of these contained meat. If I took the meat our of the menu we would be within the £1 per person a day. Oh and The Gamer bought fast food for two days when he has been out with friends. So add £6 to that total and now I am way over budget.

Yet, I think if I tallied up my costs I am within the £1 a day. And not hungry.

This is only possible because I did not go and shop with £5 on Monday. I have only used 200g of 2kg lentils and 100g of 1kg of rice so far and have costed meals based on those portions. I cannot buy small portions at the same cost per kg of these items. The bigger the pack the lower the price. So in a way this is where the challenge is flawed as it does not factor in the saving by buying larger packs that are better value. Yet if you are on a low income or benefits, the chances are you will only have £5 per person for food. This means you cannot afford to buy in bulk and reduce costs over a longer time.

What is the answer? I have ideas but I would be interested in what others think.

Not buying it – from the Big 4 supermarkets

Not a year without supermarkets, just not using the Big Four

I would love to think I could avoid supermarkets altogether like Team Pugh and I probably could if I was willing to drive to buy groceries. We have some good butchers on my local high street and recently the Halal butcher has increased his range of fruit and veg and everyone who has been there has said how lovely he is. The outside of the shop looks welcoming, which I hope translates into custom.DSCN0285

He also sells a good range of tinned items, dry goods, cooking oil and dairy.  Of course he has a niche market in the Halal offer and the customer service is excellent. I do shop there occasionally, but he is the other end of the high street, so to carry heavy items from there is an issue for me, and to take the car is also a problem as parking outside is limited. I suppose the solution is to get a shopping trolley!

I love Aldi

However the real reason, despite me wanting to support indies is that I like to shop at Aldi. It is good value, good quality and meets most of my shopping needs. I usually go on foot and buy what I need each day, and as by being limited to what I can carry this limits my spending too.

As it was dreadful weather so I chose to use the car for the 200 yard drive or so and stock up on things that are too heavy to carry. Total spend was £54.29 and that included non essentials such a bird food for £6.99, cleaning and personal hygiene items and some of their excellent New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc which at £5.79 a bottle is a steal. Potatoes were on offer at £2.36 for 5kgs. At less than 50p a kilo I would be hard pushed to get them that cheap at the markets.

Meal Planning

I am still planning meals on what I have in the house already: dinner Wednesday was pork chops, mashed potatoes, and various veg with a cheese sauce, as I had bits of cheese that need using up and chops in the freezer. Yesterday I made the pasta bake based on this Jamie Oliver recipe. I have also just found this brilliant meal planning resource from Butcher Baker.DSCN5623

Pasta at 29p for 500 g, why would anyone spend more?

DSCN0426

British and Local

What I really like about Aldi is that most of the fresh meat (if not all) is British as is much of the fresh vegetables. We really need to support our farmers. So while I am shopping at a supermarket, it is local to me. I usually walk there and use other local and independent shops and businesses. I am supporting British farmers. Not perfect, but it feels better to me than using Tesco or Asda. I am definitely spending less money and wasting less food by shopping at Aldi. I also visit local farmers markets, usually the one in Harborne, get fresh and dried herbs from Urban Herbs and most of my clothes come from the local charity shops.

My Girl called Jack week

Next week I have 4 days of only feeding 2 people and am thinking of this being my cook like A Girl Called Jack, to use up the lentils, rice and potatoes as the 2 mouths I am feeding will try anything new. The other mouth  The Gamer is off on an Outward Bound type week somewhere in the Welsh Borders with The Princes Trust. His team has to cook once and while he can’t remember where they are going, he has already planned what they are cooking and made a shopping list. And proper cooking, not noodles in pots or sauces from jars and beans on toast. Easy spaghetti bake from this Martin Lewis book.DSCN0435

I am doing something right then.

What are you cooking this week and what are you not buying?

Jamie and Jack

Aside

As Jack gets flak for having a job and still writing about food poverty….

travellingcoral

So today, everybody is talking about Jamie Oliver and his rant about poor people (did he really say that?) who choose big tellies and chips over mange tout from the market.

I hope his mom has phoned him and given him a proper telling off. He flunked school and if it wasn’t for the fact that he had parents owned a pub and gave him the opportunity and encouragement to follow a food career, he too could be one of those poor people living on a diet of Kyle instead of Kale.

I like Jamie, I really do, he put his head over the parapet and criticised school dinners, got the government to increase the spend on school meals. Turkey Twizzlers were revealed to be made of pink slime and his books improved my husbands cooking.

He is a bit gobby, he gets angry when children are passed burgers…

View original post 1,286 more words

Not Buying It – food I don’t need

We seem to live in a very unbalanced world. We have food poverty side by side with obesity, a whole industry based on making us feel guilty if we choose full fat of anything and while some spend money on food in order to be thinner, the numbers of families dependent on food banks rises. I struggle to make sense of it.

this is what gets thrown away

this is what gets thrown away

And I see food waste every where. Supermarkets are possibly the biggest culprit of food waste. They encourage customers to buy more than they need with various offers, yet apparently one third of the bread we buy is thrown away! Food retailers need to really need to work out how they can support charities more effectively by donating unsold food and not throwing it into skips. I am already on the case on one chain of bakers who throw bags of bread away each day, to see if they can support SIFA fireside to provide breakfast for homeless people in Birmingham. And I am hoping that the recent case where charges were dropped against the men who raided a skip outside Iceland prompts them to work on a policy of working with charities.

surely some of this ccould be used by food charities such as Foodcycle?

surely some of this could be used by food charities such as Foodcycle?

I like food. I like cooking it and love eating it more. Sometimes I think this blog is more about food than travel. Yet faced with food waste by supermarkets and in the home, I am Not Buying It.

Of course I need food, I need to eat, but how many of us have food that we bought and never use or throw away ? I do, which is why I am not going to buy food I do not need.

One of my very first posts was written at Heathrow Airport for Blog Action Day 2011. I was in the food court, reflecting on how much some of have while others starve. You can read it here.

Food poverty is something that makes me really angry, and the past year or so there have been certain politicians who seem to be in denial that his is happening in a first world country. Ian Duncan Smith can, he told us live on £53 a week ‘if he had to’. I tried to and failed, and again I wrote about it here. In fact I banged on about it quite a bit so feel free to explore my blog to read more.

Then there is the annual Live Below the Line challenge. Five days with only £5 for food. Yes, I had a go at this too.  I would not compromise on nasty value sausages and plastic bread, choosing lentils and other cheaper and healthier ingredients, and some rather good Aldi sausages instead. I was spending slightly over the £1 allowed, but eating very well.

My food hero is A Girl Called Jack. I think she has done so much in the last twelve months to highlight the fact that many of us could end up on benefits and experience food poverty. More than that, she is jolly inventive with cheap food to provide nutritious meals for her and her son. Tinned potatoes and carrots are regularly used in this house now as they are cheaper than fresh. Add a tin of beans, some good sausages and an onion and you have a tasty supper. And the Creamy Salmon Pasta at 27p per portion is lovely. 

Another blog I followed avidly in 2013 was A Year Without Supermarkets. No supermarkets at all for a whole year with a budget of £50 per week to feed two adults and one toddler. And they did it. Indeed the average food bill was less than their budget.

So as part of the whole not buying it in 2014, I decided to really trim my food shopping. I have planned meals around what I had in the freezer, fridge and store cupboards and while I would love to say I have avoided supermarkets, I haven’t. But I will not give the big three (Orange one, Green one and Blue one) my money. They suck you in with the BOGOF deals and you end up buying thing you don’t need.

This month I have hosted a 20 year old French student who is studying English. Like most 20 year old men, he has a big appetite. Annoyingly he seems to be able to eat twice as much as I do and still stay slim as does my 21 year old son. The French student loves pasta and bananas. (only 29p a bag) and I seem to be buying a kilo of bananas a day. Thank goodness for my saviour of cheap food, Aldi. I have visited the open air food market in Birmingham a couple of times, and while it is undeniably cheap, I find by sticking to the Aldi Super Six, is more cost effective for me, as is buying the biggest bag of potatoes. The bargain bananas are 68p a kilo. 

Gateway pie

Gateway pie

So what have we eaten? Despite having those lentils and rice that are destined to haunt me (I know I have to use them) I have been experimenting with new recipes. The Hit and Run Tray Bake has become one of my favourite dinners to make as there is absolutely no faffing. To use up the potatoes I made a student favourite layering slices of potato, onion and bacon bits with a cheese sauce. Back in the 70’s the Gateway supermarket in Clifton had a deli counter where they had all the off cuts of bacon and cheese at silly prices so this was how this recipe got invented, I think. Because I had some spinich lurking in the fridge, that got added too. And I also made the Sweet Pea Fish Pie, another recipe from Jamie Oliver. All of these came to less than £1 per portion and the Gateway pie, as I call it, nearer 50p per person. We have had a roast turkey dinner, using up the half price crown of turkey I bought on Christmas Eve. That £55 has of course been supplemented by food I already had in. I am lucky, I have storecupboard staples and a freezer so that when I do see a bargain I can store it for another day.

Sweet Pea Fish Pie

Sweet Pea Fish Pie

I suppose what I am saying is that yes it is relatively easy to eat well on a small budget, if you have some basic cooking skills and live near a place where you can access cheap, good quality food. Not everyone does, of course and and not everyone can afford to buy in bulk which is often cheaper. That said, I have two elderly neighbours who buy the Aldi Super Six and split the packet and the cost. They can’t get through a big bag of carrots alone yet still want to save money. Excellent planning!

Planning  is the key to saving money on food, I list what I have in the house and cook around it buying only additional ingredients when necessary. I avoid the Big Three. If I go to the Green one I always end up being tempted to buy something I do not need. And this is how all this Not Buying It began.

Planning meals around the food hoard

Earlier this week I wrote a post about how shocked I was at the amount of food I had in the house that I wasn’t using. It was written following a discussion on how we would behave if there was a blackout.  I thought that I probably had enough food to survive a short while and decided to do a food audit to see if there was a blackout could I survive.

I was shocked at quite how much I actually had in the house. Here is the food list and my mission is to plan meals around this, limiting my food shopping to staples and ingredients needed to make a meal from what I already had. This week is all about using left overs, store cupboard ingredients and cooking on a budget. More Jack than Jamie.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tuesday

Lunch was leftover items from pizza night and ham and bread. No spending on lunch today.

I made carrot soup using up stock and most of the carrots and Apple and Sultana crumble with ingredients I already had.

Dinner

Pasta bake made with pasta I already had, left over passata in the fridge and onions and peppers. I only bought Steak Mince that day, used 250g of 500g. The rest will be used on Saturday.

Spending £3.69. Expensive mince, yet I think it is worth it as goes further as there is so little fat. It fed three adults today and will do so again on Saturday. Just over 60p each for a portion of meat.

Wednesday

Lunch, sandwiches with existing ingredients.

Dinner

Sausages from freezer (10 Black Farmer) with frozen peas and fresh carrots and courgettes from a neighbours allotment. I bought bread, potatoes and baked beans from Aldi.  The bread will last the week for sandwiches and the potatoes will last about a fortnight.

Spending £3.23

Thursday

Lunch was ham sandwiches for two of the family. I had some of the leftovers from last night sausages.

Dinner

I used up the curry kit, chicken breast and prawns, with rice. This meal was made with ingredients I already had, so no spend on meals for those of us eating the curry. I bought butter, milk, a pizza (as one of the diners doesn’t like curry and quite honestly I couldn’t be bothered to make two different meals) and tinned chopped tomatoes for the curry. I ended up using fresh tomatoes that were very ripe instead.This fed two of us and there is a leftovers for lunch on Saturday.

Spending £4.26

Today (Friday) is fish and chips night so no cooking and no shopping.

Lunch for me was left overs of the sausage meal. the others had sandwiches and soup.This fed three for dinner on Wednesday plus two smaller lunch portions for me so feeling very frugally smug.

I am getting to the end of the meat supply in the freezer so it may be a veggie week ahead. Lots of lentils and rice.

If anyone has any meal ideas based on my food list, please share.

[contact-form][contact-field label="Name" type="name" required="1"/][contact-field label="Email" type="email" required="1"/][contact-field label="Website" type="url"/][contact-field label="Comment" type="textarea" required="1"/][/contact-form]

 

Jamie and Jack

Aside

So today, everybody is talking about Jamie Oliver and his rant about poor people (did he really say that?) who choose big tellies and chips over mange tout from the market.

I hope his mom has phoned him and given him a proper telling off. He flunked school and if it wasn’t for the fact that he had parents owned a pub and gave him the opportunity and encouragement to follow a food career, he too could be one of those poor people living on a diet of Kyle instead of Kale.

I like Jamie, I really do, he put his head over the parapet and criticised school dinners, got the government to increase the spend on school meals. Turkey Twizzlers were revealed to be made of pink slime and his books improved my husbands cooking.

He is a bit gobby, he gets angry when children are passed burgers through school gates and I genuinely think he cares about the health and diet of young people. Fifteen gives young people employment training. What is not to like about Jamie?

It seems he has some right wing views about poor people that have upset a lot of us, poor or otherwise. Here’s the thing Jamie, not all ‘poor’ people have big tellies and eat chips. Some rich people do. People may be poor because they have a disability and can’t work. People may struggle because their partner died. Some are poor because they got into debt and got ripped off by loan sharks. What is shocking is that many of these loan sharks companies are legal, advertise on the big telly conveying the message is that Wonga will solve all their problems and Brighthouse has everything you need to have a lovely home. All at two zillion percent interest.

What I am certain of is that no one chooses to be poor. People with good jobs can lose their homes if they are made redundant. Three months away from homelessness. I have been there, have lain awake at night and wondered how I can keep my house, buy shoes for the children and have enough money for the prepayment electric meter. I was lucky as parents stepped in and helped us out financially. Not everyone has parents that can or will.

I am also lucky because I can cook. My grandmother had to feed an extended family on a very small budget and I guess by watching her I learned basic techniques. By the time we had cookery lessons at school, I was capable of making beans on toast, (a recent survey claimed that 1 in 10 are not) and I went to uni with a pressure cooker, a Kenwood Mixer and a recipe book. I ate well on a limited student budget and created Beef Daube in bedsit kitchens. I owe that to my mom, her complete inability to cook made learning to cook a matter of survival or else eat soggy cabbage the rest of my life.

I am lucky that I have travelled. It was travelling that changed my cooking. I wrote a post You Never forget your first Moussaka a while ago, as it was my first trip to Greece that really inspired me to experiment more with food. Since travelling in SE Asia I have cooked more with thai basil and lemongrass. I am lucky that I have a local grower that supplies me with these plants so I don’t have to pay silly Waitrose prices for them.

Jamie thinks we all need to go to our local market and buy fresh cheap ingredients. I don’t have a local market. It would cost me £4 in bus fare to go to the market in Birmingham. If I was living on a minimum wage I could not afford to do that. That is equivalent of buying a veg bag from Salop Drive Community Garden. A valuable community resource which  the council may pull funding on, a resource that not only gives people on limited incomes access to affordable healthy food, but also provides the opportunity for people with disabilities to learn gardening skills. A resource that is under threat due to budget cuts.

I can also buy from The Bearwood Pantry a food co op who buy direct from a farmer. Watch this short film to find out more about what they do. Then there is a couple of enterprising butchers who have recently started to sell loose vegetables since the fruit and veg shop shut down (yet punters still complain it is more expensive than Iceland) which I mentioned in The Tesco Footprint post.

Jamie really has no idea what it is like to struggle to bring up a family on a minimum wage, to not have access to a wide range of affordable ingredients and not have the skills to make a pasta sauce without opening a jar. I have ranted before about the Live Below the Line recipes and I would rather not eat a sausage at all than eat one from a value range, as they suggest, basing their meals around frozen veg, plastic bread and cheap sausages.

And yet, his accusing poor people of eating chips and cheese maybe career suicide combined with his affiliation with The Sun. The ad on my big telly promoting his budget cookery was patronising. With his flash diamante shoes and his cheeky chappy manner screaming ‘I am rich and I can show you benefit plebs how to cook with mange tout from your local markets’ made me want to chuck all his cookbooks in the bin. And The Sun, Jamie. Will you let your daughters flick through the pages to find your recipes? How will you explain Page Three to them? I would have admired you so much more if you had told them that you would not work with them while they still have Page Three. You cannot be motivated by the money, surely? You care about family values yet will encourage people to buy this publication for your recipes? Bring a paper into the home which objectifies women. How do you look your wife, your mom and your children in their eyes when they open The Sun and see tits?

Jamie is a millionaire, from a privileged background. He may have struggled at school and he has worked hard, but he doesn’t have a clue about what is like to manage on a limited budget, he doesn not know what it is like to be really hungry.

But Jack does.  A Girl Called Jack really knows what it is like to be broke and cold and hungry and is angry at how the smug rich think all ‘poor’ people choose a telly over mange tout. She uses easily available, cheap ingredients and transforms them into interesting affordable and nutritious meals. She got flak for using tinned potatoes (they are cheaper than fresh) and has accused of being a foodie snob for using chick peas. And, OMG, she used fish paste in a pasta dish. You would have thought the sky had fallen in. Yet she is adapting recipes from Nigel and Nigella and making them simple and affordable. She didn’t feed her son crisps and watch her big telly eating chips when she was unemployed and had less than £6 to feed herself and her child for a week and she doesn’t now she has got a job and a book deal. Because she knows that hunger hurts and her recipes and her campaigning is telling it like it really is.

Expect to see more ‘poor’ people in the country, Jamie, as the bedroom tax hits, as more jobs go in the public sector, as companies out source employee services to Romania. People get made redundant, clever, talented people are losing their jobs. They apply for 10 plus jobs a week get interviews weekly, and rejection letters daily.

We do not need Wonga, we need financial education in schools and more credit unions. A number of library services have blocked access to applying for loans on line and are providing information about managing money and information about credit unions. I just hope that these resources don’t close too.

We shouldn’t need food banks. We need access to affordable food, decent wages and people like Jack.

Far sickness Part One, or why some of the people in Bearwood are awesome

After travelling I found it very difficult to settle back into the normal routine of living in England. Everything was too small and so very grey. I was not working and to be honest I had changed. Old friends and acquaintances only know the old me. They asked about the trip like I had just come back from two weeks in Benidorm. One ex work colleague was shocked to see me, I thought you were off travelling she said. I was, I said, I have been away five months. The look on her face was priceless. She was still in the same job with the same problems doing the same things. In the meantime I had been around the world. I had moved on and she was in exactly the same place as she had been five months ago.

With many people I discovered that when they asked how the trip went, they were just being polite. Eyes glazed over when you talked about the Remarkable Rocks or your first kangaroo. They didn’t get it or me anymore. Some of them understood that I couldn’t slot back into my old life like nothing had happened. Others who had travelled understood, and like a secret society, we share tales of Down Under. And some like the new version more.

I made new friends in New Zealand and Australia and despite the distance and despite the fact they only spent a few days with me,  they know me better than most of my old friends, because they met the person who was on a journey. I wasn’t judged by what job I did or what clothes I wore, which is just as well as my wardrobe was limited and I took no makeup with me.

On my return, I made a choice to get involved with a group of local people who were bidding for Portas Pilot funding. They like me were passionate about the neighborhood they lived in and concerned about the ever increasing number of shops that were closing. These were people I had never met before and the joy of that was that they were meeting the new me and had no reference to my past. All they knew was that I had just got back from travelling and had a background in community development.

I joined in a challenge to shop locally, driven by the bid, to discover what our local shops did and did not provide.  As a result of the shopping challenge and driven by a passion to feed themselves and their families well, (watch out Jamie Oliver) a group of women then established the Bearwood Pantry. I am amazed by their energy and commitment to the project.

Others working on the bid had organised successful events such as the Bearwood Shuffle and Bearwood Handmade so were doers not talkers, my kind of people. Together we surveyed shoppers and traders, made a film about our high street, using the talents of local people and did the best we could with the tools and time we had available. Many of us gave up our weekends to ensure we consulted the wider community at events such as the Lightwoods Park Festival. 

As a result of being involved with the Portas Pilot I am privileged to have met some very lovely people in Bearwood. Many are not born and bred Bearwoodians (including a German, a Canadian and a couple of Ozzies). This may be why they challenge and question, in the same way that I have and will continue to do so, the lack of real choice on the high street for food and the lack of a real community hub that is not faith based. They have seen that in their home communities and have seen it in other communites in England. As I do when I travel both home and abroad. A space where we can take our family, our knitting or our lap top and meet with likeminded people. Places like Six Eight Cafe. Conduct business, share skills, run craft workshops, listen to story tellers, poets, live music and Book Cross. Dare I say, even have a pop up library.

All these things can and do happen in other high streets and towns. Why not Bearwood? In the meantime this is our high street. I think we deserve better.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Live Below the Line. Planning to fail.

School Meals Time

School Meals Time (Photo credit: coreycam)

Never Seconds is a brilliant blog about school meals that has made headlines in the UK. Move over Jamie Oliver! however much he tells parents and children that most school meals are crap, the power of a 9 year old blogging makes the front page. Take a look to see what £2 gets you in a state school in England.

Some kids from lower income families are entitled to free school meals, yet there is low take up of these, in some of the most deprived areas. Why is this? Perhaps because what they get is really poor quality food and the parents would rather make a packed lunch for them. Or that they don’t know that they are entitled to a free meal. Or that the stigma of having to claim is upsetting and that the children may get bullied if they are on free dinners.Some go home to eat but many go to the local fast food outlet. I don’t really understand how families who live below the line can afford to turn down a free lunch and I would urge anyone who is entitled to free school meals to claim them. I would also urge all of you to lobby get behind people like Jamie Oliver who campaigns to improve the quality of school dinners.

Have you turned down free food this week because you were taking part in Live Below the Line?

Free Lunch!

Free Lunch! (Photo credit: LexnGer)

Can families in the third world afford to turn down handouts of food. What about food banks? Do they solve a problem or are they just a sticking plaster?

So now is my confession time.

Confession 1. I accepted a free lunch on Thursday. I was attending a training event at SCVO and there was a buffet which I indulged in.  This would certainly take me over the £1 a day allowance if I had been sticking to it.

Confession 2. I had already spent £1.20 on a sausage sandwich for breakfast at the Bookworm Cafe in Smethwick Library .

Confession 3. Due to lack of planning and communication there was no dinner ready that evening at my house. Takeaway curry it was then.

Chicken balti from Delta Indian Takeaway, Edin...

Chicken balti from Delta Indian Takeaway, Edinburgh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Total spend on food for just me, on Thursday 9 May was a staggering £8.20, not including the free lunch! #fail

The reality is that to eat well on a limited budget is that planning ahead is crucial. Failing  to plan, is planning to fail. Plan what you will be eating and when, check what you already have in the store cupboard and make a shopping list and stick to it. Check out the cheapest place to buy food, and buy seasonable fruit and veg. Eat meat free as often as you can.

It was lack of planning that resulted in the sausage sandwich and the curry.  I did enjoy it though! I also realise how lucky I am to be able to make these choices that people, who have to live below the line, every day, don’t have.