I loved reading from the first moment I figured out that squiggles meant stories. I’ve been bookish ever since. Even on vacations as a young teen, I’d roost up in the pine trees that bordered the beach, reading and watching the people on the path below.
Now I have a book of my own. A “real” book from a real publisher. Far more official than the self-published ebooks that helped fund my project for the first four years. But the funny thing is that it’s the novel I’d imagined. It’s a cookbook and a guide – Wildly Affordable Organic: Eat Fabulous Food, Get Healthy, and Save the Planet—all on $5 a Day or Less.
Wildly Affordable Organic came from my Cook for Good project. And that project started with money, or rather the lack of money. In the summer of 2007, anti-hunger activists tried to draw attention to the pitiful help given to the average food-stamp recipient: just a dollar a meal. They came up with a great idea, to challenge people who were not on food stamps to spend just $21 each on food for a whole week.
The Internet and papers buzzed with their inept attempts to stretch a dollar. Instead of enjoying beans and greens, a coalition director complained about soggy ramen noodles and a congressman snuck airport peanuts. I knew from working my way through college that cooking from scratch could produce scrumptious bargain meals.
While the food-stamp challenge made headlines, food writers like Michael Pollan demonized the very parts of the store that got me through my lean times: the center aisles. Pollan said to shop the edges of the store to buy fresh food. I said, what about beans, flour, and rice? What about canned tomatoes, dried pasta, and tea? And what about the cruelty and environmental damage of the factory farms that raised most of the meat, poultry, and fish for sale?
The fascination led to a summer-long experiment by my husband and me to eat on variations of the food-stamp challenge. We found that we could eat well on a just a dollar a meal. Amazingly, we ate better than we ever had on the actual food-stamp allowance in our state of $5.49 a day per person. My favorite variation, the basis for my “green” menu option, showed that good food is within reach of most people, not just yuppies: food made using free-range eggs from pastured chickens, sustainably grown produce, and mostly organic ingredients.
After just a week of the experiment, my husband and I decided that we’d never go back to our old eating ways. After two months, the benefits were so terrific I knew I had to share what I’d learned. As our economy tanked, my sense of urgency grew. I put up the Cook for Good website as soon as possible and started a free newsletter with a weekly recipe to help people cook thrifty, healthy food. I spent four years of interviewing Depression-era cooks, digging through old cookbooks, and cooking, planning, and price checking.
The weekly recipes grew into ebooks and finally into Wildly Affordable Organic. The book also has four seasonal cooking menus, shopping lists, and efficient cooking plans, and lots of information about the whole food cycle, from planning and shopping through storing and cleaning up. And because I’ve learned tricks new and old, the average cost is now averages just five dollars a day or less. If that seems like too much to take in, try the wildly good and easy starter plan. In just twenty minutes a day, you can cook most of your food from scratch!
Finally, a dream come true! My favorite local bookstore, Quail Ridge Books & Music, hosted my first local reading of WAO. I was afraid that no one would come. Or maybe one person would come and he would be a pro-bacon heckler. But the first twenty-five chair filled quickly, so they brought out more chairs, and more chairs, and then the last chairs. Over eighty people came to hear the story, laugh, at taste my Good Whisk Bread, Hummus, and Ginger-Glazed Carrot Cake.
I never would have guessed as a bookish teen that I’d be rocking my apron, teaching cooking classes, doing demonstrations at farmers’ markets, and keeping up with a community of people who love thrifty, healthy food that’s good for them and good for the planet. I’ve learned you don’t have to predict the details right to have your dream come true.
Intrigued? Try the Cook for Good Summer Challenge, with one week using the starter plan for twenty minutes a day and the next week cooking all you food from scratch. Join the Cook for Good community. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. And of course, get the book Wildly Affordable Organic at your local book store, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.
I’m the cook and researcher who started Cook for Good in the summer of 2007. I’m a home cook with a well-developed sense of curiosity, but I’m not a nutritionist or chef.
I may be the only person in the world who is a member of both the International Association of Culinary Professionals and the Project Management Institute.
My background in project management and procedures writing helps me write and test recipes and optimize the shopping lists and cooking plans.
My book, Wildly Affordable Organic: Eat Fabulous Food, Get Healthy, and Save the Planet – all on $5 a Day or Less, was published by Da Capo Press in June 2011.