I'm happy to share that my camera's back in order! It got funky a few weeks ago on the night of Slow Food USA's $5 Challenge. So now some show and tell.
It's assuring that different food movement circles are expanding and merging. I still find it interesting that I live in a country in which assumptions and stereotypes still ring loudly. It's amazing to be part of a growing movement of people who are working toward the recognition and vision that real food is, and should be, a norm. It isn't and shouldn't be hard to grow, nourish, and build community with real food.
The nation's industrial agricultural policies and economic scales make "cheap" junk-commodity-crop food really expensive - economically, in energy intensity, and in all forms of social capital. So the alternative, real food, is just as, or even cheaper, than what we see as "cheap" food.
Out of necessity, I put together meals $5 or less. I think it's an inherent characteristic of growing up and being raised in an immigrant family that grew (and still grows) plants and animals. We preserve food and stretch the dollar. By nature, I value being resourceful and frugal.
The weather's getting cooler, so in my Vietnamese family, that means soups, stews, and most anything brothy. I made my version of cháo, a warm rice porridge cooked slowly and lovingly. It's also known as congee. It's the cure for the ill, the Vietnamese penicillin. I can remember many fall and winter nights as a youngin' with my mom defrosting chicken broth and furiously chopping ginger and every member of the allium family. She would tell me how it smelt (spicy and pungent!) because most of the time, I momentarily lost the sense.
I substituted rice for cauliflower. It's a gut thing. I'm strengthening my immune system.
Some ingredients I already had made, grew, harvested, or bartered, including a quart of chicken broth, a few ounces of fish sauce, cucumber pickles, an onion, a shallot, a head of cauliflower, a few garlic cloves, one lime, and a bunch of green onions. These are a mere cents in costs.
I ended up purchasing $18.34 in other things: a bulb of ginger, mushrooms, a stalk of lemongrass, a few ounces of coconut cream, and about half a pound of chicken livers. Yep, chicken livers. Animal organs are prized and honored in Vietnamese cuisine. I can understand why: they're chock-full of nutrients! And interestingly (or not), they're relatively inexpensive in the US, if kept after processing.
I sauteed chopped ginger, lemongrass, and allium family members in a pot, and once I saw translucency, I added chopped mushrooms. Once the mushrooms wilted, I added steamed, mashed cauliflower, and chicken stock. At the moment the pot started boiling, I turned down the flame to simmer, and slowly added the coconut cream chicken livers. My mom always added meat last to keep proteins in tact.
While the pot slowly simmered, I prepped the sauce. I always wondered why my mom made sauces separately and we dipped our rolls. When I first started cooking a few years ago in my early college days, I cooked a fish-vegetable dish with fresh sauce in tact during the cooking process. Bleh. It was flat. In traditional food circles, keeping sauces separate until the end of the cooking process and right before eating leaves all the nutrients in tact without extreme denaturing. Ahh, tradition meets culture. A few teaspoons of fermented fish sauce, one squeezed lime, and finely chopped green onions.
For many reasons, I love đồ ăn chua, or pickled fermented foods. "Chua" translates to "sour". Again, it's a gut thing. And a taste thing. Also a preservation thing. In addition to the fish sauce "sauce", I added pickled cucumbers to the mix. I think preserved foods have, are, and will be a key, to ensuring not only low costs, but also food security.
I made about six servings. That's about $3.57 plus or minus a dollar, I'd say, for the other foods' amounts. While I shared this with others, the dollar amount actually stretches to the next day or two if it was just me.
The #5challenge reminded me that it's deeper than money. For people living in frontline communities most impacted by the industrial food system, including immigrant communities, money is an obstacle to (food) security, (food) sovereignty, (food) access, and getting out of poverty. The #5challenge is a solution statement to our broader #foodchallenge in this country.
Meals made with real food and love are beyond the value of $5.00. Oh so much more. The Farm Bill and the nation's agricultural subsidies and policies need to reflect and honor that.