"Prepare your own food. This means reviving in your own mind and life the arts of kitchen and household. This should enable you to eat more cheaply, and it will give you a measure of "quality control'': you will have some reliable knowledge of what has been added to the food you eat."

—Wendell Berry


I took a hard look at my eating and spending habits when I found myself living alone for the first time in my life at age 50. I was back from a month-long meditation retreat, itching to get out of my career, which had me on the road a third of the time, eating roadhouse food and flying too much. I wanted a simple life and aspired to achieving contentment on a small income away from the temptations of the city.

The first thing I did was take stock by keeping one year of itemized records of what I bought and ate. I experienced a rude awakening seeing how much I was spending – especially on imported fruit, dairy products, and restaurants. It was 2002 and I was hearing constant dire predictions about climate change, an energy crunch and a financial system gone berserk. I had a plan to get out ASAP and live cheap in the country. I challenged myself to see how well I could balance eating on a shoestring with good nutrition and a small carbon footprint.

I hadn't stopped eating meat since the seventies when I was a poor art student. But it was like riding a bicycle. I'd forgotten how clean and light I felt while avoiding meat. As much as possible even on the road (with a tempting expense account) I looked for vegetarian options. 

Looking at my spending patterns I drafted a rock-bottom food budget and proceeded to live it, even though I was still earning the big bucks. In fact, this increased my rate of saving and my escape plan moved up by two years.

Cooking from scratch presented a problem. I was used to eating out or picking up a hot rotisserie chicken or frozen nukable meal on the way home from work . At 5:00 I was hungry and tired and it was hard to resist taking the easy way out.

I gradually worked out recipes for food that was like the vegetarian dishes I found on the road, dishes with broad appeal. On Sunday I'd make a huge pot of something and freeze a stack of single servings. It became really easy to stick to my budget once the freezer was packed with supper choices.   

My cabbage soup habit made taking my lunch to work a no-brainer. I kept a jar of peanut butter in my desk. I started making yogurt and I reduced my ridiculous fruit consumption to several healthy servings a day.  

Breakfast was easiest of all. I came back from my meditation retreat hooked on oatmeal porridge. I even figured out how to make it in hotel rooms if it wasn't offered downstairs.  

Lynn Shwadchuck, 

March 2010 

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