How to eat (decently) on a dollar a day

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For the last couple of weeks, Rebecca Currie has spent approximately $1 per day on food. Normally a frugal shopper (she spends an average of $80 a month at the grocery store), she embarked on this experiment to show how ultra-cheap eating can not only help consumers save money, but could even improve the quality of their diets. Displaying her findings on her blog, she is making it clear that cheap food and poor eating don't have to go hand-in-hand.

Currie is hardly the first person to explore the wonders of super-cheap cuisine. In The Man Who Ate Everything, author Jeffrey Steingarten spends a chapter exploring various methods of subsistence cooking and offering recipes like "Sludge," a ground beef-based Depression era dish that is like meatloaf, minus much of the flavor. For that matter, thrifty consumers from the Manson family to today's "freegans" have discovered the wonders of harvesting free, if somewhat wilted, produce. For that matter, Currie herself was inspired by the One Dollar Diet Project, a blog in which two California high school teachers documented their month-long attempt to eat for only $1 a day.

Reading the blog, Currie realized that the participants, Christopher Greenslate and Kerri Leonard, were fairly uncreative in their menu choices. For example, she notes that they consistently ate oatmeal for breakfast and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. This uninspired menu not only had negative health effects (for example, Greenslate didn't have enough energy to go to the gym), but also made the pair desperate for the end of their experiment. In fact, in their first day off the diet, Greenslate and Leonard immediately spent $20 each on food.

Currie's blog demonstrates that a $1 a day diet doesn't necessarily have to translate into uninspired or unhealthy food choices. Rather than plan a month's worth of meals, she has set out with $1 every day, seeking food choices that would leave her feeling creative and sated, not weary and disgusted.

Tied in with this quest for interesting, healthy food at bargain basement prices, Currie is also trying to demonstrate that cheap food isn't necessarily bad food. As a 2008 article in the New York Times noted, there is a common perception that high-calorie, low-nutrient food is cheaper than healthier fare. While she acknowledges that this is true in the case of fast food and convenience foods, in a broader context, it may be false. By carefully preparing her own meals, Currie is showing that budget cuisine doesn't necessarily translate into junk food.

Over the course of her sixteen days, Currie has prepared a pretty broad selection of meals, including pasta with spinach and marinara, chicken fried rice, and black beans with rice and jalapeno. While her diet has skewed heavily toward high-protein legumes, whole grains, and eggs, it has also displayed a reasonable amount of flavor, a tendency toward fresh, healthy ingredients, and a pretty impressive amount of flavor. In short, while it may not be an ideal diet for everyone, Currie has shown that most of us probably have a lot of room to reduce our food expenditures!
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