Can you eat well without being wealthy? That’s the focus of a $5 meal challenge being launched this month by Slow Food USA.
The object is to get people to commit to making a slow food meal — in other words, using whole ingredients rather than processed foods — for $5 per person or less.
“This challenge is about taking back the ‘value meal,’” says Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA, a group that advocates a return to less processed foods.
The $5 Challenge launches Sept. 17 with a Day of Action with hundreds of slow food gatherings planned across the country. Participation is free-form — you can attend a local event, sign up online with a pledge to cook a slow food meal for $5 or less per person, or take part in various potlucks being organized.
People who take the challenge are encouraged to register their events and share stories at the website http://SlowFoodUSA.org/5Challenge.
Organizers say the challenge is in response to first lady Michelle Obama’s challenge to the nation to end the childhood obesity epidemic in a generation. On a local level, the campaign is intended to bring attention to the difficulties some people face in trying to prepare healthy meals, from not having access to fresh produce to the rising prices of fruit and vegetables compared to cheap soda and junk food.
“The opportunity here is to find the solutions that are already out there and at the same time identify what needs to change,” says Viertel. “It’s going to take each of us as everyday people rolling up our sleeves and pushing for big change.”
The $5 target was picked as a reasonable comparison to eating at a fast-food restaurant.
For that much money, you can cook a “really delicious, fresh, healthy meal and you can even have leftovers,” says Viertel. But you have to have access to the ingredients and know how to prepare them.
So how do you fill a plate for five bucks or under?
Katherine Deumling, who runs a small cooking school in Portland, Ore., is ready to spill the beans on that one. Literally.
“I’m the bean queen,” Deumling says with a laugh. So, she might start the week by cooking two pots, one of black beans and the other chickpeas, using dried beans — which works out to just pennies per person — and garlic and salt as flavorings. If you have additional spices such as cumin and access to fresh produce like chopped cilantro, all the better. Throughout the week, the beans can star in tortillas or serve as a side to rice, which also is cheap, and perhaps a small amount of meat.
And if you don’t feel like cooking beans from scratch — though she promises it’s not hard — then use canned. “Eat beans however you can find them,” says Deumling.
Another idea: kale pesto made by whirling blanched kale in a food processor with olive oil, a little garlic and almonds. Or, you can try a modified salade nicoise, using that old staple, canned tuna. “A little bit goes a long way.”
Deumling, a mom and a Slow Food USA board member, is enthusiastic about getting the message of slow food — cooking fresh, wholesome food — out to more people.
What’s she’s not interested in is creating a lot of rules or anxiety.
“I want you to eat what you like. I want you to learn a few basic things. Just eat and have fun with it and cook. You will be so much happier.”