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$5 a Day Challenge: Life skills are actually worth something . . . who would have thought

Living off of $5 worth of food is tough — even tougher when food is your one true love

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Image Credits: Phoebe Lim

This is the third post in a week-long web series that documents Kevin Rey’s experiences living off of $5 worth of food a day. Check back daily for another post.

I haven’t been completely honest with you guys.

I’ve been cheating.

Well, not really cheating since I really did only spend $35 on food for the whole week. But I am bringing a tool into the challenge that the average student might not have access to.

I have a pasta machine. And I use it to make my own pasta from scratch.

Let me explain.

Over the past few years, I’ve started to understand just how much I like food. Like, I really enjoy food. I’m not the best cook, but I’m always looking for different ways I can make better quality food for my wife and I, and anybody else staying for dinner. My YouTube history is a cornucopia of cooking videos, and I mark up my cookbooks with notes.

There’s just something meaningful to me about taking some ingredients and combining them with nuance and patience to yield something nourishing for myself and others. It’s also a great way to make friends, and it makes me feel a little more like a real adult.

I think this has been a thread in my life for a long time, but it’s only now that I’ve had the means to explore it.

I’ve been deathly allergic to peanuts my whole life. I can be in the same room as them, but the smell really bothers my nose and if I eat anything with peanuts in it, I have to go to the hospital. That hasn’t happened too often, although my friends will gladly tell you that the majority of times I’ve had an allergic reaction, it’s been my own damn fault.

The biggest problem has been factory-made desserts and candy, although that’s been getting easier with peanut-free versions coming onto the scene. My family’s solution was to make everything at home, and when I was old enough, my mom taught me how to bake a few things for myself.

So I’ve had a lot of experience sharing food with others, and deriving incredible satisfaction when people have enjoyed it. But it’s only recently occurred to me that whatever time I invest in learning to cook will literally feed me for the rest of my life. I feel like an idiot for not realizing this sooner, but cooking really is a life skill.

Think about it: there’s no downside. You get to learn something new, build confidence, make great tasting food, and usually make things much more cheaply than buying them pre-cooked.

Sure, it usually takes more time than boiling some ramen, but all of us definitely have the half hour-ish to spare. We can shave off a bit of Facebook time, or even put off that little bit of studying so we eat a proper meal.

The obvious challenge that I can see is occasionally, you totally mess up. Like for this challenge, I thought I would make alfredo sauce to go with the pasta. But I used milk instead of cream since it was cheaper, and man did that not turn out how it was supposed to. The result tasted pretty bland, and the consistency was really thin, like I was pouring, well, milk onto my pasta.

But that’s OK since I didn’t die of food poisoning, and I learned that sometimes replacing cream with milk is an awful, awful idea.

So I invite you to take a look at what your relationship with cooking is, and to learn just a little bit more about it over the next week. Maybe it’s learning how to use a knife properly or learning a new sauce base, but any experience you gain now is so valuable.

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