Posted in Features

$5 a Day Challenge: Meal planning to avoid death

Living off of $5 worth of food a day is a marathon

Image Credits: Phoebe Lim, Kevin Rey

This is the second 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’ll bet all of you who read my previous article are wondering something.

Why didn’t I just buy like 48 packets of ramen, and maybe an orange to fight off scurvy? I mean, other than you can’t really buy locally sourced instant noodles.

It’s certainly cheaper to eat like that. Mac and cheese and canned soup cost less than a dollar per meal, but all of that variety of food has a serious flaw: it’s the food equivalent of packing peanuts. Years ago, I made myself incredibly sick by relying on instant meals and pizza pops for my nourishment. It’s no surprise, considering that a lot of processed food is incredibly high in salt, trans fats, and sugar.

Actually, the amount of sugar in our diet got a lot of attention earlier this year when it emerged that the sugar industry had been influencing research on the link between sugar in disease.

I know, I know. It sounds like one of those awful conspiracy theories that accuses the illuminati of causing brain cancer via Justin Trudeau selfies. But as cartoonishly evil as it sounds, it really happened. In 1957, a scientist published a paper in The Lancet scientific journal, pointing at sugar as a cause of heart disease. Several years later, the sugar lobby paid Harvard researchers to publish a paper that disagreed, placing the blame on fat rather than sugar.

But I digress.

For this challenge, I didn’t want to revert to my ramen-fuelled state. I wanted to do a little better. So today, I took my time making food that I really enjoy.

I soaked beans overnight, then rinsed and cooked them thoroughly. I added them to a pot where I had cooked some onions, garlic, and tomato paste into this sort of caramelized “flavour base.” After some simmering and seasoning, I had that with a side of rice.

When I was growing up, my dad would joke with my sister and I, asking if we wanted any of the beans he had simmering on the stove. At the time, the thought was completely revolting. But now, it’s honestly one of my favourite meals.

I’ve had this many times before, but this was the first time I had made it using dried beans rather than canned. It tasted a little different, but what was the most surprising to me is how much cheaper it is to buy the beans dried. Sure, I had to think one day ahead and soak them overnight, but by my math I saved around 40 percent of what I would normally pay.

Breakfast was pretty good too: bread from a local bakery with margarine and jam.

As day two draws to a close, I’m feeling pretty good about this whole venture.

But maybe I’ll start fattening up my cat. Just in case.