I love food. I also love optimization. I have been applying my love of optimization on my grocery trips over the years, and have enjoyed discovering how inexpensively I can feed myself satisfying and nutritious meals. Buying groceries is a game. When you buy groceries, you can set goals and parameters for yourself, then figure out the best way to reach those goals within the parameters. You get some instant feedback on your progress (monetary), and can use your ongoing feedback (gastronomical) to refine your strategies over time.
I lived for many years on a self-imposed food budget of $3 per day. My income was below the poverty line, I received no entitlements, and I gradually saved enough money for a month long trip to Europe. As my financial situation changed, I eventually gave myself a budget of $7 per day. I got to eat out, and even drink beer, on this luxurious amount of money. Now, I shop and cook for two. I have found that economies of scale have enabled me to provide us with many delicious and healthy meals for substantially less than $7 per day per person.
One day I decided to challenge myself to a harder game. I wanted to see if I could feed the two of us for $1 per day per person for a month. I figured that peanut butter, home made bread, oatmeal, and beans would carry us through. I started calculating calories and costs, and I just couldn't see how to reach my goal. Then a friend sent me a link to http://onedollardietproject.wordpress.com/ . A couple of people had already tried this game (with access to bulk foods at lower prices than I've ever seen), and they suffered from hunger and other problems as a result of inadequate nourishment. So, I abandoned that game.
I poked around the internet for other grocery game experiments, and found a wave of $3/day challenges in 2007 in reaction to proposed reauthorization of a farm bill in Congress. I was amused at people's struggles to live for a week the way that I lived for years. The $3 challenge became a popular way to raise awareness and empathy for people receiving food stamps. As I continued to read sites, I found some interesting misunderstandings of food stamps, and I plan to address those more specifically in later posts.
This blog will include recipes and helpful advice for eating nutritiously and inexpensively. It will also contain discussion of the politics, economics, ethics, implementation and effectiveness of food stamps and related social entitlements. The focus is optimization. The mood is as though we are playing a game.