About a month ago, Slow Food USA embarked on a campaign to "take back the 'Value Meal'" (quoting Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA). Part of the campaign was the $5 Challenge, which took place yesterday. The challenge was exactly what it sounds like: Create a meal costing a total of $5 or less. The broader goal was to encourage healthier, more conscious eating and to promote dialogue on what a sustainable, delicious food system should look like.
You may already be familiar with Slow Food. Their mantra is to "[make] it easier to access real food that is good for us, good for those who produce it and good for the planet."
I've been thinking a lot about sustainable food and its challenges. I'm particularly concerned by the stark divide between "local, sustainable" and hunger/food access. Despite the criticism Slow Food attracts for being elitist, I do think that it plays a valuable role in starting dialogues, getting issues raised. With that said, I don't think it's enough to simply talk and "vote with your fork." My hope is that people will travel outside their comfort zone of like-minded, similarly situated people and find ways to improve food access for all. But even for me, that's a slow, evolving journey.
Taking this $5 challenge was easy for me, since I've already come to find that most of my home-cooked meals cost less than a McDonald's meal.
I wanted to make something that reflected what I might actually make for dinner on a busy weekday night. In other words, quick, easy, simple. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated. I even used premade mole, after meeting the people behind it at this weekend's Good Food Festival (more on that later).
The truth is that most people are busy, and the average American is not thinking up the next complicated recipe he or she wants to try. This is especially true when that person has a family to feed.
There are many times when I embark on a DIY food project: jam, preserved lemons, barbecue sauce. Not this weekend, though.
I just grabbed a half pound of chicken thighs from Whole Foods, simmered them in some water for about 25 minutes, then used some of that cooking liquid to mix into the mole sauce. Meanwhile, I sauteed some onion and pepper, then added some brown rice I had cooked the day before. Almost brainless.
Here's the final breakdown:
- Organic, free-range chicken thighs: $3.71 total, 4 meals ($0.92/person)
- Pepper (not sure what kind this is): ~$0.25 (~$0.13/person)
- Yellow Onion: About 1/2 = ~$0.45 ($0.23/person)
- San Angel Red Mole: $7.00 total, used 1/4 jar, 4 meals ($0.44/person)
- Brown rice: About 2 cups cooked: ~ $0.50/person
- Olive oil, kosher salt: Hard to guess, but I estimate a few cents at most
- Water: $0.00
Grand Total: Less than $2.50 per person