Thursday, March 4, 2010

Well ok, but I wouldn't call it frugality

Here's kind of a weird one, from a recent issue of Newsweek: Julia Reed makes a bet with friends that she can eat for under $50 per week (apparently she has developed well-earned reputation for extravagance) which she wins by using up expensive ingredients she had bought on previous sprees and trips and had never eaten. Money quote:
The good news about being formerly extravagant is that you have some pretty swell stuff lurking around. There was pasta I'd toted from Italy three trips ago; ditto balsamic vinegar of every conceivable age. There were anchovies and capers, olives, and pickled figs, three colors of lentils, and four kinds of rice. Why, I wondered, had I bought two bottles of walnut oil and one of blood-orange vinegar? I don't know, but it turns out they work really well together on a salad of watercress and endive. Does pasta have a shelf life? Supposedly it's two years, but my four-year-old pappardelle was just fine. Is it too gross to make a meal of the runny Epoisses my mother left at Christmas? Yes, but I found an Epoisses soufflé recipe from Anne Willan that made an elegant supper with a salad.
Although the length of the wager is unclear from the piece, I would venture to guess that most people could probably get through a week or two spending $50 per week on food using just with the things in the cabinets, even if blood-orange vinegar isn't among them. It's probably not fancy enough for Julia Reed, but I know there's some Natureburger mix buried somewhere in our cabinets, waiting for a fallow time.

I would point out that the very fact that she bought and brought home all this fancy stuff and then didn't use it until she'd made a bet is actually a symptom, a symptom of the same disease that I am exhibiting when I buy a book and put it on the shelf without reading it. We don't even bother to get the full use or pleasure out of the things we buy. Buying, having, is more important than the thing itself. In this sense, actually eating the food is a drawback, because then you don't have it anymore. At least a book still exists once you've read it.

But ultimately, this kind of thing is not sustainable. Either she'll get tired of working so hard to put interesting food on the table, or she'll run out of esoteric ingredients. She may have eaten olive and cream cheese sandwiches in college, but I doubt she'd want to do so now. And anyway, a story entitled "Budget Gourmet" should have some hint of ways to actually eat on a budget, not just use up the product of previous extravagance. No?

PS: I won't be linking to Newsweek too much anymore; we're letting the subscription lapse. We've probably taken it for 10 years at least, but DW doesn't like the redesign.

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