A Five Dollar Fairy Tale

Recipe:Black Bean Soup with Roasted Corn and Indian Spices

Slow food shouldn’t have to cost more than fast food. This was the tag line for Slow Food USA‘s recent $5 challenge: sharing a fresh, healthy meal with loved ones, friends, or strangers for less than $5 a person.

I’m not sure how much of a challenge it was – the reality is that anyone who participated in the challenge, is probably already a slow food cook; someone who has the knowledge, access,
resources and the time to cook from scratch with real ingredients. If you work a 16 hours just to make ends meet, or live in a food dessert, a cooking challenge from Slow Food USA is about as interesting as a green energy tax credit. It’s a fairy tale.

Still, illustrating that real food, great tasting food that’s actually good for you can cost the same or less than fast food seems worthwhile to me. Participating in an event like this gives me hope that change is possible.

My $5 challenge meal was Black Bean Soup with Roasted Corn and Indian Spices. I used primarily vegetables and fruit from our CSA bag; I’m still elated that Tiny’s Organic let us subscribe mid-season. I picked up my first bag before I even picked up the keys to the house we’re living in.

Improvisation was the theme of our $5 dinner. The soup was designed to use up an abundance of corn on the cob and tomatoes.  I like big flavors, and roasting the tomatoes, the corn-still-on-the-cob, and all the other vegetables pays off. My one dish meal easily serves 6, and even with bread on the side, still comes in under-budget, if you shop at my local farmer’s market, and buy your black beans and spices from the bulk bin.

The biggest challenge with a CSA, or a garden for that matter, is adjusting your cooking to use (or preserve) everything in your harvest bag. I’m still working on it, especially when I have an abundance of fruit – like the pluots that add an unusual depth to this soup.  Master this skill, and you learn very quickly that the investment you make at the beginning of the season, through a CSA or every week at the farmer’s market actually saves you money.

Don’t believe me? Read Robin Mather’s The Feast Nearby. Her book is a testament to the fact that local conscious eating isn’t only open to the financially well off.

I’m not going to argue that sustainably raised, organic, ethical, local food doesn’t cost more. It often does – especially meat.  I’m one of those people who took a long time to catch on to the fact that deep discount supermarket prices don’t reflect the real cost of food, those prices, which lead to directly to dollar menus, obesity, diabetes, and probably cancer are the work of generations of successful lobbyists and chemists. But if you learn to eat seasonally and to focus on plants those prices plummet.

The $5 challenge represents the possibility that everyone eating real food everyday won’t always be relegated to a land far-far-away.

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