Breadline Voices: How 'easy' is it to cook on a budget?

Cooking cheap meals requires a specific set of circumstances

By a local councillor, Cornwall 

One of the vicious ironies of life is that the wealthier you are, the more economically you can live. Yesterday I made very much soup, from two butternut squashes, a large pile of meh carrots, onion, ginger, peanut butter (no, really) and stock.

There was enough for five meals for two of us and it probably cost about £4. It is exactly the sort of cooking that people say people who use Foodbanks should do. ‘Oh, if you buy in bulk, and cook it and freeze it it's really cheap to make nutritious tasty meals’.

But here's the thing. There is a huge amount of privilege in being able to do that. I was able to get to a cheap supermarket to get the squash, and the market for onions because I have transport and can get to places where food is cheap and then carry it home.

I was able to use up leftover veg because I have somewhere to store it because I'm not relying on a shared kitchen with other people who might find my stash of onions, not-quite-rotten carrots and vegetable stock cubes too tempting.

I was able to prepare the veg because I have good sharp knives and chopping boards because I haven't been placed in a bedsit or hostel with just a table knife and fork.

I was able to take the time to prepare the veg because I had the energy, having not been working long hours at something physically demanding, and not being in the midst of a flare up of pain or fatigue.

I was able to cook the stuff because I have not only pans but also a really excellent Instant Pot. I was able to turn the cooker on because my gas and electricity meter don't need topping up because card meters *always* cost more than any other kind of payment, and are reserved for the customers who are likely to have most difficulties in paying.

I could cook five meals worth of soup because I have a freezer, and am not worried about it breaking, or about the electricity cutting out (see above).

I could risk the soup not working because if it had gone wrong it would have been annoying but I would not have been in despair over the wasted food and I'd have just cooked something else.

I had the emotional energy to plan ahead because I am not spending all my time being terrified of what I’m going to eat next or where I’m going to cook it. So yeah, I made a lot of food for really very little money.

But another me, a me who has to rely on what the corner shop offers and I will be very surprised indeed if there’s a corner shop anywhere selling butternut squash or any other fresh veg at all, let alone selling it for 79p; a me who can’t top up the electricity because someone in the household needs shoes; a me who lives in a bed and breakfast and only has a microwave; a me who can’t keep supplies of what the actual me thinks of as ‘essential’ (stock, seasonings, peanut butter); would not have been able to do this economical thing.

Check your privilege. Always.
This is part of Breadline Voices, a series from The Food Foundation highlighting the realities faced by millions of families plunged into food and fuel poverty as food prices reach a 40-year high.

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