Are You Well Off if You're Eating Well?

Earlier this month Alice Waters was interviewed by Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes. She talked about eating organic food, shopping at farmer’s markets, cooking at home more. Leslie asked her if this way of eating couldn’t be considered elite. Alice defended herself well but if you read the comments online about the show from viewers, Leslie had posed the question on everyone’s mind. Most respondents held fast that the way of eating Waters proposed is definitely elite, way off-base for the budget and lifestyle of most Americans.

This idea of eating well being only for the rich and educated was challenged last year when a chef responded to KFC”s $10 Challenge.  KFC threw down the gauntlet claiming that you couldn’t make cannot create a family meal for less than $10 and Chef Kurt Michael Friese, board member of Slow Food USA, responded. Read his story of how he made a family meal of pan-fried chicken, poultry pan gravy, four buttermilk biscuits and mashed potatoes for $7.94 — and plus he had extra pieces of chicken and a carcass to use for soup.

There are many meals for four on Cookus Interruptus that you can make for under $10 – like Black Bean Stew and  Polenta with Asiago or Chicken Vegetable Teriyaki over Brown Rice.  Granted you have to have some high-quality staples in your cupboard like extra-virgin olive oil, tamari soy sauce, honey. My questions to you guys are – do you think eating well is only for the rich and educated? If not, why not? And what’s your best under $10 family meal? Okay. Discuss.

12 thoughts on “Are You Well Off if You're Eating Well?

  1. I’m sad about all of the negative comments about Waters’ ideas, but I did not see the segment, and it seems like a lot of the negativity was sparked by Waters’ demeanor.

    My husband and I are on a limited income but refuse to eat “junk.” It takes a lot of work–I’m constantly searching for easy, healthy recipes so that we can cook instead of use processed food for our meals (eating out is a rare treat since it’s so expensive, and we don’t eat meat so the fast food places are not an option). Planning is important, and sometimes he takes over when I decide (all of a sudden) that I’m too tired to cook. We try to use recipes that will give us a lot of nutrition and coincidentally that has turned out to be the best bargain.

    I’d love to take on the $10 challenge. One of my favorite cheap but extremely healthy meals is Hearty Peasant Soup (recipe: I’m pretty sure it costs less than $10, depending mostly on the bread one gets.

    You’ve given me a lot of think about. I’ll try to come up with more ideas for ‘real food–cheap’!

  2. What a great question. I get this all the time from people who think eating heathy is to expensive. We our a one income family of four on the lower middle class wages side. I skip the middle isles when shopping and stick to as “whole” of foods as I can. It costs less making your own bread and buying a one pound bad of dried beans instead of canned. My kids eat carrot sticks and not potato chips. People would be so surprized if they stopped buying junk how much money for food they would really have. My under $10 meal would have to be to roast a whole chicken with some red potatos , carrots, and onions make some rolls or crusty french bread . Then using the back and any left over meat to make chicken fried rice the next day. Love love your cookbook and your show. Keep up the good work.


  3. My main concern isn’t that Waters’s lifestyle is elite in the sense of pricey. I struggle with whether that lifestyle could be maintained by all of the world’s population. I suspect that a world full of farmers markets and organic food might be unable to provide enough food for the world’s current population. In that sense, maybe that lifestyle is only for the elite. (See Spoiled: Organic and Local Is So 2008 in Mother Jones.)

    However, I do believe that eating healthily food is within the reach of everyone—as long as we can let go a little on some of our pet theories about what that would look like (e.g. local and organic).

  4. Check out the website Here is a woman who has taken the idea of creating affordable home cooked meals and really made it accessible with recipes and cost analysis that meet the budget of a food stamp reciepient. She even has it broken down into a conventional and a “green” plan.

    Of course all of this assumes that there is a basic level of cooking knowledge and some basic cooking equipment. But again we are talking basics, no culinary degrees.

    I think that for many Americans the challenge is more than just money. It’s lack of knowledge of how to prepare basic foods at home. Dry grains and legumes are affordable and with just a little skill and planning there isn’t much active cooking time to have the basis for many nutritious home cooked afforable meals.

    I think we should spend more time teaching people how to use a pressure cooker and less time counting calories in fast food meals and frozen microwave dinners.

  5. As the manager (girl friday, chief bottlecap washer, and ceo) of an obesity prevention campaign for elementary students in a city of 60,000, I can tell you without a doubt healthful eating is seen as something “rich people” do. The comments I hear from parents I work with regarding why they canot eat well are: no time, no money, don’t know how, and it’s a waste because the kids won’t eat it (going back to economics).

    It can be hard to argue with people on some of these, because they see it as a judgement on thier lives and parenting skills. I have to bite my tongue when I see them smoke, drink soda, eat candy, etc (Save money by not getting that junk!).

    But there is a BIG learning curve that needs to happen for people to understand what to do with whole foods that do not come in a box or can. A learning curve that requires time and FUNDING. Frankly, if I did not have a computer, I wouldn’t know what to do with half of my CSA food this year! So the question becomes, how do we provide comprehensive nutrition education to families without being condescending, overwhelming or elitist?

    Further- can we settle for starting by getting people to eat more nutritiously (or adventurously) before urging people to eat organically- which I incidentally do. I think sometimes people do not realize how off-putting the concept of organic can be to someone who feels like they cannot afford any fresh fruit and veg. To add environmental, local, and organic concerns becomes overwhelming quickly to a family with few resources, lots of worries and limited education. Imagine how it may feel to a family on public support?

  6. For someone who really belives in the advantages of healthy eating to start a free cooking class at a local church or fire house and make it fun, with field trips to the local farmers market, etc. would be a great idea. lower income parents have a desire to be educated, not lectured to.

  7. One of the greatest influences on my life came from my Kindergarten teacher. In the spring we planted radish seeds in the window boxes just outside our classroom, and in a very short time we were harvesting what we planted. It was really miraculous to a Kindergartener. The joy of harvesting my own food has stuck with me always and my garden is always packed with produce each summer. I know that growing your own food isn’t viable for most city dwellers but if more suburban families were encouraged to garden (and I’m thrilled that the President + first family are setting a great example) with small children that the connection to real fresh food would be ingrained in our culture with great value.

    I agree that the prices charged at farmers markets are expensive but how do you compare agribusiness on a huge scale to a local small farmer who needs to sell her produce for more than it costs to grow it. If local small farmers were able to obtain government subsidies, like huge corporate growers, then perhaps the cost of locally grown food would be reduced. The value of retaining agricultural land has been squashed by expansive suburbanization where local farms are converted to housing tracts. If greater value were placed on retaining ag land then produce would not be grown further and further away from where we live on mega-farms. There are so many issues conspiring to make locally grown produce expensive. I think that Alice Waters is trying to generate interest, especially through her gardening in schools program, in the value of fresh produce with young people that will influence food policy in the future. To condemn her aspirations is very short sighted.

  8. I frequently run up against “budget concerns” when advocating organic, whole foods to my middle-class friends. I often find that they really just have a different set of priorities than my own. They put a higher value on their transportation, communication, and fashion needs than I do. My family has chosen to own one paid-for, used car, use prepaid cell phones sparingly, and limit our overall consumerism in order to afford more expensive food.

    However, where REAL budgetary concerns are an issue, I think it often comes down to time committment. There are cheap, whole foods out there that can be raised in a home garden and cooked from scratch without a large dent in the wallet. Also, cooking from scratch from bulk ingredients is quite inexpensive. Once again, this often requires more of a cooking time committment. (I recently learned how to make my own whole wheat tortillas when our budget no longer allowed for our preferred brand. And, of course, they are much yummier!)

    We have many cheap, whole foods meals to draw from at home, including many versions of rice and beans. We buy organic brown rice and beans from Whole Foods.

  9. I think the time and energy involved can make healthy eating seem as elitist as the actual cost of food. Imagine having a dead-end job that drains you of every ounce of mental and physical energy while barely paying the bills. Now, go home to your kids whose other parent is nowhere to be found. When do you go to the grocery store down the street, much less the farmers market across town? When do you plan what to buy or what to make with the food you have on hand?

    While I am thankfully not in this situation as an adult, it is not far off from the lives my parents lived when I was very young. I really can’t blame them for the choices they made under those circumstances.

  10. Google “Will Allen Growing Power” – he’s my food role model. I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and feel very fortunate to be among my heros who are fighting the good fight to combat food insecurity. Will Allen, founder of Growing Power (an urban farm and education project in Milwaukee & Chicago) is perhaps a better spokesperson for eating wholesome food – moreover, making wholesome food available for everyone. He’s a farmer, not a chef – and while Alice Waters is one of my favorite people, Will has a more sincere urgency to set our food system straight.

    Will was awarded the Mac Arthur Fellowship in 2008, has recently gained well-deserved national publicity for his work and has changed the lives of everyone lucky enough to learn from him.

  11. Good healthy food is so much cheaper! Growing your own costs so little and doubles as an activity with the kids! Our home made bread is simpler to make than piling kids into the car to go buy some in a packet and even when using organic ingredients still only costs about $2.50 to make. Alot of packet food like cake mixes claim to be quick and easy, but are no simpler than whipping up a quick cake (which really isnt that hard), its just that most people havent even tried because they’ve been duped into thinking its difficult.

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