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Good and Cheap - Cooking on SNAP
August 2, 2014 7:44 PM   Subscribe

The Salt, NPR's food blog, explains how Leanne Brown was inspired to develop a cookbook for people on SNAP. Leanne published Good and Cheap[PDF] as the capstone project for her MA in Food Studies at New York University and released it online as a free ebook. She also ran a successful Kickstarter to produce a print version.
posted by Arbac (60 comments total) 154 users marked this as a favorite

 
My mother did something similar on a smaller scale when she worked for the Cooperative Extension.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:59 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


As someone who grew up on government cheese and potted chicken, I appreciate this. A little informed guidance, offered kindly, can make all the difference.
posted by SPrintF at 8:18 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


That cookbook is seriously amazing. I might take a stab at a few recipes next week.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:29 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yes, it's a really nice-looking cookbook: good photography and inviting recipes.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:33 PM on August 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


46 million people on SNAP? Gods help the USA. Snagged the cookbook. Thanks for the post.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:34 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's a little bit soulless. I've seen this touted elsewhere and it's really nothing special. The Stone Soup eBook came first and did it better.

Roast a chicken for six with lemon, butter, and garlic - tell me to not lose the tasty juices - and not one word about making gravy with those tasty juices. A mason jar and ten cents worth of flour and water makes the difference here.

This is some weird kind of reductionist cookery - sure, save the giblets and neck for stock instead of roasting them for gravy, but you use the juices. You use every goddamn bit you have to hand.
posted by angerbot at 8:38 PM on August 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Itaxpica: “That cookbook is seriously amazing.”
Indeed. The "it's not a big deal" tone is really helpful. I'm a pretty good cook, but before seeing Brown's recipe I'd have never thought to try pierogies. Now I'm going to make some!
posted by ob1quixote at 8:38 PM on August 2, 2014


The Stone Soup eBook came first and did it better.

Oh, and meets a hard and fast $4 a day budget? This is my skeptical face.

ALSO: She has another cookbook called FROM SCRATCH that is also free for download!
posted by liketitanic at 8:43 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, no. Stone Soup looks nice and all, but here's some of what the five-ingredient recipes require: cottage cheese, cookies, liquor, cream cheese, smoked salmon, sour cream, capers, buffalo mozzarella, "perfectly ripe cheese," soba noodles, bok choy, fresh herbs--2 small sprigs of rosemary? a "few leaves" of basil? stuff you have to know how to use to use the excess, "fresh Singapore noodles," almonds (really expensive), fennel, "LAGRE HANDFULS" of parmigiano reggiano, marinated feta, and pine nuts. There goes your $4 a day, man.

That's a cookbook that's going for fast and good (and occasionally cheap). Good and Cheap goes for cheap and good (though often fast). Getting all 3 in the same cookbook is really difficult. They fundamentally do different things.

FTA: "Sanders, Mahoney and Pickering have all been on SNAP for a number of years, and they say Good and Cheap, which they discovered online, works better for them than anything else they've been able to find. And that's important when what they can cook determines how well they and their families can eat."
posted by liketitanic at 8:51 PM on August 2, 2014 [31 favorites]


I am liking the cookbook because it has things that I cook already (which lets you see how realistic the recipes are) and is full of lots more that look good and make me want to try them. That it does it on a SNAP budget is impressive (and makes it distinctly different than the stone soup one, as noted). I hope people find it useful.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:55 PM on August 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Oh, Wildly Affordable Organic looks good, too! (But part of the appeal of Brown's book is immediate, free access--this is $12 new. Also pretty preachy.)
posted by liketitanic at 8:57 PM on August 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Those USDA recipes linked in the NPR article remind me of nothing so much as those awful "cookbooklets" from the supermarket in the '70s sponsored by the big soup company that we seemed to have by the basketful in my food stamp-using home, so every recipe was basically a variation of cream of mushroom soup with onions and ground beef. Ugh.

Downloaded her eBooks listed here, though, and I'm definitely going to share! There was nothing like this when I was raised on the dole, that's for sure.
posted by droplet at 8:58 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


how long do you freeze the cake for?
posted by stbalbach at 10:00 PM on August 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


[I know money and food and class are touchy issues, but please try to keep from overly harsh namecalling]
posted by mathowie at 10:01 PM on August 2, 2014


I think this is useful and good, and would have been useful to me when I was on food stamps, but even if it isn't useful to some -- aren't there enough declared actual enemies of the poor, that we don't have to roast well-intentioned friends?
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 10:09 PM on August 2, 2014 [13 favorites]


I like the recipes and philosophy. It's quite good and uses ingredients that are inexpensive, last for some time and are good in combination. I have no idea why $144,681 of a $10,000 goal or even why kickstarter is a thing here. I'm glad the .pdf is free [provided of course you have a computer and internet access] but it seems Leanne Brown can now eat on her budget for 72,340.5 days.

Can someone explain to me why this is a kickstarter thing at fourteen times the goal when it's also a book for sale?

Congratulations certainly and no jealousy [I swear, sort of] but huh?
posted by vapidave at 11:53 PM on August 2, 2014


After a quick skim, one of the wonderful aspects of this cookbook is the production values. It's visually attractive and reasonably easy to read (although it's not awesome for the visually impaired, not does it rely on the more average 8th-grade vocabulary).

Its special reliance is affordable whole foods, even when those whole foods are canned, frozen, or dried. It also assumes very limited kitchen equipment - can opener, knife/cutting board, cooking spoon and spatula; heat source, pot, frying pan, baking sheet, loaf pan, casserole; bowls, plates, spoons, forks/chopsticks, large cups/glasses. I think the only appliance suggested is a blender, and she gives work-arounds for that.

My one wish is it had more process pictures.

I'm greatly impressed, and hope many copies of the print version go to the folks who need it most.
posted by Dreidl at 12:13 AM on August 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Can someone explain to me why this is a kickstarter thing at fourteen times the goal when it's also a book for sale
The pledge rewards on the right hand side. People who back also get something in return, in the end. In addition to those who paid $20 for a printed copy, there were a whole bunch of people who paid for get one, give one at $25 - i.e. they get a copy, and pay for a copy for go to someone else. And the more expensive rewards, like buy one gift 10, or an obscure restaurant tour.

The monies made over and above the goal will go into fulfilling those rewards first. Given that she's using the stated goal funds to set up a gift service of hard copies of the book to those who need it - i.e. those without internet and ereader - I expect that any extra money left over will go into that.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:47 AM on August 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


how long do you freeze the cake for?

Until it's frozen!
posted by Night_owl at 2:17 AM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is great. I'm better now at planning and substitutions, but I got serious about cooking right around the time I had to get serious about budgeting, and I used to find it kind of stressful to go through the cookbook and try to figure out which recipes I needed to veto for too-expensive ingredients. This book would have been helpful.
posted by gerstle at 2:31 AM on August 3, 2014


I think this is brilliant. Inexpensive, readily-available, unprocessed ingredients, made into a tasty meal.

Good for her.
posted by Salamander at 2:35 AM on August 3, 2014


Wow, this is really cool! I hope it benefits it's intended audience, because a lot of those look easy and delicious and super cheap!
posted by Kitteh at 4:56 AM on August 3, 2014


Oh, awesome, there's also an option to get cheap printed copies in bulk for organizations serving low-income clients. I would love to be able to hand this out. Obviously a lot of people who this would benefit don't have the kind of internet access that makes the e-book practical.

If nothing else, I think I'll take advantage of the buy + donate option.

Love this project, and love the attitude with which she approaches it.
posted by obfuscation at 5:47 AM on August 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Thanks for posting! I'm not on SNAP but I am on a budget and I think this will be helpful.
posted by desjardins at 7:22 AM on August 3, 2014


One other difference between this and The Stone Soup eBook is that the author did her research on releasing free books: whereas Stone Soup is "©... All rights reserved" in the colophon with some informal text about it being "free", with another informal statement "Don't worry about copyright" on the final page, Good and Cheap's text, recipes, design, and photographs are licensed under the cutting-edge cross-jurisdictional Creative Commons Attribution­ NonCommercial­ ShareAlike 4.0 license that was released in November of last year, giving users and distributors in most legal jurisdictions around the world much more specific knowledge and certainty of what they can do with it.

A great-grandma of these may be Home Chefs of the World, compiled by lnderjeet K. Virmani as a project of the International Rice Research Instituteˆ and the Suhay International Women's Organization of the Philippines, originally published in 1991 with only limited reproduction rights but released under a Creative Commons 3.0 license per its download page now.
posted by XMLicious at 7:59 AM on August 3, 2014 [10 favorites]


this is a super great thing, thanks for posting it here
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:09 AM on August 3, 2014


I'm ...going to make that Brussels sprout hash and eggs for lunch right now it looks and sounds delightful.
posted by The Whelk at 8:22 AM on August 3, 2014


I'm living at SNAP levels and have been for about a year now. The year before, I'd sworn off buying food with ingredients, except for the occasional RAPA scrapple and Little Debbie Nutty Bar, and the combination of a household ban on food with ingredients and poverty from an unexpected career change has been the catalyst for me going from being a fine executor of recipes to a damn good cook with whatever's at hand. In order to still eat cheese, my rule's relaxed a bit to include foods with 3-5 ingredients, as long as none of them are weird plasticky non-food bullshit.

I stock nice, cheap staples, bought in quantity and accumulated in mason jars or sealed in vacuum bags with a $7 sealer from the thrift store, a generous set of spices, and the occasional luxury item to be used as as a complement. I make big batches, divide and seal up everything in the vacuum bags (which can be washed out and reused until they get too small for anything but spice mixtures), can cheap fruits and vegetables from the farmer's market, and grow mountains of herbs out back from about six bucks worth of seed, which get used fresh or dried in a $24 dehydrator from Harbor Freight and stored.

When that angsty sensation appears, the old I-have-nothing-in-the-house-to-eat Jones for junk, I stand in front of the fridge with that thought, and where the old temporarily middle-class me would have just gone to the store, temporarily poor me knows that there is no money coming in, and what is there is what I have got to use to feed body and soul. In my wayward youth, I survived on ramen, beans & rice, and moral violations of the chili and cheese dispenser at 7-11, but in adulthood, I have accumulated wisdom and experience and an understanding of how feeling unworthy of more just feeds the cycles of self-neglect.

This morning, after a long, exhausting night of repeated spurious alarm calls from a beagle in need of recalibration, I stood in front of the fridge and thought hmmm.

I made a buckwheat waffle with lemon zest and a hint of cayenne, made a reduction of frozen strawberries, frozen mulberries from the tree in my yard, a teaspoon of very old and wonderful balsamic vinegar that once cost a fortune, but will last forever at a teaspoon a dose, and a little of the honey remaining from my former beehive, gave the waffle a smear of the last dregs of cream cheese from another recipe and the resulting reduction, and served it up with a side of two well-fried slices from a frozen batch of my insanely good goetta drizzled with a zig-zag of sriracha and a cup of bitter-dark coffee sweetened with dollar store condensed milk.

Working in the arts over the last decade, I have become friendly with more than my share of poverty-stricken art students and poverty-strickener art school graduates, and I've had this rush of nostalgia, in that I had wild and wonderful adventures as a poor and poverty-stricken high school dropout with a broken-down Datsun and a job delivering pizza, and I looked at my new friends as inspiration. We wish sometimes, or at least I do, to go back to our youth with adult wisdom and understanding, and being suddenly jobless and at least momentarily unemployable has been the put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is moment for me. In lieu of parental support, I have the meager return from cashing out my 403B and my six months of unemployment benefits, and I'm going up against the problem of age-related body failure at 46, a situation bettered by the late advent of the Affordable Care Act, but I've been doing okay, and I'm cooking like I have never cooked before.

I step into the kitchen, and sometimes, I just have that yawning, desperate sensation of fear and emptiness because the money is dwindling and working as a handyman where I can is not quite keeping up, but the options are (A) to just sit in the big green chair in the front room and stare out the window all day or (B) to make something fucking fabulous out of the random raw materials in my kitchen, set a place at my dining table like a civilized human being, put on some Wendy Carlos, and feed my soul for the day so I'll have the energy and self-importance to keep working on the three books, two stage performance scripts, podcast, and upcoming ambient gigs that are, after all, why I'm here in the world instead of to just be a moderate cog in a moderate clockwork of a moderate gestalt organizational nonbeing that will produce nothing comparable to what I'd be able to do with this lumpy old life if I ever manage to figure it all out.

Simple steps lie at the start of every meaningful journey, and learning to cook like a chef has been one of mine. It's so easy, when you're beat-down, and when you've failed, from the standpoint of the world at large, to just shrink, and to let your expectations get smaller, and smaller, and smaller until you can just barely get by, both in resources and esteem, but being able to say "I fucking deserve a good meal," even when your bank balance disagrees, is a great way to repudiate the doubts and uncertainties. I fucking deserve a good meal, and so does every single person in the world who's not a malicious, negating dick.

So what's for dinner?

Let's see—
posted by sonascope at 8:30 AM on August 3, 2014 [86 favorites]


Speaking as someone who is always overwhelmed when I look at the spice cabinet, I love the flavor combination section at the end.

Also, pierogi parties are the best (we would always have one the day after Thanksgiving to use up leftover mashed potatoes).
posted by ghost phoneme at 8:35 AM on August 3, 2014


The USDA cookbook linked in the NPR article is nearly 15 years old. Even USDA understands the food renaissance happening in this country. The meals in the Healthy Eating on a Budget 2-week Sample Cookbook are closer to Leanne Brown's cookbook than they are to the old USDA cookbook.

That said, it's always nice to have as many references as possible to help people stretch their dwindling SNAP benefits. Especially real world-proven, healthy recipes in a pleasing format.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:45 AM on August 3, 2014


Yes! It's the format I like, so colorful! So friendly! So simple and direct! No grim specter of Making Do!
posted by The Whelk at 8:53 AM on August 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


I like how colorful it is! I know the pictures in a cookbook shouldn't matter, but they do.
posted by vespabelle at 9:31 AM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


One thing this book doesn't concentrate on, unless I've missed it in my quick scanning of the contents, is the importance of mastering the mother sauces. When you've got a grip on the basics of the Escoffier sauces, for instance, it's astonishing what you can do with even withered or freezer-burned vegetables or a tiny bit of a strong, possibly too-old cheese.

In the past six months, I've gone a bit wok-crazy, because at the start of my impoverishment, I had a forty-year-old carbon steel wok that hasn't seen soap in twenty-five years and a twenty-five-year-old anodized aluminum mini wok, and getting a handle on the way Asian sauces work has brought me many, many insanely good stir fries and a few unpleasant missteps (you eat those anyway, and reflect on where they went wrong as part of the learning process).

Most sauces use cheap ingredients and staples, but take ordinary foods to lovely places. Mastering basic Béchamel has had my houseguests label me a kitchen genius, but it's really just butter, flour, and milk (and when you're poor, you can use powdered milk and it's very, very hard for even a discerning palate to detect your cheaperie). Throw in chicken, mushrooms, parmesan (if you use the stronger tasting stuff around the dark edge of the block, you can use less for the same flavor), and a little stock and dried herbs (I've been adding a touch of smoked paprika lately), mix it up with a pound of cooked spaghetti and bake it for twenty in a 9x13 and you've got a great poverty Tetrazzini. Someone gave me a gift card for Wegman's a while back and I made Tetrazzini from a foodie recipe full of bespoke, fancypants ingredients…and it wasn't nearly as good as the basic recipe my grandmother made (I do, however, use actual mushrooms instead of the canned ones that were of her time and place).

The value of a sauce, though—oh my, what a difference.

A bowl of plain white rice is just a steamy bowl of defeat to eat in your cell in the convent, but a bowl of rice with a bit of coconut milk (pour the can into an ice cube tray and freeze up a bunch of 1 TBSP cubes and you'll always have coconut milk on hand) with chopped fried onion, some stir-fried eggplant or zucchini, a bit of red curry paste, and soy sauce is a tasty thing. When I was growing up, we ate from a large subsistence garden, and my mother, who'd grown up in Baltimore with few vegetables that weren't canned, loved nothing more than just steaming everything and serving it plain, but man, add a bit of a good sauce to those things, or even a good splash of vinegar, olive oil, and dried herbs, and you feel less like you're on the gruel train to the gulag and more like you're a fancy urbane sophisticate.
posted by sonascope at 9:31 AM on August 3, 2014 [40 favorites]


I kinda want to read the sonascope cookbook now.
posted by boo_radley at 11:07 AM on August 3, 2014 [19 favorites]


So do I. Please write one?

Also sonascope if I ever win the lottery I would totally hire you as my private chef/beekeeper/maker of sundry delicious things.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:24 AM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I saw this when it was posted on Reddit a few months back.

I think this a great thing for a lot of folks, but having known some people who've been on food stamps and having grown up poor myself, these recipes don't strike me as very useful. It’s a good exercise in how to eat gourmet-style food somewhat cheaply, but it’s missing the context of poor people needing healthy and filling food. Cheap fancy dishes are nice but lack long-term staying power. You couldn't feed a couple of working adults and a couple of school children using these recipes and the food purchased using food stamps. Plus the portions don’t really seem appropriate.

Another thing the author didn't seem to consider is that significant portion of people on food stamps spend all their time working / raising children and generally don’t have time to cook very much. Personal time (and energy) to cook and clean is what people on food stamps is less likely to have if you're working multiple jobs and/or have a family. Cheap foods often require a lot of time to cook, like beans and rice and things like that. Produce can't sit very long, so that requires more trips to the market (which take more time).

Exacerbating this is that people on food stamps are more likely to live in an area that's a food desert and won't have as easy access to items like fresh produce. It's also such a huge hassle to take groceries on the bus--limited space, long waist, can't take frozen/cooled items. People without access to a car will usually default to whatever is closest to walk for them. All too frequently, that's not a proper grocery store.

Another thing I see missing is explaining how to maximize use. Buy a whole chicken and then make stock from the bones. It does mention doing this, but never talks about how to do this. Same thing with a ham bone. Eating cheaply is also about getting more out of the same food.

And in the spirit of maximizing use: offal. Offal is probably the most under utilized animal protein around. Beef heart is the most amazing steak most people have probably never eaten. Sweetbreads? Holy poot they're the king of the chicken nugget world when made properly. I can get a pound of chicken hearts at my local ethnic grocery for $1, and that's enough for two meals. Organs and such are tragically absent from American dining tables.

Also missing: menu plans and shopping lists.

A for intent, but D for not really understanding the challenges the poor face when it comes to making home-cooked meals.

Personally, I think a free PDF like The Low-Budget Vegetarian or even Reddit's College Cookbook do a better job on the cheap-but-healthy side of things.
posted by magstheaxe at 11:41 AM on August 3, 2014 [13 favorites]


Seems like a collection of carb bomb recipes. I wonder how healthy this is in practice.

The scrambled eggs with tomatoes thing looks good though.
posted by rr at 11:45 AM on August 3, 2014


A for intent, but D for not really understanding the challenges the poor face when it comes to making home-cooked meals.

I disagree with you; I think she understands that there are many challenges. I greatly appreciate her efforts both to get this document in the hands of those who don't have resources to the internet or e-readers, and to work directly with those on SNAP to stretch their dollars in grocery stores.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:56 AM on August 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


The trouble with writing recipes is that mine follow my usual pattern of interminable prattling and, when I was called upon to contribute some recipes for our Georgia family cookbook, my recipe for a fried egg sandwich ended up being 1449 words long and had dialogue, a flashback, and rambling about taoism. The family opted to accept my more brief recipes for daisy eggs and goetta, but suggested that the fried egg sandwich be reserved for a more appropriate venue, alas.

I blame my youthful obsession with Julia Child. Hell, my first drag was Julia.
posted by sonascope at 11:57 AM on August 3, 2014 [10 favorites]


Great MA project!
posted by travelwithcats at 12:30 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Apparently no deed is good or well intentioned enough to keep people from complaining about it. Life lesson learned for me, right here.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 12:34 PM on August 3, 2014 [22 favorites]


Delightful! Love the simplicity and all the pictures.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:54 PM on August 3, 2014


This woman is seriously doing God's work. Having variety of diet goes so far to make you feel human when you're really, really poor.
posted by a hat out of hell at 1:19 PM on August 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Apparently no deed is good or well intentioned enough to keep people from complaining about it. Life lesson learned for me, right here.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 3:34 PM on August


Several well-intentioned MeFites suggested cloth diapers instead of disposable ones for the poor, and got schooled pretty quickly on why that suggestion isn't even remotely practical. If people are genuinely well-intentioned, they don't throw a pouty snit when it's pointed out that their ideas have some flaws.

Look, I gave a specific critique as to where I believe her project fails in its ultimate goal. Or rather, fails in its stated goal, because of course the ultimate goal was to get the author her master's degree.

Ms. Brown is to be commended for bringing attention to the needs of people on SNAP. Her recipes are varied and mouth-watering. The book looks fabulous, and is most certainly well-written. And it's a free download--always a plus. I have no doubt that some users of SNAP will find her cookbook helpful

But the cookbook still fails to address certain issues that people on SNAP face, issues that may very well limit the book's utility to that population. I know it's not a one-size-fits-all cookbook for folks on SNAP, but it's a real surprise to see what it doesn't address.
posted by magstheaxe at 2:11 PM on August 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


Another thing the author didn't seem to consider is that significant portion of people on food stamps spend all their time working / raising children and generally don’t have time to cook very much.

This was going to be my jump-to critique too, but many of the dishes in here are fairly quick too. In terms of active time vs passive time, the cookbook seems pretty legit. Most cookbooks geared towards saving money are not.

And in the spirit of maximizing use: offal. Offal is probably the most under utilized animal protein around. Beef heart is the most amazing steak most people have probably never eaten. Sweetbreads? Holy poot they're the king of the chicken nugget world when made properly. I can get a pound of chicken hearts at my local ethnic grocery for $1, and that's enough for two meals. Organs and such are tragically absent from American dining tables.

I think the hurdle with offal is sadly, a greater problem to tackle than some of the other things mentioned. American's for whatever reason don't buy this stuff, and it's a damn shame. (my personal theory is that since we had access to so much beef and pork as such a young country, we really got used to the 'better cuts' and collectively ignored the rest, and forgot how to prepare it). The only problem with offal rising in popularity is that the same thing that happened to beef shank, oxtail, and to pork belly will happen to your chicken hearts; they'll simply raise in price once they start becoming a little bit more vogue. Pork belly used to be throw-away cheap at the asian market. No longer. Beef shanks used to be the best kept beef secret ever, but now that foodies everywhere realize that you can cut the meat off the bone for a braise or a stew, and you get a marrow bone leftover to snack on, their cheap-as-beans price is gone. This sucks for anyone trying to eat well on a budget.

FWIW, I usually opt for the $2 package of duck hearts; better flavor overall. Half each one up and sear them over a screaming hot cast iron skillet and you've got an amazingly cheap (we're talking pennies here people) red-meat analog that tastes phenomenal. Even better if you can get a little color on them (quickly is the key!) with a searing hot grill outside. Oh god.

Also missing: menu plans and shopping lists.

I really like this cookbook overall, but this is the biggest shortcoming of a cookbook geared towards people on a budget. Collectively, those recipes are really cheap; but their power is really intertwined with how you connect the recipes together to decrease your time cooking, and your ingredients your buying, cooking, and wasting. This is the skill that people on SNAP need. Being on SNAP isn't an instance of 'choosing two' of either fast, easy or cheap. It has to be all three. It can be done, but it requires a long-term effort, which is hard to impart to alot of folks on SNAP.

Menu planning is the part of cooking that takes the longest to figure out how to do well. It requires new ways of thinking that aren't really written about in cookbooks (on a whole, there are some great exceptions out there). There been cookbooks that have helped me build a good pantry, but not any that really deal well with meal planning and how to properly dovetail a weeks worth of protein and grains into a bunch of different dishes that don't feel mega-boring. It takes lots practice, loads of general food knowledge and a bit of creativity. It's the most valuable skill I can say I bring to my family, and I know that I'm lucky I obtained it. The only way I developed it back in the day I was working at a grocery store that let us take home scratch and dents and items from the bulk bins that had been poured into bags and left behind by customers changing their minds. Once you have a full case of freshly dented cans of garbanzos in your kitchen, you figure out how to use them quiiiiick. Fortunately, most of this stuff tended to be basics and staples.

I've helped a couple friends one-on-one with sort of the "kitchen economy" of meal planning, but damn, it rarely comes naturally. I've got my own 'food trees' based on the more expensive items we buy, which are usually proteins, but sometimes its breads, fancy canned items or other big ticket buddies. When you break it down for someone that when you buy a pork shoulder, you go nuts and eat pulled pork sandwiches on night one, pork burritos on night two, pork stir fry on night three, breakfast hash & eggs for night three, and a slamming kimchi stew the last night, it really takes the sting out of the $12 roast. Shifting people to a 'meat as a flavor agent, not a 'main portion' is hard, but its the best way to go about it. That's a really hard turn for peoples eating patterns to take.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:32 PM on August 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


It’s a good exercise in how to eat gourmet-style food somewhat cheaply, but it’s missing the context of poor people needing healthy and filling food.

Food like channa masala or perogies or a vegetable quiche are now considered gourmet, and not filling or healthy? A cookbook with not only recipes for tasty food, but suggestions within many recipes on how to make a wide variety of substitutions, or how to use the end product of the recipe in other dishes to expand your menu and stretch your food dollar, is not useful enough for people on SNAP?
posted by palomar at 2:38 PM on August 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


In looking for something unrelated I came across a SNAP Recipe Finder web site, offering a variety of search options including "☑ Ready in 30 Minutes or Less" and what equipment you have avaliable to cook with as well as a personalization feature to "Build Your Own Cookbook".
posted by XMLicious at 4:02 PM on August 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm getting and grokking the slightly problematic aspects of this, but it makes me sadder that people are actively hating on something that Aims to Do Good. Perfect the enemy of the good, indeed. I'm hoping that for everyone who is criticizing this, criticizing how to feed the poor, are active in your community to change their circumstances.
posted by Kitteh at 4:21 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


InsertNiftyNameHere: "46 million people on SNAP? Gods help the USA. Snagged the cookbook. Thanks for the post."

There's around 316 million people, so it's only covering about 15 percent of the population. Do you consider that too high? Should we only cover the poorest 10 percent? 1 percent?

Interestingly, as I was clicking around the federal SNAP program's website, it turns out I presently pass the net income test for SNAP, as decided to max out a retirement plan halfway through this year. Of course, I widely fail the gross income test, and I'd need to make a large IRA contribution to meet the assets test. That last bit is good to know, as the department of the university I work for is always riding the razor's edge on funding.

XMLicious: "In looking for something unrelated I came across a SNAP Recipe Finder web site, offering a variety of search options including "☑ Ready in 30 Minutes or Less" and what equipment you have avaliable to cook with as well as a personalization feature to "Build Your Own Cookbook"."

Probably the biggest challenge for any 'SNAP--But Healthy!' cookbook is the 'will my kids eat it?' test. Okay, its probably a challenge for any Healthy cookbook regardless of price constraints. Watermelon smoothies, sure. Roasted Cauliflower Tacos might be a harder sell.

Also, I lol'd at the 'Note on Prices':
For non-pantry items like specific spices and a wider variety of fruits and vegetables, I consulted an online grocery store

Now I'm curious if Amazon accepts SNAP. Or which online grocery stores do, and what their shipping rates are.

magstheaxe: "Another thing the author didn't seem to consider is that significant portion of people on food stamps spend all their time working / raising children and generally don’t have time to cook very much."

The mefi favorite comicbook turned webcomic, Poorcraft, suffers from a similar critique. It seems that poorcrafting less about being poor, and more about being underemployed. Raise chickens! Turn your backyard into a farmer's market!
posted by pwnguin at 4:34 PM on August 3, 2014


Poorcraft has a specific section on how raising chickens is a hobby, not a frugality, and recommends against it.
posted by The Whelk at 4:55 PM on August 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm hoping that for everyone who is criticizing this, criticizing how to feed the poor, are active in your community to change their circumstances.

I hope my post didn't come across that way. I wasn't trying to be critical as much as trying to identify why can be done better; the obstacles in terms of hunger and nutrition for people who are SNAP eligible and close to SNAP eligibility are huge and numerous. This can be tackled on many fronts. There are quite a few links above that show similar "cheap, simple, good eats" but what I and other posters who are critical of the linked book are (I hope) are just trying to highlight how we can do this better.

Giving people financial resources like SNAP benefits and giving them free resources like cookbooks are great, but people who are in that economic situation need more than that.

This cookbook isn't perfect; there isn't a perfect cookbook. This is also a good cookbook. Both can be true
posted by furnace.heart at 5:16 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]



Food like channa masala or perogies or a vegetable quiche are now considered gourmet, and not filling or healthy? A cookbook with not only recipes for tasty food, but suggestions within many recipes on how to make a wide variety of substitutions, or how to use the end product of the recipe in other dishes to expand your menu and stretch your food dollar, is not useful enough for people on SNAP?
posted by palomar at 5:38 PM on August 3


I was typing out an entire response to this, but instead I'll simply agree with what furnace.heart said: I wasn't trying to be critical as much as trying to identify why can be done better.
posted by magstheaxe at 5:22 PM on August 3, 2014


Meal planning doesn't belong in a cookbook necessarily. There's a big difference between meal planning when you live near a supermarket by public transit, when you're in a rural community with a vegetable garden, or when your family eats one or two meals a day outside the home at school/work/relatives etc. Meal planning would be a whole separate and complicated book, involving shopping, scheduling, food storage and more.

This is a cookbook that focuses on fairly complete healthy meals that can be made with cheap materials, not a household budget guide, or a learn to cook without a recipe book (a very useful skill to have, but one that pretty much requires a working knowledge of sauces, cooking methods and ingredients to be able to grab what's on sale and know how to turn that into a decent meal. My husband's been cooking as long as I have, but he can't do that without a recipe and thinks I'm a witch for being able to turn a vegetable drawer of wilting leftovers into a meal)

Seriously, she's offering one well-done segment of the puzzle, not declaring hunger is solved.

Come to think of it, I have read a lot of meal planning books, and I can't think of one that has actually been truly helpful because they all seem to imagine you can reliably do a supermarket shop each week, have a giant fridge/freezer and a consistent schedule.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:00 PM on August 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


I feel like some of you seem to have weird ideas about SNAP recipients. There is no "the poor". And "people who are in that economic situation" don't necessarily "need more than that". Not every book has to go over the ABC and not every cookbook has to give you a 101 on cooking. This cookbook however can give you fresh ideas. Many people (regardless of their income) have a few go-to recipes that can get repetitive after a while and it's always good to get out of a rut.

So, back to the demographics. Here are a few characteristics of SNAP recipients [PDF, page 36, 79]:
- Children live in 45 % of all SNAP households
- Elderly individuals live in 17 % of all SNAP households
- 22.8% are Single-Person Households not containing children, elderly individuals, or disabled nonelderly individuals

- ~20 % of all SNAP household heads are employed, ~21% are unemployed and looking for work, and about 49% are not in the labor force and not looking for work

[PDF, page 12]:
Less than 1% of SNAP recipients hold a PhD or a JD, over 10% of working SNAP recipients have a Bachelor's degree or more, and about 47% attended "some" college

The group of recipients is diverse and some people will naturally find this cookbook more helpful than others. Just like any other group with any other book. It's a great resource nonetheless.
posted by travelwithcats at 6:12 PM on August 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


I feel like some of you seem to have weird ideas about SNAP recipients. There is no "the poor". And "people who are in that economic situation" don't necessarily "need more than that".

If you're going to pull quotes from me in abstract. Nope, you are wrong. I don't have weird ideas about SNAP recipients. In fact, I am a former SNAP recipient. I'm also a former 'The Poor' here too.

The topic of food security and how to deal with it on a national, state and local level are incredibly important to me. Not just because I've been food insecure, but because numerous people in my social circles past and present receive SNAP benefits. Large swaths of my community are on SNAP benefits. So I'm pretty sure that there are at least some folks out there who do indeed need more of "that," the 'that' being more than just financial assistance and cookbooks. You're correct that not everyone receiving food assistance might not necessarily need every ounce of information we can throw at them, but I sure as hell could have used more knowledge resources when I was on SNAP. Why wouldn't we be giving more, free information to people who could use it?

This cookbook however can give you fresh ideas. Many people (regardless of their income) have a few go-to recipes that can get repetitive after a while and it's always good to get out of a rut.

That, however, is not the stated goal of this project. The stated goal of the project was to provide a free cookbook that's targeted towards SNAP recipients. If there are better things this project could have done, it's perfectly legitimate to criticize what it could have done better for SNAP recipients.

None of the demographics you've cited suggest that SNAP recipients don't need more information and more help. You've just shown that SNAP recipients are a varied population who need food assistance. Food assistance clearly includes cookbooks, so why shouldn't it include other food-related information that's directly related to cookbooks?

Again; This cookbook is good. This cookbook is good for people trying to eat cheaply. It's probably good for certain SNAP recipients. I like this cookbook. I plan on using this cookbook. There are things it is missing, given it's stated goal. That doesn't make it a bad cookbook. It does make it lacking in some ways if it is specifically being billed as a cookbook to help SNAP recipients. That still doesn't make it a bad resource.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:12 PM on August 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


Cookbook link is dead at the moment, but the alternate is working here!
posted by Locobot at 9:03 PM on August 3, 2014


I looked through it and I like it a lot. I have a really basic knowledge of cooking and can do a few dishes overall very well, but I also lack variety. I think this is going to be helpful. I'm sure it doesn't address every situation that someone on snap might be going through, but for a basic cookbook, it is a very good start. Maybe it will be helpful enough for a bunch of people that they can do one for $4/day plus diabetes, $4/day plus celiac, and/or plus lactose free, etc.
posted by HMSSM at 11:36 PM on August 3, 2014


Menu planning is the part of cooking that takes the longest to figure out how to do well. It requires new ways of thinking that aren't really written about in cookbooks

This is the biggest hurdle for lower income cooks, bar none, in my opinion. I often see people talk about time, but really, getting in the car to get take out is no quicker than dinner home cooked, even at 10pm, and you can chat to your family while you are cooking. The big barrier to low income cooking is what I guess they called home economy.
My wife is a pretty good cook, and can follow a recipe much more complex than I. But her dinners cost 3 times mine, because when it calls for a few basil leaves, she will buy the bunch of basil ($2) and when it calls for 2tbs of coconut milk she will open the can ($1) and the rest will be wasted. Similar with various other ingredients. Sure, balsamic will keep, but if I just spent $6 on what may be a lifetime supply if I don't like it?
I try hard to do better, but it still pains me when the bean sprouts (89c) go soggy after only 1/2 are used (still, 3 meals), and I tend to some straggily basil plants in the garden to steal a few leaves off, rather than buying a bunch (yes, I do share!).
But I can totally see how the infrastructure of minor ingredients and spices/herbs, plus the incompatible portion sizes of other ingredients can defeat the budget chef.
The other killer, along the same lines, is the sides. We make a nice indian curry. It is very tasty, and not expensive since we make it regularly and go through the spices before they lose their flavour. But my spouse likes to serve it with naan bread (and rice), which I agree lifts the meal well above just rice. If I am home, I'll make some naan, at a cost of 30c and the best part of an hour, but if it is a weeknight she will likely buy a pack of part cooked roti for $3 or $4 and suddenly our cheap meal is getting quite expensive.
posted by bystander at 4:22 AM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


getting in the car to get take out is no quicker than dinner home cooked

I'm regularly tired after a day's work, deciding whether to cook properly or to grab a ready meal on the way home.

I'm not short on money or time, but what I am often short of is energy. Mostly mental energy.

I have all the skills to do menu planning and cooking. I have access to decent ingredients, a reasonable sized and well equipped kitchen, and a freezer.

But if I am really wiped out, I cannot bring the mental energy to bear that is required to plan a meal and work out what to buy for it. Doing the planning earlier is great, but that relies on there having been a time "earlier" when I was not wiped out and which was not filled with doing all the other things that my tired self has failed to do, like a week's worth of washing up.

My favourite cookbooks in this situation are ones that deliberately don't require any planning. The recipes are quick and involve either a) staples I have in the house, or b) quantities of one or two things that I can easily buy stand-alone. This book seems to be pretty good on that front.
posted by emilyw at 7:09 AM on August 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


The New York Post tests some recipes.

Leanne's a friend of mine. Go Leanne!
posted by painquale at 11:09 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


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