In defense of cheap food.

Brazilian Canjica (Hominy)
I have lived in the States for 25 years now, and have seen so many food fads and diets come and go. The interesting thing about them to me is that they all seem to share one common trait: they are all expensive.

Yes, blueberries are good for you. And so is quinoa,  Greek yogurt, sprouted bread, amaranth, green juice, pomegranate, açaí, coconut water, kefir, almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, granola, canola oil, matte tea, coconut fat, flax seed, chia, salmon oil and avocados.

The thing is, all foods are good for you. Not just a few special ones. We were made to eat everything. We are omnivores who can survive on anything from old soggy potatoes to squirrel meat. Just think for a minute about what people ate during war times, draughts and economic hardships. Porridge of grains, beans, oats, vegetables, whatever meat they found... simple, unprocessed food.

Unprocessed foods don't bring in money to grocers though. Vegetables and fruits spoil easily, and there is little profit to be made from grains and beans. Packaged, processed foods are the ones which market well, and sell for more money. And their packaging can always be changed to fit the fad, like the local Lay's potato chips I found at a gas station the other day.

Think about how much money you pay for that healthy granola. And greek yogurt and kefir... and chia and flax seed.... almond milk, soy and rice milk. And the antioxidant miracle fruit of the year of course.

Now go a few isles down the same market, and check the price of bulk oats and brown rice. Check the price of corn grits, yellow and white. Lentils, black and white beans, chick peans... check also how cheap turnip, mustard and collard greens go for, depending where you are in the country. Cabbage, squash, beets, radishes, celery, parsley, green onions, carrots, onions, turnips, garlic... those are all foods that are incredibly nourishing to the human body, and yet cost relatively little when compared to packaged pasta, packaged couscous, lettuces, tomatoes... which make pretty meals, but don't really give us much in terms of nutrients and health.

I am not advocating against buying granola, kefir (which I love), and all the other beautiful foods that we encounter at the grocery store. But I do want to make a point that, in order to eat well and stay healthy and slim on a lean budget, I can easily find and eat traditional, wholesome, simple foods that my parents, grandparents, and their grandparents, ate.

All I need is a stove, a few pots and bowls, a sharp knife, sea salt and olive oil, and I am ready to take care not only of myself, but those I care for. Because that is the beauty of those foods: they are generous. When I cook them, they expand and give, and it is easy to feed many on little.

Take a meal that I made yesterday: 2 cups of organic brown rice (1 Lb, about 2 or 3 dollars), 2 cups of organic dry black beans (1 Lb, about $3), 1 Lb of local, organic grass-fed ground beef (about $8), corn salad (organic corn on the cob, cheap during the summer: $10 for 48 ears) and a beet salad (a few dollars more)... it fed 8 hungry adults, 5 kids, gave some away, and there is still enough food left to feed myself and my kids for another couple days.

Growing up in Brazil I ate hominy, with sugar and ground peanuts, for breakfast and/or as an afternoon snack. I still often eat it for breakfast, with sugar and chopped nuts- it is so incredibly delicious, filling and cheap. I also ate a lot of polenta, both in Argentina and Brazil; cheaper and healthier than pasta, and so very sustaining. Rice and beans, soups made from the meat and chicken bones, eggs... and an incredible variety of vegetables and fruit.

Of course there is room for granola, as well as all the kinds of different and great foods that I find at the stores. But it is important to not forget that just because one food, like quinoa, is being lauded as the super grain of the year (it is actually a seed), that does not mean that good old corn, oats and rice aren't just as nutritious and balanced a grain as their (seed) cousin. The same goes for beans. Maybe they are not as easy to market because they do make folks kind of gassy, but they really are super foods. And don't forget eggs and butter, which I also remember were replaced at one point by egg whites and... margarine???

Trust your simple, wholesome, cheap foods- they will keep you, your budget, and your overall sanity going strong, lean and healthy.

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