Healthy Eating on $4/Day in a Food Desert. Fermenting Begins!

Day 3

As the night was coming to an end yesterday, gunshots rang out nearby in the neighborhood. I knew they weren’t really close by and it was probably just someone playing with a gun, but it put both Cheryl and I on edge. Laying in bed after a late night I was soothed by the boisterous sound of crickets chirping in the patch of woods behind us. James said that in a few years the patch would be cleared to make way for condominiums. I was sad to hear this. There are a lot of changes taking place here in Bankhead. From what I’ve learned the last years have been a very tough time on the community. Off the main road, there are as many abandoned and run down houses as there are lived in houses. I saw plots of land hundreds of yards long where apartment buildings once stood, now just a dumping site for trash and tires. Giselle said that a lot of people couldn’t continue to pay for their houses due to financial hardships, which is apparent in the number of crumbling and vacant buildings. It’s a sad state to see so much go to waste and so many dreams crumble but there is a sense of beauty in seeing nature take back the land. The houses are growing over in trees and there is more green in this neighborhood than I’ve seen in many.

The soothing feeling that I felt from the crickets was soon interrupted by squeaking and rustling on the walls of our bedroom. I quickly put together that it was rats but I couldn’t tell if they were in the wall or outside along the wall. I had put a garbage can out earlier that contained the spoiled food that I found in the fridge. The rats were probably having a heyday in the garbage can. I intended to take it all out and make a compost pile but that will happen in time. The rats made Cheryl very anxious and her anxiety surged through me as well.  The nerves were running high in both of us as we attempted to sleep.

At some point in the night, Cheryl screamed and jumped. My heart was racing as I was stirred from a deep sleep. I was relieved to realize it was just the fright of a rat trying to get into our food. The rat scurried under the door and was gone. Cheryl heard it right away so it didn’t have a chance to chew up our food. The bright street lights shined through our window lighting the room up to an almost disorienting level. It’s hard to believe that many Americans rarely see real darkness. The man made lights never dim enough to see the stars in their full force. Many people have maybe never seen true natural darkness in the entirety of their lives. I need to makeshift some blinds and take precautions to keep rats away if we’re going to get better sleep. Closing the kitchen window before bed will be a must from now on.

Today ended up being quite the busy day. There is so much work to be done to create these tools to empower others to eat healthy. So much time has been spent in front of the computer and writing in my notebook. Perhaps one of the most time-consuming aspects is all the number crunching. I’m calculating the cost per serving of everything that we are eating. A cup of brown rice, for example, is 8 cents, pinto beans 14 cents, olive oil 13 cents, oats 12 cents, and a small potato is 8 cents. I calculate the calories as well and with these two numbers I get a very good idea of how cost effective the foods are. Cost per calorie is one of the most logical ways of understanding what I can and can’t afford for many of the foods I’m looking at for the $4/day budget. Normally, I don’t ever use a measuring cup or spoon but it’s necessary in this to make the 30 day meal plan and to have quality information for others to go off of. By the end of the 30 days, I’ll have all of this information laid out in easy to understand tables and will also have price comparisons of different stores and regions throughout the country.

For breakfast, we had oatmeal with fresh ginger, sunflower seeds, bananas, flax seed, cinnamon, and a little of the leftover granola from our splurge at the grocery store yesterday. This totaled up to $1.23 or 62 cents each. I’d be content eating this for breakfast every day the rest of my life. Normally I would also have coconut oil and honey with it but I’m figuring out if that can be afforded on $4/day. It certainly can be included on a small budget but I’m not sure if it can be afforded on our budget.

Healthy Eating on $4 a Day in a Food Desert. Fermenting Begins- oatmeal

We spent part of the afternoon in the kitchen preparing fermented foods. Cheryl cut up our 2 heads of cabbage to make sauerkraut.

Healthy Eating on $4 a Day in a Food Desert. Fermenting Begins- saurkraut 2

Healthy Eating on $4 a Day in a Food Desert. Fermenting Begins- saurkraut

I never would have imagined this in the past before I got in touch with my food, but it is actually incredibly easy and simple to make. It’s just cabbage and salt. The salt is sprinkled onto the cabbage which is then kneaded with the hands. The salt pulls the water out of the cabbage because water is attracted to salt and this is what creates the brine. No water or vinegar is needed at all. The bacteria and yeast naturally present in the air ferment the cabbage which is what makes it sauerkraut. This is probiotic sauerkraut, just as yogurt is a probiotic, except there is no culture that has to be bought and added because the cultures exist in the air. Every breath of air you’ve ever taken on Earth has yeast in it and this is what is used in the wild fermentation process. I’m sure you’ve heard of sourdough and that is the same concept. Fermenting foods both preserves vitamins and minerals but also creates new ones so by fermenting foods we can actually increase the value of what we purchase or grow. That’s a small introduction into fermenting but I’ll go deeper into it this month and will have how-to videos and recipes on sauerkraut, sourdough bread, ginger beer, fruit scrap vinegar, and pickling veggies.

From those 2 heads of cabbage, weighing 5.8 pounds, we got 4 jars of sauerkraut. I calculated that you get .6 fluid ounces of cabbage per ounce of cabbage. This means that you get 10 fluid ounces of kraut per pound of cabbage and it takes 1 pound 10 ounces of cabbage to make a 16 ounce jar. A 16 ounce jar cost about $1.50 to make. A 2 tablespoon serving of kraut which has billions of bacteria or probiotics in it and costs a little under 10 cents. Fermenting is a brilliant way to add serious health to your diet while eating for under $4/ day. I can’t wait for it to be ready in about a week!

Healthy Eating on $4 a Day in a Food Desert. Fermenting Begins- saurkraut 3

I mixed together flour and water to make our sourdough starter which will be ready in just a few days for us to make fresh baked bread. A lot of people think that baking bread is complicated and takes a lot of time. These are both total misconceptions. I have a friend who runs a little fermented food business where she sells sourdough bread and she’s never used a measuring cup to prepare her dough. Her bread is out of this world and all of my recipes that I’ll share this month are from her. I never have measured my ingredients for bread either and I’ve never had a bad loaf of bread. And as far as time goes it really is not much and if you bake multiple at a time and freeze it, the time per loaf drops drastically. With wild fermentation no store bought yeast is used at all. The yeast comes naturally from the air which means the ingredients can be as simple as flour and water.

You can see the bubbles coming up in this photo. That’s fermentation in action!

Healthy Eating on $4 a Day in a Food Desert. Fermenting Begins- sourdough starter

Lastly, I made a ginger bug which is the starter culture to make ginger beer. Kombucha is a drink that’s very popular throughout the USA right now but ginger beer is even simpler to make and much faster.  To make the ginger bug I simply added ginger and sugar to some purified water and put it into a jar. The most important aspect of all of this is that chlorine-free water must be used because chlorine inhibits the growth of life. Probiotic means “for life” (pro = for) (biotic = life) so we need life to thrive, not be inhibited by chlorine. For me, that meant simply boiling the tap water to evaporate off the chlorine. You can also use an at home filter or just let the water sit for 24 hours to let the chlorine evaporate out. Over the next few days, bacteria and yeast will eat the sugar and turn this mixture into a “ginger bug” which is just a culture of bacteria and yeast just as in the other ferments. This will be used to make ginger beer in a few days!

Here is the ginger bug:

Healthy Eating on $4 a Day in a Food Desert. Fermenting Begins- ginger bug

The sourdough and the ginger bug both are covered with a cloth to keep the bugs out while still letting it breathe so that bacteria and yeast and air can come in. The cloth is just one of Cheryl’s old t-shirts. It’s important to say that wild fermentation is not dangerous at all. The healthy bacteria and yeast that are supposed to be there create an environment where bad bacteria doesn’t grow. I’ll go into that more with other blogs but for now, know that it’s easy and safe enough for a little kid to do and I don’t know anyone who’s ever gotten sick from fermenting their own foods.

The bottom line is fermentation makes food more nutritious and supports a healthy immune system. Even though you can buy it for really high prices at some stores it is in no way a food for the elite. Making it at home is one of the least expensive ways to eat truly healthy food and it can be done with or without a kitchen without a single fancy or expensive tool.

For lunch we had leftovers from yesterday of beans, potato, onion, and olive oil along with some sauteed kale. I realize that since we didn’t eat everything we prepared yesterday we might not have gone over budget after all. We also ate a couple apples and some peanuts as a snack around lunchtime. Lunch was about $1.33 total or 67 cents each but I think I was doing so much research and computer work that I didn’t eat enough.

We went for a long walk through the park today and I was amazed at the difference of being on the streets versus being back in the park. It was so quiet and peaceful in there. Dragonflies were whizzing in every direction hunting for prey, birds were flying from tree to tree, and people were out enjoying the beautiful day. There are so many healthy activities that are freely available to us all no matter where we live. See my blog 13 Awesome Things that are Free for some inspiration on simple, healthy living. While walking the park I noticed Broadleaf Plantain was growing everywhere and this is one of the most widespread and common medicinal plants in the USA. So many of us could find highly nutritious wild plants to incorporate into our diets whether we live in the city or country. I’ll cover this more throughout the month and share a list of plants you can likely find, what you can do with them, and their health benefits.

Our host James said that Bankhead is over 80% black people and when I looked it up I found a source that says it’s over 90%. That was apparent on our walk today because everyone that I recall seeing was black. This is very much a learning experience for me to be here in Bankhead because the culture is quite different than most places that I’ve stayed for a decent period of time. When we arrived 2 days ago James told us that everyone here would think that we’re crackheads looking to get some crack. According to his knowledge, that’s what most white people walking down the street in Bankhead are up to. I don’t think he was joking but I don’t know if he was right about that. He also said that people probably wouldn’t talk to us much but so far we’ve met so many really friendly people. People have come up to us to talk to us a lot and I think often they are curious about what we are doing since we do stand out in the crowd I guess. I’m looking forward to getting to know more people here and sharing their stories of food. I want to learn what they eat, how the people who want to eat healthy manage to do so, what they do to afford food when money is tight, if people are into gardening at all, and more things like this.

Our dinner was delicious- rice, beans, onion, broccoli, garlic, zucchini, with flax and olive oil.

Healthy Eating on $4 a Day in a Food Desert. Fermenting Begins- dinner

This is a dinner I could eat 5 nights/ week. It cost us about $2.63 total or $1.32 each and was about 1200 calories. The total cost for today was just $5.14 or $2.57 each. I got in at least 5 servings of veggies today and am confident that today was a very healthy day of eating. We were under calories today, I think, at just around 1,400 calories each but we were also way under $4 each. I am still not sure if we’ll be able to afford enough fresh fruits and veggies to eat on $4/day for the month but I will be learning that throughout the next week.

More and more I am realizing that this project is not just beneficial to people who are living on SNAP/ food stamps but really for anyone who wants to eat healthier all over the USA. By doing this here in Bankhead I hope to make my resources and tips on healthy eating applicable to even those with the greatest barriers but I intend to keep everyone in the USA in mind with my writing. So whoever you are and wherever you are please ask questions on anything that you’d like help with and I’ll do my best to cover it this month.

As I was preparing to go to bed, Cheryl put her hands in a prayer-like fashion and said, “Please don’t let there be any rats coming in tonight. Please let me sleep in peace without any rodent or bug disturbances.” She is an incredibly cute girl and I’m so happy to be her partner.

Health, happiness, and freedom to all!