Two weeks ago, I quit my job. I did so with $15 in my purse and no new job lined up. I made my decision at 4.50pm after a particularly nasty day – by 5.15 I had cleared my desk, taken down photos of my kids, packed up my coffee cup, box of earl grey tea and some two minute noodles out of a drawer and cleared the computer cache of all my private emails and a bunch of recipes I had drafted.
I am a foodie from way back. I cook so well, people have moved to the other side of the world to live with me so they can eat my food ( this is true). I am the one my friends ask for a recipe when they don’t have one. I write about food elsewhere, I study new recipes, I share my meals with those I love.
But, I had $15 in my purse and an empty pantry and fridge. My last payday was two weeks ago, and my immediate needs were to pay the rent. So, with a heavy heart, and still no job lined up, I went to Centrelink, as mendacious and Kafkaesque as any bureaucracy in the world, and signed up for social security, or as it is known in Australia, a Newstart Allowance.
It became quickly apparent that the allowance was barely enough to cover my rent and utilities. It left me with just $120 per fortnight with which to feed my family.
And with that, this project was borne. The Challenge is a straightforward one – I must feed a family for 14 days and nights for $120. I refuse to resort to frozen meals, highly processed foods or calorie-dense, nutritionally poor meals. I don’t do margarine.
My family includes two teenagers. One is a 17 year old boy who eats enough for two. He starts work at 5am and often leaves without having breakfast. He returns at 2pm and eats a large meal, then another evening meal. My 16 year old daughter is a high school student, who has to be reminded to eat breakfast and likes to take snack foods to eat at school. Her preferred method of eating is to graze all day. She often works in the evening and needs a meal that can be reheated so she can eat late in the afternoon before her shift.
It’s not just me that has this challenge. Around the world, millions of people are living with low disposable incomes – they are students, they are single income families, they are the working poor, they are they heavily indebted, trying-to-pay-it-all-off people, they are saving for a deposit for a house. They are amongst us all.
$120. Fourteen meals. Some snacks for lunchboxes. The occasional sweet treat. Breakfasts every day. No margerine and no bad food.
It can be done.