20 Nov 2012, 9:24am
Homegrown Ingredients Philosophy


  • You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.
    C.G. Jung

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  • Can’t afford to eat well? Really?

    Mr Ermine sent me this article yesterday about a family struggling to live on a £30,000 income.

    Now I enjoy a good rant as much as the next Ermine, but it struck me that this lady has had a pretty raw deal in terms of education about food, so while I started off my reading in a ranting mood, I softened and now feel quite sorry for her.

    I was born in 1970, and went to a rather traditional, very academic girls’ school where “domestic science” as it was called then (cookery) was frowned upon for “clever” girls. Indeed my mother forbid me from taking the “O” level in the subject (equivalent GCSE for you young pups!)

    But I did watch my mother cook, and I went to the butchers with her. I also learned from my grandmother who lived on a farm in rural Suffolk, and I watched game birds being plucked, rabbits being skinned, vegetables being grown etc etc.

    So I had a very good idea that “food from scratch” does not mean buying a cheap cut of meat from the supermarket. It means cutting out the middlemen, and really working hard to figure out the best way to feed yourself and those near and dear to you.

    So back to this unfortunate couple who find themselves very short of cash, and struggling to eat properly. I am assuming that they really need that car, perhaps for his work? Hopefully the lady has a bike, so she can get to more out of the way shops? If not, she would do well to scour freecycle and ask around, to get one for nothing.


    Beg or borrow a bicycle

    Once she has a bike, she needs to do whatever it takes to find a plot of land, however small, to grow veg. Perhaps the back garden of the house she lives in? If not, check out all the allotments within cycling distance – do they have free plots? If that fails ask around, try Landshare. Do whatever it takes. The stakes seem pretty high, now, don’t they? Now would be a good time to take a piece of land on, and do all the reading it takes to learn how to grow vegetables over the winter.

    I’ve read estimates that an allotment can save up to £2000 per year from a household food bill.

    Freecycle, begging and borrowing are the way to go with tools. Seeds are cheap. Really. Libraries contain lots and lots of useful books, all available free of charge. Your children will enjoy the fresh air, there need be no further fears about obesity, and you’ll feel better for taking the wellbeing of your own family into your own hands. Don’t sit back and say “I can’t find any land”. Your  family’s future is at stake. You have a legal right to an allotment. Fight for it. Don’t want to grow veg? Tough. You don’t have much choice, like most of humanity through the ages.

    Ok, it will take six months and a lot of hard work, to get the vegetable operation up and running, but it does need to start now. In the meantime…. this lady needs to acquaint herself with her local Indian grocers, and start preparing a whole load of pulses from scratch, along with buying a vast sack of onions.

    She then needs to find a good butcher or farm shop. Supermarket meat is utterly unsuitable for her. They don’t sell the cheaper cuts of meat, and even it they do, it will be overpriced. This lady gives us a clue as to her budget: five ready meals for £1. Let’s see what we can do with that budget of 80p per person.


    The lady feeds her family on ready meals

    A quick call to my local butchers gives me a price for a pig’s pluck, which I would use to make faggots. The highest price they would charge would be £7.

    So armed with this information, let’s take the ingredients for 20 portions of faggots. I’ve reduced the proportion of pork belly, as this is the expensive bit. I’ve added some lard in its place. Animal fat is a great source of nutrition if you are short of money. If she doesn’t have a mincer then she could use a food processor or simply chop the bits up. Might not be as nice, but it’ll still be good, and filling.

    • 1 pig’s pluck£7
    • 1.5 kg belly pork£7.5  This is taken from the price of Tesco’s value belly pork. I dare say a butchers could do better value for money, but I forgot to ask them on the phone this morning.
    • 400g wholemeal breadcrumbs – 40p (taken from the price of fresh supermarket bread. If you make your own bread, it would be cheaper).
    • 8 onions – 30p (I’m guessing, but onions from an Indian grocers are very cheap, so this is probably an overestimate)
    • 500g lard – 80p

    TOTAL COST: £15.80 (20 portions)

    Faggots freeze well, are filling, and are good for you. This is just an example. I’ll add more good value, healthy meals in the days and weeks to come. Eating well for less is an interesting challenge! Being short of money need not, and indeed, must not, become an excuse for not thinking about what we eat.

    Hi Mrs Ermine,
    The article is another reason I don’t read The Guardian. I don’t understand the mentality. £30,000 a year for a family of four is not poverty. Why are they still buying nappies when the twins are 4 years old???
    I’ve just sent my daughter off to Uni with cook books for students. There are plenty of nutritious meals that can be made on a
    budget even before growing your own. I think articles like this show up middle earners as whingers (or is this the intention?)and doesn’t do a lot to state the case for people who are really hard up.
    Mr Ermine’s right to rant about it!
    In the meantime, I’ll look forward to your articles on eating well for less.

    [...] complaining of not being able to afford decent food, and having to use ready meals. Mrs Ermine has examined that fallacy in this post and found it wanting – the problem there is food preparation skills, or the lack [...]

    Looking forward to the good value meal ideas to come – careful, you may have talked yourself into a job here!!!

    I wouldn’t get too worked up about those Grauniad articles, selective journalism to justify an editorial stance. If Leveson stops the rags printing this sort of filler it can’t be all bad!!

    I see the current economic situation not as a ‘recession’ but as a ‘correction’, an unsustainable consumer credit bubble that is finally, yet slowly, deflating towards a more ‘normal’ level. Mind you we’ve still both got our jobs!!

    theres two reasons to grow your own veg
    a) for fun (e.g. a hobby)
    b) for superior taste

    it isn’t true that growing your own veg represents some route to financial salvation

    there is sound economic reasons why we are not all subsistence farmers

    if you are saving £2000 a year by growing your own veg then you are
    a) a vegetarian desperate dan
    b) not accounting for the cost of your time

    £2000 is roughly £40 a week on veg – if i spent that at waitrose i would be drowning under a sea of veg attempting to shovel it into a family of 3 in no time

    or are you boiling huge vats of saffron to keep yourself going?

    @ben I didn’t take the time of the lady in the article into account as she is unemployed, so I assume she would have sufficient time to spare without affecting her capacity to earn. Agreed that growing veg is unlikely to cost in as an alternative to reasonably paid work. As a market gardener, believe me, I know.

    I personally do eat a vest amount of veg. I use it to cut cheaper cuts of meat, including animal fat and bone stock. It is a tasty, nutritious and cheap way to live. This lady was suggesting that the only way to eat cheaply is to buy ready meals. IMHO this simply isn’t true.


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