Sunday, October 25, 2009

An evening meal with the spartan student

Now that autumn has finally arrived in North Carolina it's become cool enough for me to begin cooking meals in my van again.

I don’t know precisely why, but I’m always struck by the deliciousness of my dinners, which is all the more confounding when you consider how terrible a cook I am and how simple my concoctions are.

Last semester I’d sate my enormous appetite on a mere $4.34 a day. I suspect that my food costs have risen slightly because I’ve been shopping at Whole Foods, but I’m sure I’m still well below the national average.

Here I am cooking with my MSR extra-light backpacking stove with silverware and pots that I bought from the Salvation Army.

Wary of soiling clothes with an errant splattering, I go shirtless (and oftentimes pantless, but before posing for this photo I decided not to shock readers with my blindingly pale thighs).

My concoction consisted of spaghetti, mushrooms, tomato, half an onion, one-third of a head of cabbage, a few slices of rye bread, a dollop of peanut butter and some mozzarella cheese mixed in for good measure. This was one of my more elaborate creations, though I should note that I tossed in the aforementioned items with little forethought. Any combination of boiled veggies with a little salt can go a long way.

And Voila!

In lieu of a dinner table I sit on my bed. In lieu of china I use the pot. In lieu of washing my dishes, I don’t. In lieu of decorum I eat messily and noisily and enjoyably.

For a moment—after wiping my hands on my chest and letting my runny nose (caused by the steam of my stew) drip into the meal I was eating—I thought I was in a bachelor’s paradise. Then I looked around and noted the dearth of women, alcohol, the absence of an Xbox and all that’s stereotypically male, thus deciding that this was a paradise only fitting for hermits, ascetics, and long-bearded fanatics who are looking for a place to base their mail-bombing operations out of.

I’m not sure how much the meal cost me, but it couldn’t have been more than $5. And it, to me, tasted better than anything I could spend an hour’s wage on at the finest restaurant.

Thoreau spent 27 cents a day on food and he too found something oddly satisfying about his spartan meals. Maybe it’s because we feel like we’re getting away with something. Maybe it’s because a spartan meal, generally, is a healthy meal. Or maybe it’s just a matter of perspective. Thoreau says,

In short, I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one's self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely. It is not necessary that a man should earn his living by the sweat of his brow, unless he sweats easier than I do.

I do quite well without meat, dairy and other “staples” listed on food pyramids. And I can think of few professionally crafted meals have ever satisfied me as much as the meals I hastily throw together.


Anonymous said...

Thoreau conducted his experiment from 1845-1847, spending 27 cents per day. If we adjust for inflation, that's about $6.19 per day today. So, it looks like you've got him beat. Congrats!

If you're going to stay away from dairy and meat long term, you may want to consider supplementing your calcium, and possibly some other things too, depending on what you're eating instead.

Ken said...

Anonymous: Wow--great comment. Worry not, my diet isn't entirely absent of calcium/meat. I drink (powdered) milk everyday (though I'm embarrassed to say that I don't even know if it has calcium), plus I'll take a shot of yogurt every now and then if I'm hankering for some dairy.

Anonymous said...

Here's a decent link from the Cleveland Clinic that shows the kinds of things that some vegetarians might want to supplement. Obviously you can adjust this to your own diet. Eating meat and dairy very rarely can be nutritionally very similar to eating a vegan diet. I'm not suggesting you need a van full of supplements-- you may actually need none. I suspect you know enough about nutrition to look at your labels and figure out for yourself what's right. Your body won't necessarily crave dairy when it is deficient in one of the nutrients commonly acquired through dairy products, though. Good health to you!

Liz said...


Anonymous said...

On-sale ramen.

Not for every-day munching unless other ingredients added to ramen or on the side.

During my darkest hours cheap additions to the ramen made my liver quiver with delight.

Almost ANYTHING can be used!!!

Dueing the period when I could afford to rent a dinky travel trailer with an, WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!! a built-in propane stove and minute refrigerator.......... the on-sale pert-near expired turkey hot dogs for pennies-per-pack would allow me to slice up a dog or two and toss into the ramen.

Ensued an orgy of eating!!!!!!!

Being able to store food safely and possess a cooling method (ice and a cooler too limited and expensive even if the ice can be obtained free from a nearby source such as a friend's abode due to the tie lost and other factors)

Mägi said...

Bulk brown rice is my favourite.


+ Braggs Liquid Amino Acids (liquid gold)

and I tend to splurge on an egg each day in coconut oil.

I find that if I start with that egg, each morning, with my oats, my body runs like a champ all day.

My body just burns through Ramen (as delicious as it is).