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Author | Journalist | Speaker

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2007 the average person spent $6.47 on food a day. After a month and a half of radical living, I’ve calculated that I’m spending an average of $4.71 a day on food, which, given my large appetite, is pretty damn good.


Fortuitously, buying lots of expensive foods isn’t even an option for me. Because I don’t have a fridge, foods like meats, juices, some dairy, and veggies, never make it into my shopping cart.


Instead, I’ve resorted to dry bulk foods, which are oftentimes the cheapest. I picked up large bags of spaghetti, macaroni, rice, beans and oatmeal.

But more than just eating cheap, I wanted to see how far I could push my hunger. If I could eat frugally, just as I shopped frugally, I thought I could save hundreds of dollars over a given year.


My first two weeks were the toughest. I deliberately ate as little as I could: oatmeal in the morning, a sandwich in the afternoon, and then an evening pasta dish.


After the first week I was five pounds lighter and I could start to see my abdominal muscles for the first time in years. As much as I would have liked to one day admire a set of chiseled, baby-smooth abs, I realized (when coming across a bunny on the campus lawn and pondering if I should strike it with a rock and devour it raw) that I needed to start eating more.


Conscious of my nutritional wellbeing, I started to buy cereals, fruits, veggies and a few other items which have become staples of my diet. Now, between frequent visits to the gym and my healthy diet, I might be in the best shape of my life.


In the past month and a half I’ve inadvertently accomplished two personal milestones: 1. I haven’t had meat (the longest streak of my life) and 2. I haven’t had a beer (perhaps the longest streak of my adult life). Between my low-fat, low-sugar and physically active lifestyle, I’ve discovered an invaluable benefit to radical living.


Though I am by no means a talented chef, I find that that the following meals nicely blend my needs for nutrition, economy, and taste.


Breakfast

Bowl of cereal

As you can see, I am passionate about my cereal. I don’t know why, but whenever I shop I feel that I must purchase food in such great quantities as if to prepare myself for an impending nuclear holocaust.

Obviously I can’t keep regular milk, so I have it in powdered form. To be honest, I can’t tell the difference between powdered and real milk. Sprinkle a little powder, mix in some cold water and it tastes like it just came out the supermarket fridge.


Ingredients: Cereal with milk Cost: 75 cents a bowl


Oatmeal

Oatmeal is super-healthy, easy to make, but exceptionally boring and tasteless. I mix in a glob of peanut butter to give it flavor or I just hope that the remnants of my previous night’s dinner give it a little pizzazz. I’ve also found that oatmeal does an incredible job cleaning out the dish, so sometimes I cook it for that reason alone. If anyone has any ideas on how to liven up my oatmeal, let me know!


Ingredients: Oatmeal with peanut butter Cost: 77 cents


Lunch

PB

Because jelly needs refrigeration I just subtracted the “J” from a “PB & J” sandwich and eat it plain. Sometimes I’ll stuff a banana in there as I did here. Usually, I’ll take other typical lunch items to campus with me like apples or bagels.


Ingredients: PB sandwich with a banana Cost: $1.14

Dinner

Rice and Bean Tacos

I like to have a feast almost every night. My favorite night—hands down—is taco night. I let the red beans soak while I’m on campus and then cook it with rice, wrapping it all in a tortilla usually with some tomato and onion. It’s my theory that anything will taste good in a tortilla. Moreover, anything wrapped in a tortilla with Frank’s Red Hot Sauce will taste exquisite. I could wrap a turd in a tortilla, douse it with a little Frank’s and probably enjoy it.


(If the people of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce Inc. are reading and are seeking an online persona to shamelessly headline a new ad campaign, the Spartan Student will say just about anything for a few cases of that heavenly cayenne nectar.)

Ingredients: Rice, beans, tortilla and Frank’s Red Hot Sauce Cost: $1.40 ($1.72 with onion and tomato)


Spaghetti Stew

I have a spaghetti or macaroni meal several nights a week. I used to make the sauce in a separate pan but that just creates more of a mess. Instead, I have a spaghetti stew with everything going into one pot. Always a delicious and filling meal.


Ingredients: Spaghetti noodles, seasoning packet, can of tomato paste, and tomato and onion Cost: $1.95


Peanut Butter Vegetable Stew


Many vegetables won’t last long without refrigeration so after shopping I’ll make a big vegetable stew. It was quite boring until I added a glob of peanut butter, which does wonders for soups. Now I even put it in my spaghetti. I got the bread roll from the discount rack at Krogers, which they were practically giving away for free.


Ingredients: Potato, carrot, onion, green beans, macaroni, Italian seasoning, peanut butter, dinner roll. Cost: $3.44

Dessert


Peanut butter and cereal tortilla

Again, anything tastes good in a tortilla. I slather some peanut butter on there and then sprinkle some high-sugared granola cereal on top. Superb.


Ingredients: Tortilla, peanut butter, cereal Cost: 93 cents


Other meals that I’ve left out: homemade macaroni and cheese, Thanksgiving stuffing tacos, and powdered mashed potatoes and gravy. Feel free to recommend other nutritious and low-price meals in the comment section.

  • Ken Ilgunas

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

I’ve always had a voracious appetite. My fondest food memory took place about six years ago—during my eating prime—when my friend Jon challenged me to eat the infamous jumbo-jumbo-jumbo taco from a place called Bobbo’s Taco’s—a joint in Buffalo—that used to give the taco free to anyone who could finish it. Upon seeing the chicken-finger taco of all chicken-finger tacos, I felt small and insignificant—the same feeling I get when looking at a mountain range or the stars.


It was a beast—the anaconda of tacos—measuring from the tips of my fingers to just short of my shoulder.


Visibly perturbed by the daunting task ahead of me, Jon gave a last-second piece of advice:

“You want to eat it so fast that your stomach doesn’t get a chance to know it’s full.”


Doubtful of his advice, I chomped away anyways, and seven minutes later, with room to spare, I was my rubbing my swollen stomach like a proud mother-to-be.


I love eating and I knew that, more than anything else, putting a stop to my food binges would be the toughest sacrifice of radical living. Apart from the van and tuition, I figured food would be my largest bill, and I wanted to get it as low as I reasonably could.


Just before I bought the van, I came upon a blog about a couple who ate for $1 a day for an entire month by buying cheap and eating little (http://onedollardietproject.wordpress.com/). If they could survive on a dollar, who says I can’t survive on $3?


But first, I had to figure out how to cook in the van.


One of my most prized possessions is my MSR propane backpacking stove that I bought for $80 several years ago. It’s been a trusty friend ever since. The stove enables me to make actual meals—oatmeal, pasta, soups—that I, of course, wouldn’t be able to make without it. I buy small canisters of propane for fuel; a 16 oz. canister lasts me several weeks. I spent $60 on six canisters—this will be enough to last me for the rest of the semester and beyond.


It’s a good temporary set-up, but I recognize between slicing vegetables with a sliver of lamp light, and cooking on top of a 30-gallon tank of gasoline, that I’ll have to make future renovations to ensure safety. But for now, it’s working out just fine.


I carry a water bottle with me to campus. One full water bottle is more than enough water to cook my meals for a day.

I only have 4 utensils—and that’s all I need. My leatherman functions as my can-opener.

I bought a pot and a pan from The Salvation Army for a couple bucks, and I had brought a bowl, which is ideal for cereal. As you can see, I’ve completely done away with washing my silverware and dishes. This may gross you out, as it grossed me out at first. But to wash my dishes I’d need to use precious water, I’d have to waste paper towels, and I’d have to find somewhere to discard my wash water. All of the above are things I don’t want to deal with.

Then I thought, why bother washing at all? I like to think of each meal as a legacy, leaving bits and pieces of itself behind for the next meal. Each coagulated crumb and speck of dried spaghetti sauce are reminders of my meals’ ancestral past, forever seasoning each subsequent dish, sharing its chromosomes like a father passing on genes to his son. Now I don’t give washing dishes a second thought.


But all in all, eating and cooking has been a very easy part of radical living. My meals are economical, healthy, and, unbelievably, delicious.


Stay tuned for Part II: The Spartan Student Recipe Book

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