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.
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.
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.