Forage your fridge full

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Groceries are, and have been, pretty scarce around here. A $25-50 a week food budget isn’t much to go on. Really, it’s not enough to go on.

Food banks were my best friend in college. I’ve avoided going back, but it takes a lot of work to find food from alternative sources.

Foraging

Gardens are obviously a great place to find food, but food is growing all around us.

Did you know that dandelions make a delicious and healthy snack?

In Winnipeg, raspberry bushes, chives and rhubarb plants grow in some parks. Chickweed, purslane and goosefoot—fairly common weeds—can bulk up (or make) a salad.

Spend an afternoon wandering a park near you and taking photos of plants you suspect might be edible. Or maybe do a little research before heading out and have some in mind to look for.

Lucky for me, a good friend of mine is in greenspace management and joins me for hikes. He frequently stops to look at plants and I frequently ask, “Can I eat that?”

While foraging in urban settings will help reduce your grocery bill, it’s also fun and a great way to get into nature.

Trading

I’m pretty lucky to have a ton of friends who love me a lot. I could ask for handouts, but that’s not a very friendly thing to do.

Instead, I’ve been offering to trade work I can do for their food. A hand knit hat for vegan lasagne here, helping in the garden for fresh produce there. Maybe a ride to the vet in exchange for a burger.

Doing favours for friends is so nice, but if they can afford to give back and you can’t afford to eat, ask how they feel about filling your belly.

Preserving

Canning is a skill of mine and I’m lucky enough to own a dehydrator. If a friend has an apple tree and not enough freezer space for pie, I’ll offer to make apple sauce or chips in exchange for a cut of their haul.

For a couple years, I signed-up for Fruit Share. Basically, some folks sign-up to pick, others sign-up to have food on their property picked. Pickers do their job, leave a percentage for the home-dweller, give a percentage to charity and then take the rest. I usually missed sign-up for everything except crab apples, but that meant I had enough apple chips to last me a full year.

There are so many other ways to get free food! Dumpster diving, joining a community garden and starting your own garden are a few other ways.

Do you have any tips on filling the fridge without blowing the budget?

Potluck your belly full

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The first thing I did after giving my boss my last day was rework my budget. It was pretty tight to begin with, but now I have expenses listed in order of what’s most important. Rent and bills come before food, which means I might be looking at some pretty bare cupboards for the next few months.

It’s okay though. I have a plan.

When I was in university, I used to have a weekly vegan potluck. We’d end up with a table full of vegetables, fruits, grains and proteins to gorge on. Once our belly’s were full, we’d trade food.

Instead of trying to get through my week on plain white pasta and soup from the dollar store, I had salads, tofu dishes and more.

Having it every week is a lot of work (although it helped me keep my apartment clean!), but having one once in a while is a good way to help stretch out the last of your money before the next cheque comes in.

Here are a few tips for planning a successful potluck:

  1. Create an event page or email thread where everyone can say what they’re bringing. This does two things. First, it puts pressure on people to actually show up so you don’t have a bowl of hash browns for 12 and 10 last-minute cancels. Second, it ensures that you won’t end up with six fruit salads.
  2. Tell everyone to bring their own tupperware. This way, you don’t have to lend out yours and potentially never see it again.
  3. Make it fun! Turn it into a crafternoon, get everyone to bring their favourite board games, maybe pop in a movie. This is an especially good idea if you’re inviting folks who don’t all know one another.

Do you have any tips for throwing a killer potluck?

Shattered dreams

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When I was in school I dreamed of the day I was done and could finally stop using food banks and worrying about making rent. I was so excited to buy new clothes when I needed them and go out with friends and buy dinner for my partner. I was going to donate money to animal rescues and buy a house so I could start fostering dogs again. I had big plans.

Now I’m out. I have a job that will pay quite well when I start in two weeks. And I’m scrambling to find more freelance work I can do on the side.

The reality is, saving for retirement, stocking up an emergency fund and saving for a house will eat up most of my pay cheques. Then I’ll have to buy all the things around my home I’ve been needing, like a new tap for the toilet and sprayer for the kitchen sink. And once those things are paid off something else will break. And something else. And the cat will have another outrageous vet bill. And then my partner will go back to school and I’ll be picking up the slack.

It’s fine. We’ll be comfortable compared to how I’ve been living for the past six years, but I wish I had been more realistic with myself while in school. You’re not going to land a high-paying job right out of school. It’ll be a slow growth.

Eventually I’ll have the experience to be paid enough to save a few dogs and buy new, fair trade clothes. But until then I’ll just be thankful I’m done school and can keep the fridge stocked.