Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Erase Poverty, 1 Roasted Chicken at a Time

So I have this theory. I think that a good chunk of hunger could be erased by learning to use our food better. Let's take chicken - a good old 4-5 lb roaster.

This yummy sustainably raised chicken costs about $8, although in the interest of food disclosure, it, along with 7 others, are an annual gift from my sister the farmer.
But still, if we were going to pay her, it would be about $8.

The other day I made chicken and roasted vegetables. The leftovers became a lunch for my husband and I, and part of my daughter's dinner yesterday.

Today, since I worked from home, I made chicken broth. I threw the whole chicken, including the leftover meat, and some herbs, a little vinegar and water in a pot and stewed it for a couple hours.

Once the broth cooled, I strained it, and picked the chicken of meat after I ate lunch (doing stuff like this is one of the perks of working at home). 2 quarts of broth and most of the meat went into one container, to be the basis of chicken soup some night, along with some leftover for lunches. Another quart went into the freezer to be used in recipes in the future. I held out a cup or so in a container in the fridge - I use a lot of chicken broth.

The remaining meat went into a small pile and will be turned into chicken salad for lunches tomorrow. Except the bit that will go to my daughter's dinner tomorrow.

So that 1 chicken, worth about $8, is making all or part of 14 different servings of meals. 14. Fourteen.

Sure, other things need to be added. But my point is this - most people would chuck a chicken carcass in the trash after a day or two. It might make 6-8 servings. We about double that. And I bet Julia Child, God rest her amazing soul, and others would laugh at me for what I didn't use.

Utilizing the most of your food is rewarding. Sure, it's not my favorite thing to pick meat off a chicken carcass - it can even be yucky at times. But boiling it first cuts down - way down, let me just say - on the ick factor. And the rewards are many.

It's an honorable thing to use most or all of the food you have. I don't mean overeat, but really, a chicken's life ended so my family could eat it. Having a few bites and tossing it in the trash is a really poor memorial, don't you think?

It's also good. It tastes good when you use whole, sustainably raised ingredients. Really, unless you try it, it's hard to describe, but it really is better food.

And then there's the cost savings. $8 up front, and here's what I think I got from it:
The original 3 servings for dinner (probably $8 at Boston Market)
A comparable container of chicken salad costs about $3.99 at the local deli. Mayo, vinegar and some celery I needed to use up anyway are the only ancillary costs to this one.

Broth costs about $2.99 a quart for the organic stuff

And a 2-quart container of chicken soup at the deli would be about 10 bucks. All I need to do is add some celery, carrots, and about 10 cents worth of rice and I have a great meal.

All told, that's about $25.00 worth of food for $12.oo. So by using up what I have, really using it, I've saved myself 50% of the food cost of those 14 servings. Oh yeah, with about 30 minutes of hands-on effort, so don't tell me it's too hard or takes too much time.

Food stamps for a family of 4 are about $220 a month, on the national average. In a given month, that family of 4 eats 120 meals plus snacks. If just 28 of those servings were from multi-use things like my roaster chicken, meaning 2 roast chickens a month, that would be $40 for almost 25% of the meals. Leaving $180 for everything else. Totally doable.

What we lack is know-how and will. Getting past the 'ooh it's icky' to 'ooh, it's yummy' is actually not that hard - really all it takes is a few meals eaten that way.

I don't seriously think that a few chickens are going to solve all food issues. But a few chickens and some hands-on education...who knows. Knowledge is a powerful thing.


m said...

I do this too. Homemade stock is sooo much better. Sometimes I boil the whole chicken to cook it and save the meat for a soup or a dish. I like to let the broth sit overnight in the fridge though so I can skim any extra fat off more easily.

And sometimes I just throw the carcass into the freezer so I can make broth at a later date - we don't have that much extra space in our feezers.

Anonymous said...

When I was in college my grandmother said I couldn't be unleashed into the world without learning how to make 5 meals out of one chicken. I rolled my eyes and told her you could buy boneless, skinless chicken (ah, youth.) She tried to show me once and I only remember 3 of the meals (one being soup.) I'm so sad that she died before I could get another chance at that lesson.