Life on the “Thrifty Food Plan”

Life on the Thrifty Food Plan

For most of the past ten years I have been living in my home in Portland, Oregon.  It is there I learned most my craft and thought most my thoughts.  These days I split my time between my Portland home and one on a small farm.  And everywhere I go I find an ever expanding community involved with the issue of resiliency and joy. I say “joy” because resiliency takes on a certain abundance when we hold space for it.  That is what I’ve been learning.  Skills alone will not make us whole.

That sort of thinking represents a huge leap of consciousness for me but is all the more gratifying given its grounding for those still struggling.  The challenges folks face are real and that, too, infuses my efforts.  Which is why I am taking on a certain pledge.  For the next year I will attempt to put all my householding food skills towards living within the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan.; a plan and budget that would put the most joyous among us to task.

It was in research for a new book that I discovered the Plan.    Published each year and updated to current economic models, the USDA Food Plan offers food budgets for four groups – Thrifty, Low-Cost, Moderate and Liberal though “liberal” is a bit of a misnomer when compared to  the standards of Portland’s otherwise liberal local food supporters.  I have no issue with them and, in fact, have lived as them for much of my life.  But times are changing and these days I think a lot about budgets and how real people are getting by.  How are they eating or moreover, what?

Consider this fact: the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. If you worked 40 hours per week at this rate, every week, without a day off, that would equal just over $15,000 per year—or $1,256 per month. Which makes the Food Plan’s $1921 annual allotment for a woman of my age a solid 13 percent of your income.  That’s not much compared to the past or what Europeans pay today but put in the context of other costs you can begin to see the problem.  It is also why so many people are eligible for food stamps in America.  Remember, these budgets are calculated as a percentage of income and if we are struggling to buy good food it is because our wages have been stagnant since 1970 and everything else has gotten so expensive. If you calculate the debts we are carrying, the jobs we do not have (or do have but cannot pay the bills), and a cost of living that will only grow with time, you will recognize poverty as the new American standard.  All of us are part of the new urban peasantry, a term I use with respect.

Urban peasantry is not the plight of the downtrodden but the task before the hardworking, frugal, honest, hopeful and joyous among us.  But know this, it is not just our pocketbook that is lacking resources but our planet. Both are faltering from excess and mis-management and we are best advised to take both seriously.  At least that’s what I’m angling towards.

If, as the owner of certain assets — a home, garden and skills — I am better off than most I take it as a starting point.   My interests and efforts are not fanciful notions but a leaning towards concrete change.  That, after all, is the purpose behind Householding Economics — it has a logic, a system and a requirement because all joy and no work will get you nowhere.

Besides the spirit of abundance that must go with this movement, I believe we must take the work in our homes more seriously.  We must return to them, to our gardens and kitchens and learn how to manage them.  Forgive me if I will preach from time to time.  I can’t help it.  That’s what mothers do.  But for now what I want to start with is a basic question:

Can I, as a single woman with skills, stores and intention learn to live on the $1921 annual budget the Thrifty Plan allows? That effort will be chronicled under weekly and/or bi- weekly Tallies.

Of course there is the distinct possibility it cannot be done and that too will be part of the blog.  Presented as Essays, these musings and revelations are somewhat separate to the tallies but are yet relevant. They represent the issues that confront us all.  Both as they have informed our past and continue to impact our future.

But first I’d like to offer my understandings as a bit of a disclaimer since I know this living on The Thrifty Food Plan life will not be easy or applicable to everyone.  Still, along with The Basics and some information on Budgeting and Savings, I hope to offer a starting point for  considering a life of thrift.  Frankly, its what I think most of us will be dealing with in the years to come.

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