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Jerusha Klemperer Headshot

Take Back the Value Meal: Slow Food for the Price of Fast Food

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Earlier this summer, as I was hauling a bag of farmers' market produce home 15 blocks and up four flights of stairs, sweating bullets, cursing my choice to buy a melon (they're heavy!), I stopped mid-step.

"Does it really have to be this hard?" I asked myself.

My story is particular to me, of course, but all over the country there are people trying to put food on the table and asking themselves "does it really have to be this hard?"

I was living, at the time, in a neighborhood with few supermarkets. The ones within a long walking distance were either very expensive or lacking the seasonal produce I craved. So on weekends I would hike over to the big farmers' market. But at the farmers' market I always find myself of two minds. In one moment I am buying something and can't believe how much I get for so little money; the next item I pick up gives me sticker shock. How can both of these things be true?

When people ask me: "Doesn't the food you eat (some mix of local, sustainable, organic, etc.) cost so much more than "regular" food?" I protest and agree at the same time. When they say "Doesn't cooking from scratch take a lot of time?" I remember the awesome pasta I cooked the other night that took 7.5 minutes. But also the weekend of foraging I did going from one store to the next.

I live in New York City; I make a living wage; I am not trying to feed a family; I work on these issues for a living. If I find it hard/tiring/expensive sometimes, what must other people feel?

In the spirit of this conundrum, Slow Food USA launched the $5 Challenge last week.

The economy is tanking. We're all stressed about money and we're all stressed about time. And yet. Every day there are people all over the country who find a way -- despite the challenges of access, affordability, and time-to cook healthy food on a budget. It's not easy -- especially at first -- but they've developed tips and tricks for stretching their food dollars, and decreasing the amount of time it takes to make a fresh and delicious meal. This campaign seeks to learn from those people, to share their wisdom -- and then work together to make eating this way a reality for everyone every day.

So, on September 17, take the challenge: get together with family and friends and cook a "slow food" meal for less than the cost of fast food. Know how? Teach others. Want to learn? This is your chance. You can host a potluck where nothing costs more than $5. You can cook for a crowd and charge $5 at the door. You can cook with your family for less than $5 per person.

Now I recognize that $5 is actually not a small amount of money -- but it is the cost of a typical fast food "value meal," so we figured that was a good starting place for cooking up a meal that reflects your values.

Next week we'll be rolling out a page where you can share your tips and tricks -- and read the ones that other people have submitted. The idea is to embrace this crazy conundrum (the one I call the "It's easy, it's hard" conundrum) -- to find ways to make eating "slow" easier, while also acknowledging what makes it hard. Understanding the hard part and how to fix the hard part ... is the hard part. And it's where we've all got our work cut out for us.

Let's start by taking the challenge.

[This post originally appeared on Civil Eats.]

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