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January 21, 2011

The biggest problem in the $55 a fortnight programme for me has been that it is very difficult to include enough fruit.  Coming from Tasmania, Australia – the “Apple Isle”  this seems ridiculous.  However the price of fruit, some 70c for one apple or orange must be having serious consequences for low income people everywhere.  What about people whose Centrelink payments are being quarantined in the Northern Territory ?  Are they still able to achieve a healthy diet when the price of basic commodities such as fruit are sky high?

I agree that I am probably including some high priced items such as salami and olives etc, however I guess I was trying to show that you can still eat tasty items on a very tight budget.  I should point out here that students are probably living on less than $55 a fortnight for food because of the requirements to buy text books etc.  So their nutrition must be seriously in doubt in some cases.

The next series of  4 fortnights will concentrate on healthy options by using less carbohydrates and  trying to include more fruit and wholefoods.  My prediction is that it will be more expensive, as it appears that in most cultures where money is scarce, carbohydrates abound.  In addition as bizarre as it sounds wholemeal flour is more expensive that plain!

As far as $55 emergency food vouchers go – it is possible to live for a fortnight off them, but your diet will tend to be high in carbohydrates and almost completely devoid of fruit .   Living on this amount per fortnight is also only really possible if bread is obtained separately (or if you make your own flatbreads).  Therefore those charities which deliver excess bread to low-income homes are on the right track in my view.  

While food vouchers are only to be used in an emergency, people on Newstart or Austudy often only have $55 a fortnight to buy food most of the time!  Therefore there does need to be some examination of food security in Australia, in particular the domination of the grocery industry by the two major players Coles and Woolworths.

Of particular concern is the lack of choice of loose vegetable and fruit items and  the replacement of fresh products by in-house processed brands.  I was in Coles one day and they had run out of fresh chillies, the only alternative was their own bottled crushed chilli product.  It is a good product but poor people can’t afford to buy it and keep within  their fortnightly food allowance.  It is also observable that the big supermarkets remove well-known brands like “Three Threes” and replace it with their own in-house brands of processed products.   What is this doing to food processing in Australia?

It could be said that better and cheaper products could be obtained by shopping around at various markets and greengrocers.  However people on low incomes cannot afford to do this as they most likely don’t have a car and can’t transport the produce.  My own feeling is that the Government should at least step in and mandate 1) that fruit samples be able to be tasted in store so you don’t buy a whole bag of bad apples or oranges and 2) that prices on fruit and vegetables should be pegged to some degree.

While the answer is obviously to grow your own vegetables, this may not be possible for persons on Newstart or Austudy due to landlords’ restrictions or living in small flats  and also it does cost quite a lot to grow even the simplest herb garden.  Really low income people simply can’t afford to do it.  For instance to grow herbs it costs about $3.5o for the potting mix and maybe some $5 for the pots and $2 for the seed.  This means you will be paying $10.50 for your basil when a tube of the stuff (which will last a very long time) will only cost you about $3.90.

I apologize for the fact that sometimes my recipes are less than exact, however I have found from observing many good frugal cooks that you can only use what you have.  If you have a lot of something – use masses of it  while it is still fresh.  If you have only a small amount of a prized ingredient – make it go a long way.

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