Saturday, February 29, 2020

50 Depression-Era Food Tips

Seeing as how people are stripping the shelves of many Costcos/Sam's Clubs/grocery stores bare this week due to "preparing" for the coronavirus pandemic, here are a bunch of ways folks dealt with food shortages during the Great Depression (many tips courtesy of my grandparents who lived through the era with a bunch of mouths to feed and very little money).

  1. Grow what food you can even if you only have a small garden area.  Consider sprouting your own greens if you don't have a yard.
  2. Forage for seasonal food (greens, wild apples, mushrooms, wild berries, nut trees, cattails, etc).
  3. Consider fishing, hunting, and trapping for your protein needs (this is easier said than done so it's best if these are your hobbies to begin with).
  4. Expand your concept of meat.  While chicken breast, a T bone, and pork chops may be what you consider meat, a severe shortage of meat will make squirrel, rabbit, and possum unusual but edible sources of protein.
  5. When you eat an animal, eat ALL parts of the creature.  In many poor countries, the entire pig is consumed--ears, eyes, tail, parts of the animal are thrown away.
  6. Cook from scratch.  Buying basic ingredients and turning them into your meals is a great way to stretch your food dollar.
  7. When buying vegetables and fruit, consider produce that has a long shelf life (ie: potatoes, onions, cabbage, carrots, and apples instead of avocados and strawberries).
  8. Learn how to process your own food to extend it's shelf life.  Freezing, canning, drying, pickling, etc. are all ways to make food last much longer than it would in its natural state.
  9. Bake your own bread.  It is super simple to make, and literally all you need is flour and salt (if you don't have yeast you can capture your own yeast via the sourdough process).
  10. Buy staples like rice, wheat, pasta, oil, etc. in bulk.  Be sure to properly store and rotate these items for maximum shelf-life.
  11. If you have a freezer, buy food on sale (to save money) or grow/forage food that you can freeze.
  12. To stretch limited food like meat and vegetables, make soups, casseroles, or stews.  These are warm, filling, and make a little food seem like a lot of food.
  13. Make "stick to your ribs food".  For example, sugary breakfast cereal is expensive and you will be hungry an hour or so after eating it.  A big bowl of oatmeal or copious amounts of fried potatoes with a little egg and onion stirred in will keep you full for hours.
  14. Stock up on staples that "grow" when you cook it (beans, rice, pasta) instead of things that will "shrink" when you cook it (meat, delicate vegetables like spinach, etc).
  15. Raise your own meat and eggs.  Chickens are pretty easy to keep, pigs/goats/cows are a bit more challenging.
  16. Keep a library of "how to" books like 'Putting Food By' and 'The Encyclopedia of Country Living' on hand to teach you the food skills that you lack (YouTube is also an excellent resource for everything from how to cook every item under the sun to how to break down and entire animal).
  17. If you are facing a shortage of a certain item, consider how to work around this problem (ie: these baking substitutions, or using potatoes to make gnocchi instead of making pasta if you have limited flour, etc).
  18. Don't throw food away.  Old bananas can be peeled and frozen and used for baking, cut your bread on a cutting board and save the breadcrumbs to use in other recipes, save bacon grease to fry other food in, save old vegetables/meat scraps to make soup stock with, etc.
  19. Re-grow your kitchen scraps.
  20. You can also use produce scraps/coffee grounds/egg shells/etc. to put in your compost pile which will help grow future garden vegetables.
  21. Dry and reuse tea bags and coffee ground. If that's too drastic, use half old coffee grounds and half new coffee grounds to make your cup of coffee.
  22. If you can't afford to buy tea, consider making your own herbal tea.
  23. Shop ethnic stores.  These stores often sell staples and produce at greatly discounted prices compared to buying the same items in your regular grocery store.  A small bag of rice may be kind of expensive in your regular store but you can buy 50 pound bags of rice (or beans or wheat berries or other grains) at steeply discounted prices at ethnic stores.
  24. Experiment with making the items you usually buy such as vinegar, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, salad dressings, etc. entirely from scratch.
  25. Hit up thrift stores (or search online) for old fashioned cookbooks.  Cooks in the 1800s and early 1900s had to make meals with many fewer ingredients than we have available today.
  26. If there are fast food or other restaurant items you can't live without, the internet is full of recipe to make popular "copycat" items at home.
  27. If you are entertaining or feeding many people, consider having a "potluck" where everyone brings food to share instead of providing all of the food and beverages yourself.
  28. Eat seasonally.  Years ago, there was no such thing as fresh tomatoes in January (canned tomatoes from the summer before is what people ate), fresh strawberries in winter (strawberry jam had to do), and fresh peas before spring (canned peas had to do).  By eating seasonally you will save money and eat produce when it is at the peak of taste and healthfulness.
  29. Eat less.  Most Americans are fat (about 70% of the population is overweight or obese) mostly because they eat far more calories than they burn with physical activity.  We don't NEED to eat so much.
  30. Learn to eat and cook ethnic food.  Many poorer countries have fabulous (and tasty) ways to stretch their limited food supply.  Indian food, Mexican food, Ethiopian food, Chinese food, and more offer such a large array of tasty and interesting food that it pays to expand your palette.
  31. When you buy dry food in bulk, protect it from spoilage and pests (like mice and rats).  Leaving a big bag of rice in the bag it comes in can be an open invitation to mice so it's better to store it in rodent-proof containers.
  32. When you cook meals--everything from soups to casseroles--consider making double batches and freeze the leftovers for days when you don't have time to cook.
  33. Search out channels on YouTube that will teach you how to stretch your food dollars.  There are people who feed their huge family on a budget, people who cook once a month for their families, and people who do extreme budget food challenges.
  34. Drink water with meals.  Soda isn't a necessity, it's expensive, and it's mostly sugar.
  35. Don't buy items that others are panic buying.  Rice is flying off the shelves right now (and the price online has skyrocketed) but you can buy a 50 pound bag of Maseca for $19.  Be flexible about what you eat and you will end up with many more cheaper choices than the one item that everyone wants at the moment.
  36. In some cases you can buy bulk grains like oats from the feed store for a fraction of the cost of buying the same item at a regular grocery store (make sure that the grains you buy this way are safe for human consumption).
  37. Have the proper tools to cook with.  For those who don't usually cook from scratch, having the proper tools--everything from a grain mill to an InstaPot--can make cooking much easier and less labor intensive.
  38. If you will be out all day, pack and take your food with you.  A thermos of coffee, a couple of sandwiches, a piece of fruit...buying these items at a restaurant can be expensive so making and taking these meals with you can be a big money saver.
  39. Go without meat.  It's perfectly possible to have a healthy diet without meat.  Lentils and beans, along with rice and corn can make good, balanced meals.  If you are going 100% vegan, be sure to supplement appropriately.
  40. For times when people aren't getting well balanced meals, consider taking a good multi vitamin.
  41. Consider bartering for food.  My grand dad with the king of bartering.  He could trade anything--guns, guitars, horses, work--for anything else he needed, and he was particularly good at trading food.  If he shot a deer, part of it would be kept for the family and the rest would be traded for everything from a neighbor's honey to live crabs pulled up by a local fisherman.
  42. Other sources of protein to have on hand: canned tuna/sardines/salmon/spam, canned nuts, dried whole milk, peanut butter/almond butter, powdered eggs, powdered butter.
  43. Make your own treats.  Desserts and snacks should be things that are cheap and easily stretched like popcorn, homemade cookies, homemade cakes, fruit in season, applesauce, etc.  See more ideas here.
  44. Make the presentation as important as the food.  Basic, plain food can be "dressed up" simply by the way it is presented.  No one makes simple food look more appealing than the Japanese and their bento boxes.
  45. Ask your oldest friends or family members for their budget food tips (old people are excellent sources of "how things were done in the olden days" knowledge).
  46. Cut out a meal.  This is popularly called "intermittent fasting" but unless you actually need the calories, eating a late brunch and solid dinner is probably more food than most people need.
  47. Google "poverty meals" for ideas of what kinds of foods people eat when they are poor (ie: starving students, people whose only source of food is what they can get with food stamps, etc.)
  48. Source the food you want from multiple places.  Sometimes bulk food is cheaper at Costco, sometimes it's cheaper at Sam's Club or through Amazon, for those with military ID the commissary can offer good savings on food, and of course shopping your local grocery store's loss leaders is always a good idea.
  49. Try to never be in the position that you have to run out with hordes of panicking shoppers and fight over the last gallon of milk (like now with the coronavirus or before a major storm is set to hit).  Build your food stockpile simply and consistently by buying an extra $10 to $20 of food each week when you do your regular grocery shopping.  An extra can of soup here, and extra bag of oatmeal there...pretty soon you will build up and entire few month's worth of extra food stores for you and your family.
  50. Check out your local dollar store but be sure to know your prices before you buy food there.  Some food items are incredibly cheap at the dollar store, other food items are comparatively expensive because the price per ounce/specially shrunk packages are really more expensive than buying the same item at a regular store.

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