Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Foodies, Hunger, and Class Warfare

At the al-dente blog at, one of the authors (Tracy Schneider) is attempting to feed herself on $7/day for five days, as part of the United Way's Hunger Challenge. Caveats: She cannot accept food from family, friends, coworkers, etc. This week, there's no doughnuts or coffee provided by the office, no accepting dinner invites from friends, things like that. She has to eat Breakfast Lunch and Dinner, everyday at this cost, and no adding ingredients that she already owns except salt and pepper. Also, in the spirit of the challenge, she's going to attempt to use fresh produce and protein whenever she can. The $7 amount was chosen as it is the maximum amount of money a (single) person can receive on Food Stamps.

Some of you may be thinking "That's not hard. Heck, I've been feeding myself on $4 per day since I left home!" And frankly, you'd be right. That's $210 dollars per month, which is pretty rich for one person's food budget, except maybe in an area with a remarkably high cost of living (NYC, for one).

Unfortunately, a lot of the comments, in the true fashion of internet trolls, have resorted to name calling and attacking the writer for this. When Ms. Schneider wrote about using a leftover Rotisserie Chicken Carcass to make homemade chicken soup, the attacks began right off the top. The first guy, "greg", thinks he can write a book on what's wrong with Schneider's posts and believes himself to be an expert on what poor people can't afford (ding! Stuff White People like, #62!).

Then there's "marissa" who sounds like daddy didn't hug her enough when she was little. The Irony Police will be probably be knocking on her door soon for calling Schneider a "pretentious asshole" after calling her a "fucktard" and still attempts to take the high road.

This isn't the first time the Internets were outraged at what well-to-do journalists called a tight budget. This article from two years ago on CBS told users how they could put together a spaghetti dinner with a tossed salad and dessert on a shoestring "recession budget" of... $35.00. Or another article on 20-something hipsters who's post-graduate degrees in poetry (seriously) aren't giving them good job prospects, and they're using their taxpayer funded food stamp money to buy Free-Range-Grass-Fed-Organically-Grown-Cruelty-Free-Vegan top dollar groceries from Whole Foods. (hat tip to my sister for the link)

I can understand the indignation. When people read these articles, it brings up images about some Trust Fund Baby who's woefully relaying the tale of how she had to sell the vacation home Vail, CO in order to keep the one Santa Monica. The recession is soooooooo cruel! Meanwhile the guy mowing her lawn is using his $50/day wage to provided food for his three kids.

The commenters raise some good points (rotisserie chicken wouldn't be available to be purchased via Food Stamps, for one thing), but generally need to chill the hell out, a point not lost on other contributors to the al-dente blog.

Here's my only real conclusions on the matter:
  • Eating well on $7/day is not terribly difficult.
  • The spirit of United Way's Challenge, I think, is to replicate the challenge of living on Food Stamps, so I think the restrictions of not buying things you couldn't via Food Stamps is a good idea.
  • This is not a "living in grinding poverty" challenge, and I have several friends who were or are currently on Gov't nutritional assistance and they have a working vehicle, even if it is a little beat up. If Ms. Schneider uses a car to go grocery shopping, let that one slide.
  • Tracy Schneider may very well be what is described as a Bohemian Bourgeois. For the rest of us, it is OK to roll our eyes or even snicker at those that have to totally rethink their grocery shopping and eating habbits to fit them within a budget that a lot of us might consider to be lavish.
  • Name calling and making personal attacks are NOT ok, and it does nothing except make yourself feel like a bigshot, while everyone else feels embarrased for you. Maybe you should slide over to the message boards at Fark or 4Chan. You'll fit right in. Or maybe get eaten alive by some professional grade trolls.
  • Yeah, give me a jar of Prego, some Barilla pasta, a bag o' salad greens, and some Yoplait, and I could recreate that $35 recession budget meal (*snicker*) for about eight bucks. Some of you tightwad superstars can certainly do it for less.
  • Just because you're on Food Stamps, it doesn't mean your diet should move to ramen, Bar-S hot dogs, Hormel Chili, and Wonderbread. If you can still eat Whole Foods groceries on Food Stamps, then that's great! I'm glad to see you're doing OK, but the next time you try to get sympathy from me by complaining about how poor you are, I am totally permitted to give you a swift kick in the ass for bitching about it.
As for me, I just used my budget from last year to calculate how much per month I spent on groceries last year. It averaged to about $154 per month, or $5.10/day, which isn't bad. Some explanation on this this number:
  • It includes non-food household products, such as toothpaste, deoderant, soap, etc.
  • I also filled up a pantry with canned goods, and my freezer has filled up nicely on this $5/day.
  • I do my grocery shopping locally (there's a grocery store in town about a mile away, the nearest Wal-Mart is about 40 miles away).
  • The United Way's challenge stipulated you had to pay for breakfast lunch and dinner. A lot of times, I skip breakfast, so for me, it's probably closer to something like 2.2 meals per day, not three.
  • I try hard to avoid most instant and microwaveable over-processed foods, opting for fresh produce, dairy, and meat; but a can of chili or a Totino's Pizza still slips in now and then.
  • If I started with a totally empty pantry and fridge and ended them the same, I could feed myself on... I guess...$4/day.
As for buying fancy stuff, I just try and keep it fresh. I still have a can of Chef Boyardee ravioli in the pantry that has a use-by date of November 2008. As long as I possess this unopened can of bland pseudo-food, I know that I'm winning the nutritional war in the Kitchen.

Eat well, and keep it civil, folks!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Recent Travels

I won a Magic: The Gathering Grand Prix Trial event in February, which gave me three byes in the Grand Prix main event that was happening in Denver two weeks later. Under the urging of my Gaming peers, I decided to attend this tournament, which I would have ignored otherwise. Heck, the only reason why I went to the Trial event was because it overlapped with the few events that I usually attend anyway. How'd it go? Well... I lost horribly.

The following paragraphs contain data only relevant to MTG players. If you have never played in any MTG tournament, you should probably just skip ahead. I'll let you know when it's all clear.

The problem with three byes (three wins) is that you basically win your first three rounds without having to play. So, you have to take your untested deck against someone who actually had earned his three wins in the fourth round. And because this was a sealed deck event with 831 players, the probability of someone pulling a RIDICULOUS set of rares with excellent support and removal is higher. Like the guy I played in round four with Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, Thopter Assembly, and three or four other on-color rares whose memories I'm currently repressing. And not to put all the credit on a lucky card pool, this guy played well, too. Most of the people at this tournament were pro or at least semi-pro. Out of My league BIG TIME.

Next round I play the OTHER kind of lucky card pool. The dripping-with-removal card pool. In a typical card pool, you can reasonable hope for 2-3 hard answers for creatures, maybe a few lesser ones, too (e.g. dealing 2 damage to something, combat tricks, etc) this guy had about two of each good removal set from the whole block. He only lost one match (and thus, paired with me) because he had difficulty getting enough creatures. Probably because he was too busy killing the other guy's to bother with casting his own. Lose again.

The rest of the day went like this, although after dropping out of the main event, I was able to win a Side Event draft, so it wasn't a total suckfest (first pick Massacre Wurm, and poison team, FTW!). Aside from that, picked up a few cards I needed for an old deck that I've been constantly tweaking, and got some art prints from Mr. rk post. Overall, not an especially productive weekend, but still, you have to get out of the Valley once in a while, right?

Non MTG-playing readers may resume now.

Last weekend, I made the trip back to Pittsburgh to watch my best friend get married. Do you want to know how much nerd cred these two have? The groom wore pins fashioned after the pins worn by the Asha'man in Wheel of Time. If you don't know what that is, pick up some Robert Jordan and start reading. I'll even post you a link. The Dedicated Pin and the silver Asha'man pin was what he was rocking.

Additionally, for favors, instead of your typical cutesy knick-knacks, they passed out dice with the bride and grooms names on them where the 1-pip usually goes. How wicked is that? The only other wedding that came close was my buddy who gave out cards from a game called"Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot" (yes, it's a real game). Also, a Karaoke wedding reception, where the couple did a kick-ass rendition of Paradise by the Dashboard Light.

Finally, I made the decision to just forgo TV forever. I mentioned that the only thing that might make me call up Dish network was when that HBO series based on A Song of Ice and Fire had an air date. Well, it got one. And I deliberated. Oh, how I tried to justify it. I spend money on a lot of other stuff, I can spare a bit more for some Quality TV, right? Well, economically, I could... but I just don't see any real reason for it. I'll be able to watch the series on DVD a year after it comes out, and I may just slip on down to the local pub on a quiet night to watch it there. That's it. I resisted the greatest TV temptation that could and has come to frutition. I'm done with Television.

But maybe I'll change my mind if I keep watching this trailer that I'm leaving you with...