To the Poorhouse
Everyone deals with recessions a little differently. Some people vacation in Cape Cod instead of Brittany. Others switch from Grey Goose to Smirnoff. But millions of Americans started adapting to 2008’s not-so-prosperous times by falling back on old eating habits: canning, for example. Packing a cooler instead of eating road food. Starting a garden. And finally, that old unsexy standby, cooking at home, a once waning practice that is now booming and helping cookbook authors feel a little more recession-proof than the rest of us.
Survivor, $2 Challenge Edition
As a fiscal shortfall turns into a full-fledged recession and consumer confidence crumbles, the Two Dollar Challenge takes on increasingly ominous resonance. The project, designed to document the experience of living on $2 a day for five days and four nights, challenges its participants (primarily students of economics professor Dr. Shawn Humphrey of the University of Mary Washington) to travel and eat on a severely restricted budget, plus limited access to water. This year’s participants watched as their quality of nutrition and life plunged while the amount of time they spent walking, cooking, and searching for affordable food shot through the roof. Meanwhile, they also blogged skeptical observations about fellow students who looked too well fed or adequately showered. No surprise that some participants would game the system, by asking people not on the $2-a-day plan for free food and showers.
No Shame in the Early Bird Special
As customers clamped down on their food budgets, restaurants like Memphis’s Circa added happy hour specials to lure penny pinchers, or, like San Francisco’s Orson, retooled their menus to be more casual. Others waved corkage fees or launched half-off wine nights. Some just plain bit the dust, like the chain Bennigan’s. Meanwhile, Whole Foods went on a massive PR tour in which it took members of the media shopping, hoping to show that the store’s prices aren’t higher than anybody else’s. Most of the tour took place in the dry lentil bins.
Meet the Freegans
As food prices jumped and stock markets fell, the dumpster diet of freegans—the food division of the anticonsumer vanguard—became the perfect alternative-lifestyle story idea for editors everywhere. Simultaneously alluring—free!—and appalling—dumpsters!—freeganism even showed up on Oprah. There’s no shortage of dumped food out there. Witness this Seattle freegan who passes up dry pasta because she hates cooking.
“Chic Potluck” No Longer an Oxymoron
Are potlucks the year’s hottest entertaining trend? There’s been a lot of buzz over the old-fashioned and frugal gatherings thanks to a tanking economy and the inevitable rehippifying of everything that’s so old it’s largely forgotten. At Eat-Ins thrown this year in Kentucky, California, and Connecticut, people signed up and brought a dish to share in a park with a bunch of strangers. Two tips from an expert if you’re thinking of throwing a potluck: Theme it up, and have a game plan for who’s bringing what. Four potato salads and two pans of brownies don’t make for a happy crowd.