One thing we all know about Geneva: it is expensive. Wanna have a simple lunch out? You’re looking at at least 30chf down if you give in and order a non-alcoholic drink and an espresso to flank your meal. Dinner with a friend to catch up over a bottle of wine? Better bring that 100chf bill. Feeling like getting a cocktail or two on the backend? I think you see where this is going.
Other things we know about Geneva is that it is full of people who make a good living, so, generally, aforementioned prices are not shocking to many of us. However, try living in Genf on a budget will make even a recently laid-off banker ready to raise their fists up against the greedy capitalist snobs who run this town.
For one reason or another, my well was dry last week. Bone dry. Temporarily bone dry, thank heavens – steady pay checks are just around the corner. But rather than dip into the red this month, an experiment came to mind: eating well, at home, on a tight budget.
Talk about a sobering experience. You know, this Genfer lived in NYC for years, living a little above the NYC poverty line in that category known as “low income” (as university students often do). It wasn’t long before I discovered the meaning of food justice and access in an urban environment where so many poor can’t get their basic nutrients because veggies and fruits of any caliber are more expensive than 12 fried chicken wings from the Chinese take-out place on the corner. It was easy for those making a decent enough living to judge the thousands of families that caved into to poor eating habits under such duress. And I must admit that the last few years, making a good pay check, I had happily put behind me what choices one had to make when you’re caught between the rent, the bills, and putting food on the table.
Back in Geneva, it is easy to forget how lucky we are that even the cheapest produce is of reasonably good quality. Still, can you feed yourself on 50chf worth of groceries in a week?
Last week, we tried, and with relative ease I might add! We didn’t have to give up vegetables, and eating at McDonald’s or equivalent was not necessary. Still, concessions needed to be made on the origin, sustainability and organic-ness of the produce. We tried to include fish in our diet: possibly the most expensive protein per gram, so we were immediately limited in our choices. The cheapest fish was cod, not caught in the wild, but farmed, which, they say, is at much higher risk of contamination. We wanted seasonal produce like strawberries, but it was cheaper to stick to apples and bananas, even though we are about as far away from apple season as we can get – not to mention bananas (!?).
Thankfully, we had some pretty sturdy products hanging out in the kitchen. A couple of forgotten sweet potatoes made their way into a salad with toasted sunflower seeds, feta and a lovely sweet balsamic dressing, accompanying a couple of chorizos we had in the freezer. A few newly bought tomatoes embraced a fresh avocado on the side of (another) couple of frozen chorizos and some rice. And perhaps the best bang for our buck was some ground beef and kidney beans that gave us a few days worth of chili con carne that warms the soul no matter what the price. A bag of rampon was stretched out over two meals to make sure we got some greens in.
So what was the tab for 6 days of grub? 65chf and some basics we already had camping out in the kitchen. On Sunday, proud of our accomplishments, bedazzled by the glorious summer day, we caved in to an intense filets de perche craving (as all good Genevan’s do)…. and watched 125chf go down the drain on mediocre food we could have made at home. (more on that experience manana!)
The verdict? None yet really, more research must be done to see if conscientious shoppers must forego health and sustainability to feed themselves. What is certain is that we have plenty more choice than urban America when it comes to affordable veggies. Inspired to repeat last week’s experience, I set myself a new goal: I’ve got 41chf worth of groceries, consisting mostly of greens and milk products, and some basics in the pantry. Let’s see if that will get this temporarily lone-diner adequately fed this week..!