For many of us, the first thing that comes to mind when we think of a $5 meal is a greasy cheeseburger and soggy fries from a local fast food chain.
But Slow Food USA – a Brooklyn-based sustainable food and farming nonprofit – is out to prove that five bucks can get you a healthy home-cooked meal with more taste and less waste.
Sept. 17 kicks off the organization’s $5 Challenge – a call for communities and families to gather around the table and enjoy a home-cooked, locally-grown meal for less than $5 per person.
“We want to take back the value meal,” said Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA. “Fast food shouldn’t have to be cheaper than slow food.”
What is “slow food” you ask? For Viertel, the answer is simple. It’s the exact opposite of an over-packaged, nutritionally-void meal from a fast food chain – a healthy, home-cooked meal made from local ingredients.
In short, eating “slower” at home can mean healthier families and a healthier planet, Viertel said.
“Potluck pop-ups” will be held all over the country this September to prove the point, including large-scale community meals thrown by college students in Wisconsin and farmers in Florida and a “Food Truckus Ruckus” in Louisville – where food trucks will sell locally-grown meals for $5.
“There are a lot of big public events, but anyone can do this as an individual,” Viertel said. “[The $5 Challenge] ranges from hosting an event for a thousand people to cooking a meal with your family and telling them how you did it.”
If you love to cook, the challenge presents an opportunity to share old family recipes online. And if you’re a novice in the kitchen, tips and tricks from seasoned chefs can help you do it right.
Through the challenge, food activists hope to band community members together to expand access to fresh foods.
Some goals include establishing community gardens at schools, opening farmers markets in underserved neighborhoods and meeting with legislators to make fresh food readily available to everyone.
“There’s a misunderstanding that this is just a question of personal choice, and I think it’s really important to look at what needs to change structurally too,” Viertel said. “If you live in a community where you can only buy fast food or food at gas stations, it’s a real challenge to eat healthy food.”
While cooking healthy food at home can be a challenge in some communities, many people are getting it done against all odds. And telling others how they do it is the key to starting an eat-at-home revolution, Viertel said.
Not eating out saves loads of material resources, but that isn’t the only way slow food helps the environment.
“Food production is arguably the largest single cause of greenhouse gas emissions globally,” Viertel said. “If folks started cooking at home…the environmental footprint of the food we eat would drop – whether it’s greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion or chemicals in our ground water.”
The idea of cooking for change has brought the organization great success in recent years.
After its two-year “Time for Lunch” campaign – which began in 2009 – activists established school gardens that currently serve more than 300,000 students across the country and helped to pass legislation to bring sustainable food into school cafeterias.
The challenge runs through the fall season. So, if you’re busy on Sept. 17, you can still find a way to get involved.