Sunday, June 02, 2013

Cooking With Delagar: The Poverty Years

Many of my students are (like me) broke as shit at the moment.

Okay, well, not at the moment.  We've been broke for years.  I've been broke since 1989, when I got cancer without insurance, and became a serf for the medical industry.  At this point, I've essentially given up hope that my finances will ever recover.  It is true that I do have a decent job (okay, kind of a decent job) and insurance (a kind of insurance) now; but it's crap insurance, and keeps springing lovely little surprises on me* and since I spent the entirety of my 20s and 30s and much of my 40s trying to pay off my medical debt, before finally giving in and declaring bankruptcy, I have no savings and no credit, and likely never will have either.

Most of my students aren't even as well off as this -- that is, they don't have a decent job, and don't have insurance; and also have no savings and no credit.  The stories I hear from them, and have been hearing from them, for year now, would break your heart.

These are men and women with children, with parents they are trying to help support, with parents who are trying to help support them, men and women who are fighting as hard as they can to make their lives better -- they're in college, right?  Doing what our culture tells them is the right thing to do to make their lives better?

And they stand in my office shivering with shame and grief telling me they're not sure they can make it to class on Monday because they have to choose between buying gas for their car to make it to class or buying food for their kids and what should they do?

Or they say they're sorry they can't make it to the exam because their kid needs a dentist and that's the only day the Indian clinic in Oklahoma can give them an appointment, they've been trying for months now.

Or they say they don't know what to do, their ex-husband broke into the house they're sharing with their mama and took their checkbook and wrote two thousand dollars worth of bad checks and now they can't buy food and the bank says too bad, he's still legally their husband, even if his name isn't on the account.

Or they say they can't get food stamps and it's the end of the month and their kids are hungry and they need gas to get to the food bank but maybe the church will give them food, they've heard that's true, they're going to try that, they'll try to get to class, though, they're just letting me know in case.

And here's the thing, here's the part that really does break your heart: they do make it to class.  They do turn their papers in on time.  They do put the gas in the car and make it to class.

I don't know how they do it, but they do it.

I asked one of them this once.  Grinning a little shyly, she said, "I moved in with my neighbor.  Her power got turned off too, you know, she couldn't pay the power bill either, but she's got oil lamps.  We're using those until next month when we get paid.  We're doing our homework by those, and then we come up here and use the school computers, type it up and print it here. It's okay," she added, maybe seeing the look on my face.  "Our kids love each other, they love living together, they're having the best time."

Anyway.  Anyway.

I'm restarting my cooking blog, Cooking With Delagar, to start adding some of the low-cost recipes I used when I was really, really broke, as a graduate student, because a few of my students have expressed an interest in these recipes.

It's not much, but it's what I can do.

The first one I've put up is called Sludge.  I'll be adding more over the next few weeks.

*For instance, when I went in to have my GI last week, the financial officer at the hospital told me, half an hour before I was scheduled to have the procedure, that I had to pay $570 up front: a $500 deductible and then the $70 that my insurance wouldn't cover.  And essentially every time I go in to pick up one of the five different medications I am on from my pharmacy I find my insurance company has changed its mind about how much my co-pay is going to be -- right now I'm paying $133 a month out of pocket for my meds, and $60 a month for Dr. Skull's meds, and that doesn't count what I'm paying for the health insurance itself.


Anonymous said...

Split pea soup is still one of my favorites. I did a lot with potatoes back in the day (and grew up eating a lot of potatoes).

Here's us on cooking when you're really broke (and I believe the cost of chicken parts has stabilized back to leg/thigh combos being cheapest):

(The post was originally advice for someone who had never been poor before, and suddenly was... your students probably aren't worrying about name brand rinse aids, but who knows.)

delagar said...

Thanks, N&M!

Can I link that off CWD?

Anonymous said...

Of course! You never need permission to link to Grumpy Rumblings.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Afromie is cheap and great. Also it is indeed true you can do all kinds of things with potatoes. My favorite is to cook them with bacon drippings and vinegar. Add some onions and garlic and its pretty good. Also rice is pretty versatile.

delagar said...

Afromie --


I have a similar sort of dish which a friend of mine, Zelda, showed me how to make when my kid was younger: raman noodles with a handful of frozen peas stirred in, then (while the broth is still boiling hot) stir in a beaten egg and some pepper really fast. The egg cooks and you've got a kind of egg-drop soup with noodles. You can either add or leave out the spice packet.

Very cheap, very fast!

Anonymous said...

I can do anything with potatoes! And I still love peanut butter and jam/honey sandwiches.

My grandfather taught me to stir butter and honey into peanut butter and make a sandwich of that, and it's really good. It may not be low calorie or low fat, but when you're poor you actually need the calories and the fat. -- L