Thursday, October 15, 2015

How to Eat Well on $4 a Day

Have you ever looked in your kitchen, stomach growling, wondering what you could make from what was lying around? Leanne Brown, author of Good and Cheap, has come up with a solution for those with limited income, those who don't have the time to cook or those who simply want to save money to create easy and delicious meals out of a few ingredients.

Good and Cheap started out as a thesis project at New York University. Hailing from Edmonton, Leanne moved to New York in 2012 for her Masters in Food Studies. She soon found herself curious about the food stamp system in the United States, and wanted to spread her personal joy of cooking while helping those who were living on four dollars a day.

While growing up on food stamps hasn't been her personal experience, Leanne's passion spills out over the phone as she tells me the number of people she's met who have told her stories of living on limited income. Through her Food Studies program and through volunteering in New York, Leanne knew that she had to do something to help, and while taking low income, expecting mothers on tours of grocery stores to help them find out where they could save money, she realized just how healing food can be.

“Finding out there are 46 million Americans who are living on four dollars a day really bothered me,” she says. “I felt like people's options are limited and I wanted to do something that would invite people into the kitchen and would really be useful.”

Working on getting the book into the hands of non-profits last year, Good and Cheap didn't go anywhere for a few months. So, Leanne decided to put it up on the internet as a free download to see what happened. About three weeks later, it ended up going viral.

“It actually broke the website,” says Leanne. “It was crazy.”

From there Good and Cheap spread to Tumblr and took off all over the internet as a huge hit. It seemed that Leanne's idea was incredibly needed by all walks of life.

“At first I was totally freaked out, but then people were excited and inspired by it – sharing all kinds of stories about how it affected their lives,” she says. “It was hugely encouraging.”

Leanne realized there were a lot of people who weren't able to get the book online, so she decided to put out a Kickstarter to do a print run and self publish Good and Cheap. At the time, she didn't think any publishers would be interested in giving books away – and the Kickstarter was based on the Tom's shoes model of give on, get one.

“We asked for 10 thousand and thought we could print about 5 hundred, break even and give away a ton of books – but we ended up reaching that goal in the first thirty-six hours,” she says. “We ended up with 144 thousand dollars by the end of the campaign.”

The campaign was a whirlwind, with every day more exciting than the last. The Kickstarter, which Leanne says was completely life changing, would also hugely impact over 40 thousand people who would purchase a book – the rest would be given away to those in need. At the time, Leanne was yet to sign with Workman Publishing and didn't have a team together, nor did she have a clue about know how to distribute books. But with just her husband and his spreadsheet skills, they accomplished the task.

And with the incredibly positive response that Leanne received in just a year, it's difficult to ignore the message that comes through about how we can improve the quality of living in our society: “Food can be the part of your day that helps make everything okay,” she says.

Although Good and Cheap may look like another book filled with recipes, Leanne says she thinks of it as much more a strategy guide than a cook book. it's originality comes from the fact that Leanne encourages readers to apply her tips to what works for them. Whether they have dietary issues or just want to change up ingredients with what works for them, Leanne supplies the reader with an outline for their lives.

So what are some reader's favourites? Leanne says it's all based on the time of year. Right now, the jambalaya is an inexpensive, hearty dish that's perfect for fall. Another favourite is the Mexican street corn that Leanne gets rave reviews from all the time. Over the phone she explains the process to me:

“On your oven or grill, rub the corn down with mayonnaise – which sounds super weird, I know – and afterwards add some cheese and chili peppers. It's delicious.”

Not to mention easy and quick. But that's what makes the book so popular in the first place – the idea that you can figure out what to make from what you already have, that you can make it in a snap and that it will taste great to boot!

“A lot of people think cooking is really difficult, and it's this really wonderful experience to introduce people to it,” says Leanne.

Good and Cheap is available at Chapters, Indigo or online at Amazon.com. And of course, it's still available as a free PDF download at LeanneBrown.com.

Published in Edmonton Woman Magazine.

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