‘Good and Cheap: How to Eat Well on $4/Day’

Leanne Brown, author of ‘Good and Cheap,’ talks about her newest cookbook

Vegetable Jambalaya is one of the many delicious and beautifully-photographed recipes in Leanne's new cookbook, ‘Good and Cheap: How to Eat Well on $4/Day.’

If you think it’s tough to purchase one meal for as little as four dollars, imagine buying an entire day’s food for that amount. Now imagine eating three wholesome and delicious meals for just four dollars; impossible, right? Not for Leanne Brown, food studies scholar and cookbook author whose newest cookbook, Good and Cheap: How to Eat Well on $4/Day, has over one hundred pages of delicious foods that can be prepared on any budget,  regardless of kitchen know-how.

Originally created as a cookbook for people trying to eat well on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps benefits, the cookbook is available as a free download on Leanne’s website. Worried that some families may not have computer access, or the ability to download the cookbook, Leanne started raising funds via Kickstarter to print copies that could be donated to families in need, at no profit. With the original goal of $10,000 far exceeded, Leanne raised $144,681 which means that more than 6,200 copies will be printed and donated and 26,000 copies will be available to non-profit organizations at just $4 apiece, plus shipping.

I had the incredible opportunity to talk with Leanne and learn a little more about this amazing project.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Well, I’m Canadian, and right out of school I took a job working in city politics. I became really interested in the politics surrounding food (supporting good local food, land preservation, etc.) but was never able to fully focus on those issues. I decided to move to New York and enroll in the Food Studies Program at NYU. During the degree I became drawn to issue of hunger and inequality. I think I obsessed about the SNAP program because we don’t have any similar programs in Canada — we have social assistance and welfare but they just provide a certain amount of money, they’re not specific to food per se. I believe it’s possible to eat well on food stamps but you have to be able to cook. How could you possibly buy enough prepared food to survive on just $4 a day?

What is your definition of eating well? Of good food?
Good food equals really delicious food; that’s the wonderful thing about being human, we can eat for pleasure. But good food is also healthy food: whole foods in a variety of colors and flavors, in their natural state, not overly-processed. And, those two things are not mutually exclusive; delicious food is often healthy food. Sure, there’s unhealthy food that is delicious but vegetables provide tremendous flavor to dishes. Think about pizza without tomato sauce: not so yummy.

Tell me a little bit about Good and Cheap. And, were there any barriers to making good food on $4 a day?
One thing that is unique about Good and Cheap is that I didn’t want to give it any kind of label; vegetarianism is a barrier, labels like gluten-free, paleo-diet-friendly or healthy eating can alienate people — they can think, “it’s not for me.” I didn’t want anyone to close their mind to Good and Cheap. I wanted to create simple recipes that are unintimidating. Cooking is actually pretty easy as long as you get a few basic things right. Recipes make it sound more complicated. There are so many changes you can make to suite your taste, your budget, or your kitchen. I encourage readers to make substitutions that make sense for them. The perfect version of a recipe is the version you love eating.

Another thing that sets this cookbook apart is its design.  There is a big gap in the literature for well-designed, beautiful, budget cookbooks. Many budget cookbooks are black and white, photocopied, picture-less, and overall not enticing; I wanted to get away from that, I wanted to get people into good food that also happens to be healthy.I also think that we need to address the issue that the poor don’t have much of a voice in the food movement, and that’s not right.

And, yes, it was super hard to create good food on $4 a day. I learned a ton. There is a lot I couldn’t do. One thing you’ll notice is that there’s not a huge variety of fruit in the book. Fresh berries, in season, for example, are super expensive. On such a small budget you have to think about whether that’s something you really value. Fresh berries? It’s a tradeoff. For someone on a limited budget buying fresh berries means purchasing fewer calories overall, that they’ll be hungry later. I tried to make these recipes healthy and satisfying so I learned to create nutritious and filling meals based around vegetables and grains.

Do you have a favorite recipe from the book?
I use all of them all the time. And the kale salad is really great. But my favorite is the “on toast” section. I could make like a million more recipes; they’re absolute heaven.  Every time I get a new ingredient and I’m not totally familiar with it I like to try it on toast. It just never fails.

What are your plans for the future? Is the Good and Cheap project getting bigger or do you have other projects planned? 
I absolutely see this project getting bigger because of the way people are engaging in it. The next few months will be spent fulfilling promises, getting this version of the book out the door and working with people across the country to distribute the book. But then, I want to continue to tell the story of what people are doing. It’s been heartwarming to hear from people across the country. I want to follow the story once people get the books.

After that, who knows? I’ve had meetings with publishers, and many wonderful offers; I think that I will have the ability to continue creating cookbooks and writing recipes.

For more information about Good and Cheap, or Leanne’s other projects, visit her website, like Good and Cheap on Facebook, or follow Leanne on Twitter and Instagram.

Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal's Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.