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On a Dollar A Day (book review)

June 7, 2010

On a Dollar a Day: One Couple’s Unlikely Adventures in Eating in America

By Christopher Greenslate and Kerri Leonard

Reading about two teachers who experimented with living on a dollar a day for a month, of course I wonder: could I do it? The answer is a pretty emphatic no. I live in a major metropolis, full of seven dollar sandwiches. Chris and Kerri have been vegans for several year. I eat meat and dairy. (I eat tofu, too. But I’m a pretty dedicated omnivore. Too much tofu makes me kind of mean and grumpy.)

Chris and Kerri, two San Diego teachers, tell their story in alternating chapters. I give them credit for making a dietary choice reflecting their beliefs about the environment and their personal health. I especially give them credit for writing very forthrightly and evenhandedly about that choice, so they’re constructing their own well-reasoned arguments and exploring what it means for the project, without preaching or pushing that choice onto the reader. Given how much of the book hinges on food, economics and politics, the friendly conversational tone they maintain is outstanding.

As they take on additional challenges, eating organically, and eating according to the SNAP food assistance program subsidy, both Chris and Kerry discuss food, economics, and politics, while maintaining¬† their cogent and noninvasive arguments. Being vegans, and teachers, probably gives them an advantage. They have had to explain vegan dietary choices to their families, and maybe also their students, and they’re both practiced in teasing out ideas and communicating messages clearly.

Alternating chapters gives a good sense of Chris and Kerri’s perspectives on the project. It’s Chris’s brainstorm, and he’s clearly the driving force behind the dollar-a-day project. Rationing their intake to a dollar’s worth each day has the teachers powering through full schedules on a diet of rice, beans, the oatmeal Kerri hates, and a tablespoon of peanut butter savored as a treat.

Watching them run on fumes made me feel simultaneously hungry and guilty. Because, of course, my fridge and pantry are full, and if they weren’t, I could walk outside and pick something up.Could I give up animal products? Milk and dairy would be a massive sacrifice. And I’m not sure how many days I could cut out meat and fish before I started to get debilitatingly grouchy about the deprivation. Maybe I could hack some version of the SNAP guidelines, though I notice it calls for lots of orange juice, which I don’t hate quite as much as Kerri hates oatmeal. But close.

Having a garden was a massive asset for the couple, as well as the San Diego sunshine. My tiny apartment is sunny, but I have fairly murderously bad luck about plants… so not going to transform my windowsill into a dietary supplement, just yet.

Overall, the book makes me thoughtful about food politics, the culture of eating in cities and suburbs, value, and veggies. It ties in with Julie and Julia, a crazy foodie blog stunt turned book deal.

I have got to think of some strange challenge to set myself then blog about.

Thanks to Allison at Hyperion for sending me this book.

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