The art of frugality is not something I had to learn in Peace Corps; I was raised on scrimping and saving. Make do or do without is the mindset that has followed me into my adult life, and it has been a great skill to bring with me to Peace Corps...especially when it comes to food!
I began to seriously cook around age nineteen and never looked back (before that it was a lot of eggs and a whole heap of pb&j) . I loved the challenge of making any given meal from scratch, and comparing the cost of buying it versus making it. When I entered the field of agriculture, I dove into the world of value-added products and thus began preserving vegetables, baking bread, and attempting to make hard cider (that turned into a very large batch of apple cider vinegar--probably better for my health in the long run!). I love foraging for food and finding interesting ways to eat from the fields. I make a game out of not having a lot in the cabinets or fridge, but somehow whipping up something nutritious and delicious. Most of the time, I would make the recipes I create again, but other times I am thankful that during my solo life in Peace Corps, I am the only one who has to eat my prepared meal. It’s a hit or miss matter when it comes to cabinet experiments!
This may be a unique scenario for a Peace Corps Volunteer, but I live twenty minutes from one of the biggest cities in Jamaica, where there are supermarkets stocked with anything I may desire from the United States...if I want to pay up to about twice as much money for it. Since I make all of my meals from scratch, I am able to splurge on certain things that I find worthwhile, once in awhile.
Eating healthy is important to me, so I try to balance the art of splurging on more expensive ingredients (like coconut oil or butter for daily use as opposed to using the cheaper vegetable oil) to doing without certain items that I may have enjoyed daily at home, such as yogurt or any dairy for that matter. Yes, cheese is a thing of the past.
Jamaicans would probably cock their head to the side if they saw the meals I create with their island's produce compared to their traditional use of the fruit or vegetable. However, I do enjoy making Jamaican traditional meals from scratch as well, from picking and cleaning ackee to roasting my own breadfruit. I would love to do some cultural exchange and share some of my DIY recipes, as well as have Jamaicans help me compile some of their top notch recipes into a book for future volunteers. There are so many possibilities!
Anyway, for fun, here is a day in life to see what I am eating in the Peace Corps.
A DAY IN THE LIFE - MEALS
BREAKFAST - Getting ready for work and too lazy to cook meal
Banana with peanut butter, cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg and wheat germ...served with a juicy orange. Black tea with some soy milk. The peanut butter and wheat germ are the splurge items, but I portion them to last a long time!
LUNCH - I bring lunch to the farm every day.
The other half of that juicy orange from breakfast, with homemade kimchi and rice/black beans/local veggies that I made a whole heap of on Sunday and eat all work week.
DINNER - Still too lazy to cook dinner (bad picture):
Salmon (super splurge, but I make the can last at least seven meals!) mixed with avocado, onion and garlic on a cracker topped with cayenne pepper. Really tasty!
So as you can see, I tend to merge more expensive imported food items with less expensive fresh market food items to make my tummy happy. So far, it is working out well and I feel great about my diet here. Of course, if I were to lose access to my salmon, peanut butter, and wheat germ, I would still find ways to eat how I like! I would say it was EASY to transition to Jamaican food culture staples, while merging in my old time favorites. Unless you are used to eating out for every meal, the Peace Corps Jamaica stipend is enough to eat healthy and balanced meals.
SOME KITCHEN CREATIONS SINCE STARTING MY PEACE CORPS SERVICE
The only logical next step to become even more of a pro cheap-o is to grow my own food, and this is in the works!