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How We Survived Two Months Without Buying Groceries

  • June 6, 2015
  • 6 min read
How We Survived Two Months Without Buying Groceries

This is how we ate good food for over two months with almost no shopping.

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Barter. I swapped soap and essential oils for nuts and pink salt. From the bartering station I set up next to my house, I collected avocados, tamarilloes, pumpkin, chokoes, capsicums and a can of tomatoes in exchange for surplus herb teas, old gardening magazines and books, jam, recipes, bunches of herbs. I even get a cappucino and cake in exchange for lemons and fresh herbs at a local cafe! It’s such a luxury to take myself out for coffee without spending any money.

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Markets. We shopped at a local market once, to top up on fruit and vegetables for school lunches. (Silverbeet and kale just ain’t gonna cut it!)

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Foraging. I did some weeding at the community gardens and couldn’t bring myself to throw the lovely chickweed onto the compost. I took it home and cooked it up with lemon juice.

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Gleaning. Some friends let me pick a huge bagful of olives from their trees, which I’ve pickled. Although I did have to buy salt (from the supermarket, in plastic packaging) to brine them safely, after running out halfway through.

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Garden. I have lettuce, dill, dandelions, rosemary, stevia and spring onions in my garden. We dug up all our potatoes, before planting broad beans in the rich soil that was left. I’ve borrowed some garden space next door that is currently cropping broccoli, lettuce, silverbeet, kale and pak choi. I can also harvest some citrus, herbs, celery and beetroot from my neighbours with permission.

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Home baking. I always bake our bread about once a week. I found myself baking a few batches of muffins, biscuits or slice on Sundays. The biscuits and slice store in the cupboard, and I freeze most of the muffins. Then it’s a simple matter of popping in a few pieces of fruit (and usually some veg), a biscuit or muffin, a sandwich and a few extras like nuts, cocoa butter buttons, or, as in this picture, some pieces of homemade gelatin lollies (zero sugar, with kombucha for good gut microbes). Nude food lunchbox.

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Fermented foods. Our daily bread is a rye/wheat sourdough. It only needs flour, salt and water, and the starter which I feed with flour and water. So I don’t have to worry about running out of little packets of sugar, bread improver, yeast or bread mix. As long as I have a sack of flour and some salt, we’re good. The rye flour is running low, which is what I usually feed the starter with, but I have a sack of wholemeal spelt flour that I could use for a few months instead. I’ll transition it over gradually, and swap it back to rye after I use up the spelt.

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Requesting food contributions from guests. I’ve hosted seven couchsurfers during this period, so I asked them to bring specific food items like pappadums to go with a curry, vegetables, eggs or milk. Usually I feed them soup, curry or stew; large meals that are easy to stretch. I’m not obliged to feed them, but I like being able to sit down to meals together. Bon appetite/itadakimasu/guten appetit! I can’t remember the Korean version. One of my couchsurfers brought a bunch of spring onions. As I cooked them, I saved the root ends and replanted them in the garden. They’ve grown about ten centimeters in two weeks, so we’ll plucking them for months to come.

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Donations. My grandpa gave me a bag of lemons. A friend dropped off homemade tomato sauce, lemon cordial, pickle and a massive jar of white beans. Two different friends and some couchsurfers gave me blocks of chocolate, so I haven’t run out of essentials yet. Bless them.

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Cooking from scratch. We dug up a small crop of delicate new potatoes and wanted some mayonnaise to go with them. Since our couchsurfers had brought us some eggs (yes, we have chooks, but apparently their egg holes are on strike), we attempted some mayonnaise. This is my third batch of mayonnaise. Once it worked. This time it didn’t. We still ate it. I called it sauce instead.

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Leftovers. When there’s a scoop of stew left, I cooked up a pile of rice and added the stew and other scraps to make risotto.

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Substitute. When the butter ran out, we made vegan butter from coconut oil and turmeric. When the coconut oil ran low, we switched to olive oil. Or avocado on toast. Or the oily dregs of all the jars of pickled eggplant/olives/cheeses in the fridge. Or plain spreads, without butter (this is turmeric honey on toast). The muesli tub is now empty, so we’re eating toast/porridge/savoury muffins/soaked wheat/pancakes/sprouted buckwheat for breakfast.


Eating weird meals. This is purple corn flour (it sounded like a good idea at the time…). I also have about 20 kilos of whole wheat. I’m trying to find a way to use it. Soaking it in boiling water overnight in the thermos yields tender, warm, fat grains for breakfast, which are quite tasty with a spoonful of honey, nut butter or jam stirred in. However, I suspect they contain too much fibre for us. I would like to grow wheatgrass, but the fruit fly love it too and breed in the soil or roots every time I try. Maybe I could find a way to keep them out. Or borrow a hand mill and grind the wheat into flour. I’ve also been putting carob syrup into the gingerbread, purple cornflour into the muffins and nigella seeds on our bread. Luckily my child is used to my strange cooking.

Average weekly spend for an adult and a child (plus seven short term guests and four bring-a-plate events over the two months) for all food expenses (takeaway and groceries): $15.30 per week. Some weeks we spent up to $34, and two weeks we spent zero dollars on food. Some of this is organic food, but I’m not being fussy right now. It’s hard to go from organic food back to conventional. I really notice the difference. Chemically-grown food doesn’t taste as good as it looks, and I’m always left craving more. All our homegrown and most of our swapped food is organic or spray-free.

We’re almost up to ten weeks no. How much longer can we last?

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