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Time to tighten your belt

Cheaper cuts, industrial vs home-cooked meal, frozen foods—look for the middle ground
/ 07:20 AM June 21, 2018

Inflation is pushing up to 5 percent and the dollar-to-peso conversion rate has breached the 53:1 mark.

The triumph of those who celebrate devaluation in the hope of being more competitive in the international market is bound to be short-lived. As it was 12 years ago when the peso had such abysmal performance, or in 1985 long after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, the peso is a bellwether for an economy in turmoil. At least I think so.

Looking around at the crowds in shopping centers, I sense a disjunction between the financial reports in newspapers and the realities of everyday life.

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However, the glossy new menus being handed out in restaurants reflect not just new fare and the excision of non-performing ones, but also a subtle price adjustment. The throng might be mugging beside the window displays or watching movies at P300 a head (I still remember the good old days of P5 for Orchestra, P7 for Loge), but they are probably less likely to spend on stuff.

For once, I am going to leave the economic predictions to experts, and the prognostications on the restaurant business to crystal-ball gazers. As someone who helps run a household of moderate means, trying to squeeze as much as possible out of a P500—my psychological ceiling for a meal for a family of four—I’d like to share some insights I have had on the practice of austerity. Yes, the same kind practiced during the war.

While we will not be seeing boots of foreign soldiers marching down our streets, we are in the midst of an economic invasion.

Time and convenience

Time is money. This holds true not only for prostitutes and lawyers and such like who charge by the hour, but also for anyone trying to balance tasks and a finite number of hours in a day.

You could get that bouquet of herbs for a few pesos less if you’re willing to go across town and pick it up from the supplier’s mother-in-law, or you could just pay a few extra pesos for the convenience of getting it in a supermarket a few minutes away. I haven’t tried Honestbee or MetroMart but some homemakers swear by it.

Auxillary sermon: Supermarkets should reduce the price of entry for goods, to allow more independent suppliers to offer goods at competitive rates. Doing so will make the supermarket more interesting in the long term.

Nonprime and off-cuts are a big help. It seems ridiculous to proselytize about nose-to-tail eating in a country that loves sisig, lengua, but really, where are these meats at your average supermarket?

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Offal

No, I don’t have time (see above paragraph) to go to Nepa-Q-Mart or Farmer’s Market to wait for the bagsakan. (Don’t go too late to the market. A friend bought tulingan at 3 p.m, when its toxins had built up enough to send him into anaphylactic shock.)

Offal, as it is known, should be sold and, ideally, consumed on the day the animal is slaughtered. They’re also a great way to get your iron and calcium up, while eating interesting meat: Pig’s kidneys in the soup are perfect for the weather we’re having, and so is the neck bone simmered in a pot with a large knee and shank, full of wobbly bits to be sliced off the bone.

Local beef, unless it’s from a good farm, will leave you chewing a slab of sirloin for hours.

For cheaper cuts that are not innards, mince is a good choice, though it’s best that you do the mincing yourself. Take two large cleavers and you can easily reduce a chunk to fine bits whose fibers are cut, not crushed.

Don’t hoard

Don’t hoard. This is a pet peeve of mine, even if I am a card-carrying member of S&R. The wine snobs say it best: Get a bottle from your importer of choice on the day you’re planning to drink it, because the importer has the facilities to store the bottle properly.

The same goes with meat, fruits and vegetables: Make the grocery store pay for cold storage, not your home.

If your family bathes in olive oil like ancient Athenians, go for the 5 gallon tub—if not, it’s best to get judicious quantities of better oil. A caveat: This presumes that supply will not be interrupted by coups d’etat, signal 3 typhoons and so on. A bit extra might not be a bad idea. And it’s always good to have tin goods or MREs on hand.

Frozen

There’s a balance to be struck between industrial and from-scratch food. In highly industrialized countries, there are shops that sell frozen food: in the United Kingdom it’s called Iceland, and in France it’s called Picard.

Despite the alluring names, this is food that’s one level unhealthier than ready meals. The people seen coming out of these places with trolleys full of frozen meals that will go straight into the deep freeze are usually about 300 lbs or so. But the food is good and cheap— and that’s because it was made in a factory, with no regard for consumers’ health.

The more industrialized the food is, the cheaper it will be. Canned tuna, frozen boneless bangus, packets of reheatable menudo in a retort (ready-to-heat and open) pouch, will be cheaper than a balanced, home-cooked meal.

An entirely made-from-scratch meal, with homemade tortellini and artisanal cheese and sourdough bread made from one’s own starter and fresh milk, will be much more expensive than the average meal.

Meat, ironically, is cheaper than vegetables—especially during the rainy season. Fish is more expensive than meat as well. (This is why it’s the rich who are on plant-based diets and eating sashimi in every meal.)

So you have to find a middle ground that works for your budget and predilections: I’m happy to pay someone else to make pizzas for me because I don’t have a wood-fire oven at home. But I enjoy making my own pasta.

Eating in restaurants all the time is not only financially draining, you also don’t get to eat the slow-cooked food that doesn’t make an appearance on menus—beef bourguignon or a monggo with pata cooked over low fire.

Even only monggo with dried fish and ampalaya blossoms with saluyot and tomato salad make for a lovely, leafy meal: the kind that saw our parents through the war, and which may see us through the upcoming years. –CONTRIBUTED

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TAGS: Cheaper cuts, frozen foods, home cooked meal, Inflation
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