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Generally Recognized As True: The OSAP diet: how to live on $7.50 a day without sounding like a helpless poverty activist

Monday, March 08, 2010

The OSAP diet: how to live on $7.50 a day without sounding like a helpless poverty activist

The Toronto Star complains that OSAP students are only given $7.50 a day from which they must find a day's worth of food.

Of course, the student they selected as the model first complains about having to give up her $4.50 London Fog tea from Starbucks and then complains that she can't afford to buy a submarine sandwich from a sandwich shop.

"The only sandwich Rachel Crane can afford is homemade," the newspaper opines. They also use another student quote to describe a larger allowance as a precondition for "healthy eating". Rachel Crane then complains again: "how many cucumber sandwiches can I eat before I wither away."

Let's get the first lie out of the way. A whole cucumber costs about $2 and a loaf of bread the same. By my estimation, there are around 20 slices of bread in a loaf of supermarket bread, 60 calories in a slice of  bread, and enough cucumber slices in a cucumber to fill 10 sandwiches. So, there's your answer: for half your budget, you could eat 10 cucumber sandwiches a day, in total containing at least 1200 calories. And you'd only have spent half your budget. And it'd cost less for all of that than it would for a single London Fog tea from Starbucks.

But why settle for cucumber sandwiches? Late last week, I bought a 10 lb. bag of red potatoes for $3 from my local supermarket. Not only is there substantial nutrition in a potato, but 10 lbs. of the things go a long way -- and a large red potato has over 200 calories. Bags of carrots and onions have similar economy. Garlic is cheap, as is salt and pepper. Vegetable stew, anyone? The remainder of my bag that shopping trip was filled with fruits and vegetables and came to just over $10.

On the weekend, I soaked just over a cup of dried chickpeas overnight and then cooked them to a state of doneness. This is sufficient for part of my lunchtime salad for an entire week. There are approximately 10 cups in a bag of dried chickpeas, and that bag cost under $4. Yes, that's under 40 cents per week.

A heavy bag of rice can be bought for well under $10 and would last for weeks if not months. An onion or two (50 cents in bulk), some curry powder (20 cents for a couple of teaspoons), a can of tomatoes ($1), a chicken breast ($2), and a few sprigs of cilantro from the pot growing on your windowsill (free -- and don't laugh -- I have been growing one all winter) and you could feasibly have 3-4 portions of a relatively exotic chicken curry made up for half of your daily food allowance.

What about rice pudding? Rice, a bit of sugar, a splash of vanilla, and maybe some nutmeg.

I buy a relatively luxurious bag of toasted porridge oats that contains a range of grains and seeds for around $6 -- regular porridge is much cheaper -- and this would probably last for two weeks. So, what's that? 40 cents per breakfast?

If you make your own, you can even afford broader luxuries -- a generous cup of organic, fair trade coffee costs perhaps $1 a cup if you make it yourself. Regular coffee is far, far cheaper.

And at no point have I contravened the idea of "healthy eating". And none of this involves the "Costco membership" that one student says he may have to avail himself of. Last time I checked, Costco was not cheap. You get large quantities but at non-sale prices, and much of the food is rubbish. If you buy fresh food in the quantities they offer, it will not keep. If you buy fresh meat, you are giving yourself a luxury because frozen is cheaper. What's the point?

What you can't afford are trendy drinks, to eat out, and to buy junk food. But, so what?

Is any of this too much to ask of an ostensibly intelligent student? It's not, but I expect the News Of The World to uncover the truth of it before the Toronto Star does.

$7.50 a day is $52.50 a week or over $200/month. As someone who has a full-time salary, doesn't always pay attention to economy, buys organic milk and eggs, Haagen Dazs ice cream and occasional luxuries like fresh salmon and tropical fruits in the winter, my food budget is about $75 a week.

And all of what I've said above also applies to those of you who say that people in poverty can't afford a healthy diet.

12 comments:

Sarah Millar said...

Mark,

I really like your post and take on this whole thing. I totally agree with you, eating healthy can be done on a budget, people do it everyday. It's just we're not really used to it nowadays.

ace said...

how very interesting! and matt (or mark? hehe), i think you'd make a great house wife for all the planning and saving and meal management. lol!!! :D kidding.

btw, is it canadian $ or american $? :/

ace said...

and yes veggie stew, please!

mattbg said...

Thank you :)

It is Canadian $ but they are pretty much equal at the moment!

Christian said...

You sir do not understand nutrition-nor what it is like to live on campus.

I challenge you to create a week long meal plan (7 days). That could allow for healthy eating of a college student.

I look forward to your response.

mattbg said...

Christian, someone who qualifies to attend university should be able to do that for themselves. I know that the standard for what we can expect from someone enrolled in post-secondary education in Canada is descending in a downward spiral, but we are talking about skills that uneducated housewives used to (and still) do.

I already do it -- if I cut out the luxuries my grocery bill would come under the bar.

Maybe I don't understand nutrition. But I don't eat much junk food, do eat a lot of vegetables, legumes, and grains, and am sufficiently alive to work a full time job that is on par with what's expected of you at university.

I rarely eat out and know how to cook.

As for "living on campus" -- I did it, and I recommend against it. The cooking facilities are inadequate and the food that you are sometimes forced to buy (via meal plans tied to residence) is too expensive.

mattbg said...

Also see the comments associated with the Toronto Star article on the subject. Lots of people are making do with $7.50/day or less.

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/education/article/776378---7-50-a-day-is-all-you-get-on-the-student-osap-diet#comments

It not necessarily a matter of spending only $7.50/day, but rather spending $52.50/week or $210/month and buying things in quantity to cover many meals at once.

Christian said...

"Maybe I don't understand nutrition."

Well thats the answer I was expecting. You clearly do not understand-if you did you would not say such a thing. You may very well LIVE on $7.50 a day-but it is not healthy for the body nor mind.

So why not do some research before you continue to spread false information?

Also keep in mind an 18 yr old college student will need more calories than you on general as they are still growing and have a higher metabolic rate.

"As for "living on campus" -- I did it, and I recommend against it. "

Everything you said here is correct. However we are talking about OSAP, which is supposed to provide students with enough funding for food and shelter. Try finding AFFORDABLE student housing in the GTA off campus that fall into the OSAP student budget.

However why do our student pay so much for a post-secondary education anyways? Many countries PAY students to attend school so they can learn and contribute to society. Quebec, is an excellent example of how offering monetary incentives and subsidiaries for students to continue their education can lead to a better developed & educated culture.

We wont even LEND students enough money in Ontario to properly support themselves in university. Why is it such a concern to increase the rate? OSAP is a loan, which is paid back....with interest. The goverment MAKES money like this.

Keep in mind also the default rate on OSAP loans is about 3% across all programs. Compared to credit card default rates which are about 9%-3 times as much.

So whats so wrong with lending students more for food????

mattbg said...

Well thats the answer I was expecting. You clearly do not understand-if you did you would not say such a thing. You may very well LIVE on $7.50 a day-but it is not healthy for the body nor mind.

But that isn't the answer I gave you -- it was part of an answer that included the fact that I currently live on a similar food budget myself, and a reference to the Star comments where a number of people said they feed their entire families on less than the amount given to students on OSAP for food.

So why not do some research before you continue to spread false information?

See above. It is not false information. The false information is that students need more than $7.50/day for food. They could eat nicer food if they were allowed more, but it is not necessary. You can turn a pound of ground beef, a can of red kidney beans, and a can of tomatoes into about 4 servings of chili for less than $6 -- that is $1.50 per serving for a pretty substantial meal, and if you find three more just like it then you've only spent $4.50 on your square meals for the day. For 10 cents more, you could add a slice of bread (and you could get more than the 10 cents back by using dried, rather than canned, kidney beans).

Things that are expensive and bad value for money: almost anything that comes in a box, almost all prepared foods, anything baked. These are things we're often told are "the only choice" for people on low incomes, but they are usually much cheaper to make from raw ingredients at home.

Also keep in mind an 18 yr old college student will need more calories than you on general as they are still growing and have a higher metabolic rate.

Calories are not hard to come by. Beans, grains, and sugar are all high in calories.

Everything you said here is correct. However we are talking about OSAP, which is supposed to provide students with enough funding for food and shelter. Try finding AFFORDABLE student housing in the GTA off campus that fall into the OSAP student budget.

I don't know about this so I won't comment. Except for my first year in residence (very expensive for what is offered and, in my case, much of it went to pay extra for unionized labour), I shared a multiple-bedroom place with others and paid between $277-325/mo the rest of the time I was in school.

However why do our student pay so much for a post-secondary education anyways? Many countries PAY students to attend school so they can learn and contribute to society. Quebec, is an excellent example of how offering monetary incentives and subsidiaries for students to continue their education can lead to a better developed & educated culture.

Whether or not they contribute to society depends on what they study, I think. If they study philosophy then it's probably counterproductive. Quebec is a xenophobic museum culture, not a "better developed & educated" one. It is enshrined and allowed to continue thanks to outside funding from other provinces that live in the real world. Though it doesn't hesitate to criticize them, it has Alberta's oil sands to thank in part for its ability to exist as a going concern. One of its main exports is corruption. They get so much from this country, yet they still have massive debt. Whatever education they are partaking in is not working out very well for them.

We wont even LEND students enough money in Ontario to properly support themselves in university. Why is it such a concern to increase the rate? OSAP is a loan, which is paid back....with interest. The goverment MAKES money like this.

If students agree to stop complaining about their debt levels, and if forgiveness over a threshold was removed then I would be OK with it. I doubt the government makes money off these loans -- they are not the ones making the loans, and the programs to administer them that they do run cost money to operate.

mattbg said...

Keep in mind also the default rate on OSAP loans is about 3% across all programs. Compared to credit card default rates which are about 9%-3 times as much.

So whats so wrong with lending students more for food????


And that is, I guess, why credit card interest rates are normally northward of 15% and OSAP loan rates are not. It is also easier for OSAP recipients to adjust payments and modify debt scheduling in order to avoid default, and this is facilitated by government programs.

Obviously, OSAP should make allowances for food. But taking on debt to pay for food is generally a very bad idea, so it should be kept to an absolute minimum. Otherwise, you will be paying in 5 years' time for food that you ate in 10 minutes, 5 years ago. People need food, but there are limits to what they need.

If someone suggested that adding their groceries for the week on their credit card balance was a good idea, I'm not sure there are many who would agree. The food would be gone in a week and the credit card bill, with massive interest, would exist well beyond this time period. In this sense, I see OSAP as protecting students from themselves by limiting their food allowance.

Anyone who had a notion of value for money would agree -- it does not make sense to pay interest far into the future on a bill for food that you didn't need.

Anonymous said...

How would the OSAP Diet apply to a single parent with a dependent in Grade 2 and rents her own apartment?

mattbg said...

Anonymous, I have no idea. But this doesn't describe most people, and allowances should be made for special circumstances... without, of course, encouraging applicants to have those circumstances.

We don't want to send the message that single parenthood is the way to go if you want preferential treatment from the taxpayers.