Fast food is cheap. Pay $2.00 and you get a huge burrito at Taco Bell. For a $1.99 you get a BK Topper Deluxe burger. Virtually every fast food joint has a value, dollar, or $0.99 menu. Poor families often eat at places like McDonald’s because where else can you spend $12 and feed a family of 4? On the flip side, “healthy” food has bad rap for being expensive, and to be fair, it often is. But does it have to be?

In response to cheap, fast food, Slow Food started the $5 Slow Food Challenge. They challenged people across the USA to make meal for less than $5.00 per person and to take this pledge:

“I pledge to share a fresh, healthy meal that costs less than $5 — because slow food shouldn’t have to cost more than fast food.”

Slow Food chose $5 since that is the typical cost of a fast food meal when you include an “entree, ” side and a drink (think burgers, fries and a Coke).  When I told my friends that I was participating in the challenge, virtually no one I talked to had heard of Slow Food. I was surprised since this global organization started in Italy in the late 80′s; a counter to the rise of fast food and fast life. In addition to addressing the disappearance of local food traditions, Slow Food seeks to “…renew people’s interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.” Noble cause, lofty goal, especially considering the popularity of fast food.

On a sunny Sunday in September, my family and I drove the 2.9 miles from our house to Fairview Gardens to be a part of our local $5 Slow Food Challenge. Everyone brought their own dishes, utensils, cutting boards and knives. Chef and chapter leader, Laurence Hauben was our guide as we sliced, diced and chopped our way to a simply gorgeous meal. Here was the menu Laurence created for us:

Spanish tapas style Sauteed Padron peppers

Soupe au Pistou – A Provencal soup of fresh shelled beans, summer vegetables, tomatoes, with “pistou” (pounded garlic, basil, parsley, and olive oil) swirled in just before eating

Grilled flatbreads, brushed with pistou and topped with blistered Anaheim chilies, baby eggplant, lipstick peppers

Farm fresh salad, baby greens, tomatoes, radishes, lipstick peppers, olive & citrus dressing

Fresh-picked apples and clementines

Refreshing lemon water

All the produce from the meal was sourced from Fairview Gardens with the exception of the parsley (it wasn’t ready). Laurence reported back that the total cost of the food was $343 and we made enough food to feed 75 people. This translated to a cost per plate of $4.57. Pretty impressive for food you could easily see at a fabulous restaurant.  Yes, we did have an incredibly talented French chef guiding this meal, but it is proof that beautiful meals can be made inexpensively.

Although this is not a story on the nutritional value of fast food, I feel it my duty to at least mention that, aside from being delicious, slow food is virtually always healthier than fast food, regardless of price. Are you up for the challenge? Just because the $5 challenge was last month doesn’t mean you can’t still participate. Plan a potluck with friends or cook a meal with a group of loved ones with the goal of making a great meal on the cheap. There are tons of tips, pics and ideas at www.slowfoodusa.org.

Special thanks to Laurence for creating such a special meal, to Fairview Gardens for hosting us and providing such amazing produce, and to Gerri for setting up the Meetup.

Click on any of the pictures below up to open a slideshow. Enjoy!

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