To much of the world, it was Monday. To Mario Batali, it was Day Four.
The chef, his wife and their two teenage sons are eating for a week on the equivalent of a food stamp budget in protest of potential cuts pending in Congress to the benefit program used by more than 46 million Americans. That’s $31 per person for the week, or about $1.48 per meal each.
Goodbye restaurants, free nibbles on his talk show “The Chew,” and all the luxe offerings at Eataly, the high-end New York City market he co-owns. Hello Trader Joe’s, Jack’s Dollar Store, Gristedes and Western Beef, a low-cost supermarket chain.
“I’m [expletive deleted] starving,” said Batali, who’s on the board of the food relief agency Food Bank for New York City, which issued the challenge to celeb pals like Batali and anybody else who wants to know what it’s like.
Batali said his first reaction when asked to join was a big “gulp,” then he realized while shopping for Friday’s start of the challenge that with a little forethought it wouldn’t be all that brutal.
One lesson: Forget organic and anything pesticide- or hormone-free.
So what’s on the Batali menu through Thursday? Lentil chili with onion, water and cumin was one dinner that came with a complaint from his wife when he bought two bags of lentils instead of one, until he convinced her the extra cost would mean cheap eats for the next day.
“Rice and beans is in my lunch every day,” Batali said. “We got a bag of mini gala apples for $3. We bought a pork shoulder roast for $8 and got 2½ meals out of it. I got a whole chicken for $5, but it was spoiled so I had to return it and got a $7 chicken instead. They were out of $5 chickens.”