In Brazil, the government considers food a social right and requires as part of their minimum wage law. One attempt to combat hunger in the country is the Cesta Básica. It is a package of basic necessities, almost entirely food, to hopefully sustain a family of 4 for a month. This is just one of the country’s initiatives to feed the population.
What national food security programs are commonly known in the States: Food Stamps.. WIC?
My attraction to the Cesta Básica started while living the last few months with two Brazilian host families. One I will classify as poor and the other as rich. With my rich family, my 1st pai (father) would buy and give his house maid a Cesta Básica once a month to help support her. Now, living with my poor family, my 2nd pai receives a Cesta Básica monthly from his work to survive.
The other day my 2nd pai let me open up our Cestá to see what we got to eat this month.
Tasty to eat:
- 1 juicebox sized of Extrato de Tomate (Tomato Sauce)
- x2 1kilo bags Feijão (Beans)
- Package of Doce de Goiabada (Goiabada Chewy Perserve)
- x1 Sal refunado, Iodado (Iodized, Refined Salt)
- Package of Bolo de Laranja mix (Orange Cake Mix)
- 500g (about a pound) Espaquete (Spaghetti)
- 1k fubá (corn mill) enriched with Iron and Folic Acid (Vit B9)
- x2 900ml óleo de soja (Soy Oil)
- 5k of Açúcar (Sugar)
- 5k Arroz (Rice)
Not so Tasty to eat:
- x2 Sobonetes (Bar of Soap)
- 1 Creme Dental (Tooth Paste)
Almost all the products are “Industria Brasileira”
Did I mention that both of my pai’s are brothers?
The two brothers have very different lives and financial situations; yet both families “basically” eat the same staple foods in the Cesta Básica. Culturally, Brazilians without beans or rice feel as they have not ate a meal but a lanche (snack).
My poor family flavors the rice and beans with the oil and salt, flavors the spaghetti with oil, salt, and the tomato extract. Most of the food that we eat outside of the Cesta Básica is for breakfast: bread smothered with margarine (soy beans, huge Brazilian industry) which they call butter, coffee hammered with sugar and leite (milk). We eat little meat or cheese (which is sad since Belo Horizonte is the cheese capital of Brazil). We don’t bring luxury food home often because the family mindlessly scarfs them down regardless of quantity. The lack of fruit and vegetables in our diet could be blamed on economic reasons as well, but it is more a lack of time and desire. Much more time is required to shop and prepare natural foods; they don’t give the instant feeling of satiation and require a more open palate to enjoy them. Since moving in with my new family, I am glad to see that vegetables are more present at most our meals, yet I am unsatisfied that it is commonly fried potato and manioc or a boiled egg with tomato which my host mom calls a salad.
When you look at this basket of basic foods, what do you think? Can my family of 4 (5, including me) survive a month with these basic necessities? What is missing? How do you compliment your Cesta Básica?