YESTERDAY, when my wife told me we had spent RM40 for grocery at the wet market, I was delighted. That was RM20 less than the previous week.
But my happiness was short-lived once we reached home and I looked into the content of the grocery basket. We bought a bittergourd, Chinese chives, cauliflower, a packet of fried beancurd, a bunch of sweet potato leaves, a sengkuang (yam bean), two sweet corns, broccoli, French beans, some four angled beans, a papaya and several local sweet potatoes.
We forgot about meat, fish and poultry -- which explained why the dip in spending.
Next week, we may have to fork out more since the meat stock in the fridge is running low.
I would probably end up RM50 poorer, depending on whether I go for fish, poultry or meat. Even fish and poultry are not cheap these days, be it at the wet market, pasar malam or pasar tani.
Sweet potato leaves, which used to be the poor man's greens and sold for 50 sen a bunch back then, now cost twice as much.
Two weeks ago, I had a shock when the green grocer told me it cost RM2.50 per kilogramme because of the dry spell. I am praying that global warming would not put the price of my favourite vegetable out of my reach.
The price of poor man's greens like sweet potato leaves have been increasing ever since it found its way into the menu of city restaurants -- along with petai (stinky beans), kangkung (water convolvulus), kacang botol (four angled beans), pucuk paku (fern shoots).
At the rate they are going, it won't be long before the poor man has nothing left to eat.
But I am luckier than my colleagues staying around Bangsar, I am told. Their grocery bills can easily be twice as high as mine, especially since prices of goods have a knack of keeping up with the economic status of the neighbourhood.
When I was growing up in the kampung, a small patch of land in front of the house slightly smaller than a badminton court allowed my family to grow sweet potatoes, cabbages, and lettuce.
In between the beds, on trellises, gourds and long beans gave us our fresh supply. A hedge of serai (lemon grass), kunyit (turmeric), and lengkuas (galangal) completed our needs. Although my parents did not save much in grocery spending despite our vegetable patch, we were at least assured of fresh, insecticide-free greens.
When I moved to a condominium more than a decade ago, I was quite sure I could grow my own food. But I soon discovered that it was more fruitful to stop kidding myself that I could have an edible garden.
With a balcony no bigger than the size of the attached bathroom, even a hydroponic garden was out of the question because I would eventually end up paying more in equipment than I could save on my grocery purchases.
Sure, I could plant a pot each of serai, limau purut (kaffir lime), bunga kantan (torch ginger) and even some cili padi in the small flower trough on my balcony but I doubt I could stomach tomyam soup every day.
Edible gardens are just not meant for people pigeonholed into strata living, at least not in Kuala Lumpur. They are only practical for those staying on landed property.
But if you can afford a landed property in the Klang Valley, chances are you won't want to dirty your fingers or waste your time growing vegetables which can easily be bought in the supermarkets.