Love People. Cook Them Tasty Food.

I haven”t been here in a while.  I think my pot boiled over, cooked dry, and got scorched.  I have been trying to figure out a way to clean my pot so that I can use it again, but nothing seemed to be working until recently.  Over the 3FCD4D4E-3FD5-4BB3-9E70-185F39772AD1past few weeks, when I wasn’t even looking, I may have stumbled upon a solution.  Isn’t that often how it works?  The solution came into focus as I thought about a story I heard this weekend, a true story, about a man who for years had ground wheat into flour so that his wife could bake bread.  His wife has passed away, but the man continues to grind wheat in to flour.  Now his daughter drives almost 200 miles round trip to collect the wheat her father has ground and to give him 4 loaves of bread made from the wheat she collected the previous month.  This story almost moved me to tears.  This man’s love for his departed wife, the daughter’s love for her father and mother, and her willingness to keep this tradition they established alive is beautiful and what is needed in our world.

I heard the story in my kitchen, as I was spending the afternoon cooking.  I was cooking for not only my family, but for a couple neighbors who for health reasons need some help with meals.  I cooked all afternoon and was exhausted when I was done, but my heart was also very full.  I love to cook for others, always have.  My husband and I recently had our annual Mardi Gras party.  Every year in the middle of the party I think to myself, this is the last year.  I do not do well in large gatherings, preferring instead smaller functions.  But each year as the time to start planning for the Mardi Gras party rolls around, I find myself excitedly looking forward to the party.  Sure I like to see the people attending the party, but what I am really excited about is the cooking I will do for the party and the pleasure I experience as our guests enjoy the food.

I find cooking restorative and I am not the only one.  My friend, Sharon, and I share a love of cooking, and recently she sent me a cookbook for my birthday.  In the letter, which accompanied the cookbook she told me to read the book from cover to cover.  While I have often looked at each page of a cookbook, I have never read a cookbook from cover to cover, but I trust her advice, so I started reading.  A few pages into the book the author talks about how she had fallen out of love with life, seeing only darkness on the horizon, resulting in her trying to take her own life by stepping into the path of an oncoming bus.  As she was talking to the psychiatrist shortly after the incident, all she can think about is baking a pie.  Once she returned home, she baked that pie, and even though she had never been much of a cook, she decided to continue cooking.  She says that cooking changed her life (I imagine she also got some psychiatric help too!).

I’m not certain why my friend told me to read this book from cover to cover, but I am grateful.  While I have not been suicidal, I have had a difficult time keeping my spirits up these past few years.  That is part of the reason I have stopped writing.  The subject of food insecurity was so depressing; it still is.  It actually may be even more so because I don’t see the problem getting better any time soon.  In fact, I think there is a strong possibility that it will get worse and sooner rather than later.  My heart was heavy and the act of writing this blog seemed futile, but these events of the past couple of weeks have cleared away some of the gloom.  They have also reminded me of this quote I so love, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.  Do justly, now. Love mercy, now.  Walk humbly, now.  You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”.  *

I have realized that cooking is my path forward.  I can not solve the problem of food insecurity, but I can cook for others and in doing so keep up my own spirits.  I love the act of cooking, all of it.  The finding of the recipe, the shopping, the chopping, the combining. Notice I didn’t say the doing of the dishes!  But more importantly than it just being an enjoyable pasttime, it feeds my soul by allowing me to help and bring pleasure to others.  Cooking is now and has always been my expression of love, for my family, friends, neighbors and even strangers.  It’s what helps me celebrate the good times and gets me through the bad.  And on that note I am going to close so that I can put the finishing touches on a meal I am delivering to one of my neighbors and start dinner for my own family.  Bon Appetit!

*I have always attributed this quote to the Talmud, but in searching for the quote I could not find it’s definitive source.




A Spoonful of Sugar

The title of this brief post references the song from the movie Mary Poppins.  You know the lyrics, sing along.

A Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
The medicine go down-wown
The medicine go down
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way.

Like unpleasant medicine, sometimes the truth is difficult to swallow.  In those cases, comedy can act as the sugar, to help the truth be ingested.  I recently encountered this video from comedian Trae Crowder, in which he adds a sprinkling of humor to convey some truths about food stamps.  Click on the link below to watch. Oh and I apologize if you are singing that song for the rest of the day!

Shaming people who are on food stamps is just wrong. — Trae Crowder


A Fork in the Road

I am writing this post to let my readers know that I will be stepping away from writing regular blog posts for a couple of months.  I have decided to run for school board in our local school district and I will be very busy over the next couple of months with the campaign.  I remain committed to assisting people with food insecurity, and will continue to volunteer weekly at the food pantry.  During these few months, as time allows or topic dictates, I will write posts, just more sporadically than in the past.  Once the initial push of the campaign calms down I will return to more regular postings.  Please continue to send me information, articles or links to interesting approaches to addressing food insecurity or timely information about issues facing those who are food insecure.  As always, I thank you for your interest and support.

#Giving Tuesday or Friday or Any Day

donateTuesday was Giving Tuesday and if I had been on the ball I would have written a post urging you to consider giving to your local food bank, pantry or cupboard.  As it was, I took some time off for Thanksgiving and neglected to look ahead.  Thinking I had missed a perfect opportunity I was a bit down when I realized Giving Tuesday was going to pass by without me being able to write a post about it.  As I thought about my missed opportunity I became frustrated that giving was allotted one day out of 365 days in a year.  Consequently, I decided that instead of throwing up my hands because I missed the opportunity to highlight Giving Tuesday, I would urge you to give on a Wednesday or Friday or whatever day works for you and to consider giving at other times of the year as well!

I understand the reasoning behind Giving Tuesday and support the effort wholeheartedly.  People are in the giving spirit at this time of year.  Additionally, for charitable organizations aiding the poor, demand for assistance is particularly high at this time of year.  For food pantries the months of November and December contain two big food holidays.  Christmas means presents and many churches and neighborhood and civic christmas-okorganizations work to provide items for families in poverty to give to loved ones on Christmas morning.  Finally, the cold weather necessitates added clothing, like winter coats, snow boots and hats and mittens, which are often well out of the monthly budget of families living near or below the poverty line.

While the main focus of this blog is food insecurity, I urge you to consider giving to any charity or cause you support.  Making a donation to a charitable organization supported by someone on your Christmas list is a thoughtful gift for them.  Coming together as a family to pool your money for a sizable donation to an agreed upon charity is also a great way to celebrate the season.  If you are able to, spread your donation out over the year by making a regular a monthly donation, allowing your charitable organization to better budget over the year and prevent periods of limited resources.  Finally, if you do not already, I urge you to consider making giving a regular part of your life, giving throughout the year and expanding your definition of giving.  Many organizations in every community do wonderful work, but need volunteers just as much as donations to make their goals possible.  Consider touching someone else’s life by giving of your time.  I guarantee that you will receive a gift in return!

Here is a link to an article by Consumer Reports about ratings for charitable organizations if you are uncertain about giving to a particular organization.

Christmas Time is Here

It is here, that magical, wonderful, hectic time of year called Christmas.  I love Christmas and all that comes with it–the songs, smells, food, christmas tabledecorations and the act of giving, presents, time, love and caring.  I grew up in the country and have fond memories from when I was a child of caroling on country roads in the back of a hay wagon being pulled by a local farmer’s tractor.  One year I remember making stops at a few houses so that my dad could run a bag of groceries up to the front steps.  I have always been touched by that small gesture that probably meant a great deal to the person receiving the unexpected gift.

Yesterday I volunteered, not in the food pantry, but in one of the holiday rooms run by the same organization that operates the food pantry.  There is a toy room and a clothing room.  I was working in the clothing room, sorting and arranging newly arrived donations.  We oohed and aahed over cute outfits, soft pajamas, warm jackets and this rocking pair of purple christmastree.jpgboots!  As with the night caroling, I was struck by the realization of how much these items will mean to the children receiving them on Christmas morning. I am glad this organization and many others like it exist and I am gratified to assist them.

As they year comes to an end I find myself reflecting on all that I have experienced and learned over this past year.  I am grateful for all the gifts this year’s journey has given me.  I have met many wonderful people and heard numerous stories of people persevering through inconceivably heartbreaking experiences.  I have seen smiles of thanks and gratitude and tears shed by people who have all but given up hope.  Through it all I have been uplifted and inspired by their determination to meet the challenges of their lives.

This is my last post of 2015.   I am taking some time off to enjoy the holiday with friends and family.  I hope you will continue to follow me on this journey in the coming year.  I value all the feedback and insight I have received from my readers.

Best Wishes for a Wonderful Holiday and a Bright New Year!

The More Things Change. . .

how other half ateI recently read the book, How the Other Half Ate:  A History of Working Class Meals at the Turn of the Century, and attended a talk by the author, Katherine Leonard Turner.  As someone who is interested in what we eat and why, as well as being a history geek, I found the topic enlightening, but not in the ways I might have first imagined.  I approached the book with the romantic notion that at the turn of the 19th century most women cooked everything from scratch and that this knowledge of how to cook helped working class families survive with meager resources.  What I discovered upon reading the book was that this notion was not the reality at all, especially in urban areas.  The situation for working class families at the turn of the 19th century was not unlike that of those struggling to get by today.  How the working class ate and society’s response to their eating habits was also remarkably similar to the eating patterns of the food insecure and attitudes of today toward those patterns.

At the turn of the 19th century most women of the working class were not homemakers, particularly in an urban setting.  They were working.  If they were not working in a factory, they were doing piecework in their home.  The money they earned from their work was necessary to help maintain their families’ subsistence.  Consequently, they lacked the time required to cook meals which required several hours of preparation.  Additionally, many of these households lacked items needed to prepare meals from scratch.  Some households lacked the necessary cooking implements, while others lacked the money for the food itself or the fuel with which to cook the food.

The lack of time and resources these women and their families experienced caused them to turn to alternative ways to feed themselves and their families.  Working class families at the turn of the 19th century ate a surprisingly large amount of their meals outside of the home.  Family members who worked in factories often purchased the equivalent of today’s fast food  from a pushcart or went to a local pub, where for a nickel beer they could get a free lunch.  Not only did families eat food prepared outside the home, but they rarely ate together, due to the varied work schedules of all the working family members.

Similarly, the social reformers of the late 19th/early 20th century held some of the same opinions voiced today with regard to the plight of these working class families.  They believed that wives and mothers in these households were neglecting their families by not cooking and allowing their family members to rely on cheaper food prepared by someone else.  They counseled these women to spend a few more hours a day cooking and cleaning, suggesting that this time and effort was the key element needed to improve their family’s situation.

These women were cast as the cause of their families’ dire situation by some, instead of examining closely their actual situations.  Working was a necessity for these women just so that they could help keep their family clothed, fed and housed.  They and their family members ate food prepared by others because it was either cheaper or these women lacked the luxury of time, cooking implements, fuel or the food to cook, not because these women were lazy or did not care about their families.  I hear strains of this sentiment today, when members of society blame those who are food insecure for their situation.  These people who are struggling to feed their families are often castigated for not cooking and relying on fast food or prepackaged, processed foods.

What is missing from society’s assessment of those who are food insecure, both today and in the past, is a careful examination of the actual circumstances of the lives of these groups of people.  When one does that, what becomes evident it that most of them are and were working very hard, being paid very little and making difficult decisions about how to feed their families with the limited resources available to them.  Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Journey Continues

back to schoolSummer is coming to an end.  My kids went back to school Monday, and I am left wondering where the time went.  This summer didn’t quite go as planned, but not many have and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.  At first I felt like I hadn’t made any forward progress with this endeavor of helping those who are food insecure.  I didn’t write nearly as many blog posts as I had hoped and I wanted to catch up on a backlog of reading, which did not happen.  But as the end of summer approached, I realized that progress sometimes doesn’t feel like progress, because you don’t always move forward in a straight line.  Sometimes you move forward by zig zagging or meandering.

meandering pathThis summer was about meandering.  At first I felt like I was slacking, but I came to realize that I needed to take some time to be still and look at what I had done thus far and assess what I wanted to accomplish going forward.  Luckily for me, the circumstances of summer gave me that time.  I determined that I wanted to change my approach to my blog.  I had started to look at my blog as my mission, and while it is an important part of my mission, it is not the mission.  I also decided that I work better with people, if only to have someone to whom to be accountable.  Consequently I have decided to assemble a group of people in my area who share my interest in assisting those who are food insecure.

Concurrently with my decision to form this group, two local women who read my blog about the lack of summer feeding programs in our town approached me to express their concern over this issue and their desire to work to remedy the situation.  Eureka, my first two committee members!  I have spoke to a couple more people I know are committed to the cause of assisting the food insecure and have a couple more people I want to invite to participate.  Over the coming year I hope to work with this group on a summer feeding program and on developing others ideas.

One thing I never stopped doing this summer was volunteering, which was a different experience than volunteering when I first started.  I can’t quite say why.  Maybe because I am more comfortable with my fellow volunteers and the clients.  But I also think it had something to do with the availability of fresh produce, which changed from week to week and became more plentiful as the summer progressed.  Sometimes I felt like Santa, handing out presents to a room full of 5 year olds.  Just this week while volunteering, I picked 54 pounds of tomatoes.  Clients were waiting for them when I put them with the other produce.   When I left 2 hours later, only a few pounds remained!  Supplying this produce and having the clients eagerly take it fills me with a sense of joy and helps keep me invigorated to continue my journey.

My Tomato Picking Buddy!


Lights Out!

power lines bIn June, Chester and surrounding counties experienced a line of thunderstorms that produced strong winds, resulting in the disruption of electric service to more than 130,000 people.  Some people were without electricity for several days.  I know in my community power was not restored for 50 hours and we were not the last ones to have power restored.  To save the contents of our refrigerator and freezer, both of which were full of food, my husband bought a generator.  We lost very little food.  Some of my neighbors, who did not have a generator lost several items in their refrigerator.  While buying a generator or replacing food is an expense for which we had not planned, my family and my neighbors were be able to absorb the cost of the new purchase or the replacement milk, eggs, mayonnaise and other lost items.

For my family and my neighbors, this power outage was mostly just a nuisance.  For others it was a major setback.  While volunteering yesterday, I met a lady who had lost most of the contents of her refrigerator during the storm.  This was her first time to the food pantry since the storm, as clients can only come once in a 30 day period, and she was desperate to get some food.  Mypower lines a heart went out to her as I counted up the days and realized the storm had happened 3 weeks earlier.  She said she cooked up as much of her food as she could, but for how many days had she been scrapping by with almost nothing?  We were as generous with her as we could be, giving her a few extra items from our donated food and making sure she got plenty of fresh vegetables.

I had not stopped to consider how potentially devastating a prolonged power outage could be for some folks.  How costly it would be to have to replace partially used condiments or precious eggs, milk or meat.  Also concerned with the inability of some to replace food items lost in the power outage was 4 year old Dylan.  I found out about Dylan from a post on The Chester County Food power lines cBank’s Facebook page.  They were giving him a huge shout out of thanks for his effort.  He collected 474 pounds of food for the Food Bank after he learned that not everyone could afford to replace all the food they lost during the power outage.  I imagine Dylan, like myself, will never just groan at the inconvenience the next time the power goes out.  We will be counting the hours and thinking about the folks out there who are hoping the power comes back on before food they can’t replace is lost.

Follow up to a previous post

In an earlier post I wondered if the food pantries would see increased use during the summer, especially among families, because kids who received free or reduced lunch at school, did not have many options to get meals due to a lack of summer feeding programs in our community.  Yesterday I got confirmation that the lack of summer feeding programs in our area does take a toll on struggling families.  One of our clients said she was having a hard time feeding her kids over the summer.  Although she did not ask for help or extra food, we were generous with her as well, focusing on items for the kids like a large jar of peanut butter, donated bread and snack items, and fresh vegetables.

I am always a little conflicted after volunteer days like yesterday.  On one hand I feel bouyant because I know I definitely helped people in need.  That is a satisfying feeling.  On the other hand, I get frustrated and saddened that people, in this country of abundance, have to face these hardships.  In the end, I have to remind myself that these are the days that keep me committed and drive me to keep working to find solutions, both large and small.



Note of thanks

I just wanted to say a huge thank you to those of you who shared my blog with others.  The number of followers of the blog has topped 200.  I am grateful to everyone who takes the time to read my posts, reflect on what I have written, leave a comment and offer encouragement!

thank you