Tastes Good

free kaleThis past Saturday I spent the morning at a training session for a new program, sponsored by the Chester County Food Bank (CCFB), called Taste It!.  I went to the training with another volunteer from the food cupboard. In addition to us, attendees included a few nutrition students from West Chester University, a representative from another food pantry and several individuals interested in volunteering with this program through the CCFB at various food pantries and at the Fresh2You Mobile Market. Volunteers with the Taste It! program prepare a nutritious recipe, provide samples of the prepared recipe and information about healthy cooking on a limited budget.

The Taste It! program is very similar to what I have wanted to see offered through food cupboards and pantries.  The program does not seek to preach at participants about eating more nutritiously, but rather to introduce them to various fresh produce and other healthy foods and to demonstrate how easy to prepare, flavorful recipes using just a few ingredients can be.  The simple recipes try to emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables, utilize low cost or cupboard provided ingredients and provide adequate seasonings so that they taste appealing.  I appreciate that the CCFB encourages Taste It! volunteers to modify the recipes provided so that they use actual ingredients available in a specific pantry or cupboard and to use recipes created by the volunteers or shared by clients, provided they follow the criterion above.  I am additionally pleased to see that volunteers are encouraged to consider the cultural appropriateness of the recipes they choose to prepare.

The training took place at the Chester County Food Bank and in addition to providing anfree sweet potato overview of the program and proceedures, included a tour of the facility and a basic cooking and knife skills demonstration by a guest chef.  We finished the training with hands on cooking of some of the recipes.  The attendees were divided into 4 groups and prepared 4 different recipes provided by the Food Bank.  Once completed we sampled all of the dishes and discussed the cooking process, our thoughts on the recipes and what we might discuss when presenting the recipe.  For participating in the Taste It! program our food cupboard will receive a cooking kit, which includes bowls for ingredient display and mixing, measuring spoons and cups, a can opener, a cutting board, a knife, cooking utensils, a few basic ingredients like seasonings, oil, vinegar and soy sauce and an electric skillet for preparing the recipes.  These items will facilitate the implementation of this program.

I am excited about this program and was glad to have been included in the training.   We already have tremendous interest from a many of our clients with regard to fresh produce and eating healthier.  This program will serve to grow that support and further assist our clients in making healthier food choices.

Showing someone that a recipe sample is delicious can be much more powerful than telling them that it is “healthy”!

From the Taste It! Program Volunteer Handbook

 

 

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Good News for a Change!

There have been times lately when the daily news feed has just been depressing to the point that I will go several days with minimal monitoring of the news.  To continue to follow the news cycle only serves to deepen the malaise that I feel and at times has almost caused me to throw up my hands and say what’s the use.  These past few days have been no exception.  So when I received two particular emails yesterday containing good news my lunchboxspirits were immediately lifted.

The first email came from the Director of Food Services in my local school district, notifying me that the school district’s application to provide free summer lunches to students in our school district had finally been approved.  The school district had applied to serve reimbursable meals under the federally funded Summer Food Service Program.  Any child under the age of 18 will be able to come to the designated location and receive a meal at no charge.  Adults are also able to eat a meal as well for a nominal fee.  The school district will be serving lunches at a convenient, walkable location, 4 days a week from June 20-August 18.

This is the same program that I had been researching last year, with the hope of convincing the school board to authorize the district to apply to be a sponsor of this program for this summer.  When I contacted the Food Services Director for the district to obtain some information for my group’s presentation, she told me the district was already considering this program.  At the time she was just beginning her research, so I was able to provide her with the contact information of the person with whom I had been speaking at the PA Department of Education.  I was very relieved to learn that the school district was already considering this program.  I had been thinking that our group was going to have to do quite a bit of convincing to get this program implemented.  I need to get my background check completed, but once I have accomplished that I plan to volunteer with this program once a week  as well.

The second email I received that buoyed my spirits was the monthly newsletter from thevegetables Food Bank of Delaware.  The Food Bank of DE has received a 3 year grant from Giant Food’s Our Family Foundation.  This grant allows the Food Bank of DE to partner with Delaware Pediatrics in a pilot program entitled “Produce Prescriptions”.  The pilot will allow participating Delaware Pediatrics offices to identify up to 120 families they feel are at risk for food insecurity and diet related health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes.  Those families will then be given a “produce prescription” which allows them to receive a monthly allotment of 15-20 pounds of fruits and vegetables from the Food Bank.  These fruits and vegetables will be able to be picked up by the families at the pediatric clinic they attend.  What a great idea!  I have read about doctors and hospitals writing prescriptions for fruits and vegetables, but this is the first program I have heard about that provides the produce to those who are otherwise unable to purchase the produce themselves.

These emails came at just the right time for me.  Periodically I get very discouraged and pessimistic about what can be accomplished, and in particular, what I can ever hope to accomplish.  While I do not take any credit for the summer lunch program in my local girls eating watermelontown, I am happy to know that I helped connect the Food Service Director with the right person at the right State agency to move the process along.  I’d also like to think that keeping in contact with her over the past few months and letting her know that people in the community supported this action strengthened the district’s resolve to see this process to fruition.  Either way, it matters not.  The most important thing is that kids, who would otherwise be hungry, are now able to get a nutritious lunch 4 days a week over the summer.

 

Taking a Shot

 

I’m back after my brief respite from being immersed in poverty statistics and personal accounts from people who struggle with poverty on a daily basis, as well as from a break from writing.  While I was not conducting poverty research or writing blog posts, I was still moving forward toward my goal of doing what I can to help the food insecurity problem in my community.  During this break I read a very thought provoking book, entitled Making a Life, Making a Living, by Mark Albion in which the author encourages readers to focus on following their passion in life and doing their best to incorporate that passion into their work.  On those pages I definitely found the inspiration and encouragement I needed to take the next step.  While I was reading Albion’s book I was also thinking about what I hoped to accomplish and how I might go about accomplishing those goals by following my passion and using my strengths.  I purposely paired these two tasks because I thought they might compliment each other.  The result of the past couple of week’s work is that I am reinvigorated and ready to renew my efforts to make a difference in my community.

hockey stick puckThe reason for my hesitancy to move forward thus far stems from the fact that I’m not a risk taker, never have been.  For me, as it probably is for most people, I haven’t taken risks because of a fear of failure.  One of the things I really like about the Albion book is that it is peppered with motivational quotes, at least one on every page.  Several of them deal with taking risks or overcoming the fear of failure.  One of the ones that really caused me to stop and think is a simple statement from Wayne Gretzky:

    You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Totally obvious, and yet I had never considered inaction in quite that way.  As a result of realizing I was already suffering a failure of sorts by not taking action and moving forward with my long term plans to start a nonprofit whose purpose is to assist the food insecure in my community, I have told myself I have nothing to lose.  I have also come to believe that the only real failure is inaction.  I will undoubtedly attempt things that will not succeed, but these misses, viewed properly, are just opportunities to learn and grow.

Another item I took from the book is a new title for myself, “designated bullsh!t bulldisturber,” which is a term Alan Webber, cofounder of the company and magazine Fast Company, coined to refer to himself.  Albion quotes Webber, who describes his philosophy as such “Telling the truth for me was all about trying to make a difference by being honest about what I saw.”  I plan to take this course of action, telling the truth about what I see and hoping it makes a difference.  I believe that too many mistruths, exaggerations and bald faced lies have been told with regard to poverty, people struggling with poverty, the benefits they receive and the reasons these people are living in poverty.  My intent is to stand up for and with those struggling with poverty, here in this blog as well as my everyday life, and without blame or belligerence tell the truth as I see it or experience it.

So in the spirit of taking risks and disturbing the bullsh!t I am going to move forward.  Over the next few months I plan to talk with a variety of people about my ideas to try and determine how practical they are, how to fund them and how to implement them.  My goal is to have taken action on some of my ideas by the fall.  Wish me luck!

plant vine

In my last blog post I was disheartened because I had been unable to find a positive story about which to write.  Over the past two weeks I continued to look for something positive to report and I am happy to say I found something!  The Chester County Food Bank will be operating a mobile produce truck for the second year in a row.  The Fresh2You Mobile Market will bring fresh produce and healthy food staples, as well as nutrition education, to underserved communities.  The market will accept all forms of payment, including cash, credit and debit cards, SNAP and WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers.  The Double Dollars program will allow shoppers who purchase their produce using SNAP/EBT or Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers to receive a dollar for dollar match on all purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables, enabling them to stretch their food dollars.  Last year the truck, called Fresh2You Mobile Market, only traveled to Coatesville and a location in rural Honey Brook Township.  This year the truck’s route will expand to include sites in West Chester and Southern Chester County, where my community is located, as well as Coatesville and Honey Brook.  At present the Chester County Food Bank has not released the schedule or stop loctions for the truck.  For more information click on the link above or call Roberta Cosentino, Fresh2You Mobile Market Coordinator at 610.873.6000.

 

Snow Day Fun

snow cardinalTuesday I found myself with some unexpected free time.  Due to a weather forecast of 4-8″ of snow, food pantry clients had been rescheduled to another day, so I did not have to volunteer.  I assumed, however, because of the forecast that my kids would be home from school for the day.  It did snow all day, but the temperature never dipped below freezing, so nothing stuck to the roads.  The kids only had a two hour delay (sorry guys!) and I didn’t have to volunteer.  What to do with this unexpected gift?!  I decided to spend the day going through a cookbook my brother and sister in law gave me for Christmas, entitled Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, & Scuppernong Wine:  The Folklore andscuppernong Art of Southern Appalachian Cooking, by Joseph E. Dabney.

When I initially started thinking about food insecurity and how to assist people who were hungry, one of the first ideas I had was to look to the past to see how folks used to cook, especially during hard times, like the Great Depression.  Prior to the Great Depression the United States also lacked the societal safety nets we have today, so people suffering from poverty really were on their own to survive.  After a bit more research, I learned that not everyone cooked and ate the way I assumed.  My notion of how women 100-125 years ago cooked and provided food for their families was based on a rural society, where there were little work opportunities for women outside the home and most families had enough land on which grow produce and/or keep some livestock.  After reading How the Other Half Ate, by Katherine Leonard Turner, I learned that urban dwelling women approached cooking and feeding their families very differently than rural women, and as the title suggests, different social classes cooked and ate differently as well.

Additionally, I came to realized that cooking like rural women from the past requires a great deal of time.  Initially I didn’t think this would be a problem for most of the people today who suffer from food insecurity, as I believed them to be unemployed.  After all, that is what many politicians and people in the media would have you believe.  I have since learned from my reading and volunteering, that many people who are food insecure are also employed, sometimes working two and three jobs, and therefore do not have an abundance of time to cook from scratch.  Cooking from scratch also requires certain implements and appliances that the food insecure may not own, like large pots and pans, a multiple burner stove or an oven.

With all that said, I do still think there are lessons to be learned from old cookbooks and food traditions of the past, which is why I read old cookbooks and historical accounts of how and what people ate.  This particular cookbook, although not old as it was originally published in 1998, contains the result of research and numerous interviews with old timers conducted by the author.  It is perhaps more an historical account with recipes than it is a cookbook.  The geographical location this book discusses, southern Appalachia, has historically been and still is, one of the poorest areas of the United States.  I was very curious to see what these hardscrabble people ate and how they prepared it and to determine if I could learn something from their practices that I could pass on to people in my community who are struggling today

One of the first themes that struck me was that they ate what was available wild in their environment, when it was available.  Some of this practice will not be very practical today.  We live in more populated areas with less open spaces, so foraging off the land will not work as well today.  Additionally, we have mostly lost the knowledge of what is edible, growing wild in our wild-strawberrybackyard or local woods, but it is there.  There is a group in Philadelphia, The Wild Foodies of Philly, whose members forage in the city and there is a global organization called Falling Fruit, whose website contains an interactive map of where people are urban foraging.  Similarly, I can remember as a young girl picking wild strawberries and blackberries, winter cress, persimmons, beach plums and black walnuts, all of which were eaten by my family.  Recently someone gave me some paw paws from a nearby tree growing in a nature preserve and my husband has picked and we have eaten morels and other mushrooms growing in our woods. (A note about gathering wild mushrooms–I am not advocating for anyone to pick and consume a wild mushroom without first taking a class in mycology or going foraging with someone very knowledgeable in wild mushrooms.  Some varieties can make you sick, but others can kill you quite quickly.  Unless you can tell the difference with certainty do not consume foraged mushrooms!)  And almost everyone has dandelions growing in their yard!  I often wonder if the people who spend money on herbicides to get rid of dandelions are sometimes the same people who spend money to buy dandelion greens in Whole Foods.

In addition to wild plants, the mountain people of Appalachia supplemented their diet by hunting wild animals, like rabbit, deer, raccoon, squirrel, opossum and turkeys.  Not everyone today is interested in hunting or has the land available to them on which to huntwild turkeys.  Likewise, our tastes have changed so that few could imagine eating opossum, but I know many families locally, who still supplement their diet with venison, rabbit, wild fowl and small birds, like dove.  The Chester County Food Bank participates in the Pennsylvania program, Hunters Share the Harvest, where hunters can share extra venison with food banks.  I just had a client ask me last week if we had any venison.

With regard to produce, they ate or preserved to eat later what was in season, growing in their garden.  Not many people can or preserve food today, but it was a necessary way to stretch the summer bounty into the winter, when produce was scarce.  Today, eating seasonally is still just as wise as it was in the past, even if you do not have a garden.  Produce in season is going to be cheaper, but also will taste better and be healthier, since it was allowed to ripen fully before being picked.  Even if you do not know how to can produce, many fruits and vegetables can easily be frozen, so if one has access to freezer space, freezing summer produce can be an economical way to enjoy summer’s bounty in the middle of winter.

In conjunction with eating what was available, the people of Appalachia wasted very little.  When they slaughtered an animal or killed wild game, they used almost all parts of the animal in one way or another.  Additionally, many plant products we commonly dispose of today were in the past used in recipes, like corncob jelly and pickled watermelon rind.  While I understand that many of these historical cooking practices are not practical for today, we can take away the lesson of reducing waste in our cooking.  For instance, I just recently purchased a rotisserie chicken for a dip recipe.  Once I had picked the meat off the bones, I put the bones into a pot with a quartered onion, covered it with water and simmered it for about an hour.  When it was done I removed the chicken bones and onion and strained the remaining liquid.  This produced 4 cups of chicken stock, which only cost me my time (mostly unattended cooking) and a few cents for the onion.  Abaconnother easy practice, which reduces waste and creates cooking stock, is to save parts of produce you are not going to eat, like the end of a carrot or broccoli stalks, in the refrigerator.  Once you have a decent amount of this vegetable matter, follow the same steps as with making chicken stock. This process will result in vegetable stock at no extra cost.  Finally, I save most of the fat rendered from frying bacon.  I put it in a container in my refrigerator and use small amounts not only for frying foods, like potatoes, but also to flavor braising water for vegetables when I don’t have any stock on hand.

I thoroughly enjoyed my snow day on Tuesday, sitting with a cup of tea and a cookbook.  While I did not grow up in Appalachia, I did grow up in the country and the people and food ways described in this book spoke to me and reminded me of my childhood.   Unfortunately so much of what I was remembering from my childhood is gone.  The wild strawberries and hedgerows of blackberry canes are not there anymore.  Very little, if any, winter cress grows inblackberry the fields due to herbicides or planting practices.  My grandfather, sharer of persimmons, has long since passed away.  Like the memories of my youth, passing down the practice of cooking from scratch and cooking methods used to stretch the meager food resources of a family have largely disappeared too, especially as busy parents rely more and more on processed, already prepared, packaged food.  Unfortunately, we are losing more than we realize when we give up these practices.

Reflection & Projection

anniversary cakeWell I’ve been at this for a year.  A few weeks ago marked my one year anniversary as a food pantry volunteer and one year ago tomorrow I published my first blog post.  Knowing that I had put forth my intentions and objectives in that first post, I recently went back and reread it.  I wanted to see how close to my mission I had remained, or how far afield I had strayed, as I was worried I had.  I discovered that, while I am not today where I thought I might be, I have accomplished what I set out to do.

I stated that I wanted to understand the problem of food insecurity from a national perspective.  In addition, but perhaps more importantly, I wanted to understand what food insecurity issues were specific to my community and work to address those issues.  I spent the past year reading books, articles and reports, listening to speakers on radio programs and in person and watching documentaries on the topic of poverty and food insecurity in the United States, and feel I have a much better understanding of the issues surrounding this problem.  Additionally I have spent the past year volunteering in a food pantry, as well as observing and listening to the real life circumstances of people in my community who are food insecure.

I also wanted to better understand where gaps exist in what is currently provided in my community for those who are food insecure and what is needed and to work on bridging those gaps.  While I do not think I know all the gaps that exist, I have identified a few, most importantly the lack of a summer lunch program.  I am currently working with a group of other concerned members of my community to establish a summer lunch program for children in need in our town.  Another area in which I saw a need was in encouraging clients to take fresh produce with which they were unfamiliar.  Often clients would want to take something and try it, but were hesitant because they had never eaten it or cooked it and didn’t know how to prepare the item.  A couple of times I printedbns bb pinto out simple recipes for some of the less familiar produce we had on hand, like winter squash, in an effort to encourage clients to take the produce.  Offering these recipes did succeed in getting a few more clients to give the produce a try.

Another goal I set out for myself, and my blog in particular, was to become connected with others who are concerned about food insecurity and create a forum where ideas and information could be exchanged.  The forum aspect of my blog has not quite taken off, and perhaps that is okay.  I am not sure how I would stay on top of moderating numerous comments.  I have, however, received some encouraging and helpful comments, directly to the blog, on other forms of social media and in person.  I appreciate every comment someone has taken the time to make and every exchange I thank-youhave had with someone on the topic of food insecurity.  One of the comments that has meant the most to me was a thank you for shining a light on food insecurity issues from someone whom I suspect is or has struggled with food insecurity.  Ideas and information have also been exchanged as readers have sent me links to articles or have told me about local happenings related to hunger that might be of interest to me.

Perhaps the most promising connection I have made with others as a result of my blog, has been the formation of a committee of concerned citizens who have come together to establish a free summer lunch program in our community.  Two local readers came to me after reading my post about the lack of summer lunch options for kids in our town and said they wanted to help fix this problem.  To be honest they gave me the motivation that I needed to form a coalition and tackle the problem.  We are not there yet, but the group is a committed one and we have received nothing but encouragement to pursue this goal so far.  I am optimistic that, if not by this summer then next, a program will be in place.

All in all I am pleased with the progress I have made so far, but I have more goals I hope to accomplish in the future.  First I will continue to work to establish a free summer lunch program in my community.  I also want to build on the idea of providing clients with recipes.  I hope to work with the food pantry to find out weekly what produce will be delivered and to have recipes available each week when the produce arrives.  I would lemonideally like to be able to give out samples of the produce prepared using the recipe.  I would also like to establish a pilot program of providing spices, herbs or other seasonings like lemons, not currently offered in food pantries, coupled with a food pantry staple and a recipe to clients.  For instance, if a client took oatmeal or apples s/he would also get a jar of cinnamon and a recipe for oatmeal or applesauce.  A whole chicken with lemons and/or garlic would be another paring, along with a recipe for roasted lemon chicken.  If the pilot program is successful, my long term goal would be to form a non-profit organization to supply commonly used spices, herbs and other staples, like brown sugar or cooking oil, to the food pantry.

When I created this blog I said I was on a journey and I was jumping in with both feet.  Well I am still traveling that road and both feet are still wet.  I started on the journey wet feetbecause I was fed up with hearing those suffering from poverty being disparaged and blamed for many of society’s problems.  This past year has helped to restore my faith in humanity.  Along my path I have met numerous people who care greatly for those less fortunate in our society and are doing whatever they can to help.  I have also met many who are in need and most of them possess perseverance and appreciation and retain a sense of optimism that humbles me.  This journey has brought me laughter and tears, hope and despair.  It has enriched my life and challenged me to be a better person.  I knew I would be giving of myself, but I never realized how much I would be getting back.

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!

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Sunny Side Up

egg faceI took a couple of weeks off.  The news of the robbery at one of the food pantries in which I volunteer, coupled with the realization that most of the kids in my school district, who receive free or reduced lunch, will potentially go without some meals over the summer due to a lack of summer feeding locations in our area, caused me to become very discouraged.  I felt overwhelmed by the size of the problem and my inability to make a noticeable difference.  Rather than spread my pessimism, I decided to take a break from writing over the past couple of weeks.  I am happy to say that the tide has turned on my negative attitude.

Even though I was not writing, I continued to volunteer.  Last week I volunteered at the food pantry that had been robbed for the first time since the robbery.  I was inspired by a couple of things.  First, in spite of everything, the pantry was still operating as normal and had been since the robbery.  Somehow they had managed to find a way to compensate for the equipment they lost and were still able to give out the items that needed refrigeration–milk, eggs, cheese and frozen meats.  Additionally, the staff and volunteers had not let this crime dampen their spirits or commitment to those in need in their community.  Our area has had a very hot, humid start to summer, and one of the items taken in the robbery was the air conditioner.  Without air conditioning, in a building without windows, sitting in an unshaded parking lot, on a day the temperature was expected to climb into the 90s, the doors were thrown open to those in need and clients were welcomed with smiles and hugs.  I was buoyed by their unshakable commitment to provide assistance to those in need in spite of the hardships their organization faced.

This past Tuesday I volunteered in the other food pantry and had different, but equally uplifting experience.  Perhaps you have read or heard on the news recently about various states wanting to ban junk food from the allowable items that SNAP beneficiaries can purchase.  The reasoning behind this proposed regulation is the belief that people receiving assistance choose to purchase less nutritious food over more nutritious options.  I read a great article  in Mother Jones magazine by Tom Philpott that sheds light on why SNAP beneficiaries often purchase less healthy items, and also makes a claim that their purchases are not very different from those receiving no assistance.  I now have first hand experience showing, that given a choice, people receiving assistance will happily take the more nutritious option.  The food pantry on Tuesday had received a huge shipment of  produce cauliflower broccolifrom the county food bank in it’s weekly delivery.  They had fresh cauliflower, broccoli, collard greens, lettuce, red and green cabbage and corn on the cob.  Additionally there were frozen blueberries, diced carrots and pureed tomatoes.  We had no trouble getting clients to take this produce.  Many eagerly took some of everything.  It felt like Christmas and I was Santa Claus!  Incidentally, the previous week the other food pantry put out some beets and lettuce from their garden, and they too were being readily taken by clients.

The problem of hunger in America is much greater than one person or organization can hope to solve, and it is very easy to allow that reality to weigh one down and bring despair.  I am grateful for the my experiences volunteering.  They lift my spirits and inspire me to continue doing what I can to help.  I have seen the difference that these food pantries and the people who run them make in the lives of the clients who use them.

happy sun

 

If You Teach Someone to Cook. . .

I have written previously about cooking from scratch, highlighting its decline and noting its importance in stretching food dollars.  Now I would like to share a my vision for the promotion of cooking from scratch, particularly among those who are food insecure.  I have tried to tailor my solutions to what will most likely work within my community.  I currently have two ideas for promoting cooking from scratch.  One is relatively simple.  The other one will be a bit more difficult to implement, but definitely possible.

Often people are hesitant to cook something new because they do not know how to prepare it.  I have heard anecdotal stories about the difficulty of trying to get food pantry clientskale heart to take kale when it was offered last year.  Many people were hesitant to take it because they had never eaten it or prepared it.  They didn’t know what to do with it.  The easiest step to take to encourage people to cook something with which they are unfamiliar or in a method with which they are unaccustomed, is to provide them with a detailed recipe.  These recipes would work for fresh produce and larger meat options like a whole chicken.  I envision them being written in more detail than the typical recipe to accommodate the person who has little experience cooking from scratch.  The recipes would also have a minimal ingredient list or at least include inexpensive and/or easily obtained ingredients.  In addition to offering the recipe, actually having a sample of the finished product on hand for people to try might further encourage them to take the new food item and try it themselves.

Expanding on the idea of providing a recipe, I would like to facilitate a partnership between the food pantry and another entity, like a grocery store or farmer, that would donate one more item needed for the recipe.  For instance, if a recipe for baked chicken was provided to anyone who took a whole roasted chicken herbschicken, partnering with someone who would provide the needed fresh herbs, lemons or heads of garlic, depending on what was needed for the recipe, would be ideal.  The lemon, herbs or garlic would only be available to those clients who took the chicken.  I see a similar paring with those items and various types of produce or cinnamon and a container of oats, but I am sure there are many more parings to be made.

The next obvious step to promote cooking from scratch is to demonstrate to people how to cook by offering cooking classes.  This undertaking will be more difficult in my community as the two pantries I am familiar with do not have kitchens.  To offer these classes these pantries would have to partner with local organizations that do have kitchens, like a church, fire hall or municipal building. These classes would focus on cooking from scratch with whole ingredients and teach a variety of skills, like how to get the most from the ingredients on hand, budgeting and shopping and healthy cooking.

The ingredients used in the recipes for these classes would either be things people might already have on hand, distributed by the food pantry or inexpensively obtained at a local grocery store.  The classes would include a cooking demonstration as well as nutritional information and cooking tips and shortcuts when applicable.  I would also like to see informational classes that did not necessarily involve a cooking demonstration provided as well.  These classes would cover topics like the importance healthy eating and how to achieve it, meal planning and creating a shopping list, and strategies for stretching your food dollars.

CM cooking classI am not reinventing the wheel here.  Emergency food providers across the country are already doing most of this and more.  Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit working to end child hunger in America, has a program called Cooking Matters.  Through this program parents, caregivers and children learn about cooking, budgeting and decision making food skills to get the most out of their food dollars.  Many larger food banks across the United States offer Cooking Matters programs through their facilities.  Additionally, other large food banks have developed their own programs, as is the case with the Food Bank of Delaware.  Their program does not have a cooking class component, but it does offer informational classes to low income participants on some of the topics outlined above.

http://www.cookingmatters.org

http://www.fbd.org

As I go forward on my journey I will endeavor to advance these ideas in my community.  The first area on which I will focus my efforts will be compiling recipes to be distributed.  In addition to recipes provided by food panty staff and volunteers, I hope to encourage those clients who do cook to share their recipes to be included in this undertaking as well.  As I gather recipes, I will share some here and I encourage those of you who like to cook to share your favorite recipes.  Provided they meet the criteria stated above, I will gladly share them with food pantry clients. recipe card