Garden, Plant, Cook!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Face of Hunger in America - July 2014 - Food Insecurity

Dear Folks,

This may be one of the most important posts I have ever put together.  Please read and share.  You don't have to live in a run-down neighborhood to be hungry, nor do you have to be unemployed.  You can be on social security, working multiple jobs,  a single parent, or the victim of a tragedy.

Wealth or a good paying job can be a great barrier to understanding, really understanding, what it means to be food insecure.  Someone on the outside looking at a clean, neat appearing, slightly overweight person at the check out stand of a grocery store using an EBT card (food stamps) and think, "hmmm, why does that person need food stamps?"  Likewise they may look at a messy looking individual using the same kind of EBT card and buying colored water flavored with sugar (substitute for real juice), white bread, cheap hot dogs or peanut butter and jelly and think "hmmm, trash, these people need to get a job and stop mooching."

The real trash is the quality of the food they are buying, because they have limited resources and limited knowledge on what to buy, so they give in to the children asking for food and drink and fill them up with what is filling but not anywhere near nutritious enough to help them -- in school, at work, get a job.

If you do not eat nutritious food you do not think well. Period.

And, if you think hunger won't happen to you because you feel secure in your job and life, keep in mind many before you have discovered through tragedy, sickness, or loss of a major career job that it only takes one major life-changing-event to change everything.

If YOU know how to feed yourself and your family in reduced/stressed circumstances, you will always, always be able to keep more of your life together and under control.

You may know someone ,or some people, who can use this information to help themselves and/or to help others.

On the heels of reading an article in National Geographic (NG) on Food Insecurity in America, I came across a free (PDF) cookbook aimed at the working poor and poor who survive on food stamps (SNAP) and food banks.

I read, with disgust, the frequent comments criticizing SNAP recipients for being overweight (there is a reason for that, that nothing to do with too much money); lazy and moochers.

Sure there are those who take advantage of any program, non-profit group, or the government.

But when people who work hard or who are disabled can't get the right foods in enough quantity to keep them out of ER rooms and hospitals there is something wrong with our national conscience.  And, using examples of jerks to keep food and information from those who need it is just plain wrong!

Did you ever look in a donation box of food collections going to food banks?

I have, and they bear out the NG article stating the donations are high calorie, low nutrition, high salt and sugar foods = Cheap!  Mostly that is what people donate, cheap food.

The same kind of cheap food most food insecure families buy for themselves - when they have the money or food stamps.

Boxes of sugary cereal; cans of green beans or corn, some peanut butter and high fructose corn syrup jelly, a rare can of meat like tuna and soups - cans and cans of soup.

Did you ever look at the nutrition label on a can of Cambell's soup?  I have.  In fact I started, but have not completed, a cookbook aimed at eating more healthy from pre-packaged foods, because the basic can of soup, even the ready-to-eat versions, have more salt than protein or fiber.

Growing up there were times when we might have been classified in the new term for hungry - food insecure.  My mom was creative, having spent a good part of her childhood and teenage years on a farm.  I hated a lot of the 'creative' things she made, but she was trying to feed 5 kids plus my dad and her.

She would take a can of Campbell's vegetable beef soup.  Add cups and cups of water and toss in barley and cook until the barley was done and that was dinner.

It was not always like that for us, but I remember it all to this day and food still becomes a source of fear - fear of not having enough or of not having the 'right' things, so I learned how to grow food and keep the pantry stocked with go-to-things so that 'fear' does not get triggered.

Most of today's food-insecure families do not have either the knowledge or the time to learn how to be creative, and they do not know where to go for help.  Food banks are the most wonderful and generous of society's conscience, but they usually are under-staffed with little 'wiggle' room for tutoring on how to put foods together to make them more nutritious and also appealing.

From the NG article:

When she learned that SNAP benefits could be used to buy vegetable plants, she dug two gardens in her yard. She has learned about wild mushrooms so she can safely pick ones that aren’t poisonous and has lobbied the local library to stock field guides to edible wild plants. “We wouldn’t eat healthy at all if we lived off the food-bank food,” Reams says. (emphasis added)

I can't say enough about learning how to grow some or most of your own food.  You take the control of what and when of food out of the hands of other people and into your own hands.

Read the NG article to learn about the real face of the hungry in America, then check out Leanne Brown's cookbook.

Leanne Brown's Kickstarter Program.

Ms. Brown has generously made this PDF file available for anyone to use and share.  Print it out, distribute it to groups that help others, and READ it for yourself and your family.

As a graduate school project Ms. Brown went about developing recipes around the SNAP monthly allocation of $4 a day using healthy ingredients.  $4 a day - that is a Starbucks coffee and people need to eat sustaining meals on that amount.

The challenge for many folks is these recipes require cooking - I'm not being mean here - I'm being practical - to eat better and cheaper means doing some prep work and actually cooking.  It is certainly possible to do many meals in the crock pot.  Make use of limited time to cook large batches up and freeze or save for the next couple of days.

And about the over-weight / poor health thing.

says Melissa Boteach, vice president of the Poverty and Prosperity Program of the Center for American Progress, “people making trade-offs between food that’s filling but not nutritious and may actually contribute to obesity.”  Not to ignore diabetes and other health issues directly related to poor nutrition.

People who are hungry eat to fill themselves up: cheap fast food (very high fat); white bread (some vitamins and maybe some minerals but practically no protein); cheap dairy - I'm not talking milk here, I'm talking fake cheese that has added calcium but no protein.  So they put together a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches for a total calorie content exceeding 500+ calories (estimate) and maybe, maybe a total of 3 grams of protein and no fiber when a meal should have between 12 and 20+ of protein for an adult.

They ate a meal of sugar, salt, flour a few minerals, no fiber and someone outside looking at them figures they are doing just fine. NOT!

Download here

Her recipes are the kind I love to see when teaching cooking.  She uses inexpensive protein sources like eggs to create satisfying, healthy foods - savory oatmeal with scallions topped with a fried or poached egg!

I have touted the benefits of making oatmeal a side dish, not just a breakfast dish - use it in place of rice, pasta or potatoes.

I have used my savory oatmeal leftovers to make patties which can be heated up in the skillet the next morning (or microwave) and served with eggs, some meat or cheese for a filling and fast breakfast.  (Think hash browns only way better for you.)

She makes great suggestions for leftovers, and bases most of the dishes around seasonal vegetables (aka cheaper and better for you).  The recipes are to serve 2 or 4 but can easily be doubled.

Here is one of my Canned Meals recipes - I put together on a camping trip some years ago.  Try for low salt options - if you have the money (it is so interesting that when they leave out things like too much salt or sugar they charge more for it? - I know there is a production reason for this but still . . .)

This is enough for 2-3 people, depending on appetites

1 6 oz. can of water packed tuna
1 8 oz (apprx) can of cut green beans in water
1 8 oz (apprx) can of stewed tomatoes
Italian-type salad dressing/vinaigrette (homemade, dry packaged, or bottled)
1 small can of potatoes
1-2 tablespoons of capers
Other options include canned anchovies, olives, hard cooked eggs, red peppers, shallots, artichoke hearts and you might enjoy a rustic/crusty bread with it also.

Drain canned foods (Arizona Dun-Deane likes to drink the water from everything but the tuna - the bean and tomato water/juice are a cheap V8 sub - might as well use everything!), fold together gently - you don't want to mash the food - add capers if desired, toss with enough dressing to coat well but don't make it soggy. Eat and enjoy. Protein, Fiber, Lycopene, Vitamins, Minerals and some salt and fat - this is the kind of meal that is healthy and satisfying - just watch the salt content of the canned foods.

This not the best example of fresh is best, but canned can be a second option if combined properly.

I hope this post gives you some new information, helpful ideas and please, please share this around.

Thank you

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady