Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Tyranny of Poverty

When I noticed the Slate article floating around on my Facebook feed, originally titled, “The Tyranny of the Home-Cooked Family Dinner,” my first thought was, “Well, you can always find a study to support your choices.” But after reading the article, and the original study out of North Carolina State University, my response grew stronger.

As someone who teaches cooking workshops at a food pantry, I am familiar with the many barriers low-income families encounter when it comes to cooking at home. However, I disagree that the “tyranny” comes from the ideal of the home cooked meal.

The study follows several low-income households through their daily routines and reveals many of the struggles that make cooking at home difficult.  Among them, low wage jobs with unpredictable schedules, unreliable transportation, lack of nearby grocery stores, inadequate kitchens and lack of cooking gear.

Remarkably, many families facing food insecurity, and the obstacles mentioned above are cooking at home. From scratch. Those experiencing generational poverty may know this way of eating as a necessity. Perhaps they grew up with simple, affordable meals that stretch the budget and fill all the bellies in a large family; meals like ham hocks and cabbage, or red beans and rice.

When I prepare a dish from scratch as a demonstration in our food pantry, patrons stop to talk about their own variations, or how their grandma used to make it. A mom and her 9 year-old son sample diced, roasted eggplant; she asks about the smoky flavor (I season it with smoked paprika), the boy tells me about making a zucchini fritter recipe after sampling it here. It’s clear that many of the families using our food assistance program are cooking meals at home, in spite of the many, very real, obstacles.

The authors of the study remind us that the family meal is often used as a “hallmark of good mothering,” and claim that food intellectuals like Michael Pollan idealize home cooking while failing to recognize the elitism of the foodie movement.

From sustainable agriculture guru, Joel Salatin, to feminist-bashing bloggers at The Federalist, the critique of the article either takes aim at middle-class white people, whining about how hard it is to cook dinner or, emphasizes how important the family dinner is for preserving wholesome family values. The conversation about how to nourish a family has been dominated by upper class lifestyle bloggers, right-wing traditionalists and celebrity chefs.

I see myself as someone with a foot in two worlds. I’ve dabbled in lifestyle blogging, I read Martha Stewart’s Living cover to cover each month, my partner and I cook almost all of our family’s meals at home, from scratch with whole food ingredients, and I’m a nutrition educator at a food pantry. Our income has, at times, been low enough for us to qualify for food assistance, so I have also been a patron of the food pantry.  I know first-hand how elitist and out of touch the foodie movement can be (see Mark Bittman’s take on the word Foodie). Assumptions are written into the appeal for homemade everything, and cozy, locally sourced, family dinners. These are assumptions that completely miss the realities of wage workers’ lives, not to mention those living on the outer margins of society, without jobs or stable housing.

But the glaring error of the North Carolina study, and all the media coverage it has generated is this: the tyranny low income families are facing is not coming from the foodie movement. It is coming from the forces that create poverty. It is coming from a congress that refuses to raise the minimum wage and from employers who fail to pay a living wage, or to offer a predictable work schedule. It is coming from an out-of-whack food system that makes overly processed junk food more affordable than basic whole foods.

The outrage of the Slate article is misdirected. It’s easier to point the finger at those advocating for healthy eating than it is to take on agri-business or to spend time dissecting the farm bill in order to uncover its impact on our food system, and on families living in poverty. Let’s shift our gaze to the real tyrants, and search for ways to dismantle barriers that stand in the way of healthy eating for all of us.

Kayte Young
Nutrition Education Coordinator
Mother Hubbard's Cupboard

Update: Here are responses to the Slate article and the NC State Study that I really appreciated. 
Megan McArdle of Bloomberg View
Bettina Elias Siegel of Huff Post Food

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Roasting Fall Favorites

Thanks to the Hoosier Hills Food Bank's Garden & Gleaning Program, the Hub is well stocked with delicious and utterly autumnal acorn squash. These petite, late season squash have also come to us through our CSA with Heartland Family Farms, along with some lovely delicata squash.

Both of these beauties are perfect for roasting, and simple preparations, since they are packed with flavors that will warm your palate, while the oven warms your kitchen.

Our pantry patrons enjoyed sampling these two recipes: Basic Roasted Acorn Squash and Roasted Delicata (or Acorn) Squash with Red Onion.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sweet, Sweet, Sweet Potato Harvestin'

This Thursday morning at our Crestmont work-date, all of the interns and volunteers got together to begin the big, exciting task of harvesting sweet potatoes. Like normal potatoes, the edible part of the sweet potato is the tuber which grows underground, but first we had to clear away the thick, vine-y foliage which covered the sweet potato beds. We dug in, taking turns pulling vines, picking out the oh-so-evil bindweed, and sending wheelbarrows full of leaves up the hill to be composted. 

As we cleared away the foliage, we started to see the round, orange tops of sweet potato clusters peeking out of the ground. Excited to find out what was beneath the surface, we took our garden forks and started digging in; only stabbing a few potatoes in the process! Our hands and shoes were covered in dirt, but we all had smiles on our faces as we uncovered the little treasures we had been watching grow for months. It was amazing to see all the different shapes and sizes the sweet potatoes had grown into. Long-time volunteers Dan and Jordan found one neat cluster of several potatoes all wrapped around each other, and Garden Coordinator Kendra unearthed one the size of a football!

After harvesting only one of our two sweet potatoes beds at Crestmont, we sent almost 3 big buckets back to the Hub to be either cured or given out immediately! If you'd like to get in on the fun, make sure to stop by our next Crestmont work-date on Tuesday, October 14th from 5-7pm when we dig up the second bed.  Be sure to check our Facebook page for possible cancelations due to weather.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Building Community Food Security

MHC's guest column from the Herald Times October 7, 2014

As an emergency food provider, it is easy to get wrapped up in the business of just getting food out the door, and to avoid looking at the larger systems that lead to poverty and food insecurity.  After many years of working at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, I was thrilled to work with the Bloomington Food Policy Council and the Local Growers Guild to organize the recent panel discussion, Food Chain: A Discussion of Policies Affecting the Monroe County Food System.  Here at the Hub, we have always done more than distribute food, and helping to organize the Food Chain panel is one way we are advocating for a stronger local food system.

As Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard aims to increase access to healthy food for all people, it is well within our mission to work toward a stronger local food system.  The stream of food assistance in the United States comes from four general sources: food stamps, USDA commodity food, food donations (food drives or produce donations), and corporate donations diverted from the waste systems.  Some of these streams are already inconsistent, and when any dry up or are reduced, it takes more than an increase in food drives to support the food insecure.  New sources must be found, and as a community we increase the chance of meeting that need by developing a strong, sustainable local food system.

When I first got into the work of emergency food provision at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, I did so because I believe that issues of social justice and the environment are interrelated.  I saw in MHC’s vision and values not only a focus on food distribution, but a focus on upholding the dignity and respect of all involved, and on caring for the earth.  When we compost food and garden waste we grow healthy soil.  That healthy soil grows nutrient dense food, and nourishes our community. Healthy soil and shared knowledge around food production and preparation offer our most basic community food security.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Sanitize Potting Soil for Reuse

Did you know that sanitizing soil is a great way to save money, while ensuring optimal health for your plants? And all you need is an oven, a cooking tray, some tin foil, and a meat thermometer! And the soil you want to sanitize, of course.

Obviously, reusing your old potting soil is cheaper than buying new. But why should you sanitize it? Heating your soil to high temperatures in a microwave, oven, or pressure cooker kills the pathogens that could cause plant disease in your future plants. Sanitizing is especially important if your previous plantings had problems with pests, fungus, or disease. Be careful though; if your soil gets too hot, it could produce unhealthy toxins!

How to Sterilize Soil in the Oven
Don’t spend money on new soil when you can reuse!

·      Preheat oven to 200°
·      Put 4 to 5 inches of moistened soil into an oven-safe container and cover with aluminum foil
·      Put soil in oven
·      Use a cooking thermometer to find when soil reaches 180°, then cook for an additional 30 minutes
·      Do not allow soil to reach a temperature of higher than 200°, as this may produce toxins

Sterilizing soil is a good idea to ensure optimal growth and health of your plants!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Seed Saving with Sherry

Last week the Hub offered our annual Seed Saving Workshop with master seed saver, Sherry Wise of Indiana University's Wylie House.  The evening was warm and beautiful, and we walked through the garden collecting seeds and learning the different methods of seed saving used for each plant or plant family.  Pictured above are bolting lettuces ready for a seed harvest.  Sherry taught us that only open-pollinated, non hybrid varieties would offer a plant true to the characteristics of the parent.  She shared an excellent resource from Carole B. Turner's book, Seed Sowing and Saving, Characteristics of Common Vegetables Saved from Seed