Stewardship of Life


Be Ye Neither Hot nor Cold—Just Air-Conditioned!

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on July 26, 2010
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It’s hot here in southeastern Tennessee, a triple digit kind of hot with a side of smothering humidity. I know, I know, it’s just as hot or hotter still in other places across the northern hemisphere. After all, it’s summer! It’s supposed to be hot. So why do we carp and moan about the heat? It’s not like most of us spend much time out in it anyway.

Oh, wait! I know why. The first reason is that complaining about the weather serves as an absentminded conversation starter, just something to say that will fill the already humid environment with even more hot air.  No, it’s the second reason that concerns me.

We have become a nation of climate-controlled lightweights. There I said it. Thanks to the advent of refrigerated cooling in our homes, places of business, and cars, we possess the illusion of climate control anywhere at any time of the night or day. Summer is no longer a time to sit on a shady sun porch in the heat of the early afternoon, the fans humming, glasses of tea and lemonade sweating onto coasters, while rocking slowly on a porch swing after dinner. No, now we can wear sweaters into 70 degree air-conditioned comfort of our favorite coffee shop to drink our choice of hot beverage and scarf down any number of pre-packaged sandwiches while working on our laptop in delightful isolation—all while the thermometer inches toward 100 degrees in the shade. Then, for just a few minutes we experience the real weather as we dash to our car and crank up the air, fretting and fuming the whole time.

Don’t get me wrong. Air-conditioning has done a lot of good in our world. It’s kept the most vulnerable of our population at least somewhat protected against the dangers of excessive heat. It’s made settling the desert possible. It’s made living on an island of concrete and asphalt tolerable. I wouldn’t want to live without it in my present location—a rather poorly insulated top floor apartment with no cross ventilation or ceiling fans.

There are problems associated with any good invention or innovation, and air-conditioning is no exception. The problems with AC revolve around the way in which we humans choose to use this invention.

  • We use air-conditioning thoughtlessly (for the most part).
  • We use too much of it.
  • We selfishly fail to see the bigger picture.

I have been guilty of contributing to all three problems in my 49 years of life. First of all, until my attempt to live justly in 2010, I really didn’t give much thought to how I used the good ‘ol AC. I’ve always liked open windows and fresh air better, but I also don’t like to sweat buckets and walk around with my derriere outline damply showing on the back of my skirt. So if the AC needed turning on, then by gum let no one stand in the way of Lucas family comfort.

Moving back down south was a real AC eye-opener. My teen likes to sweat even less than I do, so last month we had this running battle over the thermostat. I’d set it at 78, and she would covertly drop it to 65. I’d hear the unit running like a train to nowhere, and readjust it accordingly. “But, I’m sweaty! I can’t sleep, much less get dressed in this heat,” came the teenage lament. I caved and bought a tower fan for her room (which is considerably hotter than the rest of the house thanks to lousy ductwork and an old AC unit).

Our June bill was $115, way more than it should be considering that our other use of electricity is modest. We had a little heart-to-heart talk about consumption, waste, expense, and so on. With the fan and changing the six light bulbs above her bathroom vanity from heat-producing 60 watt monsters to greener CFLs, she has been somewhat placated.

The real clincher happened when I happened on a New York Times article (thank you, Compact friends) about scientist and author Stan Cox and his research and questions about the health and environmental effects of our “air-conditioned lives.” Cox and his spouse live in Salinas, Kansas, and do not use air-conditioning. His book, Losing our Cool, has spurred great controversy, and he has even received death threats for his take on the issue. I read the first chapter of the book on the ColdType Reader web site and was convinced that I could do better.

Yes, it is hot here, but what if adjusted my habits just a little bit more? Can we stand 80 degrees? It’s been almost two days since I upped the thermostat two degrees, and so far it’s been pretty tolerable. When it is 10-20 degrees cooler inside than it is outside, one does feel the difference. Plus, the trusty AC unit is not running nearly as much!

What about you? How are you coping with the summer heat? Do you use the AC? I’ll let you know how we’re faring down here in the dog days of August. I’m thinking about upping the themostat another two degrees on the first of August, but for now some cool water with a slice of lime is sounding pretty good.

Photo Credits: Sharron Lucas and Playingwithbrushes used under a Creative Commons License. Thank you!

SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge–Day 28

Leftovers Edition

 

There are only two days left of the SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge, and it looks like I’m going to make it just barely under budget. We still have a lot of food left in the pantry, so I think it will be about an even swap out in terms of how we started out except that there is no meat in the freezer (just lots of black bean and tomato cornbread and soup stock). In retrospect, there are ways I think I could improve on the purchasing and planning, and I did learn a lot, but those things I’ll save until Wednesday when I wrap this thing up and give a full accounting.

Today I want to share a few odds and ends with you in hopes that you will continue this quest within your congregations, community groups, and family units. Hunger is a problem for all of us. It is my conviction that as long as one person is hungry, we are all culpable because there are enough resources on earth for everyone to be fed.

So what can you do? Here are three suggestions.

Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR)

This program was started in 1995 by the Garden Writers Association and the GWA Foundation. The idea is for everyone who plants a garden to dedicate one extra row to growing vegetables to give to soup kitchens, food banks, and hunger programs. So far over 14 million pounds of produce providing over 50 million meals has been donated through PAR. Click here for more information about PAR and how you can become involved.

Ed Hume Seeds donates a free package of vegetable seeds each year to the first 250 people who e-mail and agree to participate in PAR. Click here for more information.

Participate in Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters

Bread for the World is headed by David Beckmann, a Lutheran Pastor and economist who was recently named a 2010 World Food Prize Laureate. Click here to visit the web site where you will find a variety of resources and suggestions for how to be involved and make a difference. Even if SNAP is your monthly reality, you can help by contacting your elected leaders through Bread’s programs.

Clicking for Good

As long as you’re surfing the web, try these two ways to help end hunger. Visit the Hunger Site each day, and click to donate a cup of food. You might even find a fair-trade gift from one of the sponsors, but there is no requirement to purchase. The donations come from sponsors and advertisers. Click here to visit.

Click here to visit Freerice.com and improve your vocabulary or try your hand at answering questions on other subjects. For each question or word you correctly answer/identify you’ll give 10 grains of rice to help feed the hungry. This is a great way to involve children and teens in a learning activity that has a great purpose.

The main point I want to make today is that we can all do something to alleviate hunger regardless of our economic standing, location, or interests. Importantly, we are all responsible for raising awareness and lifting up the need.

State of the Pantry

No purchases today! Breakfast was oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts. Lunch was leftover spinach salad and a cookie. I had tea, coffee, and water to drink. For snack I had some cherries and a Dove dark chocolate. Supper was leftover cauliflower and a burger with no bun. (We’re out of bread with the exception of a lone whole wheat tortilla.)

Websites of the Day have already been provided so I’ll recommend a book instead.

One of the best books about thrift that I’ve ever read is Doris Janzen Longacre’s Living More with Less. You may also know her as the author of the More-With-Less Cookbook. This book is packed with a wealth of tips and ideas AND reasons for consuming less.

Photo Credit: MoToMo through a Creative Commons License. Thanks!

SNAP to it Challenge–Day 27

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on June 27, 2010
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Dumpster Diving on the Sabbath?

Today I went dumpster diving. Before you recoil in horror, hear me out. I live in an apartment complex with a fairly large population of transient young adults, and I am constantly amazed at what people leave behind. Since I moved here almost four months ago, I have seen mattresses, couches, tables, chairs, book shelves, linens, kitchen goods–you name it, I’ve probably seen it. True, a few of the things are in pretty rough shape, but most items could easily have another life and a happy home.

This was my third foray into dumpster diving. The first time I nabbed a plastic recycling tub. The second time I scored a small computer desk for my daughter. Today, I hit pay dirt! I found a nice lamp for my living room and a Danish shelving unit for my daughter’s room that needs a little work but that will be quite nice when repaired. My friend and neighbor found an almost identical lamp for her daughter’s room and an extra wide overstuffed chair in great condition from a manufacturer of fine furniture. There was much more inside of the two side-by-side dumpsters, but neither one of us was willing to get a ladder and venture any deeper into the odoriferous mire. We were both, however, delighted to save four items from the landfill, and to repurpose for free what would have cost $800-900 if purchased new.

There’s an entire culture built around dumpster diving, curbside junk cruising, and repurposing other folks’ cast offs. Why throw out perfectly good items? Why not share our extra stuff? Unfortunately, we are accustomed to life in a throw-away society, and it’s simply poor stewardship to not make good use of our resources. In addition to “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle,” we might also consider saying “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

Food waste is a related issue of even more preposterous proportions. Several sources I checked claim that the United States throws away half its food. An anthropologist at the University of Arizona, Timothy Jones, found that the average U.S. household throws out 14% of food purchases. Of that amount 15% is unopened product still within its expiration date. Jones believes that the average family of four discards $590 in meat, fruits, vegetables, and grain products. That means nationwide we discard up to $43 billion or 29 million tons in household food waste each year. To make it even more personal, that means the average U.S. citizen wastes more than half a pound of food each day. Our children waste about $2 billion in taxpayer dollars through the National School Lunch Program. If you doubt that figure, go stand by the cafeteria garbage cans in your local school. Another report estimates that wasted food in the U.S. could feed more than 200 million adults each year. I’m sorry, but to me that sounds criminal.

Freegans and dumpster divers try to reclaim some of this food. Some stores make it easy, like the bakery known for putting its excess goods in a readily accessible place by the back door. Others, usually larger well-known chain and big box stores, keep their dumpsters behind locked fences and have even been known to pour bleach over the food to keep people from salvaging food. I have to admit that I have not yet been on “safari” for dumpster food, but I’ve been told there is an active freegan community in Chattanooga.

Regardless of how one feels about the freegan philosophy and dumpster diving, the fact is that we waste too much food and stuff in this country. Remember the story of Boaz and Ruth and the concept of gleaning (see Ruth 2:1-23, Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22, and Deuteronomy 24:19-22)? Maybe we should rethink when we decide to dump that leftover broccoli in the trash. Why not keep a soup fixings container in the freezer for those random veggies, rice, and small portions of broth? Why not take home the remains of your restaurant meal? Instead of tossing your excess stuff and adding to the landfill, make it accessible to someone who could use it. It’s a question of stewardship. Hey, I wonder what Jesus would say about dumpster diving on the Sabbath?

State of the Pantry

Breakfast was a whole wheat burrito filled with peanut butter and coffee to drink. Lunch was my mom’s treat at her place. She sent me home with extra spinach salad that I’ll take for lunch tomorrow and two chocolate brownies. Supper was leftover chicken enchilada hot dish and squash, shared with my neighbor who also provided some awesome cookies. She gave me two and a half bags of dried beans, as well.

Website(s) of the Day

Click here to check out this article about food waste by Jonathan Bloom on the Culinate web site.

Click here for the story of the Secret Freegan who has gathered more than $52,000 worth of food in 20 months and distributing about 400 pounds weekly to the hungry in the Phoenix area. The waste is shocking. Thankfully, this Good Samaritan is making a difference.

Photo Credits (used through a Creative Commons License…thanks!) Special KRB and periwinklekog

SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge–Day 26

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on June 26, 2010
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Food Rescue Edition

Today was a cooking day. I had some vegetables that needed to be used, so I steamed a head of cauliflower and made a nice dressing for it with soy sauce, lemon, garlic, and a little sugar. I also sautéed some squash and made a chicken enchilada hot dish (i.e. casserole). That all turned out great.

I still had a lot of seasoned black beans left, so I decided to make Katy’s Black Bean Burgers. Click here to visit her blog and try the recipe. Of course, I’m out of bread, and there are no crumbs in the freezer. What to do? Being a dutiful daughter of the South, I did have cornmeal on hand, so I got the bright idea to use corn meal in place of the two cups of bread crumbs. In theory I guess it was an o.k. idea; at the worst I thought I’d end up with black bean fritters. About that time daughter dearest comes strolling through the kitchen and asks with raised eyebrow and turned up nose, “What’s THAT goop?” When I told her black bean burger mix, she rolled her eyes and said, “Who in their right mind makes burgers from beans?” Before I could reply she issued forth a snort of disgust and beat a hasty retreat to her computer.

Long story short, the first burger fell apart. Katy, what did I do wrong (aside from the corn meal substitution)? Rather than stand there and risk messing up a whole bowl of “goop,” I decided to punt and make/create black bean and tomato cornbread. I added a can of tomatoes with green chilies and poured it all into a pan to bake. Now it’s rising just fine, and hopefully it will turn out better than my burger attempt. What will probably happen is a lot of individually frozen slices that I’ll heat with a little cheese and serve with salsa and a dollop of sour cream. No doubt it will look a little funky, but it ought to taste just fine—even if the teenager curls her nose in disgust.

The simple fact is that I dislike food waste. In fact, I can’t stand to throw food (i.e. money) down the drain or in the can. Food waste has been real concern and consideration during the SNAP Challenge this month. How could I justify throwing away a whole bowl full of beans, onions, green peppers, eggs, garlic, seasonings and corn meal? That’s a lot of food waste. So, I’m improvising, and I will eat it regardless of how it looks. Hey, maybe I can pass it off as gourmet! O.K., that’s not likely to happen, but I can dream, right? Dreams don’t involve one red cent of my remaining SNAP budget.

Do you have any stories of food waste saves or ingredient improvisations? I’d love to hear about them while I’m munching on black bean and tomato cornbread.

State of the Pantry

We spent $2.43 on store brand tomato paste and family-size tea bags. I had planned to make a vegetable curry but changed my mind. At least the tomato paste will keep and is a good staple to have on hand. Ice tea is cheap and refreshing on hot summer days. My friend also brought over a bag of cherries that she didn’t want to go to waste. Yum!

Website(s) of the Day

Here’s a great sketch entitled “Roy’s Food Repair” featuring John Candy, Valerie Bromfield, Paul Simon, Dave Thomas, and Carrie Fisher. Click here to view and have a good laugh.

If you really have a food flop, click here for Linda Larsen’s article “How to Fix Kitchen Flops” at about.com.

Photo by emrank used through a Creative Commons License. Thank you!

SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge–Day 12

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on June 12, 2010
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This Little Piggy went to Market Edition

Yes, this little piggy did not stay home and eat roast beef; she went to not one market but two, and the amount of money she spent made her want to cry “why, why, why” all the way home. Well, it had to be done. We were down to a few apples and handful of cherries in the way of fruit and about enough lettuce for one small salad. Plus, we have company this week, so I wanted to make sure that we had enough variety to keep the meals interesting.

I went to Bi-Lo first, as it is the closest big grocery store our apartment. After subtracting out a box of fortune cookies that are used for a writing project, I spent $86.14. Gulp. However, I did quite a bit of stocking up. I got three bags of black beans for $2.37, and three cans of tomatoes and green chilies for $1.98, and four packages of cheese for $8.00. I also splurged and bought Breyer’s vanilla bean ice cream that was on a great sale at $1.99 (regular $5.29) to have with a cherry cobbler I plan to make this week. I also bought coconut, vanilla (pure—I don’t like to bake with the imitation stuff), and almonds to make cookies with the leftover chocolate chips from the pancake brunch. Finally, I bought quite a lot of produce and spent $12.06 on spices (trying to rebuild my spice collection). Sunbelt granola bars and Moon Pies were also on the list since I fixed a Chattanooga local gift bag for our company. The other thing I bought that I normally wouldn’t have purchased was a box of deli chicken tenders because they came with a free pound of deli salad ($2.99 savings) making it less expensive than buying comparable chicken and frying it. The only other meat purchased was some good quality chicken breast for an enchilada bake.

I decided to visit Save-a-Lot on the way home to check out their deals. My dad had been telling me about some amazing values there, and he was right. Everything I bought was cheaper there than it was at Bi-Lo. Strawberries were a $1.49 less per quart, and green peppers were 2/$1. Butter was $1.59 with a coupon and cream cheese was 2/$1.38 with a coupon. So I spent $8.87 at Save-a-Lot. I’ll definitely be going back there. It reminds me of a smaller Aldi’s, but the staff was friendly, and it was clean.

The bad news is that I only have $29.75 left ($34.75 if I don’t count the Taco Bell run for which I gave my daughter money). I still think I can make it, but the menu will be pretty tight for the final week of June. The good news is that we will eat very well this week, and the pantry is well-stocked. The challenge will be no food waste. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Oh, and right now I’m just grateful to have plenty of food, reliable transportation, a roof over my head, a good mattress, and family and friends who mean the world to me. I have a lot for which to be thankful; how about you?

State of the Pantry

Well, you pretty much have it listed above. It’s full of very good food right now.

Website of the Day

Since the pantry is full at the Lucas house, I decided to check out The Hillbilly Housewife to see what’s new. Susanne, the owner and creator of the site, focuses on low-cost cooking from scratch, and she has some great ideas. I was shocked to read that the USDA now says the official cost of food for a family of four is $600 a month, and that’s on the “thrifty” plan. Good grief! Click here to explore this excellent site.

SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge–Day Five

Leftovers and Live Chicken Edition

Whew! What a long but wonderful day. There was lots of visiting, sharing, good food, storytelling, singing, baseball, swinging on vines, hugging, picture-taking, and just plain fun at my maternal family reunion. There was an abundance of delicious food, but true to Rogers family values, not one bit went to waste. The snacks from the night before were brought from the motel to the picnic pavilion, and all the leftovers from the catered meal were divided into bags, boxes, and foil wrap to be sent home with various folks. No one left hungry, and no one left empty-handed unless they absolutely refused a pie, bag of fruit, or package of chicken. Even tonight when my mother, my cousin, and I stopped at Applebees for supper and shared an order of chicken quesadillas and a Rueben sandwich with fries, we ended up with a go-box that will be my lunch for tomorrow.

One of the more hilarious stories was told by my mother. It seems when she and my dad were newlyweds, my grandmother sent them home with a live chicken. Now my mother had watched her mom wring many a chicken’s neck, scald it, pluck it, and fry it, so she thought this would be no problem. She got a pot of water boiling on the stove, went out to the backyard and proceeded to try and relieve the poor chicken of its life by swinging it swiftly in a circle by its neck just like she’s seen her mother do throughout her childhood. To her dismay, all my mother managed to do was give the poor bird whiplash. Enter my father to finish the task. No luck there either. Finally, frustrated, my father solved the problem with a hatchet. The rest of the steps went as planned, but I can just imagine the two of them dining on “fried failure” that night. Needless to say, that was the last LIVE chicken my mother brought back to town.

My cousin, who was for almost her entire adult life a medical missionary in Guatemala and Honduras, recalled being given several live chickens when she and her husband would go into the mountains. They had a nice little flock when someone gave them a rooster that liked to warm up his vocal chords at 3:00 a.m. right outside their window. It wasn’t long before the rooster ended up in the stew pot and they also quit bringing home the live birds.

Well, I didn’t bring home a live bird today (hopefully never will!), but here are a few of my family’s tips for reducing food waste and making do.

  • If your bananas are too ripe to eat then they’re perfect for banana bread.
  • Give stale bread new life as bread crumbs or cube it for bread pudding.
  • Need buttermilk for a recipe but don’t want to buy a quart? Take regular milk and mix in white vinegar or lemon juice (1 t. per one cup milk) and let it sit for five minutes before stirring and using in your recipe.
  • Want to save almost sour milk? Add 2 t. baking soda per quart to give it an extra day or two.
  • Freezer Soup—save any meat stock, leftover veggies, leftover bits of roast or chicken and keep in a large container in the freezer. Periodically have a freezer soup night, throwing in a few fresh herbs, rice, barley, pasta, or anything else that strikes your fancy. Serve with cornbread or biscuits for a hearty and comforting meal.

What tips and ideas do you have about reducing food waste and making use of what you have on hand? Please share!

State of the Pantry:

It still looked the same when I returned home. Nothing used, nothing wasted. I spent $12 on the trip on food: $2 for real coffee for my daughter and $10 towards our communal meal at Applebees. I’m still taking this out of my food budget even though I had some money budgeted to contribute towards gas for the ride. Total left for the month: $147.46.

Website of the Day:

Today’s website follows the theme of food waste, and it’s one that I think you’ll really enjoy if you are not already a follower. Click here to check out Wasted Food, Jonathan Bloom’s excellent blog. The name is self-explanatory and Bloom will soon have a book out on the subject.

PS: Katy Wolk-Stanley has a great post today about reducing food waste over at The Non-Consumer Advocate today, so be sure to check it out. You’ll find some good reminders and solid tips about how to use everything.

SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge–Day Four

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on June 5, 2010
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Food and Family Reunion Edition

It is day four of the SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge, and I’m in Kentucky for my mother’s family reunion. This is an annual event that gathers family members from all across the nation for an evening of sharing followed tomorrow by a picnic at one of the local parks. Since I’m gathered with extended family, I’ve been thinking about the role of food and hospitality. In the conference room where we met tonight various family members had laid out quite a spread of cookies, cake, fruit, snack mix, chips, and drinks. When people get together it’s often around food—a meal, snacks, something. Whenever I visited shut-ins as a pastor, a plate of treats along with coffee were always laid out on the table. It’s a wonder I don’t weight 200 pounds or more, because it was considered poor taste not to sample at least two or three goodies. No matter how meager the social security income of the shut-in, I was always offered something to eat and drink. One thing I noticed about people who grew up during the Great Depression is not their miserliness but rather their generosity and hospitality.

One of the strongest memories I have of my maternal grandparents is that there was always an extra place at the table for anyone who stopped by to visit. My grandparents lived on a farm in the foothills of eastern Kentucky. They didn’t have very much in the way of possessions; in fact they never did have indoor plumbing, but they always had food, and my grandmother knew how to stretch a meal. They had a large garden, slaughtered a hog each year, had a couple of cows, a flock of chickens, and a root cellar filled with canned goods. Food was equated with caring and love. The only processed food that I can ever remember seeing in my grandmother’s kitchen was her box of Special K cereal. Everything else was made from scratch. She even canned her own sausage and had a hand-cranked churn that the grandchildren loved to use to make butter. A meal at my grandmother’s table was a feast of freshly prepared, fresh from the garden or preserved food, served with love.

Now that the slow food movement is gaining steam in the United States, we have the opportunity to return to this kind of approach to preparing food and sharing meals. Food can again be a gathering point for family and friends. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef or spend a lot of money to enjoy a good meal. If it’s rice and beans, then let them be savored. If it’s pot roast with mashed potatoes, then give thanks for your abundance. If you live close to a farmers market, stop in and buy some fresh produce. Get to know the people who grow your food. Be sure to thank them for the work they do. Ask how to prepare new vegetables that look interesting to you. If you work all day, try to get hold of a crock pot. With not much effort you can prepare amazing meals with simple ingredients and have a great smelling house to walk into at the end of the day. Taking time to sit at the table with good food and lively conversation is not a thing of the past. Turn off the television. No matter how simple the fare, set the table like it matters, sit down together, and enjoy your food.

What role does food play in your family? Do you have memories of great aunts being insulted if you didn’t eat at least two helpings of every dish? Are there certain holiday foods that are a hallmark of your gatherings? What memories of food and friends or family stand out in your mind?

State of the Pantry

Since my mother is graciously hosting me for the family reunion, my expenses are minimal. I finished off the rest of the beans and rice for lunch, and I had a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich on whole wheat bread for breakfast to make use of the leftover bacon and a tomato that needed to be used. Tonight one of my cousins took us to supper at Panera Bread (thank you, Cheryl), and the motel provides breakfast. The family caters a picnic at noon, so the only meal I’ll be looking at is supper on the road. I may be so full from the picnic that I won’t want to eat and simply have a snack when I get home. My youngest daughter is staying with one of her friend’s family, so I don’t have her expenses to take into consideration. Therefore, of my remaining weekly balance I may not spend anything.

Website of the Day

Today’s website is Slow Food USA. Here you’ll find information about the slow foods movement and the vision they have for a better way of eating: “Food is a common language and a universal right. Slow Food USA envisions a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people that grow it and good for the planet.” Click here to slow down and enjoy your food–no matter what your budget.

SNAP to it Foodstamp Challenge–Day Three

Food Justice: Who Should Judge?

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

Matthew 7:1-2 (NRSV)

Wouldn’t you know it? Three days in and already this “SNAP to it Challenge” is raising some controversial questions. A Compact compatriot posted a link, which led me to another link, which in turn led me to another link that raised the question of who should receive SNAP funds and what should they be able to buy with the simple swipe of an EBT card. The article in question and a follow-up piece dealt with “hipsters” on food stamps, or 20- and 30-something educated, artistic, hip folk who use their EBT card to purchase organic, fresh food from local markets and farmers’ co-ops, artisan bread bakers, and organic grocery stores.

The original article by Jennifer Bleyer (part of her ongoing series “Pinched” about life in the current recession) drew 473 comments, many of which were angry and disgusted responses that someone like the two subjects of the article would be allowed to dine on such regal fare at Uncle Sam’s expense. Shouldn’t they be eating 2/$1 boxes of mac and cheese and hotdogs? How about powdered milk and outlet store white bread? How dare they dine on fresh rabbit and buy the ingredients for a Thai curry with government aid?

Now, before anyone reading this feels the hair on the back of his or her neck stand up, blood pressure rising, and the strange urge to call your local Tea Party leadership, read the verses posted above. In fact, read Matthew 7:1-5 and then flip a few more pages to Matthew 26:6-13. Remember the woman with the costly ointment and how the disciples got their dander up over that one? Yes, I know, she was doing it for Jesus, but aren’t we supposed to see Jesus in the face of our neighbors—be they urban hipsters with master’s degrees or poster children from developing nations in the fund appeals that arrive at our door?

The point is this: we humans like to decide who gets what and what is appropriate for others to eat, spend, enjoy, and do. If you’re poor, you’re supposed to look poor, act poor, and be humble; at least somewhere in the back of most people’s brains is some sort of version on that theme. (If you are one of the rare exceptions to the rule, then God bless you; keep on thinking the way you do and making a difference in the world!) Here are a few questions for you to ponder:

  • Have you ever “cleaned out your larder” and given stuff to your local food pantry that you wouldn’t eat or that is past the expiration date?
  • Have you ever bought food to donate to a local hunger program and chosen generic or very cheap foods while selecting name brands for yourself?
  • Have you ever stood behind people in the grocery check line and judged them for what is being purchased with their EBT card?
  • Have you ever looked at someone on public assistance as being either lazy or “less than” or mumbled “get a job” under your breath?
  • Have you ever been down and out yourself and in need of a helping hand?

I can’t answer for you, but I can tell you that I could answer yes to more than one of these questions, and I’m not proud of that fact. For example, I once worked with a program that provided supplemental foods for people who for whatever reason couldn’t make their SNAP funds stretch through the entire month or who couldn’t/wouldn’t apply for assistance. One family routinely requested junk food like pizza rolls, pop, and cookies—things I rarely if ever bought for my own family because of health concerns. Was I wrong not to purchase what the family desired? Did I have a responsibility to help educate them about healthy choices and healthful eating? It’s a tough question. We all value freedom for ourselves and our own purchasing power, but when and how are we to extend those same privileges to other people? This family was dealing with a lot of issues ranging from mental health to racism to systemic poverty and then some. For me relationships are the key to understanding. It is very easy to judge someone you do not know; it is far more difficult to walk in someone else’s shoes with understanding and compassion.

All I want to leave you with today are a few things to think about. I hope that you’ll join the conversation and that we all will recognize the reality that hunger is a complex issue, one that we need to think about, talk about, and do something about.

State of the Pantry

Breakfast was wonderful! The girls enjoyed the bacon, eggs, and grits. I was right to buy the ketchup because my daughter’s friend did want some. She also requested cinnamon for her grits, which I did not have on hand. I have leftover bacon for sandwiches and grits for tomorrow’s breakfast. Since we basically had brunch, I had two heaping bowls of watermelon for a light lunch and will enjoy a big salad and my petite sirloins (great sale!) that have been marinating overnight in soy sauce, mustard, chili sauce, and other seasonings. No purchases made today.

Website of the Day

Today’s website recommendation is actually two companion articles posted on salon.com. The first one is written by Jennifer Bleyer as part of her “Pinched” series. The second one is a response written by Gerry Mak, one of the two “hipsters” profiled in Bleyer’s article, after receiving many angry comments. I invite you to read both articles and submit your own thoughts.

Click here for “Hipsters on Food Stamps” by Jennifer Bleyer.

Click here for “A Hipster on Food Stamps Responds” by Gerry Mak.

SNAP to it Challenge—Day Two

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on June 2, 2010
Tags: , , , , , ,

Sleepover Breakfast Bonanza Edition

My daughter requested eggs, bacon, and garlic cheese grits for breakfast because she has a friend sleeping over, and oatmeal just won’t cut it. That meant a trip to the store and spending some of this week’s remaining food money. All I had left to work with was $26, and I subtracted $5 for her trip to Taco Bell, which left only $21.

Here’s the ticket:

Dozen large eggs ($1.18)

Two 16 oz. packages of Burger’s bacon (buy one get one free special, $6.50)

Organic ketchup, 20 oz.  ($1.99)

Eight pack whole wheat thin buns (on sale for $1.99)

Total spent: $12.54 ($7.50 saved)

I chose store-brand eggs because Eggland’s Best were almost $2.00 more, and I decided I should have some ketchup on hand in case the girls wanted some for their eggs, plus I can use it for barbeque sauce, home fries, and with the burgers. The Burger’s Bacon is a few cents more than Hormel and less than Oscar Meyer, and the ingredient list is half as long. The second package will keep for later in the month or even next month. The buns were low calorie, whole wheat, contain no HFCS, were on sale, and we have hamburgers in the freezer. They can also be used for mini-pizzas. (I know, I know, I should make bread myself, but since we moved I only have one bread pan that was given to me, so I’ll have to find another used pan or two and purchase yeast and whole wheat flour.)

For the rest of the week, there is only $8.46 left to spend. Right now I really can’t think of anything else we need. The big thing that struck me about this little foray into grocery land is how much time I spent comparing and thinking about what I was about to purchase. I know that I’m also going to be very conscious of food waste this month, and will be aiming for none at all.

State of the Pantry:

On day two, things look pretty peachy. There’s a relatively full refrigerator, a semi-stocked freezer, and plenty of options in the pantry, aside from a distinct lack of junk food. My daughter and her friend just left for Taco Bell and movies at another friend’s house, so I’ll eat leftover black beans, rice, tomato, cheese, and salsa along with watermelon. This morning I had a smoothie with a banana, a handful of strawberries, some blueberries, yogurt, and milk, and two pieces of whole wheat toast. Lunch was half a peanut butter sandwich and leftover sautéed summer squash medley with onions. A cheese stick served as the mid-afternoon snack. To drink I’ve had water, coffee, and green tea. That’s more than enough food, sufficient variety, and I’ll easily surpass five servings of fruit and veggies.

Website of the Day:

Feeding America (formerly Second Harvest)

Feeding America’s mission is to “feed America’s hungry though a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger.” Click here to read more.

SNAP to It: The June Food Stamp Challenge

I’m taking part in a challenge, and I hope you will consider doing so, too. Katy Wolk-Stanley, a fellow Compactor who authors the blog The Non-Consumer Advocate has issued a June Food Stamp Challenge. Click here for more information. What this means for me is that my two-person household will be spending $202 or less on food for the month of June, or $3.37 per person/per day. This figure is based on the national average for two people. The maximum amount for two people is $367, which is way more than I would spend without this challenge.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the U.S. economy has been and continues to be in serious trouble. As unemployment rates fluctuate at all time highs, income inequality grows like kudzu, and fear fans the flames, a growing number of Americans are seeking assistance to make it through the month. It’s easy to dismiss this fact, blaming it on politics, bad decision making and poor choices, or even laziness, but until you experience being in poverty or on the edge of homelessness it is difficult to understand the situation. Very few people I’ve met truly want to be homeless or go to sleep hungry. Poverty is a complex issue and one not easily solved over dinner and drinks.

According to the Greater Philadelphia Coalition against Hunger, 49 million Americans are at risk for hunger, and 17 million children live in households where food has run short over the last year. In Philadelphia, 1 in 4 residents is at risk for hunger. In Pennsylvania, where SOLI has its office, 1,579,534 residents received SNAP assistance in March, 2010, a 19% increase from March 2009. This means that almost 1 in 8 Pennsylvanians received some level of SNAP food assistance.

I live in Tennessee, where more than 1 in 6 residents receive some kind of food stamp assistance each month (as of 01/2010), or more than 385,000 families. The figure in Oregon, home of Katy Wolk-Stanley, is 1 in 5 residents. In October, 2009, the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) cost $3,705,687,095. In February 2009, the most recent month for which data is available, costs were $5,298,324,614. Click here for access to the entire February report. If you want to know more about SNAP, click here to visit the USDA website SNAP Frequently Asked Questions page.

Why participate in this challenge? First of all, hunger is a justice issue. How can I truly understand what my sisters and brothers are experiencing unless I experience it myself? Secondly, instead of complaining about “government handouts” and what can and cannot be bought with food stamps, and who is deserving of assistance, challenge participants can learn about the choices parents of limited means must make in order to provide healthy food for their families. Hopefully, we can engage in some meaningful dialogue over the next few weeks. Finally, some folks just learn better by doing, and I am one of those people.

On Tuesday, I will post the contents of my pantry and fridge so that you can see where I’m starting and so that I can be held accountable. Then I’ll draw out $177 from my bank account to use for food. I’m subtracting $25 because I usually shop on Saturday, so some of the food that I bought today will be used in the month of June. Is it possible to still get five or more servings of fruits and vegetables, sufficient protein, and healthy carbs on this amount? I suppose we’ll see!

Will you join me on the journey?

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