August 16, 2010

Meeting the need where it is

I was going to include this in my weekend “A little light reading” post, but I found that I had too much to say about it to do so.  The article that I link is long, but it is pretty easy to read and addresses some issues that I think are pretty important.  If you are a parent or grandparent, I really hope you’ll read the article and think about how this relates to what and how you teach your children.   I hope that everyone who reads it will look at ways in which you can not just reach out to others but actually meet the need where it is. 

This post is a serious look at food, sustainability, skills, poverty, and the future of American cooking.  Since I often purchase supplies for our church food pantry, I’m faced with decisions about food choices for the most in need often.  I remember when I first started purchasing for our pantry.  I had scored a great moneymaker deal on yeast, and I was going to put it in the food pantry with some recipes for people to use.  The lady who was running the pantry at that time said that the sad fact was that not many people who would use the pantry would use the yeast.  Time, energy, know-how, and other cooking supplies were so limited to so many who the pantry served that those foods were often left behind. 

Last fall, I set out to make up some boxes with the help of the congregation for a pretty full Thanksgiving meal.  The church secretary at the time found an old WIC cookbook and copied some of the recipes off for people.  We added flour, sugar, cornmeal, and a list of canned and packaged goods that the recipients could use.  I don’t know if they were used, but I did feel better at least giving people an option so that they could make a meal for their family.  Even still, the majority of the food was canned and packaged. 

Our church has a garden and we make the food available on a cart.  The food is often given out as part of food box distribution in the pantry.  When I’ve handed out food as basic as summer squash, I can’t tell you how often I’ve had questions of how to cook it.  People tend to request more prepackaged or premade food because it is quick and easy and it comes with directions. 

The points that Sharon makes in this article are very real.  I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had whom I have taught to make cooked beans from dried beans.  Many were older men who are faced with cooking for themselves after the loss of a spouse.  As a whole, though, the older population in our country have more of these skills under their belts.  It is only in the last century that convenience foods have hit the mainstream.  I have found that the younger the person, the less likely he or she is to know how to perform basic tasks by hand.   As home economics programs, shop classes, and other such “extras” are being taken out of the schools, I know that we will have even fewer who know how to “make do”. 

I can teach my clients individually and in group settings, and I’ve tried to reach out to the community through free workshops and classes.  Many of the people whom I have had attend most of my community classes on gardening, canning, cooking, and couponing, though, have been those who will use those skills as a hobby.  Like me they can choose to eat out, buy convenience foods, or cook from scratch.  Like me many of them have machines on hand that will do most of the work for them.  Like me many can fall back on the help of the internet to help them when they can’t quite remember in what proportions to make the substitution for something as simple as brown sugar.  Like me, many already have their basic needs met of safety, security, food, shelter so that they can pursue higher interests and needs.  Like me, many have strong support systems on which they can rely for help when needed.  How many of the people reading this blog even know what it must be like to be faced with the challenges that so many in our communities live with each day? 

How can we best reach out to those in need?  I think that Margaret of Blue Frog Creations has the right idea.  She’s going to the need by her Shopping for Charity and then teaching the skills to those who are homeless or were recently homeless.  She has tried to put herself in the shoes of those she is teaching and to problem solve the barriers that they face so that she can better empathize and instruct.  I love this kind of outreach because it is going to where the need is rather than doing what is convenient. 

What other programs or ideas do you have on addressing some of the issues that Sharon brings up in the article linked above?

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