Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Eating Well?

I'm listening to an episode of This American Life, where they are playing recordings of folks talking about the Great Depression. Meanwhile, I'm eating a delicious homemade lunch: venison stew with beans and vegetables with a thick slice of fresh homemade sourdough bread and a beautiful salad made with local produce.

As I'm eating my healthy and delicious lunch, the thought occurred to me: how many people don't think they can eat this well? And worse yet: how many people can't afford to eat good, fresh food?

After learning that nearly a billion people worldwide live on less than a dollar a day for food, a couple in California set out to do just that. The NY Times recently wrote an article about their month-long experiment, where they learned that they could not afford the fresh organic produce they were accustomed to, and that junk food is usually cheaper than the good stuff. They also raised money to donate to charity.

I read their blog, and I found it thought provoking. We don't tend to think about healthy food as anything special; everyone can afford good food, right? The people who buy junk food just don't want to eat healthy. The fact that many poor people are fat is just their fault, not the fault of the government whose farm policies have many crappy processed food more affordable than vegetables.

I grew up in a "economically disadvantaged" home. There were seven mouths to feed, and not a whole lot of money to do it. Our meals were spaghetti, macaroni and cheese (4 boxes for a dollar--feeds us all, with leftovers!), hotdogs, and other really inexpensive foods. For vegetables, Mom prepared canned green beans or corn. Occasionally, we'd get frozen peas. We ate lots of potatoes, and usually had bananas. There was usually iceberg lettuce, but I've always hated iceberg lettuce.

We had a garden growing up, and it was from that garden that I learned to like fresh cucumbers and squash and other fresh vegetables. But when we couldn't grow it, we stuck to the standbys: processed food.

And of course school was much of the same, since we either chose between the "hamburger line" (with nary a vegetable to be seen) or the regular lunch line. (Our whole family was on the free lunch program.) You could sign up for a salad in the morning, which I did occasionally, but the salads were piled high with cheese and ham and ranch dressing.

Anyway, now that I can afford to eat great food--and I make it a priority in my budget--I find myself reflecting back on my childhood and adolescence. There are lots of kids like me and people who live on even less than we had. We may not have had money for fresh organic produce, but we didn't go hungry.

As I was contemplating all of this, the thought popped into my head: what if we had a soup kitchen that included a garden? What if this soup kitchen fed people fresh, organic food, and allowed them to help out in the garden and learn the magic of growing things? People within the community could also come help in the garden and volunteer in the kitchen, learning how to cook healthy food, learning the connections anew between seasonality and what you eat (i.e. no strawberries in December, nor asparagus in June). This vision of a community space to feed and teach people about good food was so stirring and beautiful that I wanted it to happen, now.

How could I create such a place?

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