Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Eat & Run

July 21, 2017

I thought this was an interesting article about how recipients of food stamps tend to run out of money for food within a week or two, meaning that for at least half the month, they don’t have any of these funds to purchase food with.  The article purports to explore how and why this is, and emphasizes that because funds are dispersed in a single installment, people have trouble budgeting properly and therefore spend too much immediately and run out of funds.

What it doesn’t explore is what people are buying with this assistance.

For three years, as part of a Christian communal living experiment, my family lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods in St. Louis.  My observations are anecdotal rather than deliberate, but have stuck with me all the same.  What we saw the neighborhood children eating constantly was junk food.  Sodas, hot fries, Cheetos.  Constantly.  We never saw them with fresh fruit or vegetables or any other sort of food (unless we shared ours with them).  We know that these children lived in households that depended on food stamps – the vast majority of our neighborhood did.

Certainly the issue of telling people how to spend their assistance is a tricky one at best, but if the issue of running out of money is due not just to budgeting problems but also spending that assistance on low-nutrition snack food instead of food that can actually improve your health and last more than a few minutes, then doesn’t our government (who created and funds the food stamp program using taxpayer dollars) have a duty to at least help people know how to spend their assistance wisely?

When I looked into our state’s web site for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program I didn’t see any information about good ways to spend the assistance wisely.  Perhaps that information is provided in another format beyond the web site, but perhaps it’s not being provided at all.

I’m sure that there is money used to lobby against any type of restriction on how food assistance is spent (beyond current limitations on alcohol, cigarettes, etc.).  I’m sure that companies that manufacture potato chips and soda would take issue with having their products declared off-limits for food stamp monies.  But if the issue is actually how to help people and make sure they’re getting the food they need, does it make sense to ignore the issue completely?

Bugs for Lunch

December 26, 2016

Recently having joined the fraternity of people who have eaten bugs, I can tell you that I don’t anticipate these being on the menu regularly in our home any time soon.  Ever, actually.  That doesn’t stop a small group of people out there from continuing to argue that insects are the culinary future.  So much so that someone has given thought to the reality that our current Western utensils are not necessarily the best suited for gorging ourselves on bugs.

Enter the BugBug set of new utensils specifically for eating bugs.  The pincers are intriguing, as are the spear-tipped chopsticks. Although this is just a proto-type set, I don’t anticipate being an early adopter if and when they become available for purchase.  I prefer to continue dining on larger critters!

Native Cuisine

August 16, 2016

This article made me hungry, and happy.   It’s always good to be reminded that we didn’t invent food or flavor or cuisine – it’s part of being human and every group reflects that in some way.  It must be fascinating to recapture some of the native cuisine and approaches to cooking that were once so second nature!  And delicious!

Gleaning Wisdom

August 13, 2016

If we had a youth group at our congregation, I would firmly suggest that they go to work doing something like this.  Helping to minimize food waste and get fresh produce to those who need it most and can afford it least sounds like a perfect community project.  Everybody wins!  It isn’t glamorous or easy, but what a big difference it can potentially make to so many people!

It Is a Big World

May 23, 2016

And oftentimes a beautiful world as well.  It’s easy to forget that after listening to partisan news/Twitterfeeds/Facebook rants/podcasts all day.  Here are two examples of a beautiful world to start the week.

First off, German windows.  I forgot how much these things ROCK.  Being overseas again last summer reminded me of the genius of German engineering.  I’m sure these must each cost roughly the equivalent of a space shuttle, but heck, they are also worth every penny.  German windows are an example of beauty still in this world.

Secondly, pho.  This fantastically delicious soup is yet another proof of a beautiful world and the creativity of people who persevere in spite of incredible adversity.  This is a short article on the history of pho, and as such doesn’t include my first introduction to pho by a pretty girl after a disastrous off-road trip while dealing with an unpleasant head cold.

There you go.  The world isn’t all bad.  We will survive this election cycle.  At least some of you will.



Money Where Your Mouth Is

May 11, 2016

This is a fantastic article showcasing what is possible when people care enough to give of themselves to minimize food waste.   I often have people ask me why God would decide that so many people would be born into poverty and starvation.  This is exactly my response – it isn’t that God hasn’t provided more than enough food for everyone.  It’s that through active and passive sinfulness, we waste his bounty.  We take it for granted.  We use it as leverage for personal or communal gains.  We don’t have enough time to be bothered with the details.

I wonder if there isn’t grant money available to pay for some folks who would coordinate with local farmers and groceries to pick up food that would otherwise be destroyed, and convert it to meals ready to eat (not to be confused with the military MRE pouches!).  Lots of places focus on getting the raw materials of food to poor people (often-times heavily processed food rather than real fruits and vegetables).  What if a group of volunteers committed to the next logical step – making the meals?  I know places that do this on a small scale – but wouldn’t it be great to have outposts like that in every neighborhood?  So you could pick up a complete meal and bring it to your neighbor who is sick or homebound?  Literally, is there anyone who couldn’t benefit from a free (or low-priced) meal created from food that otherwise would be destroyed and wasted?  If nothing else it would cut down on people’s food budgets each month.

What an amazing God we have, who provides so abundantly.  Forgive us for being too blind to see all that You have provided!


Food Guilt

April 26, 2016

If you haven’t been made to feel guilty enough recently about all your shortcomings in open-mindedness and inclusivity, here’s yet another aspect of your life to repent of – your taste in foods.

According to this article, white Americans are basically racist when it comes to food.  We claim to like a broad variety of cuisines and tastes and influences, but we refuse to pay for them, relegating them to a substandard industry where they are forced to compromise to keep prices low while still making ends meet.  This results in non-authentic cuisine that is not reflective of the rich diversity of the cuisine in its native culture, which further reinforces our cultural stereotypes of the food.  A vicious cycle predicated upon our stupidity as consumers and our racist tendencies as human beings.

All of which is fascinating and, in various ways, I’m sure somewhat true.

However the article seems woefully one-sided in evaluating the nuances involved in this subject.  Primarily, it performs a basic form of racism itself, where it presumes that the guilt and decisions in this arena are completely in the realm of white Americans, and completely ignores the economics and priorities and choices of the people running ethnic restaurants.

The article makes no mention of how pricing of food in countries of origin affects the way restaurant owners price the food when they come to America.  If you come from a culture where the majority of people don’t pay for extremely expensive food, those assumptions about pricing will likely translate to your new culture – at least initially.

There is no mention about how a newly-arrived entrepreneur might need to price things more affordably because they can’t afford to fail.  Finding financial backing to launch a high-end, ritzy Chinese restaurant might be difficult for an emigree – in part because of stereotypes here in America, to be sure, but also perhaps due to a comparative scarcity of capital.  If your goal is to move to a new country and establish yourself with a reliable source of income, how risky do you want to be?  Do you set up shop quickly and sell food as cheaply as you can to build a large customer base?  Or do you hope that your understanding of your new culture is adequate enough to successfully launch a chic, boutique, upscale dining experience?

Who is the restaurant owner trying to cater to as well – Americans or a smaller ethnic population base within the larger culture?  Is the Chinese restaurant owner hoping to lure in other Chinese, or Americans?  How does this affect pricing, as discussed above, based on the pricing of food those other Chinese diners might expect from their own lives in China?

Basically the article ignores completely the role of the ethnic restaurant owner, and focuses solely on the white American consumers as the cause of problems and challenges.  Midway through the article the expert briefly admits that there is a natural, human tendency to like what we know, what is part of the dominant culture in which we are born and raised.  “It’s important to point out that this is all probably part of the natural ethnocentricity of a people.”  In which case, all cultures and all peoples are guilty of liking what they like because they were born and raised with it and because it is what they are most familiar with and because they are less familiar with other types of food and cooking.  And if this is the case, perhaps it isn’t something to feel guilty about, but rather to recognize as inevitable and probably at a base level, good.

The assumption that we all ought to be blank slates open to uniform and wide-ranging shaping and influencing is problematic on so many levels, yet forms the basis for most of our cultural self-critiques these days.  The upshot seems to be that we are bad people as white Americans, yet we are guilty of nothing more than the average Chinese or Indian or French person in this particular respect of food preference.  In this article the assumption is that we ought to be willing to pay more for ethnic food and we’re racist because we won’t.  Perhaps we ought to start questioning why we pay so much for certain kinds of food, and whether that’s really necessary or wise.



Your Tax Dollars at Work…Again

August 21, 2015

Hopefully you can sleep easier at night, knowing that Big Brother is faithfully watching out for you at every juncture in the road, including ensuring that you aren’t mistakenly sold natural milk instead of artificially enhanced milk.

It’s a sad day when our government insists that something completely natural is so unusual that it should be considered artificial.  On second thought, maybe this won’t help you sleep easier.  I suspect it shouldn’t.

Great Idea!

May 25, 2015

I really really really really really really really hope that this works.

Living in one of the poorest neighborhoods in St. Louis for three years, we saw firsthand the lack of good food options for people trying to survive on very little money and government assistance.  Aside from the discussion of food stamps and whether or how they should be provided, if we’re going to provide them at some level, there ought to be options for decent food for people, and hopefully this idea will work really well and expand into other markets.

I particularly like the idea of having inexpensive prepared meals.  Frankly, most of what we saw people buying in St. Louis was snack food – things you didn’t have to cook, but which also provided almost zero nutritional value.  For a single mother who is working, the prospect of getting a home-cooked meal on the table at the end of the day can be daunting.  Having nutritious and affordable pre-prepared meal options seems like a fantastic alternative.

However like most things, it’s going to take a while to change habits, and I hope that Daily Table can hang on long enough to begin helping to change those habits for the people it hopes to serve.

Change Is Hard…But Sometimes it Can Be Good

April 2, 2015

I believe this.  I’ve experienced it.  I try to counsel others with this.  In the midst of uncertainty and change, it isn’t unreasonable to look for positive things.

Our congregation wasn’t able to host the Seder meal that we love to do.  Throughout our life together (and our lives before we were together) the Seder was something that was a large scale event.  Forty or so people at our campus ministry in Arizona was a big challenge.  Seventy to one hundred people at our current congregation over the past few years was a big challenge.  Not having it this year was hard for us, a change we weren’t really enthused about but one which we needed to come to grips with.  It was interesting that it was our kids (and particularly our daughter) who were most vocal about their disappointment.

That disappointment didn’t entirely disappear when we decided to host the Seder at home for the first time ever together.  Our kids were used to it on a larger scale, as were we.  Yet the Seder is supposed to be celebrated in the home.  Supposed to be a family affair rather than a large-scale community event.  What would it be like if it was just our family?  Would the change be all right?

Our current exchange student wanted to join in.  Then two home-school families indicated they were interested in coming.  It wasn’t a massive affair, but it was more than just our immediate family as well.  We planned it all out so that we could have the food ready to serve at the right time, and so that we’d be able to at least get a fair way through the Seder before I’d have to leave to run up to church to lead Maunday Thursday worship.  We tweaked a few things (cilantro as the bitter herb?  Sure, why not?!  New recipe for the haroset?  Sure, why not?!).  We set up shop on our back patio so we’d have enough room for everyone.

It was different.  But it was also awesome.  Cilantro worked well.  We decided our original haroset recipe was better than the new one.  Lamb tips and home-made mashed potatoes and unleavened bread were hits.  Everyone enjoyed themselves, and the dynamic was completely different than the larger scale events.  More intimate.  Quieter.  Less stressful.

Perhaps we’ll do the Seder on a larger scale again someday.  But it’s good to know that this is a great alternative as well.  If you’re interested in doing one in your home next year, let me know and I can set you up with resources and advice.  It might be different for you, but sometimes change is good.  Even if the photos aren’t all that great :-)