Yeah, I’ve skipped meals and dieted. I’ve lived on just juice for a couple of days.
But I’ve always known that the next meal could happen whenever I wanted. To be truly hungry is something I’ve never known.
Maybe that’s part of why it’s hard to get our attention on hunger and food insecurity issues. It’s something that feels too far away, and it's something we can compartmentalize to the weekly free meals for the homeless down at the church. Someone else is taking care of it, right?
But when I saw “A Place at the Table” at The Belcourt, it got my attention, it made me cry, and then it made me angry.
It has all the stats – 1 out of every 2 kids in the United States will at some point be on food assistance, 50 million Americans rely on charitable food programs, we’re making more food than ever, but people are obese and hungry.
But it also puts a face on hunger by following three families dealing with food insecurity. Rosie, a fifth grader from Colorado, for example, can’t concentrate in school sometimes because her "stomach is hurting." Here's the trailer:
It’s a face I’ve seen here in Nashville while writing a story about the awesome work of The Nashville Food Project. I watched hungry people fill plates, but I also saw a woman who looked to be about my age pick up a yellow squash from Nashville Food Project’s garden. “I don’t know what to do with this,” she said.
My parents live in a small North Georgia town near the bottom of the Appalachian Trail. As teachers for many years, they’ve seen poverty in ways I haven’t. My father found a student at the technical college where he worked sleeping in his car. Another couple in the cosmetology program had been buying crackers and other snack foods in large quantities at the bookstore using their leftover Pell grant funds. The store manager asked them what they were doing with all of it. “We’re feeding our family,” the man said.
The day after I saw "A Place at the Table," I learned about Food Bloggers Against Hunger, which is why I’m posting today. Several other bloggers in town will post today along with about 200 bloggers nationwide for the project.
A few of us decided locally to also hold an event to screen the film again in Nashville on Monday, April 29. Since it’s a film that makes you want to take action, we’re following it with a food advocacy fair. Attendees can immediately check out ways to get involved from helping kids learn to grow and prepare fresh vegetables on Hands on Nashville’s Urban Farm to learning more about how to protect SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) with Community Food Advocates.
In thinking about a recipe to share, I remembered my parents again and how we often made a meal of just white beans (“soup beans” as they called them) and cornbread. It’s something that became an occasion. We would visit my grandparents just to eat this meal.
To step it up, I followed a version by Frank Stitt in the Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook that adds onion, garlic, bacon and a healthy serving of collard greens. To keep costs low, I also had to omit a few items such as the Parmesan cheese, and I chose a cornbread mix, which costs less than buying buttermilk and eggs.
The average daily allotment for a person on food assistance is about $4. But this simple meal -- with ingredients omitted -- cost me more than twice that much. It makes it easy to see how $4 a day is not nearly enough.
I’ve never known hunger, but a film like "A Place at the Table" helped me feel it through its stories. And when we can feel it, I hope we’ll all be moved to do something about it.
1. Join us to watch “A Place at the Table” at Downtown Presbyterian Church on Monday, April 29 at 6 p.m. The film also can be watched on demand at iTunes.
2. Send a letter to Congress to help protect funding for federal nutrition programs. It just takes a second.
3. Follow #takeyourplace hashtag on Twitter.
Collard Greens and White Beans
Makes about 8 servings
3 cups white beans, ½ cup cooking liquid reserved
1 pound collard greens, tough ribs removed and cut into pieces
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
½ cup bacon, cooked and crumbled
1. Prepare the beans and set aside.
2. In a large pot, cover the collards with salted water, then heat and boil until tender about 30 minutes. Drain.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until tender about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute longer. Add the collard greens and stir to coat. Add the bacon, adjust seasoning and serve warm with cornbread.
Adapted from The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook (University of Georgia Press, 2010)