Editor’s Note: Over the coming weeks we want to focus on how we as a food community can better serve those who do not get enough to eat. We plan to have a number of guest chefs share some of their thoughts the issue.
What would I want my children to learn from my love affair with food? It would be to be kind with our food. In a day and age where there are articles, blog posts and whole magazines dedicated to food, it isn’t hard to see that food is a culture and hobby. People are described as “foodies”, attend dinner clubs, host recipe exchanges and binge watch Food Network shows. There are Twitter feeds dedicated to celebrity chefs and cook books that cost upwards of $1,000 (Modernist Cuisine has been on my list for quite sometime). I could go on and on. But this article has nothing to do with the glamorous food culture we all love and follow. This article is about many of our neighbors who could benefit from the kindness of food. There are those that could never afford cooking a frugal recipe much less eat at the restaurants that inspire such recipes. There are those who have no one to share a meal with anymore and then there are those pulled aside by life’s heavy load who can’t find time for food. Here are a few ways I’d teach my children how we can be kind with our food to pull people together.
The biggest group of people who would directly benefit through help of food would undoubtedly be those that are hungry. The statistics of people in our country who go hungry is astonishing. Certain families in the Bronx and Houston, for example, have been known to live off of canned goods and boxed goods ONLY, for months on end because fresh produce, meats and dairy are too far away to travel to, thus too expensive. They live in food deserts where proper grocery stores are miles away and farmers’ markets are nonexistent. Closer to home, we have children mere miles away who consider saltines a treat because they weren’t fed any dinner the night before. I worked with such kids for years and the impact it made on me so many years ago is still something I talk about and simply cannot shake. These families are on welfare or have SNAP benefits which are not enough. SNAP benefits usually run out in a couple of weeks and the food for the remainder of the month must come from handouts, food pantries or theft. This is a way of life. Stretching meals and skipping meals is a way of life. Going without, is a way of life. Yet, here we are with ample food in this country and in our homes while people go hungry.
So, the question begs to be asked, “what can I do?”
1. Donate to Charities:
Donating is one of the easiest ways to help a cause. Here in Little Rock, we have quite a few charities with the sole purpose of helping the hungry and poor. Places such as the Arkansas Food Bank, Rice Depot and Little Rock Helping Hand are great organizations helping gather funds and food to help feed the hungry.
Money: Obviously, all charities can greatly benefit from your donation of money. This money goes towards gathering food and supplying pantries and soup kitchens with food for people who will need to seek such assistance. Money is the easiest way to make a difference.
Time: In addition to donating money, charities and food banks need man power. Whether it is loading supplies in boxes, delivering to food banks or actually working the service line at a soup kitchen; the more hands that help feed, the more mouths that get fed. This is also a great way for children to get involved, so giving food to others is just considered a way of life as opposed to a one time summer activity.
Feel free to navigate the websites of the organizations listed above to get a feel for what they do, how to donate and what events require actual man power should you choose to donate your time.
2. Host “Foodraisers” or Food drives
Chances are that you will have a party in the near future or you may attend one. A great way to raise money would be to host a foodraiser where people donate whatever they can to reach a certain goal. At the Rice depot website, for example, $2,400 would be enough to feed all the hungry children at one school for a year. That is an incredible impact of friends coming together. Further, this idea could be used for the purpose of gathering food supplies to donate to the Arkansas Food Bank or a local shelter. I would encourage my children to host on their own or to shop off a “needs” list and then donate. Please visit charity websites to seek out some of the acceptable types of food items.
Those in need of a friend and a meal:
In addition to those who cannot afford a proper meal, there are those among us who would love company with their meals but simply don’t have many opportunities to share a meal. You will always be the best judge of this situation because the purpose here is not to offend someone but to simply use the opportunity to break bread and provide company because you truly care. For example, there are people in the many nursing homes my father has administered, who ate alone because there was no one to talk to them. This would be a great opportunity to visit a family member or even a stranger for a chat and to share a meal. I’ve always believed in the power of food to bring people together and I’d love my children to not experience this but to initiate it.
There are many other ways to help people with food and, this is by no means a lengthy list of all the ways, but it’s a start. There are also other people who depend on the assistance of others for food in tough times as well. One experience I have encountered is at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital. There are many parents there with a sick child. Many parents do not have enough to cover medical bills, many lose their jobs and many spend day and night with their sick children for months on end at the hospital and away from their homes. These people could also benefit from your kind hand. At the end of the night, vending machine items are sometimes the only form of sustenance. If you are unable to donate to a charity, consider donating food to the waiting rooms and lobbies of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital or other similar places, for loved ones to enjoy while they wait. It honestly does not have to be much, it is whatever you can donate.
The thing I’d want my children to learn most is that food is a more than just glossy pictures in a magazine or more than the cakes I bake at home, it is a crucial commodity and anywhere there is an opportunity to be kind to someone through food, then they should take that opportunity. It is a universal language and it has more benefits than can be measured.