During the Hunger Action Challenge we invite individuals to live a week in the life of a Community Food Share client. Participants shop at one of our food banks as if they were a new client and eat only the food they receive for 6 days. They are allowed 5 pantry items they already have in their kitchens and can spend $10 on food. They are asked not to accept food from family and friends during the challenge. Below are the reflections of Janeen Wagemans during her experience with the Hunger Action Challenge.
The Hunger Action Challenge (The Morrisburg Leader “In my Kitchen” column)
I recently joined the board of the local Community Food Share, a service which I have always passionately supported. I was offered the opportunity to be one of the two board members participating in the Hunger Action Challenge for the Community Food Share, which consists of managing for one week on only the food obtained from the Food Bank. I signed up, as though I were a new client, met the lovely intake person, and was accompanied during the shopping experience by a charming and cheerful volunteer who indicated what shelves I could select from.
I was impressed by the cleanliness, efficiency and cheerfulness of the intake and shopping experience, as well as by the variety and quantity of food that I left with.
When I got home, I laid all the items out on the dining room table for some quick mental menu planning.
One of my first concerns was that I would have to unlearn how to cook, since I have honed the odd cooking skill throughout my long life.
I called back. The folks in charge of the Hunger Action Challenge took pity on me and allowed me to use my skills as long as I included this exception as part of my reflections on the experience. The “reflections” are really the point of this exercise. Cooking skills are predictably, an unfair advantage. Give me 100 grams of flour (which they did) and an egg (which they did) and I can bang out world-class pasta. Give me a squash to roast (which they did) and a bit of cheese to mix in (and they did) and voilà, you have squash ravioli to die for! And filling left over to convert into gnocchi for another delightful meal.
There were potatoes. A whole bag of them! To mash, or fry or make into a soup. And a whole bag of lentils, that resulted in a fabulous soup with the addition of the onion and carrots and diced tomatoes. So good. See recipe below.
The point is, that for many people with only a microwave and a hot plate, these opportunities are out of their reach. A simplistic answer would be to teach them to cook. This expectation is unrealistic, if not outright fatuous. We don’t live their lives or face their many challenges, temporary or permanent. But for the grace of God.
So what did I learn on the first day of my Food Share Challenge?
For one thing, I learned that the staff and volunteers tirelessly dedicate their time and energy to making the experience as pleasant and seamless as possible for their clients. I was impressed with the quality of the donations that were on offer. And I will shop for my donations with an awareness of which donations are most useful to the greatest number of shoppers. Maybe not so much the dried beans no matter their nutritional benefits. Consider rather than just sending that bag of beans or lentils along to the next Food Share fundraiser, the packaged dry soup ingredients (just add water) instead.
In the meantime, you might want to give this “Best Lentil Soup” recipe from cookieandkate.com
And when you do, give a thought to how lucky you are to have that Instant Pot that you laugh about, and the bits and bobs that you have in your kitchen that add flavour to the concoction. Since I am only using those things allowed as part of the challenge, I didn’t quite follow the recipe exactly, but next batch, I will. With an increased awareness.
Best Lentil Soup
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 large can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, lightly drained
1 cup brown or green lentils, picked over and rinsed
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup chopped fresh collard greens or kale, tough ribs removed
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice (½ to 1 medium lemon), to taste
Warm the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. One-fourth cup olive oil may seem like a lot, but it adds a lovely richness and heartiness to this nutritious soup.
Once the oil is shimmering, add the chopped onion and carrot and cook, stirring often, until the onion has softened and is turning translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic, cumin, curry powder and thyme. Cook until fragrant while stirring constantly, about 30 seconds. Pour in the drained diced tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes, stirring often, in order to enhance their flavor.
Pour in the lentils, broth and the water. Add 1 teaspoon salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper. Raise heat and bring the mixture to a boil, then partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape.
Transfer 2 cups of the soup to a blender. Securely fasten the lid, protect your hand from steam with a tea towel placed over the lid, and purée the soup until smooth. Pour the puréed soup back into the pot. (Or, use an immersion blender to blend a portion of the soup.)
Add the chopped greens and cook for 5 more minutes, or until the greens have softened to your liking. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Taste and season with more salt, pepper and/or lemon juice until the flavors really sing. For spicier soup, add another pinch or two of red pepper flakes.
Serve while hot. Leftovers will keep well for about 4 days in the refrigerator or can be frozen for several months.
Stay tuned for more reflections as I make my way through this challenge.
In the meantime, Community Food Share would like you to know that there are many opportunities to volunteer. Whatever time or skills you may have to offer, they will find a way for you to contribute. Give them a call to inquire. (613)543-0065. They’ll be tickled pink to hear from you!