Thursday, March 16, 2017
Poverty and the Pantry
I just made squash soup.
It took about 15 minutes to prepare. It will cook for 10 minutes, and then I will puree it. My chef's knives and cleaver make the chopping go fast.
Easy as hell, right? A healthy dinner with almost no effort. 8 meals for under $1 a serving. I am a kitchen god.
Why don't poor people make such easy food- instead of wasting their money at McDonalds?
Why don't they just do it RIGHT?
Whoa there, Nelly. I didn't ever make squash soup until last year.
Not because I didn't like squash, but because I couldn't afford it for much of my adult life, and then I never thought about it again.
Because when you're poor you try not to think about all the things you can never have, and it gets to be a habit.
Healthy food is an honest to God luxury, right up there with not knowing how much money you have in your account, and having a tooth filled the actual week it starts hurting.
Now before you start handing me phone numbers for your local organic butternut squash dealer, and explaining how cheap it is, let me break it down for you.
It's expensive to live poor.
I could make that soup today because I work at a calling with decent hours and realistic expectations. I have a writing day today, so I can go to the store and make dinner at home.
I have a reliable car which lets me go to the store where the squash is good, and reasonably priced. I have a reliable car which lets me carry home all of the things I need for soup, all at once.
I have an Instant Pot, and an Immersion blender. If the blender breaks I have a huge food processor.
I have space to store my supplies until I need them. I have space to store my kitchen tools, and electricity to run them. I have hot water to wash them when I'm done. I have knives and a chopping block and a reliable fridge to store the leftovers. I even have matching Tupperware and most of the lids, hallelujah, world with out end.
Twenty years ago it wouldn't have been so easy. Making the same soup would have gone from being a 30 minute trip to the store and a 30 minute total prep to table experience to something much, much more serious.
It wold have become a luxury.
I worked 16 hour shifts- 3pm to 7 am, 4 days a week. For a long time I had a decent car, but no insurance.
So making that cheap soup would have looked like this:
Get off work at 7am. Walk up to the local Kroger. Realize I could afford either the spices or the squash. Buy the spices (in the plastic half-size jars, exactly enough for this recipe. I can't afford to keep large amounts of something that I might never use again).
Wait 2 weeks for the next payday. The store has no squash. Buy broth. The store with squash is 6 miles away. Risk the drive. Buy squash that is 10% more expensive because I am now shopping in an upscale neighborhood.
Go home and go to sleep. No time to cook. Go to work at 3 pm the next day.
Next off day, haul out the 20 year old crockpot. Attempt to cut the squash with a dollar store knife.
Attempt to peel squash with a dollar store peeler.
Walk to dollar store for new knife, but now I can no longer afford a can of coffee so I'll be drinking water for the next two weeks.
90 minutes to carefully peel and section squash. Saute onions and garlic, and spices in pan- use extra oil because pan is peeling and sticks.
Toss all ingredients in crock pot. Set alarm to wake up every 2 hours because both house wiring and pot are old, and a surge could cause a fire. There are no smoke alarms.
Allow soup to cook for 8 hours, using lots of electricity. When soup is done, use potato masher to puree. Puree process takes 40 minutes, and there are still some lumps. Taste the soup and realize it needs more onion, but there isn't any more because Sav-a-lot doesn't sell onions in a bag, it sells them one yellow onion at a time and I only bought exactly what I was supposed to need.
Add more salt instead.
Use spread containers to freeze left overs. The containers are thin, and will potentially leach chemicals into the hot soup. They will allow freezer burn in a week.
Lose all food in the fridge and freezer three days later, when the old fridge door comes open while I'm at work. Or lose it a day later, when the electric gets disrupted for a downed power line, because it is two days to payday, and I have no money to buy bags of ice, and no cooler to put it in anyway.
The one bowl of soup I actually got to eat cost me $8 in materials, 11 hours of time, and $1.23 in electricity. It cost me another $1 in gas, and I had to wake up 4 times
When we talk about how easy it should be for people living in poverty to just do it the way we do, we need to stop an look around.
At our houses and our dishes and our stoves and our knives.
At our car and our spice rack and our matching Tupperware.
Change the lenses and understand why maybe, just maybe, spending $3.00 at McDonalds is not so bad.
Change the lenses again, and ask ourselves what real change would mean.
Beginning with "everyone deserves to be able to make nutritious and safe food" and asking "How do we achieve that?" looks a lot different than "They shouldn't be eating that- how do we stop them?"
Beginning with love makes it a different world, and everyone deserves a chance to be a kitchen god.