Sunday Morning Coffee Musings 2/18/18

Ugh! This week! Hell of a way to point you in a direction.

When I was in my late twenties, I was married to my son’s father. I had quit my job to take care of our son, and my husband had gotten laid off from his job shortly after that. My mother had an apartment in the house she owned that was coming open, which she offered to rent to us for a lot less than the rent we were currently paying.

My husband was getting unemployment and we were getting TAFDC, and I was hitting the food pantry on the regular because I didn’t do food planning or budgeting at the time. A family friend was one of the volunteers, and there was a shelf at the food pantry for donations that no one knew what to do with – things like canned sardines, cook and serve pudding, unflavored gelatin – the kinds of things people who are cleaning out their cupboards give away. There were other, more useful things as well, but they were things people didn’t cook with very often so they sat there until someone like me came along – someone who knew what to do with them.

Or that’s what I thought at the time.

A year ago, I was offered a chance to publish the cookbook I’ve been talking about writing for almost 25 years. A cookbook dedicated to what to DO with that stuff you get from the food pantry, different things to do with the foods you get from WIC, and generally ways to stretch the thin money one gets when one receives SNAP benefits, or just generally needs to economize on food.

This week there was a hell of a kerfuffle about the American Harvest Box proposal. I had a knee-jerk reaction to it because I dislike the current administration and the way it is treating everything the previous administration had done to help those less fortunate. I hate the idea of this box because I am more educated now about food allergies, religious dietary laws, and nutrition than I was back when I was coming up with the idea of the cookbook. I hate it because it takes choice away from people who are already having to make tough choices and do without. I hate it because it’s patronizing in its belief that the wealthier folks know more about what the poor folks should eat than the poor people eating the food.

Folks who are receiving SNAP benefits aren’t usually doing so because they aren’t smart, or they aren’t trying to work. Most people receiving SNAP benefits are working. 30% of the families receiving SNAP benefits have members that are serving in our countries military. Single people without children that receive SNAP benefits have a work requirement attached. There’s great information about SNAP here.

It’s not a lot of money for food. The maximum benefit for 1 person is $192 a month. That’s not a lot of money per meal – $2.13 per meal. The average benefit is $134 per person, which translates to $1.49 per meal. Remember, that’s the maximum and the average. There are people who receive less.

These are the Fiscal year 2018 numbers, by the way.

At any rate, when I conceived the idea of the cookbook, it was my conceited notion that I would be instructing those less fortunate than myself, less gifted with the knowledge in how to use those ingredients, in ways to stretch their benefits and feed their families more nutritiously.

Yes, I’m all that and a bag of chips.

Over the last year, while I’ve been researching this book, I’ve discovered just how conceited my thought was. I also learned that refocusing my cookbook could actually help the people I most want to help – those who are suffering from food insecurity right here in America.

There are plenty of magazines and cookbooks that focus on recipes that are $1.00 or less per serving. They don’t focus on MEALS that are $1.00 or less per serving – just entrees. And most of these magazines and cookbooks are purchased by more affluent folks in the check-out line, who might want to stretch their budgets but may not exactly need to do so.

So now the focus is a complete meal, at $1.50 or less per serving – and some meals that can be made for 1 or 2 people that are $1.50 or less per serving, because quite a few recipes take into account the economy of scale – you take a pound of hamburger that costs $4 per pound, and you stretch it to feed 8 people, it’s now 50 cents of hamburger per person. That’s harder to do with 1 or 2 people unless you are using it as a base for multiple different meals.

Yes, some of my recipes will utilize the items in the AHB (or American Horror Box, as I like to call it) because all of those items are available from a food pantry bag. And sometimes one just gets sick of making peanut butter sandwiches, rice and beans, and spaghetti.