Putter patter putter tonight in the kitchen, making a thick and speckled soup. Potatoes from Tantre Farm were on sale a couple weeks back, and of course many were still lounging in their private drawer, sprouting leggy new parts. Oh these morphing vegetables must be used before they walk out of my drawer and into a fighting match with the carrots. After shopping for a cabbage to include in this wintery soup, and restocking our supply of caraway seeds that unabashedly went MIA, I brewed a pot of tea and made this really comforting soup. Some fresh and crusty bread from an Ann Arbor bakery lay in wait, crumbs pouring forth from the paper bag as though ready to be scooped into an utter, soupy destiny.
That was tonight. But two weeks ago things felt a little different.
I was in Chicago, spending a week in a room with a lot of people agreeing to spend a year volunteering, earning wages from the government as a stipend based on the local poverty line. Most local poverty lines lay between the $12-13,000 a year range. I was one of those people preparing for a year of volunteer service. Being that so many of those gathered were from Michigan, a state whose failing businesses are begging for some sort of relief from the government, you can imagine that many of these people were accepting this volunteer year because it provided them with more than they currently earned. The days were fairly intense, the entire group being divided into sections of 30 people, all of which have personal stories of poverty to some degree or in some fashion.
The first day our facilitator gathered us in a circle, dark faces and light faces, thick accents and thin, and presented us with the questions: “What is poverty?” & “What causes poverty?”. Maybe stop for a second. Think about what comes to your mind. As a person in the country where you exist, what does poverty mean? I’ve seen poverty in a third world nation and I’ve seen poverty in East St Louis, in Detroit, in Omaha, so many American towns. I didn’t like seeing the repercussions of poverty, either. As the passing of thoughts circled in that room, I listened to lots of single women, many with multiple children, discuss what it’s like not knowing where their family’s food, clothes, books will come from. It affected me, not being at a level where I was there to help those in this group, but being a part of the group. Often I have found myself in positions where I am there to aid, help, teach, fight injustices. But then, there I was, with people choosing a similar path, many who were deeply and authentically experiencing poverty. Together we discussed this nation that has so many discrepancies with health, with hunger, with obesity, with malnutrition, with diet-based diseases, with poverty.
Tonight there was an NPR On Point program about hunger in America. Joel Berg, the executive director of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger, fielded discussion about hunger, subsidies, food banks, food stamps, and many economic issues that hover around food. It was satisfying for me to hear this while being in the depths of thoughts on hunger and poverty. My present week has been spent studying outreach, gardening, and preparing to lessen the divide for access to healthy food. The radio show was distressing, as they often can be, listening to the statistics on depleting food banks, lines of people that are turned away from food banks, and the increasing health issues that are arriving daily on our neighbors doorsteps due to a lack of understanding, education, and/or access to healthy food. However! There are a few counter thoughts to dwell on: 1) Joel Berg ended the show saying, “The Economic Stimulus Package signed into law by President Obama on January 21st of next year can have a serious down payment on ending hunger in America." So that’s a possibility. And, 2) the research I have been doing surrounding my new position as Ypsilanti’s Farmers’ Market Manager is really quite positive, the statistics all returning to increasing numbers of vendors and customers, increasing sales, and an increasing usage of food stamps and other low-income food coupons.
I live in a vibrant community that is full of opportunities for local, fresh, healthy food. There are nearby restaurants that create menus based on that philosophy. I have at least six stores in walking distance where I can by high quality groceries and produce. This is not the norm. On the other hand, low-income neighborhoods are more likely to live in a food desert where the candle lit dinner is accompanied by a two liter bottle of soda and a bag of chips that came from the corner gas station. It’s not really fair, this creamy potato soup I ate for dinner tonight. Well, maybe it is fair that I ate that soup, and it’s even okay that I relished the time spent making it. But it’s not really fair that so many others don’t have that chance to be hugged by their very own kitchen. Food and its preparation is a given right to all life. And I think good food, whole and free of preservatives, should be included in that right.
It’s a good thing that the Farmers’ Market phenomenon is growing! And people can use food stamps at growing numbers of them! And that small farmers are fighting for their rights! And that we understand the connection between diet and obesity and so many diseases…. Things will be okay. We just need to watch out for each other. I think we can do that. It’s pretty natural.