Happy September everyone! September 1st means the start of school in many places and getting back to the structure of non-summer life. I also think of it as pre-fall, we are one month closer to cooler weather here in Texas.
September is also Hunger Action Month: a month where people all over America stand together with Feeding America and the nationwide network of food banks to fight hunger. It’s a month to spread the word and take action on the hunger crisis, and dedicate ourselves to a solution.
Many years ago, I worked at Second Harvest Food Bank in New Orleans teaching a cooking course called Cooking Matters. Cooking Matters focuses on making healthy meals on a budget for your family.
My time with Second Harvest was one of the most challenging, rewarding, and eye opening experiences of my life. Theoretically, I knew hunger existed. From working with and for other non-profits like WIC, I knew that people survived on a shoestring budget that didn’t leave much or any room for “healthy” food choices. I knew conceptually that eating healthy had a reputation of being expensive and inaccessible to those below the poverty line, but I had always been told that with enough effort your could make healthy, affordable meals for your family.
However, many of the ways to make cheap, healthy food taste good take two things: time and effort. If you are living below the poverty line, you most likely do not have access to either of these privileges. If someone doesn’t have a car, they will have to take a bus that likely adds several hours to their commute. If one job doesn’t cut it to pay the bills, they may have to work two jobs. There are a thousand added challenges to those living below the poverty line that many of us can’t imagine. It feels hard enough trying to drive less than a mile to my grocery store, pick out healthy food that I can afford, and have enough energy left at the end of the day spent teaching and playing with my daughter to cook the food. I don’t have to worry about access to healthy options (physical locations of grocery stores-a serious issue in New Orleans), having extra money in the budget for luxury items like fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood, and having adequate space and equipment to cook, clean, and refrigerate my groceries. All of these things, I take for granted on a regular basis.
Working at Second Harvest opened my eyes to the often unnamed struggles facing those who are trying to feed healthy food to their families, while still affording their bills. Before working at the food bank, I had an unconscious misconception that people who did not feed their family well were simply not trying hard enough. This is blatantly not true. I taught countless parents who wanted the best health for their children and family, but were not sure how to go about doing that. The course was six weeks of giving hands on experience with knife skills to cut down time spent prepping food, nutrition classes to provide a general understanding of how to build a healthy meal on a budget, and sharing our various struggles and goals of making a healthy meal time happen.
Participants of Cooking Matters leave the course with a cookbook full of healthy recipes that feed a family of 4 for $10 or less, groceries to make the meal at home for their family every week, and practical skills to build confidence in the kitchen. My favorite part of these courses is the family dinner at the end of each lesson. We share the meal we prepared together, which strengthened our little community and allowed everyone to see each other as humans, doing the best we can.
I urge you to consider getting involved with your local Cooking Matters program. It is a nationwide program that many large city food banks offer. You do not have to be a chef or a dietitian to volunteer. Some of my favorite volunteers were those who came, not as experts, but to help make the course run smoothly. They were there to make people feel heard, to show them someone cares, and to connect in a big way.
If this is peaking your interest, contact your local food bank to see if they offer Cooking Matters courses. Here are some resources to get you started.
Hunger Action Month Pledge
All this month I will be sharing my favorite tips and tricks on how to save time and money in the kitchen for Hunger Action Month. Follow along for budgeting tips, meal planning discussions, and easy things to make from scratch and save.
All the best,