The headline in today’s business section is “Twitter Prepares to Feed New Hunger for IPO’s.” My thoughts are about different kind of hunger, that of the millions of Americans who have to feed themselves for less than $5 a day (it’s $5 in New York, about $4.50 in the rest of the country) and aren’t play-acting the role for five days.
Day 3 Breakfast: My French toast breakfast — made with store-brand whole-wheat bread soaked in one egg beaten with soymilk — finally puts me in touch with some of the challenges of the SNAP recipient.
What am I going to cook the French toast in? I’d forgotten about that. I have to cheat and use a pat of butter from the fridge. And what to put on it? I don’t have any syrup. I’d forgotten about that, too. Even made with that too-soft, tasteless bread, it tastes okay without syrup. But what if I were a real SNAP mom and my kids were clamoring for syrup and jam? And for stuff pushed at them on TV, like Cocoa Puffs or Lucky Charms, or Jimmy Dean Breakfast Bowls and Egg McMuffins? What if I didn’t have time to cook anything or even to cut up fruit?
Cooking everything at home not only requires more planning, it requires, of course, more time. Not only the time to cook, the time to clean up, to wash the utensils, the bowls for the cut-up fruit and soaking the bread, the frying pan.
Day 3 Lunch: Pasta salad. I cook about a quarter of the box of rigatoni and add a can each of tuna and chickpeas, some sliced celery, a few grape tomatoes, a bit of chopped onion and dress it with a teaspoon of olive oil — enough for four servings. I’ll be eating this again.
Day 3 Dinner: Chicken thigh roasted with the last of the grape tomatoes and the last of the bag of carrots. Romaine salad. How are the croutons left over from Saturday lunch and stored in a baggie? Inedible, stale and soggy. For dessert, the rest of breakfast’s fruit salad — made with two apples, one orange and one banana.
My mom made that fruit salad all the time. She fed her family of five on a few dollars a day, including making lunches all of us took to school or work in metal lunchboxes. We dined on stews, stuffed peppers, spaghetti with meat sauce, meat loaf, always with vegetables and a tossed salad on the side, bread and butter, pudding or jell-o or homemade cake for dessert. Then I moved out and discovered Gourmet magazine, Julia Child, Balducci’s and Zabars. I inherited the frugality from my Depression-era parents, but like many people these days, I’m a bit spoiled. Salads seem to require arugula and radiccio and frisee. I buy stuff I never had at home as a child: Greek olives, roasted peppers, tamari almonds, dried figs, wedges of Parmesan. I don’t ever have to think: One potato needs to feed two people, or I have to make two meals from one pound of hamburger meat. Usually I’d make two burgers, have some meat left over and throw it away a day of two later. We waste way too much food.
This is a week without waste. I’m planning ahead, not snacking, and limiting portion sizes. Ordinarily, I’d have two chicken thighs for dinner, not one. But to stay within the budget I have to stretch a package of four pieces to two meals, two in Sunday’s chicken soup and two tonight. Is that such a bad thing? We’ve been told over and over that a portion of meat, chicken or fish should be the size of a deck of cards. A dietician once showed me appropriate portion sizes on a chart. “Those are toddler portions!” I said. “That’s all you need,” was her answer. We Americans eat way too much. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of Americans are obese. That’s another thing to think about, even when feeling solidarity with the one in six Americans who are strugging with hunger.