It is easy to think that I understand hunger. I’ve spent most of my career working for nonprofits, I live in a city in which poverty is extremely evident, I am far from wealthy by the standard definition, I have struggled to make ends meet. I have wished, many times, that I could afford better food, fancier food, more interesting ingredients: small batch jams and nut butters and expensive cheeses and every spice my cookbooks demand and the very best produce from the market stalls.
But even my ability to dream of these things — my knowledge that they’re out there and not so very far from my fingertips — makes my privilege clear: I don’t understand hunger. I have never gone to bed with an ache in my stomach that I couldn’t stop with one simple trip back to the kitchen. I have always lived in places with farmers markets and access to fresh, healthy food. Though there were plenty of budget meals on my table when I was a little girl, there were always meals. (As it happens, I actually didn’t realize that we ate, say, melted cheese on crackers for any reason other than the fact that it was a very tasty lunch.) In my adult life, I’ve always had a strict budget, but I’ve also always been able to purchase good food, and enough of it. I have a safety net of people who help me when I am in need. I don’t know what it would be like to be out of money and out of food. Nor do I know what it would be like to have children but insufficient resources for purchasing the food their little bodies need to thrive.
I have struggled, yes. But I have never truly been poor. I have never truly been hungry. And so I won’t presume to understand. All I can do is imagine and reach out to those who walk the same roads I walk with their feet in different shoes.
One in five American children live in homes that struggle to put meals on the table. Those on food stamps receive just 3 or 4 dollars a day to buy what they need to survive. Food deserts proliferate. Healthy yet inexpensive options do not.
I don’t think it is acceptable for those of us who have much to mindlessly feast at our tables while our neighbors go hungry.
And so, as part of The Giving Table’s Food Bloggers Against Hunger, I am donating today’s post to the effort to end hunger in America. Because while I love beautiful food and sometimes-pricey produce and baked goods that require multiple flours, this blog is, more than anything else, about telling stories, and the story of poverty and hunger is one that must be told.
This story cannot end here. I hope you’ll join me in writing a more beautiful conclusion.
-Take just 30 seconds to follow this link and write a letter to members of Congress, requesting that they support anti-hunger legislation and do all they can to protect federal nutrition programs.
-Watch A Place at the Table, a new documentary by Participant Media and the impetus for the Food Bloggers Against Hunger campaign. The film is playing in many cities, and you can also find it on iTunes or Amazon.
-Head over to The Giving Table‘s website to learn more about “doing good with food,” and while you’re there, check out the list of other bloggers involved in today’s campaign — about 200 of them!
Participants in Food Bloggers Against Hunger were asked to share a budget-friendly recipe. Meals like this, composed of a foundation of hearty grains with vegetables atop and garnishes to finish, are of great help in keeping our food budget in control. I used wheat berries because they have a really excellent, chewy texture; I bought the 1 1/2 cup used here for less 89 cents. However, since wheat berries can be difficult to find, note that brown rice would be an excellent substitution.
Tahini (a paste made from ground hulled sesame seeds) is also a hard ingredient for some folks to come by, or one that simply seems too unfamiliar to seek out. Feel free to top this dish with a dollop of yogurt instead. But I will note that this is another food budget trick from my book: a jar of tahini will go a long way, and a sauce or dressing made with it brings a very humble dish up to the next level. Eating on the cheap doesn’t have to be a sad affair, and I think small touches like this help. And growing a pot of herbs on your front stoop will give you another source of budget-friendly fancy!
The recipe below will leave you with leftover wheat berries and leftover tahini sauce, both of which are very nice to have around. Oh, and finally, I would fully endorse putting a fried or poached egg on top.
1 1/2 cups wheat berries
1/4 cup tahini
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon lemon or orange zest (optional)
pinch red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons water, plus additional if needed
1 bunch radishes
2 bunches carrots
several sprigs of fresh thyme (or 1 – 2 teaspoons dried)
salt + pepper
chives or parsley, minced (optional)
Put the wheat berries and a big pinch of salt in a saucepan. Cover with water, filling the pan up to a point two or three inches above the wheat berries. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 1 hour, or until the wheat berries are plump. Taste to be sure they are fully cooked; they should be chewy. Drain and set aside.
Next, make the tahini sauce. Combine the tahini, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, zest if using, red pepper flakes and generous pinches of salt and pepper, and whisk well until combined. Add the water slowly, until the sauce reaches your desired consistency. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the radishes in half, and slice the carrots into pieces of approximately the same size. Toss the vegetables with the remaining oil (1 tablespoon) and the thyme, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables on a baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes, or until they are cooked through and beginning to caramelize.
To assemble, put just over half of the wheat berries into a large serving bowl. Place the vegetables over top, then drizzle with several tablespoons of the tahini sauce and, if desired, sriracha and/or a sprinkling of fresh herbs. Taste for salt and pepper, and adjust seasoning if needed.
Serve warm or at room temperature, with the remaining tahini sauce on the side.
Yield: 2 large servings or 4 smaller servings