Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hunger is UNacceptable

The food blogging community in Austin is incredibly welcoming and collaborative. This week's blogging project is another reason why I am so grateful to be part of this community. We are working with Capital Area Food Bank to cook, eat, and blog for a week from a bag of food that is typical of what the food bank distributes to a family in need. The goal of this project is to create our own "hunger stories," to experience first hand some of the struggles so many families face in trying to feed their families healthy, nutritious, and delicious foods with limited means. As compassionate Chinese-American foodies, we jumped at the opportunity to put our own spin on this challenge. Hopefully while learning a bit more about ourselves and hunger in the process. Our goal is to make deliciously affordable Asian-fusion cuisine from our bag of groceries, with minimal addition expenditure.

This evening, we had the opportunity to tour the warehouse and learn a bit more about the organization and structure behind feeding 300,000 people each year. This food bank is really quite amazing: floor to ceiling boxes of donated food, loading docks that accommodate vehicles of all sizes, 6000 volunteers annually, the second largest food bank distributor of fresh produce in the country, and 23 MILLION pounds of food distributed in the last year alone. The landscape of hunger is changing, with unprecedented numbers of families reaching out for help, many of them middle class. Hunger is a growing reality.

Justin and I have different visions for this project, he will focus on the logistics, recipes, and economics, whereas I will focus on the process, reflections, and ego aspects of this experience. Together, we will try to duplicate what this experience might be like for a young Chinese couple, possibly recent immigrants to this country, trying to reproduce the familiar flavors of home with our available ingredients. This is not too far from my childhood reality. I was born in China, and joined my parents in the U.S. when I was 5. My parents struggled financially, as my dad was a graduate student, my mom worked a labor job, and both sets of grandparents lived with us. We were a family of 7, sharing a 2 bedroom graduate housing apartment, on 1 income. Needless to say, it was a difficult time for us. However, we were able to scrape by on careful budgeting, a small community garden plot, and yes, donated food. I don't remember ever going hungry, and I thank the generosity of our community for it. My childhood gives depth and meaning to this project. I have no idea how my parents were able to do it so deliciously. But I am so thankful that they did.

After our visit to the food bank, we went to the grocery store to pick up our necessary essentials, to duplicate what we might find in a typical bag. Here is what we came home with, at around $13. A few of these products would have been included in our bag, such as the rice, spaghetti, and canned vegetables. The rest are assumed to come out of a food stamp (or "snap" as I learned it is officially called) budget. Our goal is to keep our total additional expenses under $20, and cook our dinners for a week from that budget plus the food bag. We will also be making a trip to the Asian supermarket for affordable accompaniments to our staple meal items, because as I told Justin, no self-respecting Chinese person will substitute dill pickle for traditional pickled cabbage in our congee. Stay tuned for day 1, officially beginning tomorrow!

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