Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Potluck Recipe #45: The Best Cookies Ever

By Jeanne Foels, Marketing & Outreach Coordinator

I don't care if you are tired of cookies this season -- get the mixer back out and make these immediately! Open Arms Chef Cassie made these little gems for our clients a few weeks ago, and the rave reviews haven't stopped coming. Airy and light as meringue, these chocolate cookies are absolutely divine.

Mocha Chocolate Cookies
From Open Arms Chef Cassie

Step 1 Ingredients:
1 cup walnuts, toasted
1 cup pecans, toasted

Step 2 Ingredients:
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. coffee concentrate*

Step 3 Ingredients:
4 oz. butter, melted
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
9 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

Step 4 Ingredients:
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt

Step 5 Ingredients:
8 oz of high-quality semisweet chocolate chips or chocolate bar, cut into pieces

1. Toast nuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper at 325 degrees for about 8 minutes or until nuts are fragrant and lightly golden brown. Set aside to cool.
2. Place eggs and sugar into a mixer fitted with a whip attachment and whip the eggs and sugar until it resembles a light meringue that will loosely hold its shape. The mixture will become fluffy and pale yellow in color. When it reaches this point, add vanilla and coffee concentrate. Whip the coffee and vanilla into the mixture until they are incorporated. Turn off mixer and set aside.
3. Combine melted butter, unsweetened chocolate and semisweet chocolate chips in a double boiler and stir until all chocolate is melted and butter and chocolate emulsify. Remove from heat. Turn on mixer with egg/sugar meringue and SLOWLY add in the hot butter and chocolate mixture as to temper the eggs.
4. When all of the chocolate mixture is added, change to a paddle attachment or switch to mixing by hand. Add the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix just until incorporated.
5. Lastly add in the toasted nuts and high-quality semisweet chocolate chips or pieces. Mix just until incorporated, as the dough will be hot and over-mixing at this point will cause the chocolate chips to melt into the dough. Place in the fridge and chill for 15-30 minutes or until dough is set up enough to keep its shape when scooped.
6. Scoop dough using a small ice cream scoop or spoon and drop onto parchment-lined cookie trays. Bake at 325 degrees until the cookies crack like a brownie on top, roughly 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool so they set up, and enjoy!

*You can make your own coffee concentrate by brewing a small amount of very strong coffee. You can also use instant espresso powder.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Potluck Recipe #44: Apple and Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese

By Jeanne Foels, Marketing & Outreach Coordinator

Amid all the meat-heavy meals and rich desserts of this season, all I'm craving right now is something green! This salad fits the bill -- it's light, tangy, the tiniest bit bitter and full of freshness. Best of all, it's easy to throw together, making it perfect for quick meals on busy evenings.

Apple and Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese

Adapted from a recipe on Delish.com
(Serves 8-10 as a side)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. chopped thyme
salt and freshly ground pepper
5 oz. baby arugula
3 apples, peeled, cored and very thinly sliced
1/2 cup salted roasted pumpkin seeds
3 oz. fresh goat cheese, crumbled
sea salt

1. In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil with the lemon juice, honey and chopped thyme. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
2. In a large bowl, toss the arugula with the apple slices and pumpkin seeds. Add the dressing and toss well.
3. Top with the crumbled goat cheese, sprinkle lightly with sea salt and serve right away.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Potluck Recipe #43: Stuffed Dates

By Susan Pagani, Communications Director

Every year, around this time, Medjool dates turn up in the market. Huge and soft, they are the most lush of all dates, so honey-sweet it almost hurts. They are well nigh addictive.

There are about a million Medjool date recipes combining the delightfully chewy fruit with everything from peanut butter to bacon, citrus, ancho chilies and foie gras. However, I like them best with a little cheese and something salty to smooth out and counterbalance all that sweet goodness.

Take this little ditty to your next holiday party or potluck!

Stuffed Medjool Dates with Pistachios

(Serves 4 to 6)

1/4 cup goat cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup shelled, salted pistachios
1 tsp. of lemon zest
Fresh ground black pepper
16 Medjool dates

1. In a small bowl, mix together the cheeses, nuts and zest. Season with pepper. 
2. With a knife, make a lengthwise incision in each date. Gently open the dates slightly and remove the pits. 
3. Spoon about a 1/2 teaspoon of cheese mixture into each one. Close the dates around the filling. 
4. Arrange the stuffed dates on a platter and serve.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Season Extension at Open Farms: 14 Degrees Outside and 60 Degrees Inside

By Ben Penner, Farm Director

After a year of extreme temperatures -- extreme snow, extreme rain and extreme heat -- it was nice to have a mild fall. Up until recently the weather has been great for extending the growing season. At Open Farms, we’re still going growing nutritious vegetables in our hoop house, also known as a high-tunnel.

I built the hoop house myself from a partially donated previously used hoop house plus some old pipes, and lots of plastic and plywood. A hoop house is similar to a greenhouse with a few big differences. For example, a hoop house is usually powered exclusively by the sun with no additional heat source though some farmers may use supplemental heat to keep the plants alive during especially cold times of the year. In a hoop house plants are grown right in the soil floor of the structure whereas a greenhouse often utilizes a concrete floor.

As I write this the temperature in the hoop house is a balmy 60 degrees even though it is only 14 degrees and snowy outside. The temperature inside the hoop house is conducive to growing “early” green vegetables such as lettuce mix. We have several hundred feet of nourishing kale and salad mix – our third crop of greens this year -- getting ready for a harvest in a few weeks. As long as we continue to have sunshine and our nighttime (or daytime) temperature stay above zero, these vegetables should be heading to our kitchen sometime later this month.

Potluck Recipe #42: Focaccia Bread

By Susan Pagani, Communications Director

I learned to bake focaccia bread from a chef named Rosie in Portland, Oregon. We worked at a wonderful Italian deli that featured, along with amazing take-out food, a gourmet grocery, meat counter, pasta shop and a giant cookbook store. It was a fun place to work because we could use any of the resources in our cooking, which led to daily invention.

Rosie taught me an important lesson about baking bread: how to feel when the dough has had enough flour and kneading. Instead of giving me a recipe for the focaccia, she gave me the recipe for the sponge and then had me knead the flour in until the dough felt right. I'm no artisan baker, but that "feeling" for dough has stuck with me as I've learned to make more complex bread recipes -- with satisfying results -- at home.

In the recipe below, I've included the rough flour amounts. For one loaf, it's not really necessary to make a sponge. Rather than simply adding the two and a half cups called for in the recipe, add just enough to form a sturdy dough and then turn it onto a work surface dusted with flour. Then, knead in just as much flour as you need to achieve a dough that is dry -- not sticky -- and feels elastic and smooth in your hand, springing back when you press a thumb into it. By adding flour this way, you avoid creating an unworkable dough that is too dry or too wet.

If you do not enjoy olives, rosemary is also delicious.

Focaccia Bread 

Adapted from the Green's Cookbook

1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
pinch sugar
1/2 cup pitted black olives
2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour or a mixture of whole wheat and white
Coarse sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 450F.
2. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the salt, olive oil and sugar. When it is fully dissolved -- it should bubble a little -- stir in the olives.
3. Add in just enough flour to form a sturdy dough and turn it out onto a board dusted with flour. Knead for 5 to 8 minutes, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. When the dough is smooth and bounces back, form it into a ball and set it in a lightly oiled bowl. Turn it over once, cover and put it in a warm place to rise until it is doubled in bulk, about 30-40 minutes.
4. After the dough has risen, turn it out onto an oiled baking sheet or a peel and pat it out to about 1/2 inch thick. Cut a few slits in the top, brush with olive oil and sprinkle the top with sea salt. Let the dough rise for 20 minutes.
5. Bake the bread in the top third of the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown. (If you have a pizza stone, use it -- your crust will thank you.)
6. Remove from the pan immediately and serve or cool on a rack.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Potluck Recipe #41: Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Oh cranberry, cranberry, how do I love thee? From the brilliant blush of your ruby red cheeks to the puckering, sweet-tart taste of your berries, I love you the breadth of one cake pan and the height of my grammy's tarnished cake server.

Cranberry, you are sweet in granulated sugar and clover honey, but I love you best dressed in maple syrup and pie spices and seated, like the red queen, high atop a tender cake of marzipan and cornmeal.

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Based on an ancient Martha Stewart recipe

(serves 6 to 8)

12 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
2 3/4 cups fresh cranberries
9 tbsp. pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. all spice
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. yellow cornmeal, preferably coarse
1/4 cup almond paste
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. pure almond extract
1/2 cup milk

1. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan; set aside. In a large skillet, heat 6 tablespoons butter over medium heat until it sizzles. Add cranberries and cook until shiny, 2 to 3 minutes. Add maple syrup and cinnamon. Cook, stirring frequently, until cranberries soften but still hold their shape, about 5 minutes.
2. Remove cranberries with a slotted spoon and transfer to a baking sheet to cool slightly. Set skillet with syrup aside. Arrange cranberries in the prepared pan.
3. Return skillet with syrup to medium heat and cook until syrup boils, 3 to 4 minutes; do not overcook. Immediately pour syrup over cranberries and let cool, about 10 minutes.
4. Place rack in center of oven and heat to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Mix in cornmeal with a fork. Set aside.
5. Place remaining 6 tablespoons butter in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Crumble in almond paste and, using the paddle, beat on medium speed until well combined, about 30 seconds. Gradually add 3/4 cup sugar and beat until creamy. Add egg yolks and beat until well combined. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts. Add flour mixture alternately with milk in two batches. Set aside.
6. In a clean bowl, use the whisk attachment to beat egg whites until foamy. Slowly add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and beat until soft peaks form. Whisk a third of the whites into batter, then fold in remaining whites.
7. Spread batter over cranberries and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 2 hours before inverting onto a serving plate.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

SNAP Challenge: What we learned

By Susan Pagani

There must be a million love songs about the fact that you never really know what you've got until it's gone. It seems the same is true of food: Reading through the round-up of final thoughts on the SNAP Challenge, we have collectively experienced insight into both hunger and our own wealth, be it modest or vast. The comfort of knowing that food -- the right food, in the right amounts -- will be there when you reach for it is easy to take for granted if you never (or seldom) experience otherwise. As the song goes: how can I miss you if you won't go away?

Of course, we recognize that a single week of food insecurity doesn't provide complete insight into the lives of hungry Minnesotans, but it's a start. Looking back on the conversations we've all had this week, the SNAP Challenge has definitely been successful in raising awareness of that hunger.

We are so grateful to everyone who participated in the SNAP Challenge. A special thanks, too, to the folks who shared their thoughts here and their own blogs; you helped to keep the conversation lively and public. The Open Arms blog has so far received around 1,300 page views this week and that's something we can all feel proud of as we sit down to a turkey dinner tomorrow.

Here are some final thoughts from our SNAP Challenge participants:

"I think food justice is more than that. When I think about the role food plays in my own life -- and it's a big one -- I have to believe that when people don't have access to healthy, nutritious, good tasting food, the result isn't just poor physical well-being. It's emotional/social/psychological well-being. More simply, if people struggle to get enough food or the right food, how can they possibly be happy?" -- David Plante  Read more>>

"You can eat reasonably healthy food, BUT it doesn't taste of anything, and is time consuming, on a very limited budget the tasty stuff is high in fat, salt and other nasties." -- Martyn Crook

"Continuing on this plan would cause me to be at increased risk for heart disease, cancer, anemia, and a myriad of other diseases. ... Food insecurity is horrible ... I am more motivated than ever to help others survive with it in my professional life. " -- Gwenda Hill  Read more>>

"No matter where you come from, at the end of the day, food security is a human right." -- Ellen Klahn  Read more>>

"The SNAP Challenge was a humbling experience. Once I survived the first few days (who knew lack of Diet Coke could impact vision, hearing, and general irritability?) my body adjusted to the lower calorie intake. However, the main thing I noticed was the mental impact, and what I take for granted. When I'm thirsty, I grab a Diet Coke -- when I'm hungry, I go grab something to eat. I'm so blessed that I'm able to do that -- really makes me thankful for all I have this Thanksgiving." -- Ross Johnson

"I've never really been wasteful, but I was extra careful with food this week. I really focused on making the most of the food we had. Our refrigerator is pretty much empty right now. And portion control has been a huge takeaway from the challenge. When you can't go back for seconds, you really start paying attention to portions. Overeating just isn't possible!" -- Kent Linder

"Our SNAP Challenge experience ... has been a positive experience ... We both recognized how food has become a habit and how we don't always eat for nutritional purposes. We eat because we have an abundance of food around us, we eat because think we are hungry, we eat because we came home from work, it's morning, movie time or we're bored. This awareness of how the two of us eat, the amount of food we eat, how we view food, as well as how society views food has been the most rewarding part of the challenge. We like to eat, eating makes us feel good and we have to eat to survive. Also, food is a social activity ... We have become more aware of how food is a symbolic activity for us and our society, and how food affects society. Also, we have become more mindful of the choices we make." -- Mark Sauerbrey and Dennis Taylor  Read more>>

"A week later, we have several pounds lost between the two of us and entire evenings devoted exclusively to the preparation of food. When I was working two jobs, 70 hours a week and still lived on the constant precipice of not having enough food in the kitchen, this was a luxury I could never have afforded." -- Michelle Los  Read more>>

"Until this week, I didn't realize how much I've come to prioritize convenience in my food choices ... There certainly are cheap, convenient foods available, but not many cheap, convenient, healthy foods. I know there are plenty of people on SNAP who are busier than me working to make ends meet or caring for children. I'm not sure I'd choose to put in the extra time to find healthy food if I had to do this for more than a week." -- Elizabeth Polter  Read more>>

"I knew it would be a challenge -- and it was -- but I was actually surprised how far I could stretch the allowed amount by planning my meals and taking advantage of reduced price produce, bulk bins, sales, etc. It certainly wasn't easy, but it also wasn't as 'hard' as I thought it might be. I have worked with families and individuals using food stamps and food banks etc. around their nutrition and making their dollars truly count to get the most nutrition bang for their buck, so I was able to actually put my own advice to use this past week!" -- Courtney Blair

"Our Thanksgiving feast will be haunted by our neighbors who are on the SNAP program every week ... do they have a turkey and the fixings from a food shelf? Are they going to a congregate meal at a center or church? And what about tomorrow and the day after that?" -- Kay Mitchell  Read more>>

SNAP Challenge: Final Day

By Michelle Los

Of course, a week ago I had the best of intentions and planned to check in here on this blog far more often than I have, but the week seems to have gotten away from me.  In truth, my own personal blog hasn't received this much attention this week either.  This highlights my biggest take-away from the SNAP challenge – how much time and energy my self-imposed tight food budget requires.

This highlights one of the many privileges I have enjoyed this week that someone who was actually living in a food insecure reality might not have enjoyed – I have the time to prepare decent food.  Although it hasn’t been entirely healthy (I miss fresh vegetables), Peter and I sacrificed calories and convenience for nutrition and time.  A week later, we have several pounds lost between the two of us and entire evenings devoted exclusively to the preparation of food.  When I was working two jobs, 70 hours a week and still lived on the constant precipice of not having enough food in the kitchen, this was a luxury I could never have afforded.

Also on the list of privileges, a vehicle and money to put gas in the tank.  After seven days, Peter and I have visited 4 (four!) different grocery stores.  The bulk of our shopping was done at Aldi on Franklin Avenue, supplemented by a visit to the Quarry Rainbow.  Halfway through the week, we satisfied a serious sweets craving at Target (Central Ave, just south of I-694) with a very cheap box of generic brand cookies.  Finally, we picked up additional fresh fruit at Mike’s Discount Foods on University Avenue, way up north in Fridley. 

Mike’s is a bargain shopper’s dream – they sell food that is past its sell-by date for ridiculously low prices.  We picked up a few apples, a container of fresh blackberries, a pound of red grapes and a bottle of 100% juice for about $6.50.  But given that the store with the greatest selection is outside the city’s perimeter and the hours are fairly limited compared to a big box grocery store, it just wouldn’t be accessible for many people living on food stamps.  It’s also worth considering the fact that you do run additional risk buying food at Mike’s – you may end up wasting your money (I’ve had fresh fruit go bad in 24 hours before) or even make yourself sick (the food is past its date, after all).

Also high on the list of privileges was that I continued taking my prescription medicine all week.  I have asthma, which worsens when the weather gets colder.  A few years ago, I was prescribed Advair to reduce my dependence on a rescue inhaler.  It isn’t available as a generic and, even with health insurance, a three-month supply puts me back about $200.  Asthma is found at higher rates in lower-income populations (and there are many, many, many reasons why), but the medicine I take would be completely unfeasible (even just the co-pay, much less trying to purchase it without insurance) in tougher economic circumstances. 

To make matters worse, albuterol inhalers containing CFCs were removed from the market by the FDA (even though inhalers were only 0.01% of the US CFC output).  Naturally, the CFC-free inhaler is still not available as a generic.  My cost for an inhaler increased from $3 to $40.  Imagine the burden that would put on a lower-income family – potentially with no health insurance – and a child who couldn’t breathe.

So, at the end of this ramble – it is all interconnected.  Food insecurity leads to poorer health and reiterating the cycle of poverty.  You find yourself forced to make choices between nutritious food and food that will likely worsen your health – although it is unlikely you’ll be able to afford good medical care, should that happen.  It also eats away at your mental state – the constant concern about whether or not there will be enough food at the end of the week.  Although I could have easily broken the challenge and replaced it, I still found myself close to tears when I spilled the remainder of my half-gallon of milk all over the floor yesterday.  Then it struck me how much more scary it would have been if I had been planning to feed someone other than myself with that milk.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the year – and I’m making a point to be especially thankful for how fortunate I am as tomorrow approaches.

SNAP Challenge: It's time for a HAPPY Thanksgiving!

By David Plante

Today is the last full day of our SNAP challenge and I cannot wait for it to be over. In fact, this morning I cheated. I made a piece of toast with chunky peanut butter and blueberry preserves; I simply could not face another bowl of oatmeal. At that moment nothing could have made me happier.

And that gave me pause. It helped me remember that one of the things I love about being an adult with some disposable income is that if I have a craving for something, I can almost always satisfy it, with few exceptions.

The SNAP challenge has been an exercise in understanding food justice. Before I started it, I had already agreed wholeheartedly with the notion of food justice, and defined it quite simply as this: in a nation as rich as ours no one should go hungry.  Further, I assumed the net result of food injustice was poor nutrition and, ultimately, poor physical well-being. To be sure, I’m also aware that insecurity takes a toll on people’s overall health. 

But I think food justice is more than that. When I think about the role food plays in my own life—and it’s a big one—I have to believe that when people don’t have access to healthy, nutritious, good tasting food, the result isn’t just poor physical well-being. It’s emotional/social/psychological well-being. More simply, if people struggle to get enough food or the right food, how can they possibly be happy?

Some of the happiest moments of my life involve food. Some are simple, like always getting a bagel from Murray’s whenever I’m in NYC and being reminded of the first time Kent and I went to the city together. Some are comforting, like making one of my grandma’s recipes and feeling that somehow she’s still looking over my shoulder while I’m doing it.  Some are exciting, like exploring by meal every new city we visit, and feeling somehow more connected to the people that live there. And some are humbling, like being able to buy a hungry woman and her child groceries in Cape Town.

The SNAP challenge has made me realize that food justice is about much more than physical well-being. What if instead we measured success against injustice not only in terms of physical well-being but also some sort of measure of happiness?  How different would the world be?

Happy—and I really mean HAPPY—Thanksgiving! 

SNAP Challenge: Food revelations

By Mark Sauerbrey and Dennis Taylor

So we are one day away from finishing the SNAP challenge and we have to say it went quite well. Aside from spending more time and energy fretting, planning and strategizing before the challenge ever started, the challenge was very eye-opening about our habits of how we eat as a couple and as a society. I worried that Dennis was going to be grumpy because he would be hungry all the time and I worried that I, as a vegetarian, wasn't going to get enough protein to keep my energy levels up.

Another fear was going to the grocery store and what would our choices be. It was interesting to see how we strategized what we wanted, what we could afford and what we had coupons for. After two hours in the grocery store with coupons in hand, we still had to swap out can of beans for a bag of tortillas, exchange a smaller jar of peanut butter for a potato, and skip the milk for another dozen eggs. We ended up with a $1.78 left over for “emergency” supplies and splurged on coffee with the $5.00 off coupon for any purchase of $50.00 or more at Cub that week.

A little dread set in when we left the grocery store with three small bags of food and the thought of being hungry all the time. Then we both looked at each other and shrugged, "Ehh, we’ve both been poor before, had to skip a meal or two and learned how to stretch one meal into the next ... and not just during our college days." I remember on some Friday nights the kids asking what’s for dinner and my response would be LOSMTWT (leftover from Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday). We participated in the Fare Share program, gardened, canned and froze just about everything. Old and bruised fruit went in the freezer for smoothies and stale bread made for some great egg bakes (a recipe Abbey and I have perfected). Questionable yogurt went into the banana bread and all vegetable trimmings became vegetable broth. We both said we could do this and it would be okay.

We determined if we made a big pot of veggie soup, we could take the veggie trimmings and make broth for a bean soup the next day and that could be come chili at the end of the week. Chicken with rice became red beans and rice, which became breakfast burritos (see, putting that can of beans back on the shelf and getting more tortillas was a good choice). Carrots and mini shredded wheat have become snacks and -- who knew? -- Raisin Bran mixed well with yogurt. Frozen veggies are quite nice as roasted veggies and those left over went back into the soup or could have been an egg bake if we needed. Most days we started off with a hard-boiled egg, toast and cereal or yogurt and cereal. For lunch, we had soup, beans and rice or chili and for dinner we had chicken or beans, rice of some sort and veggies. Our meals have been simple, nutritious, hearty and plentiful. We are recycling one meal to create another, thus eliminating any and all waste.

So, Dennis and I are thinking, we must have done something wrong. We do realize and are grateful that we have the luxury of preparing our own meals. Because of our past hunger experiences, we know how to capitalize on a working stove and oven, ample refrigerator/freezer space, abundance of cooking utensils and the skill set to prepare the food. But we still have food left over in our pantry and refrigerator!

Honestly, we have put off blogging about our SNAP Challenge experience because this has been a positive experience for us and we didn’t want to come off as not truly understanding the challenge or coming only from a place of privilege.

We both recognized how food has become a habit and how we don’t always eat for nutritional purposes. We eat because we have an abundance of food around us, we eat because think we are hungry, we eat because we came home from work, it’s morning, movie time or we’re bored.

This awareness of how the two of us eat, the amount of food we eat, how we view food, as well as how society views food has been the most rewarding part of the challenge. We like to eat, eating makes us feel good and we have to eat to survive. Also, food is a social activity. We eat together, we share our meals with our family, friends and co-workers, and we share in the distribution of food to help those in need, parent to child, visitors or strangers. We have become more aware of how food is a symbolic activity for us and our society, and how food affects society. Also, we have become more mindful of the choices we make.

Awareness can be translated into mindfulness. Being mindful in one’s day-to-day life and maintaining as much calm as possible. Being mindful of one’s body, mindful of others and mindful of the connections between the nourishment we want and the nourishment we need. We now have a better understanding and are more mindful of how hunger affects our lives and the lives of those around us. Becoming mindful of all that food has to offer has been the best reward of this challenge. Now the challenge will be to remain mindful of all that we have to offer around food.

SNAP Challenge: A dietitian's challenge

By Gwenda Hill

I hate ramen noodles. They are squishy and salty and I don’t like them.

I ate ramen noodles on Monday and Tuesday for lunch. I saved more than half of the flavor packet to use on my beans/rice/veggies dinner the past two nights. I am grateful that all of my ramen is gone and that I am having a peanut butter sandwich and raw carrots for lunch today.

I am bored with the repetition of meals. I’ve had peanut butter toast and a glass of milk for breakfast each morning. I’ve had beans, rice and frozen vegetables for each dinner. I was fortunate to have one piece of fruit for a snack each afternoon. Those are decent meals that I might have from time to time on my normal diet, though they are not nearly as tasty or fun to prepare as something similar ... like jambalaya ... with andouille sausage. Yum.

My nutrient total averages for the three days: 1,450 calories, 60 g protein, 205 g carbohydrate, 21 g fiber, 43 g fat, 13.7 g saturated fat. I was about 500 calories short of my 1,950 calorie target to maintain my current weight. Every week of maintaining this caloric intake would equal to one pound of weight loss ... but please keep in mind that not all weight loss is healthy weight loss. I could stand to shed a few pounds, but I certainly would not do it by being so restrictive with my calories. But that’s another discussion...

I met, exceeded, or was close to meeting recommendations for: protein, carbohydrate, total fat, fiber, vitamin C (on the orange day), vitamin A, all B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium and calcium. I met the dairy and grain recommendations set forth by the USDA.

I also exceeded my sodium recommendations with an average of 2,800 mg each day, which is not a good thing. I did not add any salt to meals. It came purely from the packaged food that I ate.

I was short on: calories, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin C (on the banana days), iron, and potassium. I fell short on fruits, vegetables and meat/beans from the USDA recommendations.

Continuing on this plan would cause me to be at increased risk for heart disease, cancer, anemia, and a myriad of other diseases.

During this challenge, I have been surprised by how much I’ve thought about food. I am usually pretty good at not snacking at work. I have an emergency food drawer at work- peanut butter, rice cakes, raisins, and Triscuits- but I rarely dip into it. This week, I’ve been very tempted to eat “just one rice cake.” The reason I don’t think about food at work is that I usually start out my day with a bowl of Greek yogurt and Kashi Go Lean granola, which has lots of protein and fiber to keep me satisfied until my next meal. In the afternoon, I am treated to a variety of food from our very talented culinary team for lunch. At dinner, I am often spoiled with delicious food prepared by my husband, who is a wonderful cook. And I almost always meet the USDA dietary recommendations for the five food groups. I rarely have to think about food in the way that I’ve had to the past few days.

I thought that doing this challenge for only three days would not be enough time for me to get the point. I was REALLY wrong. I get it. Food insecurity is horrible. Food insecurity with an illness that has a diet associated with it is probably a lot worse. I’m glad I don’t have to be reminded of this everyday in my personal life ... but am more motivated than ever to help others survive with it in my professional life.

SNAP Challenge: Well...

By Ellen Klahn

 ... I failed this challenge because I essentially have no self-control when it comes to food. Add in two days of being sick, a really stressful work week, and lots of delicious food being cooked and eaten in my home by my roommates, and the temptation was just too much! Sadly, I made it for only one day without cheating (which is honestly really pathetic -- it's alright if you think that!). I snuck in extra produce, a martini, pumpkin bread from Open Arms, copious amounts of soup and bread that someone made for our house, some snacks at Butterball and a few bits of sweets here and there.

But, at the end of the day, me not taking the SNAP Challenge as seriously as I should have does not mean that I don't grasp the serious nature of food insecurity. According to the United Nations, a billion people face food insecurity everyday. Furthermore, high food prices and food price volatility are expected to continue in the years ahead, continuing to affect families in both high-income and low-income states.

This issue affects us all. Even if we ourselves have never known the true pangs of hunger, we should still care and still want to do something about it. No matter where you come from, at the end of the day, food security is a human right, defined as such in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family." That's something we should all stand behind.

SNAP Challenge: Thanksgiving

By Kay Mitchell

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and the end of the SNAP challenge for me and for my Open Arms friends. There is irony in ending a week of conscious food planning and scarcity with the most abundant holiday of the year.

As a part of the team that raises the dollars to create the meals that feed our clients, I value the ingredients that go together to bring nutrition and hope and comfort to those who need it, so Thanksgiving is filled with more conscious gratitude this year for me. I am thankful for the hundreds of turkeys and fixings that our clients will prepare and share with their families and friends, as well as the freshly prepared meals that we will be delivering to hundreds of clients who chose that option. I am truly thankful for all of the volunteers who swell our ranks daily, making it possible for us to prepare and deliver nutritious, delicious food to all seven counties in the Twin Cities area.

Thanksgiving is a warm family day focused on food and friends and comfort-- a little like every day at Open Arms aspires to be. Yet our Thanksgiving feast will be haunted by our neighbors who are on the SNAP program every week ... do they have a turkey and the fixings from a food shelf? Are they going to a congregate meal at a center or church? And what about tomorrow and the day after that?

Food justice is an issue that touches the heart as well as the stomach, and once you acknowledge that it exists around us everywhere, you have changed the way you see food forever.

SNAP Challenge: Time, Money and Convenience

By Elizabeth Polter

The SNAP challenge has made me think a lot about the tradeoff between time and money.

This semester is my first as a full-time student and full-time employee at Open Arms. While I’m definitely not the busiest person I know, my days are full. Until this week, I didn’t realize how much I’ve come to prioritize convenience in my food choices. Most of my meals lately have been individual servings of yogurt, string cheese, fruit, and food from restaurants around campus.

It wasn’t too difficult for me to plan a fairly complete and nutritious menu for the week, but I’ve been amazed at how much time it’s taken, from remembering to soak beans the night before, to waking up early to prepare breakfast and pack a lunch, to not having the neighborhood Chipotle to fall back on when I haven’t planned well enough for the day (yesterday I spent most of my 1:00 class staring wistfully at a cold, spoonless Tupperware of chili). There certainly are cheap, convenient foods available, but not many cheap, convenient, healthy foods.

I know there are plenty of people on SNAP who are busier than me working to make ends meet or caring for children. I’m not sure I’d choose to put in the extra time to find healthy food if I had to do this for more than a week.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

SNAP Challenge: That Stinks

About this time last year in my SNAP Challenge, around Day 6, I opted to eat less, rather than trying to swallow some truly unappetizing food. Last year, I struggled with eating a pound of ground turkey (.99 from Aldi’s) that I swear was part turkey and part sawdust. This year, I’ve been struggling with quick oats. After having my three-egg omelet, enhanced with canned green beans for my Day 6 dinner, the oatmeal looks good again.

I’ve had no vegetables during this SNAP Challenge. I bought the can of green beans because I could purchase it for .69 at Walgreens (with a coupon). When I opened the can and the kitchen filled with the aroma of the briny beans, I knew I had to do something to make my only vegetable of the week palatable. Having eggs left, I decided to toss some green beans in an omelet. Instead of making the green beans tastier, I made the eggs more disgusting. Fortunately, I had a crust of bread that I could toast and I had a half a can of syrupy fruit cocktail to enhance the entrée. When my partner walked into the dining room and looked at my dinner he said, “That stinks.” He meant that it literally smelled, which it did.

At this point, I’ve eaten my yogurt and have no peanut butter or cereal left. I have two slices of bread, one ounce of raisins, a pack of ramen noodles, a couple swallows of milk, some coffee, oatmeal and the remainder of my can of green beans. It’s plenty of food for my last day, but just like last year, I might opt to go hungry. Having just finished my green bean omelet, that sounds better than another meal with canned green beans.

Potluck Recipe #40: Quick Curried Chickpeas

In my search for SNAP Challenge-friendly recipes, I headed to Budget Bytes, a blog dedicated to eating well on a budget. With each post, writer Beth M. posts a recipe, a shopping list with a breakdown of prices and photos of the whole process. She shops conventionally, but I think her recipes and approach — plan your meals, cook from scratch, portion and freeze your leftovers -- translate well using organic ingredients. For two meals this week, I cooked up her Quick Curried Chickpeas. Preparing the recipe with organic ingredients cost me roughly $1.03 a meal -- fifty cents more than the conventional list she had quoted on her website, but still quite affordable.

A simplified version of the Indian dish Chana Masala, the dish is full of flavor, fiber and protein. This week, there was no cilantro in the budget, but I added some rainbow chard for color and nutrition. For those of you who eschew long-winded cooking projects at the end of the workday, this no-fuss curry requires only 10 minutes of hands-on time and a single pot.

You'll find the recipe for Quick Curried Chickpeas on the Budget Bytes website, along with dozens of others. Bon appétit! See the recipe>>

SNAP Challenge: Freedom

By Kay Mitchell

 If I had not acknowledged it before, the SNAP Challenge experience has made me keenly aware that I am a snacker, a grazer, a eat any time, any where kind of gal. Most of my meals are the size of snacks at least in comparison to the food volume that I used to eat before weight watchers informed my food choices.

 I generally eat more fruit and vegetables, nice raw crunchy fruits and vegetables than I could afford with my $30.25 budget. I did a good job of planning for protein -- both chicken and meatloaf made my weekly menu -- and I am using half of the meatloaf to add meatballs to pasta and marinara sauce tonight. I spent $1.99 on a ten lb bag of russet potatoes (Rainbow), and so far, I’ve baked potatoes and roasted them. I will mash a few on Wednesday evening…if I have enough milk left.

 So I have full moments everyday. I am thankful that I grew up in a big family and that my mother knew how to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the food. But I am tempted to overeat to fill my tummy and I definitely miss my snacks! I did buy crackers to eat with my can of soup at lunch (I know, more carbs) and I bought three clementines which I have eaten when I am desparate (they are long gone!). I bought a $1 bag of salad that I have divided into four meals. Obviously I have given this a lot of thought. I always give food a lot of thought (weight watchers again), but I usually don’t base my food choices on dollars.

I am selfishly happy that the SNAP Challenge is only for a week even though the food challenge is a forever one.

 Freedom to eat when I want, where I want and obviously what I want is a freedom that I have taken for granted for far too long. Like all freedoms, I am not free unless all individuals are free as well. This Thanksgiving I will give thanks for all the freedom I have and for the families and neighbors across the globe who deserve that freedom as well. May a few individuals in Minneapolis, who are conscious and aware, share that consciousness about food and justice and full tummies with the world through their thoughts and actions.

SNAP Challenge: A little bit of hunger and a lot of gratitude

By Jeanne Foels

Here’s how I’m viewing my week on the SNAP Challenge: I ended up with a weight loss diet. In my quest to plan an organic menu with enough nutrition (particularly protein, veggies and fruit), I didn’t focus enough on calories. My diet had lots of healthy things in it, but I would end up losing a pound or two every week if I stayed on it – hardly a sustainable proposition!

Taking the SNAP Challenge this week has made me thankful for many things. Thankful that I can afford NOT to obsessively plan my menu every week; thankful that I have the time, energy and knowledge at this point in my life to cook healthy meals for myself; thankful that I don’t have three kids and two jobs that would make eating well on a tight budget nearly impossible.

Most of all, it has made me thankful for Open Arms. Realizing just how much time, effort and money it takes to eat delicious, organic meals made me appreciate the work we do all the more.

Our clients may not have hours to plan out a week of nourishing meals. They might not have the energy to cook every night of the week. They may not have the knowledge or drive to make healthy choices for their illness. Add in financial strain, and the odds are stacked high against getting really good nutrition in the face of a life-threatening illness.

I’m thankful for the countless volunteers, donors and staff members who work hard to make sure these clients don’t have to worry about their diet while they’re facing the fear, stress, cost and loneliness of living with a serious illness. I’m grateful that we can ease their burdens and aid their health by reaching out with real, delicious, high-quality food. I’m thankful that we can tell them: We are here so you can focus on healing, not groceries.

Monday, November 21, 2011

SNAP Challenge: After all...this is America

By Samantha Nelson

Wow. What an experience this challenge has been so far. I have certainly been busy to say the least. With Thanksgiving on Thursday, my professors have deemed it necessary to cram in exams before everyone heads home for the holiday. As a result, my blogging has fallen by the wayside the past few days. I apologize. Organic Chemistry, Advanced Human Nutrition and Biochemistry have consumed my every waking hour.

So here is a quick recap of my week thus far:

I ventured out in the cold, snowy weather to buy my groceries at Festival Foods. Due to lack of time to head to the grocery store (from the endless hours of studying), I started my challenge on Saturday morning. I factored this into my budget calculations, resolving that I had approximately $21.65 to spend. With my phone in hand, calculator app up, I was ready to roll. I had the preconceived notion walking in that because I had a list and a budget, shopping would be easy. In all actuality I quickly became anxious about whether or not I was making the most nutritious decisions with every dollar.

As I weighed my food, calculated the price, put back a potato and started the process over again, I found myself wondering what the people around me were thinking. Were they judging me? I most certainly got some interesting looks. Come to think of it, I can't remember the last time I actually saw someone use the scale in the produce aisle. I suppose I would give myself a strange look as well.

My anxiety hit its peak when I ventured down the coffee aisle. With the potent aroma of the fragrant whole beans, I knew I simply had to make room in my budget. After all, how am I supposed to pull all-nighters without a little caffeine? So out went two packets of ramen and in went one sample size of vanilla hazelnut blend coffee. It certainly isn't Starbucks, but I have no complaints. Coffee is coffee.

I headed for the checkout and, $20.77 later, I had my food for the next 5 days. I was on my way home, relieved to be out of the store, to make my muffin and coffee for the morning. Oh yeah, with one more minor pit stop along the way. My boyfriend, Troy, put in a request for Chipotle, you know, since I would be out and about. So after the adventure of debating whether to buy one green pepper or two, I picked him up a chicken burrito bowl. $8.00 was spent on one meal, for one day. After spending $20.77 on 5 days, 15 meals, I was floored. I felt a bit ashamed at how often I, without thought, have dropped $8.00 on a single meal.

"The Spread"

Array of coffee choices

With two exams down and one to go, my body is begging me for rest. This got me thinking how those on SNAP can thrive at school and work on such little food. My biggest worry going into this week was how a reduced intake of energy and nutrients would effect my school work. As I mentioned in my first post, I have never known hunger. Not truly at least. And while I am still consuming enough energy to get me through the day, anything beyond that has become a strain. I wake up and go to bed with my stomach hurting, a feeling that is certainly not conducive to studying. I have had a total of about four hours of sleep the past two nights, something that in and of itself is not healthy, but when combined with the challenge has left me completely run down.

While walking in between classes this morning, I turned to Troy and said, "For the first time I can honestly say I am hungry. I am really hungry. All I have been thinking about is food and right now nothing else matters." He looked a bit surprised and replied that this was first time he had ever heard me crave food, and not in a 'Gosh, a Potbelly sandwich sure sounds good right now' kind of way, but rather in a 'I would seriously eat anything you put in front of me right now' kind of way. Talk about an eye-opening moment. So this is what hunger feels like. I slightly feared this moment going into the challenge. I was afraid to be hungry. I was afraid that it would make me vulnerable.

In the midst of my day, focused on food rather than Organic Chemistry, I thought back to the research I had done for this SNAP Challenge. In my quest to find information on challenges other organizations had done, I came across the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge. Four brave Congressmen took the week long challenge, and much like ours, tracked their experience through blogging. While it was interesting to read their daily tales, the powerful response comments posted by those living on SNAP truly captured my attention. One man posted that he would often go several days with out food to ensure that his children had something to eat. He proclaimed that their allotted amount just was not enough to make ends meet so he made necessary sacrifices. He was a proud man and felt ashamed that it had come to this. I am sure to this man, the decision to give up his food was one that required little to no thought. He was protecting the ones he loved. For me this SNAP challenge is about bringing to light the fact that millions of Americans are making sacrifices, much like this man, every day. In comparison, I have been hungry for a blink of the eye. I can not fathom living a life where hunger is the only reality.

This is the United States of America. The land of opportunity. Where we have the freedom to pursue our dreams, express ourselves freely and prosper through hard work and commitment. These are just a few fundamental freedoms we have as citizens, and just part of what attracts so many to our land. Yet my question is this: How are we to prosper if we lack the basic necessity of life, nutritious food? How can that man successfully provide for his family if he himself goes without? The United States, the most powerful country in the world, is in a food crisis. And what many fail to realize is that it is in our own backyard.

If there is one thing I have realized thus far from the challenge, it is how truly blessed I am. My family has always provided a loving and safe environment for me to grow and prosper. It is because of my Mom and Dad that I have never experienced hunger. I have never had to live without. I have never had to worry or be afraid. Not all Americans can say that. And for that I am humbled and thankful.

SNAP Challenge: Worried about food

By Susan Pagani

As a food writer, I spend a healthy portion of my days thinking about what I will eat and drink next -- but not worrying about it. These last few days have been an eye-opening lesson in food anxiety and the scrimping that results.

On Friday, I worried that I would make a mistake with the honey wheat bread recipe and ruin all that beautiful flour. And then, of course, what would I do for food? Once baked, I worried about cutting the slices too thick and running out before I'd made all my lunches and snacks.

On Saturday, I was worried about feeling hungry whilst working the Butterball Party -- a fund-raising party of which we are the beneficiary -- so I held my lunch until late afternoon and took dinner with me. Once at the party, I was determined not to eat my dinner because I knew we'd get out late and I was worried about trying to fall asleep at two o'clock in the morning on a grumbling stomach. On Sunday, I was exhausted from said party and drank several cups of my tea, worrying all the while -- would I regret it at the end of the week? -- but feeling my resolve to portion dissipate with every warm cup.

These past four days, I have been so parsimonious with my raisins that today I was able to put a heaping quarter cup on my cereal, no longer worried about the wee bag lasting seven days. The substantial feeling of chewing and chewing and chewing up all those raisins was as fleeting as their sweetness but wonderful.

But for all that worry, have I been hungry? Yes and no. I certainly haven't been starving, but I have felt the kind of nagging hunger that makes it hard to focus on work and easy to obsess about food. I'm eating really good food, but not quite enough of it. I've also made some poor choices in my shopping that have contributed to my hunger. For example, the bread was lovely and tasted delicious, but it didn't provide a lot of protein, and I couldn't afford spreadable or sliceable proteins to put on it -- or even fat, for that matter. So, an hour or two later, I'm thinking about food again.

However, I was able to take a loaf of the bread to a brunch with friends. I felt good setting it on the table with the other food -- a bowl of apples, a sun-dried tomato frittata (12 eggs, 4 people, the luxury!), butter and endless cups of coffee. For a seven-day food justice experiment, the choice to eat a few lean meals in order to have food to take to a potluck is an easy one. Long term, I know I'd have to swap that loaf of bread for a bag of beans or a cup of peanut butter. Yet, without the bread, would I feel comfortable going to a friend's house for a meal with nothing to contribute?

Later this week, I'll be sharing the Thanksgiving meal with some very dear friends. I am so thankful, not only for all the delicious food I will eat, but also for the food I will be able to share with peace of mind, not worrying about portions or where my next meal is going to come from.

SNAP Challenge: I'm SNAPing.

By Gwenda Hill

I’m SNAPing. And I’m only four days late. To be fair, I adjusted my allowance to $12.96 for 3 days ($30.25/7= $4.32 per day * 3 days= $12.96). My grocery list from CUB is below- just four cents short of the max.

2 bananas $0.44
2 bags ramen noodles $0.50
1 orange $0.71
2-15 oz can black beans $1.94
1 lb carrots $0.99
Dollar Aisle peanut butter $1.00
1 bag frozen mixed vegetables $1.69
24 oz bread $1.69
14 oz instant rice $1.77
½ gallon skim milk $2.19
Total $12.92

Shopping wasn’t too difficult for me, as I’ve been preparing for this challenge for the past few weeks and have put together and reviewed multiple different meal plans. The difficult part is why I didn’t participate the first four days.

On 11/11/11, my grandpa passed away. He was ill and passing was expected, but it was still emotional and difficult to accept. In the days leading up to the funeral, all of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and brothers from all over the country came to our hometown. The last time we were all together was in 2007 at grandpa’s home for our then annual Christmas Eve celebration. It was heartwarming to see everyone again.

There are two things that happen when the Gazdiks get together. 1) We eat. We make lots of yummy food and we eat. 2) We celebrate almost every occasion with a drink (or two...). That’s how my grandparents did it, and we continue to uphold the tradition. When I found out the funeral was on the Friday of the SNAP challenge, I thought I would still participate. However, as soon as I got to my mom’s home, she offered to take me and my brother out for pizza (which, by the way, is NOT a vegetable). At that moment, I knew there was no way I would be able to keep true to the SNAP challenge and refuse all the yummy food I knew was coming over the course of the weekend. I decided to forget about participating until Monday, but still thought about food insecurity over the weekend.

I am fortunate- I come from a family with aunts and uncles who spoil all of the nieces and nephews with food and drink. Even though I’m just shy of 30 and have a great job, my relatives insist on paying for everything when we’re out together. I only spent about $10.00 on food in the past five days (for 1 burger), and I still ate like a queen the entire time. I know they would treat me the same regardless of my financial situation and it’s comforting to know that if I am ever in a pinch, I have a family who finds joy in supporting its relatives.

Though I had an abundance of food at my fingertips, I know there are families who either can’t or don’t want to support their relatives. I wondered how my weekend would be different in that case. Would we have hosted an open luncheon for ~200 people in the community after the service? Would mom have had all of the ingredients for the baked goods we prepared for the luncheon? Would we have gone out to eat multiple times over the weekend? Would mom have been willing to buy all of the ingredients to prepare breakfasts and dinners each day? Would my cousins and I have congregated at the local taverns every night? I’m guessing not. I’ve become accustomed to having food and drink at the heart of most of my social activities. The thought of not being able to have the experiences I did this weekend due to financial constraints saddens me. What I did, how I ate, and what I drank would have been vastly different if I were a SNAP recipient. The analysis of the past weekend opened my eyes and reminded me not to take the experiences I had, and will have, for granted.

With a shot of Brandy, we send grandpa on his way. And we are all reminded of how lucky we are to belong to such a loving and fortunate family.

SNAP Challenge: Thinking about Nourishing Food

By Ben Penner

Today is Day 5 of the SNAP Challenge.  As Open Farms Director at Open Arms of Minnesota I grow organic vegetables for the Open Arms Kitchen.  Along with many of my co-workers and friends at Open Arms we’re taking part in this year’s SNAP Challenge.  As part of the challenge my wife and I are both eating on $30.25 apiece for the week leading up to Thanksgiving Day.  We’re both following a meal plan (with a few modifications) constructed by the Gwen Hill, Open Arms' Dietician.

The first few days were the hardest as I got used to rationing everything.  Truth be told I don’t think I would get along on $30.25 for very long or very well. But a funny thing happened along the way.  I am not that hungry on this menu though as a farmer I can’t help but notice that the fresh vegetables consist mainly of a carrot and an orange here and there. I suspect that I’m not hungry because I substituted the chicken on the menu with a 20 lb. turkey at the local grocery store that went for about $12. That’s a whole lot of meat.  Though I’m already getting tired of turkey sandwiches and turkey everything at nearly every meal I think I’ll actually make it.

The point of the challenge, however isn’t only to see how creative you can get about your shopping dollars and then brag about it.  I’ve noticed something happening to me during the challenge.  Though I grew up for a time on Food Stamps and free and reduced lunches at school, I recently haven't thought much about  my own ability to pay for good food.  But for many too many people eating good food consistently is anything but normal.  Now I realize – again – that the struggle to access and pay for good, nourishing food week in and week out is often the reality of life.  At Open Arms and at Open Farms we’re joining the conversation about Food Justice this Thanksgiving week and every week.  I hope you’ll join us.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

SNAP Challenge: Food Justice

The following are comments from talks I gave at St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis on Sunday, November 20.

I came to my work for very personal reasons.

I needed to try to make sense of the AIDS crisis. I had watched my friends get diagnosed with this new disease in the 1980s and saw how they lost their jobs, and their homes, and filed for bankruptcy, and became estranged from their families and were sometimes condemned by their faith communities.

For the world to make sense to me, something good had to come from HIV/AIDS.

One of the good things was Open Arms where I got to see – every day – how a community can come together to show true compassion by making sure people who were living with HIV/AIDS had nutritious food to eat and weren’t forgotten.

One of the good things that has come from the AIDS pandemic is our work in Africa which began with a trip to Cape Town in 2000 and where, ever since, Open Arms has assisted efforts to feed people living with HIV/AIDS in Guguletu.

Another good thing that has come from this is Open Arms’ decision to serve people living with other chronic and progressive diseases. We realized if nutritious meals were important for people with HIV/AIDS, it was just as important for people confronting cancer, or MS or ALS.

And then we got to thinking about the food itself. If healthy, organic, locally sourced food was important for those of us with the resources to purchase it, wasn’t it just as important – maybe even more important – that our clients facing disease eat those same healthy foods? And we started spending a lot more money on food – working with local farmers and even growing our own produce on two acres of certified organic farmland in Belle Plaine, to make sure people who are ill in the Twin Cities have the healthiest food possible.

Eventually, what I realized, is that our work at Open Arms wasn’t really about making something good come from a terrible disease – it was about justice. Specifically, it’s about food justice. It’s about the right food, in the right amount, for everyone, for healthy living. It’s about making sure that someone with AIDS, or cancer, or someone who is poor, or elderly, or a shut-in, or is young, doesn’t go hungry.

But it’s not enough to just fill the stomach with empty calories. It’s not enough, when some group announces a food drive, to pull the dustiest, dented can of food from your shelf and put it in a food bin and feel good about feeding the hungry. It’s not enough to be shopping at a grocery store and buy the least expensive item you can and give that to a food shelf.

Our response to hunger in this country is perpetuating obesity and diabetes and heart disease and cancer. We see it every day at Open Arms. We are not engaged in a health care debate in this country, we are having a debate over how we pay for sickness and disease. If we truly care about health, we would strive to make sure that everyone – everyone – whether, as Hubert Humphrey once said, they are “in the dawn of life, the children; the twilight of life, the aged; or the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped,” have access to the same kinds of food – fruits, vegetables, protein; locally grown, organic, sustainable – that those of us with resources eat ourselves and that we share with our families.

This is the second year that Open Arms has encouraged people to take the SNAP Challenge. SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly known as food stamps. We ask the community to join us for a week or even a few days, and live on what an average food stamp recipient in the state of Minnesota would receive – about $4.30 a day. Our weeklong SNAP Challenge began last Thursday and will conclude on Thanksgiving.

Wanting to acknowledge that some people on SNAP might not have a grocery store in their neighborhood or might lack transportation to a grocery store, this year I did all of my grocery shopping for the week at my nearest convenience store – Walgreens. Here’s a typical day of meals for me this week: Breakfast – oatmeal, milk, coffee; Lunch – a peanut butter sandwich; Dinner – Ramen noodles; and for a Snack – one ounce of raisins. You notice what is missing from my diet this week – fresh vegetables, fruit and healthy sources of protein. And those items are missing from my diet because they aren’t readily available at convenience stores and they are more expensive than processed foods.

For Open Arms, the SNAP Challenge is an opportunity to raise awareness of the record number of people in this country who are food insecure. For me, it’s a choice I make one week a year to live on food stamps. For the 46 million Americans who receive SNAP assistance, including the 583,000 Minnesotans who don’t always know where their next meal is coming from, this is all too real.

There is not a more basic justice issue than food. Christ knew it. In Matthew, he said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food.” But if Christ were here today, and he saw what we eat and especially what the poor, and the young, and the elderly, and the sick and the needy and the handicapped, eat in this country, I think he would ask for a rewrite. I think Christ would say, “For I was hungry and you gave me nutritious food.”

I came to Open Arms because I believed then, and I still believe, that HIV/AIDS is a defining issue of our time. I’m going to San Francisco, not because I believe the battle has been won, but because I believe we can take all of what we have learned in 30 years of the AIDS pandemic and use that knowledge and experience to be part of an even broader movement – a food justice movement which could actually prevent people from ever needing the services of organizations like Open Arms in the first place.

If we are successful in that endeavor, this would end up being a really good thing that has come from a terrible disease, HIV/AIDS.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

SNAP Challenge: What if Christ Lived on Food Stamps?

This is a posting from my "Your Voices" blog for the Minneapolis StarTribune.

This year, like last year, I’m living on food stamps for the seven days before Thanksgiving. It’s a good way to draw attention to the increasing rates of food insecurity in the country and in Minnesota. More than that, it’s an annual reminder for me of just how fortunate I am that for 51 weeks of the year, I don’t have to think about where my next meal might come from and how much money I have to spend on food.

The challenge of having to stretch every dollar to buy as much food, and as much nutritious food as possible, is nothing compared to some of the criticism those of us who take the food stamp challenge receive.

A number of my friends and co-workers are also living on $30.25, the average amount that a Minnesotan might receive in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) support, for one week. You might think that no one would be upset by this activity, but you would be wrong.

There are those in our community who live in a Reaganesque world where no American goes to bed hungry at night. (They are probably the same ones who support the decision this week defining pizza tomato sauce as a vegetable for the school lunch program.) They tell us that people just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a job. The assumption, of course, is that everyone has bootstraps. And we all now how easy it is to get a job these days. These critics live in a land of plenty where food shelves are overflowing with food and government programs, like SNAP and WIC, just encourage laziness. 

Some of these critics, in the course of a conversation or an e-mail exchange, identify themselves as Christians. While I don’t doubt their devotion to their faith, I realize we sit in different pews.

I’ve always understood the verse in Matthew, “For I was hungry and you gave me food,” to mean just that – that Christians are called to feed the hungry. Just in case we miss the message, when the righteous question Christ as to when he was hungry, he responds by saying, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

All I can say is, it’s a good thing Christ wasn’t living on food stamps. He would have been disappointed in some of his followers.

Friday, November 18, 2011

SNAP Challenge: Nice! Raisins

I had never shopped at Walgreens for groceries before this SNAP Challenge. Who knew that there was a food product line distributed by Walgreens called Nice! I bought the Nice! brand of quick oats (cooks in about one minute), as well as the Nice! brand of creamy peanut butter and Nice! raisins. Of all the items on my week’s menu, these are some of the healthiest foods I will be eating, though not necessarily my favorites.

I ate too much oatmeal as a kid – not the yummy steel cut oats that I spend an hour making on Sunday mornings in the winter – but the cooks in three minutes on the stovetop kind that glops into a bowl when served. As a teenager, I vowed to never eat oatmeal as an adult, and I didn’t until I discovered steel cut oats. Now, with this SNAP Challenge, I’m back to eating the kind of oatmeal I detest. With each spoonful, I make the same yucky face that I did when I was a boy. Still, it’s filling.

Walgreens Nice! peanut butter, on the other hand, is creamy and delicious. I had been eating it by the spoonful the past two days, until I looked at the nutrition facts and realized that every tablespoon is 100 calories. I guess that’s why we normally don’t have peanut butter in the house.

I’ve never cared for raisins. As a rule, I don’t like things that can’t decide what they are – like the month of April. April doesn’t know if it’s winter or spring. And raisins can’t decide if they are more like a grape than a prune. Who needs that? Well, actually, for the next six days, I probably do. About 4:00 in the afternoon, my one-ounce serving of Nice! raisins looks pretty nice. And they taste pretty good, too.

Re-living the SNAP challenge decades later

By David Plante

Today is Day 2 of our SNAP challenge. I will admit that I was reluctant to participate in the challenge, not because I was afraid of it, but because I lived it when I was a kid. My family survived during much of my childhood because of the safety net in place—including food stamps--for families like ours: six kids (five of them growing boys), mom had her hands too full and, because of the late 70s/early 80s economy, my dad was underemployed.

But my experience with the challenge thus far is so very different than it was then. At the time I never knew we weren’t rich. I thought every family ate the same thing for dinner night after night. I knew that we received reduced-priced lunches, but never thought twice about it—we were one of many families in my northern Minnesota hometown living the same way.

My experience with the challenge thus far is just how desperate it makes me feel, a feeling my parents shielded me from growing up. I miss running to Starbucks and grab a latte, especially when everyone around me worships the coffee cup in their hand as if it’s magic potion. I’ve never appreciated more the fact that we don’t pay particular attention to how much we spend on groceries, or worry about running out of something because there’s always more at a store five minutes away.

I’m not especially hungry at the end of the day, but I am completely bored with what I’ve ingested. Today’s lunch was rice & beans, the third time I’ve eaten this meal in 26 hours. Make no mistake, I am grateful for every meal. I am grateful that I have the luxury of being bored with what I’m eating. I know in less than a week I’ll be done with this challenge, but for so many—including families just like the one I grew up in—the challenge doesn’t end.

I’ve often thought about what my parents went through to keep us fed and clothed, and maintain a roof over our head. What I hadn’t thought about was how desperate and frightened they must have felt, wondering if they could make it each month, and how courageous they were as they sheltered us, mostly, from all of that fear and insecurity. I can only imagine how difficult it is decades later for families in a world that is seemingly so much harsher.

SNAP Challenge: 1003 Tasty Calories

By Susan Pagani

Like Jeanne, I opted to shop co-op style for my challenge.  Seward Co-op is within walking distance of my house and offers a pretty good selection of bulk items -- spices, tea, legumes, flours, oils, sweetners, eggs etc. -- which, taken in tiny increments, helped me stock up for the seven day challenge. They also, I was surprised to find, offer small amounts of meat, so that I was able to buy a meal's worth of free-range, local pork! In the end, my bill was 40% local. Here it is:

Pork stir fry $2.38
4 eggs $1.00
Whole wheat flour $1.39
Rainbow chard $2.49
Spinach bulk $1.14
White flour $3.15
Safflower oil $1.00
Carrots $2.49
Lemon $ .75
2 Apples $2.15
Sea salt $.15
Raisins $.93
Chili pepper $.21
Pepper $.16
1 potato $.74
Garlic $.24
Honey $1.34
Split peas $.74
Onion $.81
Short brown rice $1.74
Bakers yeast $.34
Hot cereal $1.99
Garbanzo beans $1.06
Irish breakfast tea $1.47

Total: $29.86

I am fortunate to have worked as a cook, a baker and a food writer, and this strong interest in food has given me a good knowledge of how to buy food and prepare it. In addition, my family received food stamp benefits when I was a kid, and my folks did their best to put healthy food on the table by cooking from scratch. Back then we ate a lot of beans -- and this week I budgeted for lots of beans.

Thinking back on my mom's wheat bread, I also spent quite a bit of my budget on flour. From the five pounds of flour, I plan to make at least two loaves of bread. The first loaf of bread is for me -- I love toast! -- and the second is to take to a potluck brunch this weekend. I had to sacrifice peanut butter and tomatoes for this flour, but it will be worth it to share a warm meal with friends -- or so I tell myself now! I will also use the flour to make four generous servings of homemade pasta.

Yesterday, I ate Linda Watson's Ready Up Rice & Lentils for breakfast and lunch. I had to use considerably less rice and lentils, less salt and none of the syrup or tahini, so it was not as tasty or filling as she intended, but it did the trick. I made it to the next meal without eating my coworkers. I did, however, note that a single bowl of lentils goes down in a flash. I found myself looking about for more food. There wasn't anything.

At dinner time, I was hungry and tired. Cook? Meh. However, beyond the oatmeal I needed for breakfast, I had nothing that was ready to eat. If I had to sustain this budget for weeks, months, a year, would I continue to roll out noodles after work? Not sure.

But last night I bucked up and made myself some homemade noodles in safflower oil, garlic, onion and red pepper flakes, with a side of carrrots. I wished for a little Parmesan cheese, but the delicate noodles were still delicious. Red pepper makes everything better.

All in all, I enjoyed every meal. I was, however, a wee bit hungry at bed time and even more so this morning. I put all the food I had eaten in a food diary database -- 1003 calories. In consideration of my height and weight, and a run earlier in the day, that's not enough. The database told me I'd lose 1.8 pounds a week if I continue to eat a 1003-calorie-a-day diet, and admonished me with this message: Too few calories.  Consuming too few calories can decrease your metabolism.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

SNAP Challenge: Wrapping up day one

By Michelle Los

It's almost 9pm and the sun set a long time ago here in Minnesota.

The first day of the SNAP challenge is almost done. I'm glad to have the first day behind me - the anticipation, nerves and build-up are all past and now it's just about focusing on the reasons I'm doing this and opening myself up to the lessons it has to teach.

My partner, Peter, and I are doing this challenge together, so our shopping budget was $55.51. We headed to Aldi and Rainbow to stock up - you can see what we were able to bring home by checking out the YouTube video here. We've still got about $8 left in our budget, but we're planning on using that half-way through the week to pick up some fresh produce.

Truth be told, when I first heard that the budget for a single person was $30.25 a week, I didn't think that was so terribly bad - my budget for a month of groceries is about $125-$150 (for myself).

Then I realized that I eat out. A lot. Once that hit me, I knew that living on a SNAP budget was going to be a great deal tougher than originally anticipated.

This morning we started the day with a serving of oatmeal and a cup of instant coffee. I added a portion of applesauce to my oatmeal to sweeten it, but I noticed right away that I'll have to cut that to a half portion if it is going to last an entire week.

Lunch was beans and rice with a couple of corn tortillas. Dinner was tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich, with pineapple for dessert (a very special treat, as the only reason we were able to afford this was because it was 50% off).

All in all, I'm a little bit hungrier that I usually would be at the end of the day, but it wasn't terrible. My biggest concern is that I may have greatly overestimated how long I will be able to stretch some of the things I purchased. Essentially, I suppose, I'm worried about finding myself eating unsweetened oatmeal by the end of the week. But...more on the privileges I bring to this challenge in a later post.

SNAP Challenge: Shopping Organic

By Jeanne Foels

I chose to take a different focus for my SNAP Challenge: to spend my $30.25 at my local co-op, purchasing only organic items.

This approach may sound a little bourgeoisie. Our knee-jerk reaction is to label co-ops and organic food as accessible only to those with wealth, certainly not the province of the typical SNAP user.

I believe, however, that food is a social justice issue, and organic food – food raised without the use of chemicals – should be accessible to everyone. It’s better for each of us (avoiding ingesting chemicals that could have adverse effects on our health) and it’s better for all of us (protecting our environment, both flora and fauna, from chemical harm).

So I set out to see just how feasible it is to eat organic on a limited budget. And good news: My shopping trip was successful!

I headed to the Wedge Co-op, which is less than a mile from my house, with $30.25 to spend. Thanks to the bulk aisle and some great sale items, I left with enough organic groceries to feed myself for a week – with a few dollars to spare!

I’ll be eating a simple, vegetarian diet with good amounts of protein, whole grains and veggies. My caloric intake for the week will probably be lower than what I’m used to, but it will be good to reassess my typical portion sizes. I’ll hopefully have a full nutritional analysis of my diet before the end of the week.

Disclaimer: There are many, many privileges built into my challenge. Just to name a few: I live near a co-op, I feel comfortable shopping there, I know how to navigate the bulk aisle; I know how to purchase and use whole produce, I feel knowledgeable and comfortable enough to cook, I have a kitchen equipped with necessary tools to cook from scratch, I have the time to plan and cook from scratch; I enjoy eating fresh, whole foods, I do not have food allergies or diet restrictions. I don’t want to minimize these obstacles, because they definitely play a huge part in how people feed themselves.

I realize that organic food can be a hot-button issue, so I look forward to the conversations that might come up this week! I think robust discussion of our food system is a good thing, no matter how you feel about certain issues.

SNAP Challenge: Shopping at Walgreens

By Kevin Winge

Day one of my second annual SNAP Challenge is off to a good start. Knowing that some SNAP recipients have transportation issues, this year I’m shopping for all of my food at my nearest convenience store – Walgreens. My SNAP week is off to a good start, not because of the kind of food I was able to purchase at Walgreens, but because – with careful shopping and coupon clipping – I was able to really stretch my $30.25.

Open Arms’ registered dietitian did a great job of creating a Walgreens menu. What she didn’t know, however, is that many of the items on my menu would be on sale this week. For example, a gallon of skim milk was $2.99 instead of $3.49. Although I really dislike canned green beans, and probably haven’t eaten any since elementary school back when Lyndon Johnson was President, I was excited to see that a single can was only .69 with a coupon compared to its usual price of $1.79.

The bottom line is that I spent $8.09 less than I thought I was going to. That meant I could splurge on a box of Grape Nuts cereal and still have $5.30 remaining in my budget for the week. I’m holding off until Walgreens coupons come out next Sunday to see what else I might buy for later in the week.

Here’s my grocery list so far:

Ramen Noodles (6 pack) - $1.89
Coffee - $3.99 on sale (not food, I know, but I gotta have it)
Gallon of Milk - $2.99 on sale
Dozen Eggs - $1.89
Wheat Bread - .99 on sale
Yogurt - .69
Oatmeal - $2.59
Peanut Butter - $2.99
Can of Green Beans - .69 with coupon
Can of Fruit Salad - $2.19
Raisins (1 oz. 6 pack) - $1.00
Grape Nuts Cereal - $2.79 on sale

Now it’s time to enjoy my first SNAP breakfast: a cup of coffee, 8 ounces of milk and one cup of oatmeal.