Repairing the World

repairingtheworld

 

Every day this summer I entered and exited these same double doors to the full-production kitchen at the Lowcountry Food Bank in Charleston, SC. Inside these doors is a kitchen full of volunteers, one head Chef, and one part-time foodservice employee working to produce roughly 7,000 meals a week to feed every one of the counties that make up the “lowcountry” of South Carolina. The meals produced out of this kitchen fall under many different government programs, may be part of a current pilot project, are made by the hands of volunteers, high-schoolers hoping to start their culinary career, dietetic interns, culinary interns and are funded by too many grants to name in one sitting. It’s chaos really, if you think about it, but somehow it all works.

 

I’ll admit that the phrase “repairing the world” above the kitchen entrance didn’t catch much of my attention when I started at the food bank, but now it is a daily phrase that runs through my head. I didn’t truly understand what it meant until I knew more about how the kitchen came to be. This kitchen was funded only a few years ago by philanthropist and business woman Anita Zucker. “tikkum olam” directly translates from Hebrew to “repair of the world.” Thus, we get our English phrase.

After some research, I found that Zucker and her husband were both of strong Jewish descent- Anita was the child of Holocaust survivors!-  and that they both led a life of sharing their wealth with worthy causes. “Repairing the world” or “tikkum olam” calls one to act for social justice.

As the summer went on, my eyes were open wider to just how our world and its systems are broken. Our food system is broken. All people do not have equal access to food. All people do not have equal access to food. Adequate nutrition cannot be met by all. All people do not enjoy the experience of cooking or eating. Families have to rely on government programs for sustenance. Not everyone has transportation. Health is not a priority, even if it was, it is SO hard to achieve for SO many. I could go on. It’s just not fair. Things are broken. 

We recognize that something is going wrong in our food system and with our people and that even our most vulnerable populations (children, seniors) aren’t getting the food they need to live happy and healthy lives. There’s a human instinct we have to act and pull our forces together for good if we see another hurting/struggling. That’s exactly what the role of a food bank has taken on.

At some point while working at the food bank, I looked outside of my situation and saw the food bank for what it was or what it seemed like to me. I began to see other social justice organizations in the same metaphorical way.

Imagine a huge anthill, filled with thousands of ants, all hurriedly working together to achieve a common goal. Scrambling actually. Employees of these social service agencies like the food bank are like ants. Working together to fix something broken, solve problems, feed people right and left, make community partners, thinking of new and creative projects, fundraising, using their resources, and communicating with others and one another all to achieve a common goal. The scrambling of people and resources is the exact picture I had in my head. A little hectic.

I came to understand that this kitchen was doing more than allowing people to cook meals, but it was a tool in repairing our broken world. This kitchen allows this organization to serve healthy, balanced lunches to kids every day who might not have eaten a single fresh fruit or vegetable that day. THAT is important. This kitchen allows volunteers and retirees to do good with their free time. THAT is important. It employs people and stimulates the economy, also very important. It allows employees to have a meaningful and self-fulfilling career; one that they feel good doing.

The food bank and other organizations like it truly are “repairing the world” but they must be challenged to go about that repair smarter. We must get to the root of problems like food insecurity and address and break the cycle of poverty that is causing folks have a negative cascade of health events.

 

I challenge you to look critically at the organizations you volunteer in, own, worship at and support. Are they putting a band-aid on the problem they are addressing or are they bringing to forefront the underlying factors?

 

 

 

In the meantime, enjoy this picture of some cute kids eating (they ate it ALL!!!) of their balanced lunches prepared by the Lowcountry Food Bank and reimbursed by the USDA SFSP Program.

Brownswoodboys

 

 

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Supporting local producers is more than being trendy and being able to use #local on your social media posts… It means that you are helping to support families that worked hard to bring you that product and also the local economy. It’s a win-win really. You (consumer) benefits from the locally made product or freshly harvested food, and the producer benefits from the sale. Yay!

Local food economies need to be strengthened and accessed more often.

We consumers have been spoiled with readily available and diverse foods from the aisles of our grocery stores and often stray away from planning or consuming a diet consisting of seasonal food sources that come from our local area. Consuming a seasonal and local diet by way of, let’s say, shopping at a farmer’s market or by growing your own food at home is beneficial to not only you but the food system surrounding you. By doing these things, you are becoming less dependent on the market madness that goes on behind the scenes that brings you your food.

Our food system works very very hard to ensure that we consumers are buying safe and satisfying products, but is driven by consumer wants and does not prioritize sustainability.  For example, if we demand vast amounts of spinach, our food system will have it imported from overseas where it is grown heavily because the demand cannot be made by only U.S. grown spinach. The amount of time, effort, and energy put into growing, harvesting, packaging and transporting our precious spinach is devastating on our envrionment and causes much damage. By growing your own or purchasing a local product in place of imported spinach (kale, mustard, turnip..NC grows spinach too!) you get a fresher, more nutrient dense product that has a much smaller impact on the environment.

All of that being said, I have listed a few simple ways YOU can get involved in and strengthen our local food system and reap all the benefits that locally grown and produced products have to offer!

#1 Shop/ Buy Locally

Make it a point to purchase products from your local farmer’s market, farm stand, pick your owns (berries), artisans, produce stands, nurseries, etc. When you purchase from local producers, your money spent will most likely stay in the local economy. Thriving economy=happy people.

IMG_2291.JPG(Pope’s Strawberries- Knightdale, NC. Notice the volunteer corn sprouting up in the strawberry beds…ha! love it!)

#2 Volunteer Your Time/ Talents

Volunteer at your local farmer’s market! Every farmer’s market has a “market manager” that is key to the market’s success and trust me… they are overworked and could use your help. Even if it’s setting up tents or hanging up market advertisements throughout town you will be helping to strengthen your local food system and giving farmers and artisans more business. Enjoy taking pictures? Take pictures of the market/farm stand/ pick your own and post them to the establishment’s social media AND yours! Boom. Free marketing!

ww(These ladies set up under the Education booth and gave market customers samples and recipes of seasonal and local dishes. Yay, go college kids!)

#3 Grow Your Own

Take control of what you eat and start growing it. Start small, maybe growing a few herbs you use in your kitchen often, and continue to expand. Enjoy the struggles and rewards from your crop and realize the effort and energy needed to produce food. Buy your seeds or seedlings from your local, family-owned hardware store or business. Keep all profits local! DSCN0980

#5 Get Cooking!

Take those newly purchased, fresh fruits and veggies from the farmer’s market and make them into a meal or snack! Cooking is intimidating, and we consumers are loosing the drive and ability to put togeher raw ingredients to make a nutritious meal. Get in control of your health by preparing food for youself- slice up that zucchini or squash you bought and bring it to work alongside some hummus, ranch, dip, etc. Easy peasy!

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#6 Start the Conversation

When dining or grocery shopping, look out for and even request items that are produced locally. Encourage others to shop locally by sharing the word through social media or by word of mouth. Research for yourself how food is raised, caught or made and how it ends up on your plate. Wherever you are, there are advocacy groups, associations, etc. supporting the local food movement and strengthening our local food system- check em’ out!

 

 

 

 

How YOU Can Strengthen Our Local Food System

So,

After having backspace-d this first post at least six times and put off writing for a good three months; I’m finally publishing something. My hopes in writing this blog are that I am held accountable, I try new things, I express my love for food, I become more passionate, I finish my ideas, I remember what’s important to me, I hear criticism, I form opinions and I grow as a person. I really do hope I stick to this blog long enough for you all to see all of those things happen. So at that, let’s begin!

The phrase “Farm to Table” or “Farm to Fork” is thrown around today when talking, mostly about restaurants, but also of homes that have a direct relationship with the locally grown food they are serving. When I hear “Farm to Table” or “Farm to Fork” I do tend to think of the snazzy restaurants downtown that are catering to the always-hip locavore who cares about where his or her food came from for purposes of quality and/or peace of mind. The journey of how a single piece of food reaches our forks or mouths is too complex to sum up in a single sentence. The journey of how a whole meal reaches our “forks” is even more complex than that. Imagine your favorite processed food from your choice of a local fast food joint. That item has, let’s say, ten ingredients in it (of course counting preservatives, additives, colors, dyes and you name it). Each item was grown and raised by different sources, different farmers, and each item requires a tremendous amount of energy, time, and work to be produced with not only the help of farmers but with the help of numerous manufacturing plants. The amount of energy put in to each single ingredient of your lovely item is so great that your item now will cost you an arm and a leg to purchase. But it doesn’t. Your item costs a relatively low price and you are temporarily satisfied. But why is that? Why is it that a single item that took so much energy to produce is cheaper than buying an item that required no altering whatsoever (raw fruits and veggies)? Now I don’t know all the details about who and how an item such as yours is made, and I haven’t made it a goal of mine to track down every hand that directly or indirectly contributes to your item, but I can say with certainty that it is more than thirty. At the least.

Next time you order your item(s), I hope you reflect on how many persons had a stake in your meal.

To Fork will explore all the different ways our food that sustains us ends up on our plates or “forks”  and what happens when that food gets there. I’ve been on a culinary kick lately (that hopefully won’t just be a kick) that I will share with you. I want to examine and work through the controversies of food and our food system. I want to explore the hands that are the root of our sustenance, our farmers, and also try to share my own attempts at growing edibles. I also can not guarantee that there won’t be a personal post every once in a while. 🙂

And at that, I thank you for reading and I hope you see me back here sometime soon!