Sunday, February 26, 2012

Your Friendly Neighborhood Food Pantry: A Case Of Nutrition By Omission?

You know that the Silly Season is truly underway when candidates who've spent a lifetime on the public dole refer to themselves as“Outsiders.” From the Reckoner's perspective, however, the Silly Season takes an even stranger twist whenever these well-heeled “public servants” try to talk about poverty, which has arced to levels not seen since...well...the 1960s.

Take Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich (please!), whose major catchphrase is his vow to become the “best paycheck president,” as opposed to “the best food stamp president” (Barack Obama). Chances are, if you've turned on your TV lately, you'll have heard Gingrich repeating these phrases like a yapping mutt. Like most election year jabberwocky, this statement falls apart under critical scrutiny, as this link makes clear:

All these issues came to mind during a trip to the friendly neighborhood food pantry, a necessity forced on The Reckoner by a) reduced freelance income, and b) bills piling faster than he could pay them. Even in a shorter month like February, such factors are sufficient cause for distress (as the snapshot of our refrigerator amply demonstrates).

After filling out a short intake form, the Reckoner was allowed to take one grocery bag of food, and one plastic bag of clothing. Here is what emerged from that brown paper grocery bag, after the return home:

(1) bag of plain rice
(1) box of Raisin Bran cereal
(3) boxes of macaroni and cheese (to be donated, as the Squawker is allergic to dairy products)
(1) can of apple sauce
(1) can of beef stew
(1) can of corn
(1) can of evaporated milk (to be donated, as The Squawker is allergic to dairy products)
(2) cans of tuna (to be donated, as The Squawker is allergic to fish)
(1) glass jar of spaghetti sauce

Alas, the Reckoner only half-filled his clothing bag, because there was hardly anything in his size – let alone that of the Squawker's physique – although he did find a couple of sweaters that will work well against the next wintry blast. The clothing racks were in various states of disorganization, since they'd been moved from another location, and the church's volunteers hadn't had the time to rearrange them.

The grocery bag itself came pre-selected, without the Recknoer's input. From the Squawker's perspective, such policies are enormously frustrating – what's the point of including food items that you can't even use, when you're allergic to them? This isn't the first time that the Reckoner has seen such policies at work – are they a product of bureaucratic bloody-mindedness, or simple lack of awareness on the pantry operators' part?

The nutritional implications of this list are interesting to consider, as well – besides the can of beef stew, meats and vegetables are most glaring by their absence. In some ways, that's not surprising, since they tend to be the most costly items of any grocery store trip – yet it's hard to imagine anyone being able to plan meals, based on that list.

Nor does it appear that whoever did make this list considered that factor on their end – it looks a catch-all of the cheapest products that somebody found handy on their latest trip to stock the food pantry itself. The Reckoner is well aware of the pressures on food banks, and food pantries – yet it hardly seems possible to imagine how anyone could feed themselves adequately, based on the above list, let alone satisfy the diet and nutrition pundits' wishes.

Of course, gremlins like Gingrich couldn't see themselves living this way – an inconvenient truth that they freely omit in their single-minded pursuit of power. But that doesn't prevent them from trotting out numerous statements to the contrary, long after they left behind those hardships of daily life that too many Americans are still struggling to address – including the Reckoner himself.

However, the Reckoner is a sporting gentleman, and invites any local, state or national politician to devise meals, using this list – any takers will get to see their responses published here. One small hint, though: you'll need to use a little bit of creativity, in light of all the limitations. So speaks the Reckoner.  


  1. Keep the macaroni, throw out the cheese, and use the spaghetti sauce. Cook the rice and put the beef stew on top of it. Use the applesauce instead of milk on the raison bran. Feed the tuna to a hungry kitty. I really hate canned corn so it's hard for me to think of anything other than disguise it in the beef stew.

    If you get any cash, buy a variety of dried beans and lentils mostly - maybe rice too. With just a little onion, carrot, celery, tomato, garlic, (any combination) softened in a little cooking oil, you can mix them with the beans after they're cooked and make a tasty meal that is really inexpensive. Add salt! If you can, get a little salt pork or ham to fry up, or shred some chicken into it instead. If you can get any greens like chard, escarole, kale, cabbage, those make really healthy additions.

    Good luck.

  2. Hey thanks for the suggestions. Yeah we kept the macaroni, and tossed out the cheese. Did use the raisin brand, LOL. On feeding the tuna to a kitty, it actually will probably go to some food insecure friends. I do keep some dried and canned beans in the cupboard for cheap meals.