Friday, January 29, 2010

Pfoto Friday


I can't lay claim to this photo, my friend Julia took it last weekend down in the wildlife refuges along the Rio Grande Valley. It's a Sandhill crane feather caught in some fourwing saltbush, but she promised to share - so I'm sharing this with everyone. It seems to me to capture it all - the tenuous hold on existence that cranes have had throughout our contemporary history, the icy cold weather, the grey and brown world of this winter, so unlike the usual blue skies of previous NM winters.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hey! It's Almost Friday...

Last weekend we celebrated my oldest sister's 60th birthday by renting a house on Highway 101 just north of Yachats. We spent three days, and actually got good weather on Saturday. Good enough to take a nice walk on the breezy, sunny, chilly beach. Of course, I always take my camera to the beach. And here's why--

i heart

Happy Photo Friday, ladies! Anyone else wanna play?

RIP Howard Zinn, The People's Champion

I awoke into this cold grey morning, still waiting for the promised snow, opened headlines on RSN (Reader Supported News) only to discover that one of my major heroes, Howard Zinn, died last night. Zinn's 1980 A People's History of the United States, taught me, while I was still young enough for it to be a big influence, that the garbled version of American history the basketball coach/history teacher in my high school, and later the even more garbled class in which I made my only college D grade had left out large elements of the Whole Story. His "alternative" recounting of our often less-than-glorious past, is
an attempt to balance the scales by writing about the parts of US history that aren't often covered in depth. It focuses particularly on the effects of government policy on the poor, women, and non-whites throughout US history, documents labor movements and equality movements in more depth than one normally sees, and points out the mixed and disappointing records of US cultural heroes. It is, in other words, an attack on assumptions and accepted wisdom about the heroes and important events in history, and on the stories we tell ourselves as a culture (from Russ Albery's Review of A People's History).

My impulse as even a very young woman (who came of age during the Civil Rights Movement and the VietNam War and was hugely influenced by the leftist politics of that era) was to identify with progressive, even radical, politics. Reading Zinn's History helped me continue in that direction as I grew older, reinforcing ideas that had previously been mostly emotional, rather than intellectual. When I lived outside Boston in the eighties, Zinn was often a speaker at local events and gatherings, and I feel privileged to have heard him speak in Cambridge and Boston several times. I heard him speak most recently last month on Bill Moyers Journal, as feisty and charming as ever. His appearance on Moyers was to discuss and showcase the video, Let the People Speak, made from his History, which premiered on the History Channel two nights after the Moyers show. News of his death is all over progressive and news sites on the Internet, I've read the LA Times obit and the Boston Globe's, but there are many more.

We have lost one of our most powerful progressive voices, one that spoke for the forgotten, the downtrodden, the oppressed; that debunked the glorified, the mythologized leaders of our history. But he influenced so many people in his years as a teacher, a writer, a speaker, that his work will live on. In reading his obituaries I was interested to learn that his first teaching gig was at Spelman College in Atlanta, where Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman were among his students. I know that many less-famous students are among those who have passed The People's History on to their children, their students. His students and followers will continue his work. But on this bleak grey day of windborne sleet, I mourn our loss. If you don't know Howard Zinn, check A People's History of the United States out of your public library this afternoon, read it in memoriam. Although I've read it several times, I think I'm going to do just that this weekend. (Crossposted from The Blue Voice)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Going (Gone?) to Hell

Why did we think that when the Democrats came to power a year ago, things would change?

Political events of the last couple of weeks have proven this untrue. Things have oh-so-not changed.

Nothing brought this home to me more stunningly than something I saw yesterday. Out in public, in a tourist shopping district on the Oregon Coast.

I passed, on the sidewalk, a grown man sporting a sweatshirt that read:


Never mind why would anyone wear something like that? Why would anyone sell something that disgusting? How could anyone even think of it?

But some red-blooded, tax-paying, enterprising American did.

And you can get your very own “waterboarding” shirt here.

It’s a joke. Piss off your “lefty” friends.


Oh. My. God.

We are so doomed.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Meg's Birthday

Fiftieth birthdays are a big deal Most of us put on a facade of dreading them, but they really are quite an event. People really want to gather and celebrate when a friend reaches this milestone. We anticipate this day. Today is Meg's 50th birthday. We should be together making the most of this day. Meg was looking forward to being an "old lady". I think she was anticipating the time when it was more acceptable to be eccentric, have less of a load of responsibility, and could just enjoy her grown children and be silly and cuddly with her grandchildren. My youngest sister dreads being old. I accept it's coming as the preferred alternative to missing a moment of life. Meg...was robbed.

I'm not exactly sad today. I feel an empty space. It's always there, but it's insisting on being recognized today. I'm focusing my emotional energy on trying to feel Meg's presence within myself. I kind of feel like I would like to have a little party with others who loved her like I do. I would like to open champagne and toast to her life and what an amazing spirit she was. Unfortunately, I'm not near her friends or family...and I don't want to have a party alone. I guess that's why I needed to post this here today. I may not be able to celebrate, but I need to publicly recognize the significance of the day.


I miss her every day. I sometimes can't believe that this awful thing really happened and really is permanent. Even though it's been almost five and a half years, I can still barely wrap my mind around it sometimes. Other times, it's as real and tangible as anything can be. Grief plays cruel games with your mind and your heart.

Today, I went to the beach with a friend. She didn't know Meg. She really doesn't know much about Meg. I know she would have liked her though. All the things she likes about me are the characteristics we share that really defined Meg. So, it was a comfort to be out, doing what I know Meg would have loved to have done on her birthday. What I spent my day doing today would have tickled her to pieces.

Meg was robbed of life by truck driver who was irresponsible behind the wheel of his vehicle. All of us who love her, were robbed too. How do we ever "make peace" with that?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I’m not sure this a thing that makes me happy but it is something that moves me greatly.

Taken from Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson who also wrote Three Cups of Tea. The poem was written by former mujahadeen Sadhar Khan a village/district headman in the far northeastern area of Afghanistan known as the Wakhan corridor. He wanted to be a historian and a poet before he had to become a warrior.

Sadhar Khan fought the Soviet and then he fought the Taliban, almost thirty years of war. The river runs by the path Khan takes when he goes to prayer. He took Mortenson with him one day; they stopped to watch the water. Mortenson asked him how he found the time to sit by the river in the midst of his very busy days. For the next two hours Sadhar Khan told the stories of thirty years of war. The friends and family that had been lost to both the Soviets and the Taliban. Land mines, destroyed crops, wrecked houses and schools. When Mortenson came back the next year to work on the school being built near Baharak he was given this poem.

You wonder why I sit,
Here on this rock,
By the side of this river,
Doing nothing?

There is so much work to be done for my people.
We have so little food,
We have so few jobs,
Our fields are in shambles
And still there are landmines everywhere.

So I am here to listen to
The quiet,
The water,
And the singing trees.

This is the sound of peace
In the presence of Allah.
After thirty years as a mujahadeen,
I have grown old from fighting.
I resent the sounds of destruction.

I am so weary of war.

Sadhar Khan.

Perhaps Sadhar Kahn listens to the water for all the villagers and friends who can’t listen to the river anymore.

P.S. I did catch Mr. Mortenson on Bill Moyers last Friday. It was a great program.

Happiness Challenge/Award

This blog was one of ten chosen by Aine Butler-Smith of the blog The Evolving Spirit to play along with a meme involving listing ten things that make you happy, then passing the meme along to ten other blogs. My personal blog was also one of Aine's ten, so that is where I have answered the challenge and listed my Ten things. You can find them on Quid Nunc? right here: Ten Things.

Aine calls this an award, rather than a meme, and certainly just to be chosen by another blogger for such an exercise is an honor. So call it what you will, but enjoy thinking about it and doing it. I think it's a fun glimpse into others' lives and hearts. I look forward to reading your lists.

Passing this along to ten other blogs is a bit harder, I thought maybe each of us could come up with a couple of them. You guys are about the only ones I can think of, but maybe you have others on your lists you can pick.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


It's almost automatic. When we put chicken, as in whole chicken on the list, we head for the fridge to check the veggie bin. Carrots, celery, cabbage, 'shrooms, peppers (this time?) and the pantry (do we finally have buy tomatoes?) because that chicken carcass is going in the pot. If that bird still had a cackle when it reached the store mom would figure out how to use that too.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I have been a tad out of touch since we bought the restaurant… We DO listen to the radio in the kitchen at the café. But after three years, the fact that every radio station we can pick up has a playlist of about ten songs that they crank out over and over again until you can’t stand it anymore led me to a dangerous decision. About a week ago, I rekindled my relationship with public radio. I decided, what the heck, I’d rather listen to “Talk of the Nation” than some pre-pubescent pop star whining through her latest smash hit for the umpteenth time. Now, I’m not so sure I’ve made the right choice. Because the political acid is starting to burn a hole in my gut right next to the cavity created by my job. Maybe not good for my health…

Seems there is a new book out there that has been stirring up the political scene: Game Change, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. It is supposedly a minutely researched expose of the highlights, and lowlights (of which there are surely many) of the 2008 presidential campaign.

Now, I have not read the book, nor am I going to promise to, given that I finished exactly three books in all of 2009. But my observation isn’t about the book, it’s about the firestorm it has created.

We on the left are still wondering what the hell qualified Sarah Palin for the attention she received as a candidate in 2008; and why the hell anyone still cares about her now, a year past her ignominious and well-deserved defeat. So, when additional tales of her incompetence and ignorance come to light, we can’t help but yuk it up a little at her expense. Game Change first hit the shelves a few weeks ago, and left-wingers took the opportunity to use it to poke fun at Sarah Palin. And of course it wasn’t all light-hearted, good-natured joshing. There are those who are aware that someone needs to make every effort to make Sarah Palin go away for good.

We hardly finish tittering over Palin’s miscues when we are assailed by a barrage of smear over Harry Reid’s comments as quoted by the authors of this same book. “Harry Reid is a racist!” “Harry Reid insulted the (not-yet) President!” “Harry Reid should apologize!” “Harry Reid should resign!” Note, please, that as far as I know NONE of these calls for Harry Reid’s head came from members of the black community (with the exception of RNC Chairman Michael Steele, and we all know where his loyalties lie…) and certainly not from the President himself. Everyone is mystified, even the authors of the book, that this particular aspect of Harry Reid’s involvement in President Obama’s campaign is the one that everyone has chosen to focus upon. After all, the point of the story was to illustrate Reid’s contribution to Mr. Obama’s victory.

What’s not to get, here? Let us not forget that across the aisle sits the party, not of “equal and opposite reaction,” but of “insane and hyperbolic over-reaction.” The party for whom the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are two of the more (in)famous mouthpieces. The party that, after years of practice, has honed “smear” to a stiletto point; and can—and does—launch it with the deadliest accuracy.

We snicker behind our hands about Sarah Palin, and they launch a full-scale “Daschellism” against Harry Reid. And no one gets the connection?

There are two morals to this story: First: Sarah Palin is the right wing’s Sacred Cow. (Love that imagery, don’t you?) Frighteningly enough, she represents redemption to many in the Republican Party, certainly to the rightest and shrillest wing thereof, and she will be defended with every weapon at the party’s disposal.

Lesson the second: We can't out-smear the Republican party. Democrats are so far behind in this particular arms race that it doesn’t do for them to even attempt to engage the enemy on this field. This is one game at which we can not beat them. And, in my opinion, trying to do so only raises the snarky political noise to a pitch that will surely turn all our brains to mush. If it hasn’t already.

So, here’s an idea for the Democratic Party:

Why not DO something? Why not accomplish something for which history, and possibly even the voting public, will reward you? Why not earn the public’s trust, instead of trying to out-yell the other guy for it?

Just a thought…

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Our Ties To Haiti

Crossposted from Quid Nunc?

At the group blog WomenOn, I have posted some links for people looking to donate financially to help with the relief effort in Haiti. However, amazingly enough, over two million in donations for aid to Haiti has already been raised through our mobile phone accounts. Information has spread mainly through word of mouth on the internet social networks; and this method of helping out is easily available to anyone with an account with a major wireless carrier. NYT article with links to all necessary info here.

If, like most Americans, readers only know the contemporary history of this island nation, they probably know it, as Robert Parry notes in the first paragraph of his brief history of our early historical connection with Haiti:
... because of some natural disaster or a violent political upheaval, and the U.S. response is often paternalistic, if not tinged with a racist disdain for the country’s predominantly black population and its seemingly endless failure to escape cycles of crushing poverty.
Parry's article gives us an interesting glimpse of our country's little known early history with Haiti, history of which I was completely unaware. Haiti and America's Historic Debt.

I know of the twentieth century connections, the occupation of Haiti by American forces, from 1915 to 1934, under Woodrow Wilson, and the "peacekeeping" military mission in 1994, under Bill Clinton, but this early history involving Hamilton, Jefferson and Napoleon was entirely unknown to me. Perhaps at this time of devastating catastrophe, we can finally repay our historic debt to this country whose history began in slavery and bloodshed and continues in poverty and political strife. The current day Bill Clinton feels that there is hope for Haiti, even after this tragedy (What Haiti Needs) Let us hope that he is right.

Haitian Disaster Relief, More Links

This list from the New York Times has many more relief organizations and charities for those who wish to contribute something, anything, to what will have to be an enormous international effort.

Haiti Disaster Relief: How to Contribute

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Earthquake Aid URLs

It's hard for me to think about much else right now but the situation in Haiti. I can't imagine that I need to recapitulate the news of the catastrophic earthquake that reduced Haiti's capital city, Port au Prince, to streets of rubble, dead, dying and injured Haitians. I've been following reports all day, online, TV and radio. Haiti may seem utterly foreign and unknown to many North Americans, but when I taught at the college in Delaware, many of my academic ESOL students were Haitian. These mostly young people had come through terrible hardship to get here, mostly political refugees, and were deeply devoted to their families back on the island. I'm not even going to dignify Pat Robertson's evil remarks beyond saying that every single one of those students manifested some of the deepest, most fervent, Christian faith I have ever seen. They came from lifetimes of poverty and fear, yet were among the most generous-hearted and happy human beings I have ever known. I think of the horror my former students from Port au Prince and Gonaïves must be going through now as they watch their TV screens, try to reach family and friends back home, wait for any scrap of news. My heart is with them as they gather in groups in living rooms in Southern Delaware to pray, sing hymns, search the TV screens for familiar faces.

Massive aid is needed for the survivors right now, and will be for a long time to come. Amy Goodman devoted her entire Democracy Now show to the earthquake today, is liveblogging fromHaiti, and I've been listening to reports on NPR that the Red Cross has run out of medical supplies, Doctors w/out Borders has had three hospitals destroyed in the quake, so can only give immediate triage to people who need surgery immediately. If you have the ability to donate anything to help out, here are some web sites that have been coming in to my email box from various organizations. These are groups that are reputable, and ethical. There will be a lot of graft and corruption involved with this effort, it always happens - but these organizations will use the donations they get to actually relieve some of the suffering.

Oxfam America

Doctors Without Borders

International Committee of the Red Cross

Partners In Health

National Nurses United

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I don’t spend enough time upstairs to do anything but sleep so there’s nothing by the bed, probably just as well, since I have enough books piled everywhere else.

The little half table by the couch has Rae Beth’s Hedge Witch sandwiched between the late Thomas Merton’s (Cistercian monk) Love and Living and a book on Celtic Christianity by an Anglican canon. The Celtic Devotional by Caitlin Matthews (her husband James is a Druid) is keeping company with Original Blessing and The Reinvention of Work by Matthew Fox. Fox started out as a Dominican, was ordained again as an Anglican and describes himself as post denominational.

Perched on the magazine rack by my chairs there are two books with haikus and zen koans. There’s Cloister Walk and Dakota by Kathleen Norris, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle, and a book on Native American healing herbs and rituals. The stack is rounded off with The Rhythm of Life by another retired Anglican vicar and Yearning for the Wind by Tom Cowan, a Celtic Shaman. Oh, and there’s Hope’s Edge by Frances Lappe.

There’s a basket filled with cookbooks in front of the TV. They got displaced from the buffet by Christmas decorations. The gardening books that were in the basket are hiding out in the computer desk. Now, all I have to do is read the blessed things.

What's In Your Piles?

This is something I used to do back in the AOL JournalLand days, when I had a good coterie of readers and, dare I say, virtual friends. I think I did this on The Bibliophiles, my book journal. It's a fun activity to do once in a while, see what interesting things we have in our various piles, how they change over time (or not). I just finished A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book, and have some thoughts on it in my other blog, here. It's kind of a relief to turn to Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford as a less taxing read, the first book in my first pile. As it's winter and about my only outdoor activities are walking and hiking, my main offtime activity is reading - so there's quite a few piles around the house:

On the nightstand:

The Monster In The Box, Ruth Rendell
Alimentum; The Literature of Food, Issue 9
Owls and Other Fantasies, Mary Oliver
What We Eat When We Eat Alone, Deborah Madison/Patrick McFarlin
Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn
Deep Economy, Bill McKibben

By the couch:

Xeriscape Plant Guide, Denver Water
New Mexico Gardener's Guide, Judith Phillips
Native Texas Plants, Sally Wasowski
New Mexico Bird Finding Guide, NM Ornithological Society
Desert Wetlands, Niemeyer & Fleischner
Poems FromThe Cranes Two, Judith Roderick
The Quilts of Gee's Bend

And, worst - or best - of all, the pile of new books I've bought, or from the library, waiting to be read. I call this my "Reason to Keep Living" pile:

Too Much Happiness, Alice Munro
In The Kitchen, Monica Ali
Hardball, Sarah Paretsky
A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore
The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood I started reading this one, before she came for an appearance at UNM, then set it aside when a flood of library books from my hold list showed up all at once. I will return to it when I get a library dry spell.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Look Out--The Homemade Stuff Will Kill You

I have been meaning to post about all manner of things—from thoughts on the underwear bomber to an essay on the futility of worrying. Every time I get the germ of an idea, the “cares of the world” sweep it out of my mind, and then I seem to miss the window of relevance and bag the whole idea. But this thread of “food” posts meshes very nicely with something that happened at the café today, so I’m going to bang this one out before I lose it.

I got a call from the County Health Department today. The Health Inspector. Following up on a complaint that had been called in against us. (Let me just say for the record that we received a 100% on our last health inspection, so it’s not like there’s a whole array of glaring violations for folks to choose from around here… )

This particular complainant was concerned about our home-made baked goods, which we display under glass far away from nasty hands or sneezes. And we handle only with tissue pick-ups or tongs when serving to any guest. But how we handle the product was not the issue. The insidious means by which we are poisoning the community is—


We make our own cream cheese icing. We use butter, powdered sugar, cream cheese, vanilla, and a little dash of half and half to make it spreadable. What are we thinking?

Cream cheese, being a dairy product, can be categorized as a high-risk food. Which should not, by state health law, be kept for more than four hours in the “danger zone” of temperature range—that is, warmer than 41 degrees or cooler than 165 degrees. So the fact that we keep our lovely pumpkin bars, cinnamon rolls and gingerbread in our un-refrigerated pastry case is, evidently, a BIG no-no.

No matter that we have been serving these things under these conditions for three years, and no one has ever gotten sick off our cream cheese icing. Nor, because of the high sugar content of the icing, are they likely to. And it’s not like they sit in there for days. We put them out fresh each morning, and generally run out before the end of the day.

So now, we have to keep our lovely baked goods in the refrigerator, since we do not have a refrigerated display case. Sales of these wholesome made-from-scratch goodies will now dry up and blow away. Eventually we’ll probably have to stop making them altogether.

And do you know what the sad thing is?

If we used some kind of crappy, factory-made institutional white “mystery icing,” full of chemicals and preservatives and who knows what not all…

We would not be having any issue at all with the local Health Department.

Doesn’t that just make you want to scream?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

From Handouts to How-to

In this brief return to the discussion on hunger, food stamps, and food banks, I just want to link readers to a little article I read last night in Orion Magazine online: From Handouts to How To, by Kyle Boelte in Tucson AZ. He writes that at this time of economic downturn, the Tucson Community Food Bank is demonstrating how long-term thinking can solve food insecurity.
"The Food Bank believes that gardening isn’t just a pastime for the well-to-do, but that it’s an important adaptation that anyone with access to a little space, water, and sunlight can make."
This Food Bank itself has a 7000 ft. demonstration organic garden, where it grows food which it sells at its own Farmers' Market, at affordable prices, along with eggs from the chickens they keep onsite. They also hold gardening workshops for clients and send out experts to help people in the community design and develop their own gardens. I have to say that this is Lisa's "Teach a man to fish...." idea taken to a wonderful extreme.

When I lived in East Dallas, there was a stretch of Fitzhugh Ave where empty lots and marginal land had been turned into fantastic community gardens by the mostly Southeast Asian immigrant population that lived in the area. These were longterm garden projects, where the members had built sheds for storage, shade structures, installed poles and other devices for climbing crops, places that acted not just as food sources, but community sites for gathering to socialize as they worked. I just did a little Internet exploring, and discovered that these gardens are still going strong, have been for over twenty years. There is even a website for the Gardens, here. While I believe the gardens started as a spontaneous necessity for recent immigrants to have a source for the fresh greens and vegetables that are part of their traditional diet, they have now become members of the American Community Garden Association, which has numerous gardens in the North Texas area. Gardening most assuredly is not a "pastime for the rich" and I can't imagine that many people think of it that way.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Winter Poems

In yesterday's deepfreeze I posted Mary Oliver's "Cold Poem" over at Quid Nunc? my personal blog. Oliver seems to be able to find a way to celebrate almost anything in nature, to find the beauty in that which seems cruel, even devastating. All her poetry is nature poetry, but none of it is cuddly, fuzzy, or cute. She loves the "hard knife edges," the sharp talons, as much as she loves the bright berries, the sunlit waters. It might be hard to love the hard edges of things right now if you live in, say, North Dakota or Minnesota, even Ohio or Pennsylvania. Here in New Mexico we have the sun, almost all the time, which certainly helps with the bitter temperatures and biting wind. Yes, it's even cold here in the Land of Enchantment. And so I offer another cold poem, one which sort of ties back in to the posts on hunger and want in our land. Barbara Crooker is another of my favorite contemporary poets. I don't have the same deep love for her work that I have for Mary Oliver's; but she can reach into my soul and surprise me fairly frequently. She does it here.


It's February, and we're freezing, despite global
climate change,despite the melting ice caps.
It seems that winter comes later now,
that the seasons are askew. But here,
in the pages of my L. L. Bean Catalog,
a fire is blazing brightly, natural resin
fatwood sticks bringing it to life,
and a mallard blue hearth rug
protects my floors. Warmth is guaranteed,
no matter what the winter brings: a blizzard
of bad news from the television, the icy rain
of losses--age chipping away at the body,
a flurry of Christmas cards where sorrow
tipped the scale away from joy. The radio
hisses its static: another car bomb explodes
in Iraq like the rat-tat-tat of sleet;
predictable as a cold front marching
down from Canada. But in these glossy pages,
we are told that when you select your
outerwear, you should consider your personal
response to cold, your activity levels,
local weather conditions.
Locally, I'd say
the weather is conservative, with a touch
of paranoia. Our ears, whether covered
by a Mountain Guide Hat in Moss Khaki
or a Stone Blue Fleece Headband,
seem closed to the larger world, deaf
to the voices of want and need. We give
what we can, but not so much it hurts.
Somewhere in the city, a man sleeps
in a cardboard box. A woman and a child
huddle under a blanket on a subway grate.
We pass by quickly, wrapped in goose down
and Gore-Tex. The wind keeps
on blowing, as it always will.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Food for Thought Continued

The comments to my previous post on this thread continue to furnish new things to think about. Aine and Jackie (who even brought one of my favorite writers, Barbara Ehrenreich, into the discussion) gathered into the fold all those folks who are living in their vehicles, or in weekly room rentals in less-than-savory parts of town. These folks don't even have the equipment to make Kraft mac & cheese out of a box, unless they're using illegal hot plates or other fire hazardous pieces of cooking equipment. And there are probably more of these people than most of us realize. The book Jackie references, Nickled and Dimed; On (Not) Getting By In America, was written ten years ago, and documents the conditions at that time for the working poor. A point Ehrenreich makes is that the low-wage jobs held by the majority of the working poor are exhausting, and both physically and mentally degrading. Ten years on from Ehrenreich's investigations, the number of folks who have lost their jobs, well-paid white collar jobs as well as manual labor, their homes, and their vehicles, is bound to have grown by leaps and bounds.

Lisa has some interesting ideas about education in the use of commodity items, and Aine brings in the use of the crockpot, or slow cooker, something I was planning to introduce myself. I want to say something here about the students in my ESL class, who are all Mexican immigrants, working as service employees at the Univ. of New Mexico. They are legal immigrants, some are already citizens, some are working on the process. As presently all of them are women, food and cooking are frequent topics of our class discussions. None of them receive any government benefits, they are fiercely independent and proud of being able to hold a job in this country, no matter how menial cleaning the University Hospital clinic bathrooms, or the dorms or the classrooms may be. They have brought the cuisine of their native country with them, and cook every night for their families. Those who work the night shifts cook meals in the morning before they head to work, which they leave for husbands and kids to warm up when they get home. They use the slow cooker as one of their main cooking tools, for a staple of their diet, beans, as well as soups and stews. It is ironically interesting to me that the food movements I mentioned in my last post are mainly based on foods that were originally peasant fare, poor people's food that needed a lot of ingenuity and time in order to produce something savory and delicious. My students are cooking peasant food without belonging to any trendy "movement," simply because they don't have a lot of money and the nutrition of their families matters to them very much.

Something else Lisa brings up is a truly fascinating idea, that of a "foodmobile" modeled on the bookmobiles used by libraries to get books to rural areas and parts of town and cities without a nearby library. I have some doubts, as does she, that this could be an effective and viable government program. But what it could be, I think, is a food bank program. Getting to the physical location of the banks is bound to be difficult for many people, as they are often located in distant industrial sections of a town or city. A mobile pantry, stocked with nutricious staple items, and staffed by an educational volunteer willing to give cooking classes travelling through areas where people need the help the most, maybe biweekly - giving live demonstrations and hands-on participation in how to use the items in the van that session. I have to bring in Growers' Markets as a resource here, as in this town anyway, all of our markets accept WIC, EBT and Senior food checks (Commodity Supplemental Food Program) for fresh seasonal produce, some of it organic, some not. All of it better than what can be found in neighborhood groceries. I have suggested to our local food bank that they connect with the Growers' Market managers to get a deal going where leftover produce from the markets could be donated to Roadrunner Food Bank and distributed to their clients. At the market I usually frequent, there are often demonstration projects to show market customers how to use produce that may be new and a little scary to them. That market is located in an area close to downtown, and has customers of every class, ethnicity, walk of life. It's education for the masses.

Okay, this is way too long, and I think I have run dry. Please continue to add your thoughts, to post on this subject. We have by no means exhausted it. I, however, am a little exhausted by it for now. Thanks for all the input, what a great crew reads and writes on this blog. I am so glad to be part of the gang.

Food for Thought

It's turning out to be harder than I thought to sort out my thoughts here and write the post I promised yesterday. Lisa's comments on my two previous posts held much, pardon the pun, food for thought. Her points about food stamp shoppers not knowing how to cook, what to do with "those inexpensive foodstuffs" like rice, pasta, beans, flour, would have seemed more judgmental and critical to me had she not included this: "Let's face it, our culture no longer knows how to feed itself properly, especially using scratch ingredients."

Because these are some very true facts. It isn't just the food stamp population looking for fast and easy prepared foods and meals. (I almost said nutrition, but that's making a big assumption.) It's our general culture. Check out Trader Joe's around five PM any weekday and you'll see crowds of people cruising the frozen entrée aisles picking up dinner on their way home from work. The same can be said for the prepared food counters at Whole Foods, where dinner may be fast and easy, but it sure ain't cheap, I'd bet the farm that these customers aren't using food stamps. I was picking up something myself one evening at the Whole Foods near the building where I teach, when a guy waiting in line said to me: "Sure beats cooking, heh?" I couldn't really agree with him - my cooking is much better than Whole Foods' but my time constraints on a teaching day mean that sometimes I too pick up supper on the way home.

However, at the same time that many of us think Mac and Cheese can only come out of a box by Kraft, many others of us in our schizoid culture are moving into the Slow Food, the Locavore, the Real Food, movements and cooking like we never have before. Many of us are growing as much of our food as we can, given space and time constraints, shopping at Farmers' and Growers' Markets, buying in bulk at our natural food groceries and Co-Ops. This is a strange and interesting divide, one I would like to investigate further.

I've used the phrase "time constraints" twice now in writing this, and I think this may be one of the biggest issues. Maybe people do know more about scratch, or slow, cooking than we assume, but maybe many of us just don't have the time to do it. Many of those being squeezed out by this recession are still the working poor. They may go to the food bank, shop with the help of WIC, EBT or CSFP, but they still have to get to and from jobs, pick up kids from care, and often, as Jackie notes in her comment, shop without the luxury of their own transportation. (...But one of the biggest problems is that the people with the greatest needs often live too far from stores like Winco to take advantage of them. The Oregonian had a story last year that followed a mom and her daughters as they used multi transfer bus trips to do their grocery shopping. It wasn't easy and it took several hours. It's bad enough to have a limited budget; it's even worse when you have to do your shopping at your state's version of a store that's one step up from a Seven 11.)
(To Be Continued Later)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Thinking While I Work

Well, I see that writing for three blogs could result in never getting another thing in my life accomplished! The great comments to my previous post on hunger in America need more than just my additional comment. I think they have inspired a whole new post. And while I'm on winter break from teaching at UNM, such things are possible. What will happen when Real Life resumes, I can't say. But I'm mulling over food and hunger thoughts while I do some laundry, work on the compost bin, get the bird feeders ready for the Arctic Blast they say is on its way later in the week, and get a few groceries into my own kitchen.

Y'know, I myself lived on food stamps many years ago, while my then-partner and I were both in grad school. It was nothing like trying to feed a family, but it did inspire me to get out of school and into a teaching job with alacrity. I've never forgotten the experience and been grateful all through the intervening years for continuing to earn a living wage, and use it as I please. Blessings not everyone can count on. At this point in my life, food - growing it, shopping for it, cooking it, and of course, eating it, has become my central passion. It's what I'm mainly writing about on my personal blog, and I see that it will probably have pride of place here as well.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Not A Lot of Comfort or Joy for the Hungry

The "holidaze" is finally over, and though it has been wonderful for both of us to be home, enjoying time to read fat novels by the fire, go to movies, take naps, cook hearty soups and stews, breads that make the house smell like heaven; I'm just as happy to leave the forced cheer that is endemic to this time well behind us. We don't do a lot of holiday shopping, but even the most trivial grocery store errand has an enforced accompaniment of tidings of comfort and joy, or sleigh bells ringing, snowmen melting. It begins soon after Halloween, and may not have ended yet; I won't know til I have to set foot in a commercial establishment.

Yet the truth is that for many in this the richest country on the planet, this period of several winter weeks is merely an extension of the pain they endure every day of the year. With more time to browse the Internet, read up on issues, I have become ever more aware over the holidays of the constant rise in what our government, unwilling to use the word "hunger," calls "food insecurity." While I have been cooking greenchile stew, black-eyed peas, pumpkin bread, and albondigas soup, many families with small children have had only what they could glean at local foodbanks, or purchase with their food stamps.

The facts and figures on this are available to anyone who cares to find them; Feeding America, formerly America's Second Harvest, has a Hunger Factsheet that will provide a loud wakeup call to anyone who cares to read it. The New York Times has been running a series of articles on what they call The Safety Net, the most recent of which both deal with the growing dependence of many Americans on food stamps. The first, Food Stamp Use Soars, is scary enough, but the article published yesterday, Living on Nothing But Food Stamps, documenting the rise in the number of Americans who have no cash income whatsoever and are feeding themselves and their kids on their monthly food stamps alone, is way past frightening. This latter article includes interactive maps of the USA that will show you how your own state, and county, is faring on this issue. My state, New Mexico, has experienced a sharp rise in families living on food stamps, a fact that doesn't surprise me at all, as I recently learned that NM ranks third in states where children are receiving both breakfast and lunch on the school program that furnishes free meals to families in need of them.

I think this is a situation that we don't really comprehend, unless, or until, we are living in it, or in close touch with our local food banks, or choose to make the effort to find out the reality. Food banks are in desperate need of donations; all over the country they are falling short of the supplies they need to feed those who come to them for help. Feeding America has an action center, and a food bank locater, where you can get in touch with your local resources, either for help, to donate, or to volunteer. As little fondness as I have forWalMart , I have to note that they have recently donated 35 refrigerated trucks to Feeding America food banks across the country, including Roadrunner Rood Bank, my own local bank. As part of the truck donation, a full truck- load of food was also given to the food bank and included items such as applesauce, green beans, corn, oatmeal, peanut butter, jelly, macaroni and cheese, cereal and other items totaling more than 17,200 pounds food. It is estimated that the 35 trucks donated to food banks nationwide will help transport up to 52.5 million pounds of food every year.

Early this year Feeding America will release their latest report on hunger, Hunger in America 2010. It will be of great interest to see how the numbers have increased in this report since the last one done in 2006. The statistics will probably be frightening. (Cross-posted to Quid Nunc.)