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Hungry for Change – Food Bloggers Against Hunger

As a mother and a farmer, I spend a great part of my day feeding my family and the animals that call 1840 Farm home.  Six people representing three generations of my family live here at 1840 Farm.  We all tend to the daily needs of our three Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goats, seventeen heritage breed hens, and two pets.

With that many living beings residing here, someone or something is almost always asking for a meal or reminding me that they are hungry.  I quell that hunger with the food that we produce and the items that we purchase off the farm.  By the time I turn in for the evening, I feel content in the knowledge that all of us will have a night free from the pangs of hunger.

I can also allow myself to take comfort in the knowledge that tomorrow will bring another day that follows this predictable cycle.  People and animals will be hungry and I will assume the role of ensuring that everyone is fed and well nourished.  This is the continuous cycle of life here on the farm.  The work of today ensures the production of the food that will grace tomorrow’s dinner table.

But what if it wasn’t?  What if I couldn’t answer the call when my children told me that they were hungry?  What if we didn’t know where tomorrow’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner would come from?  My family would spend their days suffering from hunger and I would spend my nights worrying about the challenge of putting wholesome food on our family’s table.

Sadly, many Americans spend their days in this terrible cycle of hunger and despair.  According to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign, one out our every five children in our country live in a household that is at risk for hunger.  Statistically, that equates to over 16 million American children.

This issue takes center stage in the documentary A Place at the Table.  The film profiles three families who struggle to put food on their tables.  It is a call to action for all Americans to stand together and tackle the problem of hunger in together.

I haven’t had the opportunity to see the film yet. I have been following its progress since last year when I first became aware of the film and began following their Facebook page.  I will be front and center later this month when it is finally screened at my local performing arts center.  It’s the same hall where I first saw Food, Inc.  It’s the place where I first decided to make a drastic change in my life

My relationship with food had begun to change before I saw Food, Inc.  I had immersed myself in the work of learning more about food, its production, and the changes that had come to our modern-day food supply.  I read books as fast as I could turn their pages.  By the time we left the theater when Food, Inc. had ended, I had made a decision.  I was going to take back control of the food served at our family table.  As a family, we were going to hold our food supply firmly within our grasp.

Months later, we were building our first chicken coop and expanding the garden.  We have continued to increase the amount of food that we produce for our own table and animals that we raise to produce eggs and milk for our family.

Many Americans don’t have that option.  For a multitude of reasons, they don’t have the ability to plant a garden, build a chicken coop, or visit a farmer’s market for seasonal, regional produce.  In fact, many of them live in food deserts where they don’t even have access to a store that carries fresh produce for sale.  Instead, they are faced with a dizzying array of super processed packaged food that contains empty calories and little nourishment.

Many of these families are beneficiaries of government assistance to help them bridge the gap between their paycheck and the cost of putting food on their table.  The benefit amount can be as little as $4.00 per day towards paying for their breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  That isn’t much, and doesn’t go all that far, but it’s a start towards addressing the problem of food insecurity.

Unfortunately, even that small bit of assistance is at risk.  With governmental budget cuts looming large, these children and their families might see a reduction or total elimination in their benefits.  Fortunately, we can all do something to help.

This morning, I sent my personal message to Congress asking them to protect the programs that ensure that our nation’s children are insulated from hunger.  I encourage you to do the same.

I also encourage you to take measures to ensure your family’s food security.  Use the same tried and true methods our grandparents did.  Plant a garden, build a chicken coop, purchase goods from local farmers and seek out restaurants and locally owned shops that do the same.

I believe that we all need to deepen our relationship with the food we eat.  By doing so, we strengthen our nation’s food supply and the society that it supports.  We also take a bold step towards raising a new generation of Americans that understand the true value of food.  I hope that they will be hungry for change and will literally take matters into their own hands.

Those hands have the power to help solve this problem.  They can refuse to relinquish control of their own food supply.  Hopefully, they will also refuse to let other Americans suffer from hunger.  I’m hoping that my two children will be part of that solution.

So, when I go to see A Place at the Table later this month, I’ll have my oldest child in tow.  I’ll hope that by the time the movie ends, she will have made the decision to forever hold her food supply firmly in her grasp and help others to do the same.

As part of The Giving Table’s Bloggers Against Hunger Campaign, I am including a recipe in this post that provides a nutritious, healthy meal for a family with a tight budget in mind.  This pasta recipe is healthy, delicious, and cost-effective.

Instead of the typical heavy macaroni and cheese sauce, this version utilizes carrots to bring richness and nutrition to the dish.  Carrots are inexpensive, less than $1.00 per bag at my local grocery store for an organic brand.  They are also available year round.

Fresh fruits and vegetables can be difficult to afford on a tight budget, but carrots are a great value.  They are also full of nutrition and have a lengthy shelf life.  They are a wonderful way to dramatically increase the nutrition on your family’s dinner plate without seeing a noticeable increase in your grocery bill.  Pasta is inexpensive and readily available.  I like to use sharp cheddar when making this recipe, but another cheese could be substituted in order to stay under budget with equally delicious results.

Carrotoni and Cheese
adapted from Food & Wine April 2009

It took me several attempts to get this recipe just right.  While the original recipe calls for baking the dish in the oven, I find that baking the pasta leads to a drier macaroni than suits my taste.  I prefer to skip the baking step and enjoy a creamier version of this dish.  Either way, the end result tastes delicious and is packed with beta carotene, vitamins, and minerals.  If you have fresh or dried thyme on hand, adding a pinch to the sauce provides a lovely accent for the carrots.

16 ounces carrots, peeled and sliced
8 ounces vegetable stock or salted water
6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
12 ounces dry pasta
salt and pepper to taste

Combine carrots and vegetable stock or salted water in a medium-sized saucepan over medium high heat.  Bring to boil, reduce heat to low and cover.  Simmer for 15-25 minutes until fork tender.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the boiling water.  Add pasta to the pot and return to boil.  As pasta is cooking to al dente, remove 1 cup of pasta water.

Add pasta water to carrot mixture.  Using blender, immersion blender or potato masher, process the cooked carrots until smooth.  Add cheese and stir until melted and smooth. Taste and season accordingly with salt, pepper, and fresh or dried herbs if desired.  Add cooked pasta to the mixture and stir to combine.  Serve hot.


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Finding A Place at the Table for Everyone

In April, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in the Food Bloggers Against Hunger Campaign.  The campaign was organized by The Giving Table and supported by Share Our Strength.  By sharing a recipe for a healthy, economical meal, I joined 250 other bloggers in helping to bring attention to the cause of ending hunger in America.

A few months have passed.  In that time, I had the opportunity to view the documentary A Place at the Table at our local Portsmouth Music Hall.  My husband and I took our daughter to the screening.  Together, we watched the story unfold on the screen.  When we left to return home to 1840 Farm, conversation about what we had just seen was easy to find.

Rosie in A PLACE AT THE TABLE, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The movie and its message have stayed with me since that evening.  For me, that’s the true test of a film, especially a documentary.  While I found the entire film to be effective at delivering its intended message, one image and one statement have been my most powerful  memories.

The first was the profile of a young girl named Rosie.  She lives in poverty, struggling at school because of the lack of food available to her.  She doesn’t know when her next meal will be or what it will include.  Yet she maintains a positive outlook on life and keeps a smile on her face.  Somehow, she sees the promise of her future instead of the pain of her present.  Her outlook on life was inspiring.

The second was a line delivered by actor Jeff Bridges.  As he speaks about the hunger crisis in America, he mentions that he believes that the solution is tied to patriotism.  He goes on to say, “If another country was doing this to our kids, we’d be at war.  And it doesn’t have to be that way.”  I’ve thought of his words often in the last few months and I keep coming back to the same conclusion.  He’s right.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but we’re all going to have to do our part.  Whether we share our fresh garden produce with members of our local communities, support local farmers that do the same, or volunteer by working with charitable organizations, we all have to play a part in solving the problem.  The solution won’t be simple, but each step we take will help to ensure that a child like Rosie has the opportunity to realize the promise of her future.  I think that we can all agree that our country will be stronger if she can.

A Place at the Table was released on video today.  I would encourage you to see the film and share its message with your family. Together, we can make sure that all Americans can find a place at the table whether it’s to find a solution to this problem or share a meal with members of their local community.

Now I have the unique opportunity to share A Place at the Table with you.  Participant Media, the company who also brought us Food, Inc. has given me a copy of the companion book for the film and a collectible pin to give away to one lucky winner.

As you will learn after watching A Place at the Table, many Americans are trying to put food on the table for under $4 a day.  In this economy, many more of us are trying to stretch our food dollars further than ever before.  If you have a tip for maximizing your food dollars, you can earn an entry in the giveaway by sharing it as a comment.  I look forward to reading your ideas and hearing your thoughts on how we can all work together to find A Place at the Table for everyone in our country.

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