Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Pumpkin soup thoughts

Today, Nigel’s Mum made pumpkin soup for dinner. I helped a bit, but mostly I thought about how maybe this could be part of the way to lift poor people out of some the problems of poverty. It takes a village, so maybe we ought to act like a village.

The soup recipe isn’t important. It included pumpkin (what we Americans would call squash), some chicken stock, onions, garlic and some flash things: Thickened cream and feta cheese for the finish, served with special bread. But as I thought about it, I realised a poor family could ditch the cream, switch to ordinary tasty cheese (sharp cheddar in Americanese) and ordinary bread in order to cut costs. Still, our fancy version worked out to around $3 per person, so the cheaper version would probably be between $1.50 and $2 per person.

Poor people have trouble feeding their families—that’s beyond dispute—and the main reason is lack of income. However, I wonder what might happen if there were mentors to teach poor families how to stretch their food dollars, how to make a filling and nutritious meal for not much money. Right now, NZ’s emphasis is on making the poor justify why they should get any money, and leaving them to fend for themselves. Maybe—just maybe—we could take a more holistic approach?

I originally thought about this in the context of gardens: Poor people can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables, so I thought about how great it would be to cooperatively teach people how to grow their own food. Problem is, poor people live in mainly rented accommodation, and the landlord may not be keen on tenants planting a vegie patch—and, even if they are, a rental tenancy is tenuous—would the tenants live there long enough to harvest the produce they planted?

New Zealand doesn’t really have community gardens or UK-style alotments, so where could poor people without land of their own garden and still be sure of reaping their harvest? And where are the people who can teach the lost art of growing one’s own food in a city?

Poor people are victimised in so many ways, including by do-gooders like me who have magic solutions. But I think that if a solution to a problem is available, shouldn’t we pursue it, even if it isn't THE solution, and even if it doesn’t fix all the problems? We want kids to be well-fed, so, shouldn’t we work on ways to make that happen?

Personally, I think that finding ways to help poor people be more self-sufficient in food growing can be part of the solution, and so, too, can be training poor people who are clueless—because not all poor people are, of course—on how to make cheap, nutritious meals for their families.

I know how paternalistic these suggestions are, how classist and how arrogant, even, coming from someone who doesn’t worry about where the next meal is coming from. But if I can make a flash meal for around $3 per person, then why can’t we pass on that knowledge to help those who need the meals to cost less than $2 per person?

Government must play its part, and the current NZ government is waging war on the poor and working classes. But that happens from time to time, so I think we should equip the poor to transcend the various cuts by conservative governments so that whoever is in power, the kids will be fed.

Or, is that too much to ask?

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