What's for dinner at the food bank?
Friday, December 5, 2008 | 12:27 PM ET
By Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca
Ham and potato scallop, Jamaican rice and peas perhaps?
And a lot of Kraft Dinner.
I went to visit the food bank in Charlottetown the other day. I've often been on the giving end, but never hung around to see where those donations end up. Manager Mike MacDonald was happy to show me around.
It's a small building. With a food drive on, it's starting to fill up with cans and boxes this time of year. In late summer, there is a lot of fresh produce donated: some from farmers, some from backyard gardeners.
"You get a lot of zucchini. Usually the clients are sick of them by the time they're done. We're pushing [the zucchini] on them pretty good," said MacDonald.
Five days of food for a family of four, courtesy of the food bank (Kevin Yarr/CBC)
This is one of the hard facts of the food bank: you don't get much in the way of choice. The volunteers pack a box for you once a month and, for the most part, you have to find a way to deal with what's in it. You might get a choice of coffee or tea, and allergies are taken into account, but with just a few volunteers filling boxes for 75 or more clients in a morning, there isn't a lot of time to discuss preferences.
The first hard fact, of course, is that you might have to make a visit at all. MacDonald hears regularly from new clients that they walked past the building three or four times before going in. Workers at the food bank do their best to make people comfortable, but seeing people too much at ease can lead to mixed feelings.
"It's just not right that somebody feels that comfortable coming in," said MacDonald, noting that comfort with the food bank generally only comes with years of practice. There is a sad story behind that comfort.
So, what is for dinner? I had them pack up a box for my family — two adults, a 14- and a seven-year-old — just to see what would be in it.
Currently supplies are good, and they are packing for five days instead of the minimum three.
It's a fairly small box, a banana box I think, but staffers pack quite a load of stuff into it. Much of it is food I would never buy myself, like canned ham or Dream Whip. I'm sure that's a common experience, generating a what-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-this feeling mixed in with the relief of having some food in the house.
MacDonald said there is little time to help clients with that. A few years ago when zucchini was especially plentiful, they generated a sheet with some recipes on it that was much appreciated.
What could I make with my box? There's a bag of potatoes (this is P.E.I.) — the only fresh produce. Added to the ham, it might become a potato scallop. With a seven-year-old, I might get some milk. Maybe put the canned mushrooms in. I would have to buy my own onions.
My idea for Jamaican rice and peas is a stretch. I have a two-kilogram bag of rice and a can of black-eyed peas. There is thyme growing wild in my front yard, but I don't have any coconut milk. I guess I would have to go with a very bland version.
There's a box of chicken broth, so maybe I could drum up something like a risotto. However, a better description would likely be chicken-flavoured rice, since there's not much else to put in it.
Already my creativity begins to fail me.
There's spaghetti and tomato sauce. There are five boxes of Kraft Dinner, plus a few bags of the sauce mix without the pasta.
Beyond dinner there is a box of cereal, eggs, granola bars and other items for school snacks. Maybe that canned ham will just go to sandwiches.
The box is not devoid of treats. There's two small bags of candy for the kids, smoked mussels and a tiny can of lobster pâté (this is P.E.I.). Perhaps a lobster omelette one night, just for Mum and Dad?
There are other items that are simply frustrating: a taco kit, Shake’n Bake for fish. If I have money for ground beef and fish, am I going to the food bank? MacDonald notes however that if something comes in, it is going to go out. It's not doing anyone any good on their shelves.
What do you think makes a good donation to the food bank?
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From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.
About the writers
Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.
Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.
Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.
Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).
Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.
Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.
Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.
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