With many people living with food insecurity, it is good to pause and think about the ways we can all contribute to the solutions to these difficult problems.
Our community participates in the “Empty Bowl” project the first Sunday of November every year to support our local drop-in center and food pantry. It is not only a time to think about hunger and food issues, but also to celebrate some incredibly talented artists as well.
A simple meal of soup
If you have never been to an empty bowl fundraising event, the format is generally the same. For your ticket, you are treated to a simple dinner of salad and soup with local restaurants and individuals providing the food. Local potters donate bowls they have made to the event –– established artists and students alike –– and you get to take your bowl home.
With your admission, you get to pick out the bowl you want, and have your choice of wonderful soups. We had a choice of broccoli cheddar, potato leek, trio of squash, West African peanut, Moroccan chili, tomato bisque, kale linguisa, and roasted cauliflower.
Most of these were vegetarian, which started a conversation about trying to eat lower on the food chain more often ourselves. All good words.
Additionally, there is both a silent and live auction which also raises additional funds to support the local center. For many centers, this is the primary fund-raising event of the year.
Our the years, I’ve accumulated quite a collection of the bowls, and each time I use one, I think about hunger issues and the complicated social problems that bring people to the soup kitchens and food pantries. In our community, the center serves a wide variety of guests: single parent families with dependent children, families with two parents holding down full-time jobs, the elderly, and others. Additionally, there is a warming shelter from November through April close by that offers a hot meal and bed for the night for the homeless in our area, an ever-increasing problem.
Start back at the beginning
These are end-of-the-problem solutions and they are crucially important to get food and shelter to those who need it at a critical time. But solving the beginning-of-the-problem puzzle is what our communities need to figure out together, and it is far more complicated. These issues are terribly difficult to understand, but I do believe that all things are fixable if people are willing to listen to each other and work toward a common goal, that one sweet day, we won’t need a shelter or a food pantry because no one is hungry!
A moving event
When I was just out of high school, I attended a moving concert featuring Harry Chapin. The music was wonderful, yes, but he punctuated the evening with thoughts about another of his life’s works – fighting hunger. He was known to donate a sizable portion of the money he earned to social projects, and fighting hunger was at the top of his list.
That experience never left me, and it is sad to think about a problem that decades later is not any better. But I am still hopeful, as he was until his untimely death in 1981 in a car accident.
If we can muster up that degree of commitment and get away from the uniquely American perception that if something can’t be done immediately it isn’t worth doing, then I think the Hunger Movement, this small but growing minority of us, can have a truly significant impact. ~ Harry Chapin
As we approach Thanksgiving, people remember that there are hungry people out there, and they donate turkeys and sweet potatoes, pies, and bread, and feel good that those in need will have a good holiday meal. Harry asked what about the Monday after: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ds_Ia8WiNjA
What about the Monday after? I think this year, I’ll make a batch of Stone Soup for our local center the week after. No, it won’t solve the underlying problems, but it will feed a few people on a day when some are forgotten.
The first time I made stone soup I had surveyed a pitiful couple of soggy carrots and lonely potato in my refrigerator and dialed my friend Linda’s number. I told her I was making stone soup, and her immediate reply, “Well, I’ve got a few onions and some left-over tomato sauce, how about I add that?”
Bits and pieces
We rummaged a bit more through our pantries and found some brown rice and alphabet pasta and some dried herbs from our spice racks. These were lean days for both of us, and every bit of food was precious.
When we sat down that night with our kids over a delicious pot of soup and homemade bread, we read them the old folk story “Stone Soup,” a folktale that has been around since at least 1720 in France. The reading of the story began a long discussion about hoarding food and other precious materials, the parable of the loaves and the fishes, the celebration of light that is Chanukah, and helping each other despite our instinct to protect ourselves. All great stories.
In case you have never heard the story, here is a link. Stone Soup.
The next time I made stone soup some years later, I called about ten friends in total and our soup was a little more lavish, definitely more bountiful, but equally as satisfying to the soul, and always a surprise. With our great concoction in front of us, we took turns reading the book as we woofed down the meal. Inevitably, we had the same discussions and the evening was a blast, but it was also important.
The recipe can’t be written down, so it’s kind of the best sort of secret recipe. Whatever people bring, throw into the pot. If you start with a nice clean stone and a big fat onion, you can’t go wrong.
Place a big smooth stone, well scrubbed, in a large pot and add oil. Heat oil and add onions. As you sauté the onions, call your friends. Tell them you are making stone soup and you would love to have them for dinner. Describe to them what you have in the pot.
They’ll get it, don’t worry.
Once the onion is translucent add some water. As your friends arrive, add whatever they bring from their own stash. Let everything cook until all the vegetables are tender and it looks and smells like soup.
Serve with a nice slab of bread, lots of conversation about your community’s own needs, and, of course, a reading of the story!
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