Thursday, May 17, 2012

Food and Poverty

So a Rev friend of mine wrote me today about poverty in the area in which he lives. Not far from me. His impoverished people, it turns out, make more than I do. So I wrote him. And here's what I wrote. And sorry for posting twice in an hour but I'm on freaking fire here. And the wine hasn't even kicked in yet.

Dear Rev K: You know I have 4 jobs that pay money and it's been tough to keep it all going ever since we hit Texas 10 years ago, so I know a thing or two about being working poor. I have not eaten out in a restaurant in several years--though I did order chicken wings to go a few years ago. I cook every meal. I limit my spending on clothes to about $200 a year, though my lovely daughter-in-law, the beautiful Sara, generally buys me two or three $40 shirts for Christmas. I drive two old Ford Rangers, a 1994 with 300,000 miles and a 1998 with 210,000 miles. My foundation broke in my $79,000 house and I live with it buckled slightly, right through the middle. I have a rain-collector over my desk where the roof leaks because I cannot afford to fix it. Despite those four jobs.
And I've always had jobs. My first job with a social security number was at age 6 at Louie's Candy Store in Whitestone, where I got $0.25 an hour for making malteds, egg creams, dishing pints of ice cream. I still have that social security card, so I'm not lying about that. I ain't stopped working since. I went from Louie's to paper route at age 7 to inserting papers at age 9, to inserting papers plus delivering two-three nights a week at Frankel's Pharmacy at age 10, to two paper routes at age 11 (and they were number 39 and 43, if I remember correctly, which meant that when it was my turn to get hazed by the other paperboys I got 82 nucks from each guy in the place, including rings, while I was held down on a table. There were about 20 guys there that day and my stomach was bleeding so bad I could hardly deliver the papers. But then I was the idiot who accepted those routes!!!! Damn! I didn't know the punishment that came with them.) I then worked for Chresthaven Country Club, a local boat place and wedding hall in Whitestone that my family could never begin to think of joining. I probably worked there from age 14-16, maybe 3 nights a week. In college I drove a taxi in New York, worked at art galleries,at a liquor store, built loft beds, helped a little building some fancy places like helping on Jimi Hendrix' Electric Ladyland, the Kennedy's place on East 64rd st or Oscar De La Renta's or the Schlesinger place or the Island Records place in Carnegie Hall, then cooked, then chef'd for years and years before I could begin to get paid for writing. So I know about work too.
But I also like solutions. So if someday you find a kitchen and know some people who don't know how to cook, how to make great freaking meals for $10 for 5 people, well, I'll volunteer to teach some of them. I used to do that in New York. With some people you have to teach them how to shop, how to cook, how to save, how to use left overs. Food at fast food joints costs so much and is so worthless and very expensive. Learning how to cook and learning how to love cooking and eating good food is very empowering.
Tonight, for instance, with the help of 2 large cans of Campbell's Tomato soup ($4 total), four stalks of celery (Celery total is $0.59) a red onion ($0.68), garlic ($0.40), a pound of frozen shrimp ($3.99), a pound of frozen mixed seafood ($2.40), salt and pepper and a little cilantro ($0.29 for the whole bunch), and 8 ounces of very thin spaghettini ($0.99) I'm gonna serve 8 people. And there will be plenty of left overs.
So that's $13.44 for eight people, a very healthy meal full of vitamins and minerals. About $1.70 each, with left overs for breakfast or lunch. That's probably 75 percent less than a fast food meal per person. That's where you start with poverty. Empower the people.
A good sized roast chicken costs $5.00 and feeds 4-6 adults. With rice and broccoli: Maybe $8.00 total. Again: $1.25 per person. Maybe $1.50 if they like sliced cucumber with lime and salt as a side dish.
We can beat this, Rev. We just have to be smart.

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