After my early morning volunteer stint at the fantastic Miriam’s Kitchen, I left with a few lingering thoughts in my head about how we eat & had the opportunity to grab coffee with the volunteer coordinator, Ashley, who also serves as a leader for the DC for Acumen chapter, supporting the Acumen Fund, to chat about a potential trip she’ll be taking to East Africa.
First, the lingering thoughts, on how we eat here in America.
Let me explain what Miriam’s Kitchen is all about first. MK is a local non-profit providing healthy, homemade meals and comprehensive case management services to the homeless. They do an incredible job, particularly on the food end (though that’s the only experience I have with them). No platters of buttered noodles and sloppy joes here. Everything is cooked fresh, mainly from local ingredients, and MK actually has on site chefs and pastry chefs who make sure it’s all delicious. This morning’s breakfast included a fresh blackberry reduction for the pancakes, and eggs scrambled with local asparagus, orange bell peppers, and a tangy goat cheese. This is food you would pay good money for at a restaurant, not necessarily what you think of when you think “shelter food.”
I was on cereal duty & worked the line this morning, plating food for clients who came through. What amazed me most? Sugar. Sugar. And more sugar. MK gives clients the flexibility to choose what goes on their plates, including sugar shakers along with the cereal. After the sugary, pink frosted mini-wheats ran out on the cereal table, nearly every other person who took a bowl of Cheerios or Raisin Bran doused the bowl with sugar. And when they were getting their hot food in the line, most asked for extra portions of syrup, and many bypassed the beautiful (and healthier) blackberry reduction.
This raises a question about how our palates are conditioned in America, and how we can support positive behavior change. I know our bodies like the taste of fatty, sweet, salty foods, as evident by the choices made by many of the diners even when presented with healthier options. Even the healthy food took a beating by the sugar and salt shakers this morning. When we’re talking about some of the people who need our help the most, arriving at 6:30 am or earlier to line up for a filling breakfast, should we be focusing on changing their eating habits for the better, or just focus on filling their bellies? It becomes a tougher question, I think, when we move away from what people are buying for themselves (like this man) to what handouts are being given.
The good news? A number of people went for the special eggs with the veggies & cheese…I hope they enjoyed the asparagus as much as I always do when I pick it up from Eastern Market!
And second, on my conversation about traveling abroad.
Instead of focusing on the voluntourism debate, I want to query anyone who cares to answer about how you would answer one of Ashley’s questions: “What books should I read before I go?”
She’s interested in sustainable enterprise and international development, but the trip will also be a bit of personal R&R for her. Any thoughts to add to the short list I sent based on what I’ve enjoyed/been interested in?