Monday, February 6, 2012

Food Bank Fresh

I’ve started volunteering at the Food Bank, sorting and cleaning donated vegetables and fruit one morning a week.
My co-sorters are a lively crew, ranging from teenagers to people in their 70s, and they have been teaching me the rules. Especially in winter, when fresh produce is scarcer, there are many judgment calls about whether a tomato is too soft or a carrot too wiggly to go out on the line to the waiting clients.  However, some rules are clearly stated: If there’s a break in the skin, it can’t go out. And if you saw the company some of those items keep in the donation boxes, you would see why they can’t risk anyone eating them raw. (Produce that doesn’t make the grade for distribution to humans goes in a bin for a local hog farm, except for the apples and carrots that are boxed up for someone’s horses.) Still, it’s tough to throw away a beautiful firm potato with a one little nick, or a carrot that’s bendy but not rotting, just a bit dehydrated. At least it's tough if you make as much vegetable stock as I do. That's what bendy carrots are for. Volunteers are allowed to take some produce home, and though I feel funny about helping myself to anything that could have gone to someone in need, I figure it's ok to take the ones that would otherwise feed pigs. Today I decided to gather some of the not-quite-good-enough items to see what I could do with them that was both safe and tasty.

 The top photo shows my nicks-and-dents veggie haul for today, plus a log of Trader Joe's brie that couldn't go out because the outer plastic had a tear. In includes tomatoes (organic), carrots, parsnips, zucchini, potatoes, peppers, and a chayote squash. Also a pear, but on second thought I've sent that to the compost,  although it's pristine except for the small cut. Hidden from view somewhere is an avocado.

I didn't want to have any of it raw or lightly cooked--better safe than sorry. So here's what I made:

Roasted peppers, tomatoes and chayote and lentil soup
I roasted the chayote and most of the tomatoes and peppers at 400, stirring occasionally, until they were very soft and starting to char. (Non food bank additions were a bit of olive oil, salt, and hot sauce.) That's at left. 

Most of the rest of the produce went into lentil soup. I didn't get the lentils from the food bank, but they are available to clients, so I figured it was still a realistic meal. I used olive oil, a little red wine, Spike seasoning salt, lemon juice, and paprika. If I'd had a soup bone I wouldn't have needed as much extra flavoring, but there's hardly ever a surplus of meat for distribution.

Same basic information from the food bank website: 

Who We Serve 

You might be surprised to learn who asks Bellingham Food Bank for help in feeding their family. Did you know that most recipients waiting in line at the food bank also work?

  • 15% of all families in the Bellingham city limits use the food bank at least once a year
  • 50% of food bank recipients are children or senior citizens
  • 60% of food bank families skip or cut the size of meals on a weekly basis
Every month Bellingham Food Bank receives more than 9,500 visits and responds by handing out approximately 220,000 pounds of food.

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