Final Analysis – Darren and Jen

So much to say about this experience – but I have a tendency to ramble when I faced with such a cross-section of thoughts. I’ll try to keep it focused. 🙂

First off – A Week in Their Kitchen was a brilliantly conceived plan to help bring awareness to the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank with a demographic they may not always hit as well as they might like.  Crafting a message from respected people and delivering it in a medium that people in this demo embrace is extremely valuable for any organization.

Second – after the food bank building tour, and realizing how many organization are impacted by the great work of the staff and hundreds of volunteers who give their time to helps tens of thousands of Calgarians annually.  As a fellow Calgarian, I am proud we have organizations like this serving our city, and proud to do what I can to help support them.

ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE – As I explained yesterday to my lunchmates, Brooke, Leah and Erin, I came full circle in this experience – but ended with a more enlightened perspective.  If you recall from my initial post – I felt ashamed about being so material – I had just had a fit over the weekend about not be able to get an iPad.  I also lamented no-sushi, no meat regularly… and so on.

By the end, I realized that I shouldn’t be ashamed about being able to eat the food I want, purchase the products I want and do the things I want.  I won’t apologize for wanting things – even specific food or ‘toys’. I won’t apologize for indulging in the odd luxury – Jen and I work hard for what we earn, and we’re smart with our money – and prepared for most realistic emergencies. We’ve earned the ability to enjoy things in life.

So – you’re probably asking, “What did he get out of this experience, then?”

Being a person who has a certain amount of influence, and in a family fortunate to have two solid incomes and financial security – I figured the one thing I learned was that I can and should probably give more.  Give money, give time, give support (through media), to organizations that provide this city and its vulnerable and sometimes forgotten citizens with the most basic of its needs – and then some.

I donate money to the food bank, but I don’t volunteer.  But I will volunteer. I will also donate more, knowing that for each dollar I give, the Food Bank can make that dollar stretch four times further.   I will advocate for supporting organizations when appropriate. It’s the least I can do to help.

THE FOOD – All of us ‘spoiled’ bloggers (for you, Michelle 🙂 ) may have mentioned in more than one post the bubble gum pudding, the abundance of plantains, some of the sweet foods (yes, I am a cookie monster) and that sometimes the foods didn’t make the best of combinations.

Let’s be real here.  Each one of us is used to having the foods we want, when we want.  While we may have lamented about the food, I think each one of us was surprised at the variety and abundance of food that was included in the hampers.  The Calgary Interfaith Food Bank does a great job of putting together hampers that can sustain one, two, three, four – or more people in times of need.  It’s not meant to be a grocery bonanza, filled with culinary delight.  It’s meant to aid our most vulnerable Calgarians in times of need, so they don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.

So – truth be told, there was grumbling in our household.  But, we managed. And – it saved us a few dollars, too.

One thing Jen said after a day or so was: “I know that next time we donate to the food bank, we’ll take the time to donate healthy foods.” I think the same sentiment was echoed by my colleague, fellow Week in Their Kitchen blogger and friend, Dave Dormer of the Calgary Sun. The next time he donates – he’ll donate the kinds of food he thinks is appropriate, instead of just what’s available.


I’m going to volunteer – and I’m going to encourage my friends, family and colleagues to do the same.  I’m going to donate more much-needed money and I’m going to be there to support those organizations willing to do the same.

I’m going to start by donating the cash equivalent of what my hamper cost to replace.  That’s to calm the critics who suggest those of us willing to take the time to help raise awareness for the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank are in fact taking food from people who really need it.  To those people: Are you satisfied now?

Further – anyone reading this final bit (if you lasted this long) – my appeal is to you.

Donate your time. Donate money. Donate food — healthy food, if you can.  Not just your leftovers. Find out what the Food Bank needs, and then fill that need.  Support those who lend a hand to great civic organizations like the Calgary Food Bank. It sounds cliche, but you CAN make a difference.

If there’s one thing I learned during this experience, it’s that I can actually make a difference, too.

Until next time (Yes, I’m long-winded sometimes), take care.


June 9, 2010 at 12:37 pm 1 comment

Dave — final thoughts

Looking back on my week of eating out of an emergency food hamper, two thoughts come to mind.

First, if I never see another plantain, that will still be too soon.

And second, the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank does an amazing job of providing for those in need.  I mean that sincerely. I’m just one person who used one hamper, which had everything I needed and more. Volunteers at the Food Bank provide thousands of those each year.

Throughout the week, I felt the frustration of seeing my friends and co-workers enjoying lunch or dinner while I went without. But in the back of my mind, I knew that my situation would end after seven days and I had to do was tough it out. The people who truly need the Food Bank don’t have that luxury. For them, making ends meet is a constant, daily struggle. 

Coming into this experiment, I talked about my preconceived notions of what would be in my hamper, whether I would like it and how much it would differ from what I was used to. But as the week went on, I realized that’s not what people who have to turn to the Food Bank are focused on. For them, it’s a matter of need. What you’re used to is irrelevant when you’re a single parent with a hungry kid.

I think I can honestly say I now appreciate, even if it’s just a little more, the fact I’m able to buy the foods I want. Not everyone is as lucky. And in a way, it was humbling for me. The only thing separating me from most of those people is a couple of paycheques.

That why I’ve decided to donate $100 to the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank — about what I’d spend on groceries and meals in a week. And when I do bring cans of food to fundraisers and donation drives in the future, it won’t be creamed corn or kidney beans. I’ll give what I’d want to get. After all, shouldn’t we treat all people the way we ourselves want to be treated?

And one piece of advice for the volunteers putting the hampers together … avoid the bubblegum pudding (blech) stick with butterscotch, chocolate or vanilla instead 🙂

June 7, 2010 at 5:25 pm Leave a comment

#WeekInTheirKitchen is wrapping up, but the work continues

As I prepare for my final hours with my emergency food hamper, I find myself pulling together tools I can use with students (and others) in working towards a more food secure Calgary (or elsewhere). Food security cannot be separated from discussions about poverty. To work on food security we also need to look at the gap between social assistance (and our minimum wage) and the cost of living. Below are links to a few interesting multi-media tools that illustrate this gap and the need for emergency food programs.

Do the Math – The Stop Community Food Centre’s 2010 survey is available here. What’s the gap between social assistance and the cost of living in Ontario – take the survey to find out. Yes, it’s an Ontario tool and we’re in Alberta – but it’s still relevant. According to Lynn McIntyre, U of C scholar in Health Sciences, “Alberta has the poorest income support in Canada.”

The San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger 101 multi-media tool is available here. This tool asks users to figure out how they’ll meet their daily nutritional needs on a limited income.

Lastly, why don’t we finish off this week by listening to the voices of those who have experienced hunger – we have not experienced hunger this week, but too many other people have. Check out photographer Michael Nye’s exhibit “About Hunger & Resilience.” You can preview a series of the photographs and audio clips documenting hunger in America here.

June 7, 2010 at 2:33 pm Leave a comment

Mike, Julie & Willem Day 7: Plantain Fritters

Plantain fritters! I wish I would have figured this out on Monday. Then again, best that I didn’t – the house smelled like mini donuts and the Stampede all day. They were fantastic. And easy to make. They brought out the banananess of the plantains – as fritters, they tasted more of bananas than I think bananas would have. And they held up to the heat – when you bit into one, it wasn’t mush.

I love that this week I was forced to make my acquaintance with something that has been available to me for most of my life, and yet I never bothered getting to know. I still have enough left to take a stab at a curry next week.

Which, ahem, brings me to a small confession. I assumed that since we started on Monday, Sunday night we’d be wrapping up the project. It makes sense, doesn’t it? But then en route to CharCut last night, where I had booked a seat at their communal table for Meat Sundays, at which this particular Sunday they promised to make a 15 kg poutine, I got an email titled: three more meals and you’re home free!

Um. Whoops? We’re supposed to keep going from the hamper until Monday noon? Maybe I didn’t read the instructions thoroughly. (Try to hide your shock.)

At any rate. I didn’t bail out on going for poutine, since I had already signed up. We went. And yes, I enjoyed it. It was good food with good friends around a table of happy (verging on ecstatic) people. It was nice to see cheese again, but I had been eating my share of potatoes this week anyway.

And really, I haven’t had my eye on the finishing line throughout this project, because that’s not the point. Yes, it wraps up today, but I can’t say I’m excitedly looking forward to dinner (to sum up the gist of the aforementioned email: I imagine many of you are looking forward to dinner tomorrow when you can eat whatever you want! That’s right after your lunch tomorrow you are all free of the Hampers!) because really, all of the participants in this were always free of the hampers. We’re not homeless, nor struggling. We didn’t worry all week that we can only access the food bank once per month, and what we might do when this stash runs out. This has been a learning experience, but I still can’t say I know how a food bank client feels, or that I’ve truly walked a mile in their shoes. Some participants have said this week was fun, but I doubt anyone actually utilizing the food bank would share that sentiment.

So. I won’t be going out for a celebratory dinner tonight. I’ll use up the rest of my hamper, along with the (comparably vast quantities of) ingredients already in my kitchen. I’ve already gone and bought a couple bags of food to give back to the food bank (remember-Husky covered the cost of the extra food for all our hampers). I’m going to continue on in some way, cutting my food spending drastically – for the next month at least only buying fresh produce and milk. (And toilet paper. Hard to make that from scratch.) I’m going to shop from my cupboards instead of from the store, and make do with what I have, which is clearly not that difficult.

I’ll try to pursue new sources of fresh produce for the food bank wherever I can (a portion of the new Ramsay community garden?), and contribute easy recipes (hopefully even compile a cookbook) because that’s what I can do to help. And I’ll focus more energy on being happy for what I have and less thinking about what I’m in the mood for. And I’ll definitely eat more plantain fritters.

Plantain Fritters

Thanks to Gourmet for walking me through this.

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. sugar (white or brown)
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt
1/2-3/4 cup water
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 ripe plantains

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
canola oil, for cooking

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the water and egg and whisk until the batter is smooth.

Peel plantains and cut on a slight diagonal into 1/2-inch pieces. Heat a half inch of oil in a heavy skillet or pot until hot, but not smoking. Dip the plantains in the batter to coat them and fry in batches (don’t crowd them) until bottoms are golden, about 45 seconds, then turn over and fry until other side of each is golden, 30 to 45 seconds more. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Stir together the sugar and cinnamon in a shallow bowl.

While still warm, toss each batch in sugar mixture until coated. Serve warm.

June 7, 2010 at 1:58 pm 1 comment

Last supper and beyond – Darren and Jen

Sunday is typically a busy day for me.  Aside from putting out a Monday newspaper, I do work from home that day, and chores beckon.

Lawn-mowing, flower bed weeding, dog-walking and the like – and I wanted to come up with a creative concoction for my final Week in Their Kitchen meal.

It made use of a number of the different ingredients I had in my hamper – and nothing that many of us wouldn’t find in our own kitchens on a regular basis. I called it – Potato Tuna Florentine cakes (it’s a rip-off from Leah… I think).  Here’s the recipe:

  • 6 Potatoes diced up
  • 1 can of tuna
  • 1 packet of chicken noodle soup mix
  • 2 TBSP of butter
  • Leftover pasta sauce (in this case it was Spinach and cheese florentine)
  • A couple of shakes of Montreal Steak Spice

Quite a simple recipe.  Boil up the potatoes in the chicken noodle soup mix (rather than water) until they are relatively soft. Then, mash them up with a little butter and add the steak spice.  Mash until desired consistency is achieved.

Use either oil or butter to grease up a muffin tin and preheat the oven to 400 F. Fill tins about 3/4 full and then use a teaspoon to spread out the mashed potato, just enough to put a dollop of leftover pasta sauce. Put in the oven when it dings… 🙂

They’ll have to cook about 35 minute in order for the bottoms to firm up (wish that happened when I cook… but I digress).  Watch the tops to make sure they don’t blacken too much.  And you should end up with this:

I thought they tasted awesome, and I had a hard time not licking the bowl of mashed potatoes clean.  This recipe makes about a dozen cakes, and I’d say that three of them are reasonable-sized meal, with a couple of other vegetables or a meat.

Jen returned from her gymnastics meet and took it for lunch today – and we’ll see how they go over with her. Thanks Jen, for sticking with the program when you got back home!

I brought them for lunch again today, too.  Even though I am holding a photo seminar for reporters and ordering pizza for them.  I am committed… But it ends after lunch.

Lots to reflect on and lots of questions to ask before I have a final post.  But, I’ll have something later tonight or tomorrow.

Until then.


June 7, 2010 at 11:53 am Leave a comment

Tim & Leah – final day

T minus 1.5 hours. Yes, I am counting down the hours – not because I’m hungry though! Because I’m off work this week still and am incredibly bored. I’m excited to go hole myself up in my favourite coffee shop with my laptop for the afternoon and drink delicious, strong coffee. Before I show you a few photos of what Tim and I have been eating I wanted to discuss our experience with the project. Do we think this is a realistic amount of food for one week? Yes, a resounding yes. Tim and I both agreed that we could definitely do another week with it, and if we absolutely had to, another week and a half. There would be a lot of cereal meals and leftovers and no vegetables (and there would be no way we would be turning away free food at that point) but it would be doable.

For lunch yesterday it was a baked plantain and peanut butter sandwich, on delicious Safeway whole wheat bread (that we immediately stuck in the freezer so it would keep longer). We received a few Crystal Light packets so I had one with my sandwich.

For dinner we used the leftover ravioli sauce from yesterday’s meal and made a chili out of it. We got tons of soybeans in tomato sauce so we added a can, some cole slaw mix and chili flakes, with lots of salt and pepper and it was pretty good. Tim made potato wedges and I made garlic toast to go along and it was filling, and there are lots of leftovers from it as well.

So, this is Leah signing out for the last time – but this won’t be the end of Tim & Leah food blogging. I didn’t expect to have so much fun this week! I also didn’t expect Tim to get so invested in it, but he did. He would come home from work and the first thing he would ask is “Did you put up a blog today? Did we get any comments? Did people like my food?” It has been such a positive experience for him to not only be able to work towards an awareness campaign for a good cause, but for him to be able to share his creativity and passion with the world. So thank you to the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank and Husky Energy for the opportunity, and thank you to everybody who is reading this and who has supported the participants this week.

June 7, 2010 at 10:52 am 2 comments

Sunday Dinner update

and Friday and Saturday . . .
long time no post, but with all the last minute details and the actual logistics of the Husky Help the Hungry Week Food Drive at all participating Husky and Mohawk retail locations I’ve been pretty much run off my feet since Friday morning.

I do want to take a moment to thank all the Husky employees who came out to participate in and support the Rock Band Wrap up on Friday and the 70 or so volunteers who braved various sorts of weather throughout the city yesterday to be at the Husky retail locations accepting donations. As Leah mentioned it started off with lightining and rain, then there was a few partially sunny hours, more rain, wind – no snow this year though 🙂
Also thanks to everyone who donated yesterday! It was amazing to see how many people took time out of their day to stop by their local station and how many people made a donation.

Friday lunch was the remainder of the tuna/curry mix as a sandwich. Then because I had been reading everyone else’s fairly positive review of the meal replacement drink that had been included in our hamper I decided to try this out after work as my HUGE batch of spaghetti was boiling (I did finally get around to having my spaghetti and tomato sauce).

Saturday was cereal and toast at far too early in the morning, then I rounded up every possible snack that came in my hamper and another meal replacement drink, because I knew the day would be spent in my car – driving to the NW for a Global interview which was then changed to the Global studios, then to the Food Bank then around all the stations to catch up with volunteers, Husky station owners, etc. So it had to be food I could eat on the go.

Today I have been very tired and lazy, regular cereal breakfast, toast, some blueberry flax cookies, some fried plantains and spaghtetti tomato sauce again for early dinner.

What’s left . . . I have a few plantains still (although I think I managed to eat 4 all on my own today alone), still enough spaghtetti and tomato sauce for another dinner , potatoes, a can of beans, a can of tomato soup, a package of hot dogs (I started with two), some bread, some hamburger buns, 4 eggs, lettuce, a can of chicken, the box of oreo cookies (too dangerous to open), only a few of the blueberry flax cookies, still a lot of crackers, most of my pudding (I did eat another cotton candy pudding on the road yesterday) two tomatoes, a green pepper, some mushrooms, milk and cereal – so still a lot.

If I were to continue relying on my hamper, I would plan for; at least another dinner and a small lunch of spaghetti and sauce. the ratio of how much sauce to how much spaghetti is left is a little light on the sauce (a whole package of spaghetti is A LOT of meals for one person), but if it came down to it I would make the sauce stretch. There would be a few more meals of hot dogs; with hashbrowns and with beans. There’s enough cereal and milk for about 5 more breakfasts, I have three meal replacements drinks and soup for lunches, I could also make a fried tomato and egg sandwich and probably a couple of sandwichs made from the canned chicken, mixed with the curry sauce (same idea as with the tuna). By this time next week things would be running pretty short I would imagine. . . and I would be pretty light on the fruit/vegetable side of things.

June 6, 2010 at 7:39 pm Leave a comment

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