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A Week in Their Kitchen: Zucchini, Green Bean & Potato Stew

Potato,+bean+&+zucchini+stew

This afternoon Mike, W and I went down to the food bank to pick up an emergency hamper to live off for the week. We’re taking part in A Week in Their Kitchen, an initiative for Hunger Awareness Day (which has in Calgary expanded to “Husky Help the Hungry Week”), living exclusively on the items in a food bank hamper to help give people a sense of what it’s like. (By the way- Husky has covered the cost of extra hampers, so we’re not actually taking food from those who need it.)

We went through the same process the other clients go through in order to get our hampers. Gave our ID. Discussed our financial situation. As I gave this info the woman at the window beside mine leaned over and offered W treats from a basket of chocolate bars and fruit snacks. It struck me hard how many kids were in the room, waiting in line with their mothers, mostly – I saw about a dozen in the hour that we were there, and it wasn’t a very busy day. 41% of the food bank clients are children under 12 – another large percentage are teenagers.

We were given the go-ahead for a weeks’ worth of food for a family of 2-3, and I proceeded to the corridor where clients pick up their bins. The volunteers were friendly and offered a powdered donut as they filled empty milk crates for me and slid them down the line to pass other volunteers who added produce, milk and eggs. One volunteer had just been a volunteer at my cooking class at the Cookbook Company yesterday. She looked a little surprised to see me.

They offered extra buns, if I wanted some, and one volunteer asked if I would like one head of iceberg lettuce or two. (One.) The second last guy on the line held up two handfuls of plantains and asked if I knew what to do with them. I told him I’d figure it out. He asked if I had access to the internet (at which I internally laughed and was simultaneously embarrassed for my addiction to same) and suggested I Google “plantain recipes”. Which I did. I panicked a little when I got home, unloaded the bags and bins and discovered there was no fruit (besides a dozen ripe plantains) – not even canned or frozen – and the vegetables were limited to 4 bags of coleslaw, a bag of potatoes, 5 packages of mushrooms and a small bag of green beans and two yellow zucchini that were banging on death’s door.

I have to say I’m astounded at the quantity of food we were given. It filled the back of the car. There’s no way I could have transported it on the bus. A young woman in her twenties who was behind me in line walked out with a cartful, and hers was a hamper for one. We got two bags of Cheerios, an enormous tub of peanut butter, rotini, spaghetti, plenty of bread and buns, a pound of solid margarine (no can do…), two cake mixes and a shortbread mix,


two cans of tuna and two of brown beans, a dozen eggs, a 6-pack of lactose free meal replacement drinks, a big jug of V-8 and a tetra pack of apple juice, two sleeves of saltines, four cans of soup, canned tomato sauce and whole tomatoes, two packages of hot dogs (no hot dog buns, though! just burger buns), a few cans of club soda and two 2L cartons of milk.

I feel a little like the kitchen McGyver tonight. Which I quite get into, but recognize it’s a huge obstacle for most people making do with very little in their kitchen cupboards, and possibly very little in the way of cooking skills.

Of course, what you get depends largely on what has been donated. It’s never exactly the same. We got the hugest box of Oreos I’ve ever seen, plus another sleeve of them, half a dozen donuts and three 4-packs of bubblegum and cotton candy flavoured Jell-O pudding, in shades of pale blue and pink. (W: “What is THAT?” M: “Not food.”)

We got three produce bags packed with miscellaneous granola bars, cereal bars and packets fruit snacks and chocolate Easter eggs. One volunteer pointed them out, kindly telling me we were getting Gushers so that W wouldn’t feel different at school.

Which I can sadly relate to, having been the kid with the big ol’ woody carrot for recess snack when the other kids had fruit roll-ups. But what does it say about our society that you need to have Gushers in your lunch to be cool? To be normal?

But the sentiment was sweet.

I remember my Mom picking up boxes of Pot of Gold chocolates to put in the Food Bank donation bin at Christmastime, because wouldn’t it be nice if people got a treat in their hampers along with all that rice and beans. And I still remember that when I make donations to the bin – should I be practical? or give something sweet? There seemed to be no shortage in the sweets department – not that there’s anything wrong with that. If I were having a hard time of it and needed to rely on the food bank to get me through a week (or month), I’d be happy to find a bag of cookies in there. I’m sure plenty of food bank clients have bigger fish to fry.

Tonight, I thought I’d cook the perishables first – since the beans and zucchini were so close to self-combusting I turned them into a simple stew with two potatoes and a large can of tomatoes. It reminded me how good plain, unadorned food can be – our rules of engagement allow cooking oil and three spices, so I added a pinch of Italian seasoning (from my friend’s garden), salt and pepper. Had I been doing this on my own I might have added asparagus, garlic and onion, maybe white beans, and possibly a sausage to start. I certainly would have grated some Parmesan cheese overtop. But we enjoyed it nevertheless, and felt good after eating it. It was simple, comforting and nourishing. It fed us well (W opted for eggs on toast, and I did let him finish the last of the watermelon we started yesterday – it seemed ironic to not eat something and have it go to waste in order to spread the word about the food bank?) I sauteed the second zucchini with a package of mushrooms and added a can of tomato sauce – that will go in the fridge for dinner another day.

Zucchini, Green Bean and Potato Stew

AuthorJulie

canola or olive oil, for cooking
1 onion, chopped (optional)
1 yellow or green zucchini, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed (optional)
1-2 cups fresh green beans, stem ends trimmed
2 potatoes, russet, Yukon gold or red, chopped (don't bother peeling them)
1 28 oz. (796 mL) can whole tomatoes, undrained
pinch Italian seasoning
salt and pepper

1

In a medium pot, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat and cook the onion (if you're using it), zucchini and garlic for about 5 minutes, until soft. Add the green beans, potatoes, tomatoes (with their juices) and Italian seasoning; bring to a simmer, cover and cook for about half an hour, or until the potatoes are tender. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Ingredients

 canola or olive oil, for cooking
 1 onion, chopped (optional)
 1 yellow or green zucchini, chopped
 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed (optional)
 1-2 cups fresh green beans, stem ends trimmed
 2 potatoes, russet, Yukon gold or red, chopped (don't bother peeling them)
 1 28 oz. (796 mL) can whole tomatoes, undrained
 pinch Italian seasoning
 salt and pepper

Directions

1

In a medium pot, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat and cook the onion (if you're using it), zucchini and garlic for about 5 minutes, until soft. Add the green beans, potatoes, tomatoes (with their juices) and Italian seasoning; bring to a simmer, cover and cook for about half an hour, or until the potatoes are tender. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Zucchini, Green Bean and Potato Stew

So yes, it’s “Husky Help the Hungry Week” – anyone can drop off food donations at any Husky and Mohawk location, Calgary Police Services or Husky Energy Head Office throughout the week.

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32 comments on “A Week in Their Kitchen: Zucchini, Green Bean & Potato Stew

  1. Janet
    May 31, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    Thanks so much Julie for insight into the food bank. I had often wondered what food items people would get who went there, particularly in the line of fruits and vegetables. Look forward to reading what you cook for the rest of the week.

  2. Amber
    June 1, 2010 at 12:18 am

    It is interesting to see what people get…I had a friend who was using the food bank and she ended up with a lot of the same stuff all the time. Crackers and soup, peanut butter and packages of noodles. I remember how thrilled she was when I bought her a pack of generic cola – that was her special treat for the week.

    I’m never sure what to donate to the food bank. The packs they make up are ok but then they end up with the same stuff over and over. And getting something sweet is ok too but what about getting enough nutritional stuff too? Or what if they have food allergies? I usually just donate money, the food banks can buy so much more with donations and it gets used for perishable stuff. Sad that so many people have to rely on food banks.

    Good for you for taking on the challenge! Bringing awareness is important too.

  3. Albicocca
    June 1, 2010 at 4:06 am

    Thanks for sharing this! Very interesting…looking forward to hearing the rest!

  4. Jennifer Jo
    June 1, 2010 at 4:11 am

    Julie, this is fascinating. I’m so impressed that you’re doing it.

    I would never want to eat the food that people are given at our local food pantry (like a food bank but only meant to be a once-a-month assistance). Some of it is good, yes, but so much of it is processed junk. That’s the part that has always bothered me. And when we were on WIC, we got so much juice which drove me crazy. Some places are making changes so that WIC checks and food stamps can be used at local farmers markets—this would/will be a tremendous improvement.

    Have you read Nickeled And Dimed? It would be good accompaniment reading for the week’s endeavor.

  5. Heather
    June 1, 2010 at 4:12 am

    A Toronto food centre, The Stop, did a similar program, http://dothemath.thestop.org/, just a little while ago. Though I believe they only received 2-3 days of food and were asked to make it last as long as they could, since users can only access the food bank once a month.

  6. Rambles with Reese
    June 1, 2010 at 6:08 am

    What an interesting experiment Julie and a great way to spread the message regarding food donation and families that depend on it. I’m ashamed that I’ve never volunteered at a food bank, so I don’t know what the process is and I can only imagine what families go through.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  7. bellini valli
    June 1, 2010 at 6:40 am

    This is very different from what they are offered here at our Local Food Banks. Fruits and vegetables are just not available for those who beed to access these services. Mostly canned goods and empty carbs which fill you up but have no nutritional value.PLus you are allowed to go once a month.

  8. rose
    June 1, 2010 at 7:03 am

    Hi Julie

    Interesting! So as you went through, the volunteers etc. did not know you were doing an experiment of sorts? To them you were just another customer if I read this right. I ask because it seems you were given so much food. I pictured maybe two plastic grocery bags for a 2-3 family for a week. If this was a typical disbursement of food I am very impressed. It may not have the veggies of choice but a bag of potatoes and tins of tomatoes will do a family well.
    Look forward to reading how it plays out for you.
    Rose

  9. JulieVR
    June 1, 2010 at 7:09 am

    Rose – you got it. It was an interesting experience to say the least.

  10. Kris
    June 1, 2010 at 8:18 am

    I get that families in need are allowed to have swweets and treats just like everyone else…yet at the same time I find it disturbing how many empty, junk calories you were given. Seems like some canned veggies, fruit or protein would be a whole lot more helpful.
    I will remember that next time I donate food.

  11. Buddiegirl
    June 1, 2010 at 8:49 am

    When I am making donations to the food bank, I try to think of the things I would want to receive if I had to rely on a hamper for making meals for my family. I don’t buy generic items, I buy what I would buy for my own family. I like to go to Costco a couple of times a year and buy flats of canned vegetables, like corn and tomatoes, canned tuna or white chicken (available at Costco), vegetable and chicken vegetable soup, variety packs of crackers, rice, canned ham, cereal (often oatmeal), and dried fruit, I don’t usually buy pasta and sauce as those seem to be the items most often donated.

    I have known a number of people that have had to use the food bank to make ends meet and how difficult it is to have to admit that you cannot feed your family.

    Several years ago, I read in an article about food banks that more or less said that as long as people are generous and continue to donate to food banks, the government will never fix the social problems that require them to exist. Definitely something to think about.

  12. Fiona
    June 1, 2010 at 9:07 am

    A friend of mine volunteers for the Food Bank, and she’s shared some pretty interesting things since she started. Things I did not know: that food manufacturers will donate “damaged” flats of product, so say, if one box of Jello Cotton Candy pudding is squished, the whole flat has to go, even though the rest of it’s okay. The food bank takes it. One week she worked there everyone got about ten cucumbers, which is great if you love cucumbers (though you can refuse anything you don’t want/won’t eat).

    So it’s definitely a way to look at our food production system under a microscope. Good luck with the experiment!

  13. colesangel
    June 1, 2010 at 9:25 am

    i have used the Food Bank. i have friends who are using the Food Bank now. when i am not using it, i donate.money, food.whatever i can. Julie, your Food Bank must be doing quite well, i never got that much!
    what’s to figure out about donating food? i just buy extra of whatever i am getting. the extra go in the donation bucket. the people who use the Food Bank are just like you…they worry about health and nutrition and what to do with items they’ve never seen before much less cooked with. i would have loved recipes or cooking tips at the time! they laugh at the weird things they get…bubblegum Jell-o?? really??…and are embarassed and grateful and can, for a little while, focus on other things besides the rumbly tummies of themselves and their families.
    sure it’s possible that the government might not fix the problem while Food Banks exist, but please do not let that stop you from donating! please,please, care about your neighbours, your friends, your family.care about your community.

  14. Lynn
    June 1, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Hi Julie, I volunteer at the Food Bank weekly on the distribution line. Yes the clients recieve a generous amount of food. We never know weekly what we will be giving out. The day you went you didn’t recieve much fruit or vegetables but there are days that we have a huge amount of both. It’s important to get to the Food Bank earlier in the day as sometimes by 3:00 we have run out of items and the client misses out. I think it’s great that you are doing this! I think it’s important for everyone to visit the facility in Calgary. They are the benchmark for Western Canada. It’s unfortunate that demand had gone up so much since I started there but the need is there. Donate Donate Donate!!

  15. Elizabeth
    June 1, 2010 at 10:29 am

    Good luck with your week, Julie. It will be very interesting to see what you come up with for your meals.

    My 9 year old daughter recently had her birthday party for school friends, and in lieu of gifts for her, we requested donations for the food bank. It was fascinating to see the range of items that were donated (I take it you did not receive the Korma cooking sauces…). The best part was when we brought the food to the donation bin: It was empty, and when we finished it was half full. What a gratifying sight.

  16. Jenny
    June 1, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Thank you for sharing Julie – I am floored with the quality of food – or lack of I should say.

    At the end of this week if you have any suggestions for what would be good to put in the food bank bin I would appreciate it.

    I never do fruits or vegetables since i don’t know if they will last until the get to someone.

  17. Erica B.
    June 1, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    I think it’s fantastic you’re taking on this challenge Julie!

    I used to volunteer weekly in the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank’s production line.(I only stopped because we relocated.) I’ve seen the lines firsthand, and I’ve seen them grow tremendously over the past few years.

    In terms of all those pudding cups etc – it’s what’s donated – particularly around a holiday. I know the CIFB wouldn’t spend donated monies on junk food – but at the same time they won’t let donated items languish on the shelf either. Money raised more often than not goes toward perishables – milk is one of the “guaranteed items” in every hamper so if they didn’t get it donated, they have to buy it.

    Every hamper also includes protein in the form of tuna, beans and or peanut butter, pasta, cereal, juice, soup, canned vege and tomato/tomato sauce, and kraft dinner. If they have it the hamper also contains cookies/crackers, and paper goods like TP/kleenex.

    Lynn could probably tell you more about the distribution side where perishables are kept but the lack of fruit & veg is simply because some days they’ll receive a palette of veg from a local grocery store, and sometimes they don’t – and some days it’s so busy that by the end of the day the place is cleaned out. I can remember nights that we’d be putting hampers together in the back and they’d be taken straight out to the distribution line supplies were that low.

    I don’t recommend donating perishables unless you’re planning to deliver them straight to the food bank yourself – donate cash and or your time. The CIFB is largely volunteer run and can always use an extra pair of hands whether it’s weekly or at special events like a donation table at a football game, or other food drive.

  18. Lauren @ Healthy Delicious
    June 1, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    my teeth hurt just reading thing – so much sugar (and really? bubble gum pudding and gushers? no wonder kids these days are so fat!)

    That’s really sad. And it makes me feel better that I’ve always gone the way of canned fruit and vegetables for my donations.

  19. Barb
    June 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Your stew sounds pretty darn good actually. You have great ideas. Sounds like they could use some more protein donations…

  20. Erin M
    June 1, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Wow! Good for you Julie, what a humbling experience. I too was quite surprised by the amount of not too healthy food. Well I shouldn’t of been as I know most food donations are non perishable coming from the foodbank. I have helped a number of clients (I work in Mental Health and addictions) access the foodbank here and some food healthy or not is better then no food.

  21. angiebean
    June 1, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    The stew looked yummy!

    It did seem like you got a lot of processed food. That’s kind of sad.

    Where I live the local farmers markets all take food stamps and WIC. The farmers pushed hard for it. Except the produce at the farmers markets are usually at least double the amount of the regular store.

    My town also has a bin at the community garden. Three times a week the food bank picks up fresh vegetables from the bin. Even if you don’t have a plot at the garden, you can always slip your extra veggies in the bin.

  22. Lauren
    June 2, 2010 at 9:41 am

    There is no such thing as food stamps in Canada, Food Banks are the only place in many cities were low-income Canadians can get help with Food. They are also not government funded and operate on donations and hundreds of volunteers like the ones who have already posted above.

    From my research it looks like the Calgary Food Bank is high quality compared to some food banks. I recently read the experiment they did in Toronto and was shocked by the low amount of food. You can read about their challenge here: http://www.dothemath.thestop.org/dothemathchallenge_updates.php

  23. Jan (Family Bites)
    June 2, 2010 at 11:14 am

    I am totally amazed at how much food you received. I have no idea that much was given. Good on you for bringing awareness to the organization.

  24. Ashley
    June 4, 2010 at 1:08 am

    I volunteer at a food bank and its very interesting to see the things that come in as well as learn the rules for keeping or tossing things. Often, most of what comes in is from large retailers and are damaged items (dented cans, a six pack of applesauce with one missing) or items that don’t sell (the cotton candy pudding). Dented cans are ok as long as you can still read what it is, but not if the dent is too close to the top, unless it can be opened from the bottom. Canned goods may be kept for one month after their expiration date. Things labeled “best by” may be kept past their expiration date. Many sugary and processed food items don’t have expiration dates, which may be why they are so prevalent. This is an interesting experiment. Thanks for raising awareness.

  25. Marisa
    June 4, 2010 at 7:27 am

    Very insightful post and what a great way to raise awareness. Will be keeping up with your daily posts to see what you’re able to create from the food bank provisions.

  26. Hilary
    June 5, 2010 at 4:14 am

    What a great experiment, but good grief, like others I am seriously alarmed by the amount of junk you were given. Some of this stuff doesn’t even count as ‘food’ in my opinion. I think the best lesson here is that I’ve learned what NOT to donate to the food bank. I’ll keep in mind the fact that people tend to donate the same things over and over, so it will probably make someone’s day to switch it up and donate something nutritious but unexpected.

  27. mari k
    June 6, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    thanks for the recipe! I tried it and it came out great!

  28. Kat
    June 10, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    I helped ran an event that donated to the local food bank. Some food and some money were donated.

    I took things from my own pantry because it’s easier, but as a college student feeding for one, I had a lot of canned goods. Of course, I did slip one donation of a snack as well. Give them a treat. They need it for morale too. Sure there’s the age old “but that’s not healthy” thing too… But if I were in the Food Bank getting stuff, I would smile if someone donated chocolate or a treat.

    This really helped me to understand what goes into a hamper and what it’s like a little bit.

    Thank you. 🙂

  29. Jason A
    June 10, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    Great post! I volunteer at our local Food Distribution Center almost every week, so I’ve seen how much variety there is from week-to-week (not to mention how much good food we throw out at the end of the night).

    It’s always amazing how much more popular the prepared, artificial foods are than the natural/organic/fresh items. You hit on part of the reason in our post – the fresh veggies/fruits don’t keep for very long and people try to make this stretch through the month as best they can. But I’m always shocked by people going after sliced white bread instead of some of the whole grain choices. But I guess if that’s what their children will eat,then that’s what they grab.

    I’m going to share this with the Distribution Center and volunteers there.

    Thanks!

  30. Sharon
    October 11, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Perfect. I’m making this stew tonight.

    Are you allowed to return the non-food items? No thanks we won’t need the soda or the cheerios or the doughnuts.

    I have taught community kitchens for social services. There are about 20 generations of food knowledge lost in the last one. It just made me feel so sad that most of the moms were so over-drugged (prescription), over-worked and underpaid to do in their own kitchens any of what we touched on. We always had fun though. Amazingly so many of them would talk about the good food in their mother’s kitchens. Who were their mothers? Native women mostly, prostituted, drug-addicted, alcoholic. Lost.

  31. Carrie
    January 2, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    What happened the rest of the week?

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