A few weeks ago I received a text message from a co-worker (actually, my boss, she's great) asking if I wanted to go see A Place at the Table at our local theater. It was a well created and important film that provided a good glimpse into the many factors contributing to hunger in our country. I like to think I'm well versed when it comes to food and farming issues. Most of the issues that arose in the film pertaining to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or "food stamps") benefits, food insecurity, and school lunch programs were familiar to me, but the numbers were much larger than I could have imagined. Seeing all of these statistics next to each other was staggering.
The bottom line: hunger has been on the rise in the United States over the last several decades. At this very moment 50 million Americans don't know where their next meal is coming from. Funding for SNAP benefits and to school lunch programs has decreased over this same time period. To add insult to injury, the price of fresh fruits and vegetables has increased as have subsidies on commodity crops like corn (read: sugar), soy, and wheat. All of this essentially makes junk food cheaper and fresh food more, and more inaccessible. This article from Civil Eats provides a great recap of the issues and film, although I encourage you to see A Place at the Table if its available in your area.
Today, with the help of the folks at The Giving Table, over 200 food bloggers are dedicating their posts to the growing problem of hunger in America. Our purpose is two-fold. First, we're posting budget-friendly recipes that lend themselves to the $3-4 per person per day supplement SNAP beneficiaries receive. Some bloggers are taking $4 to the grocery store and documenting their shopping trips, others are sharing personal experiences with federal nutrition programs. Second, we want YOU to write letters to your senators and representatives asking them to protect SNAP funding and make eradicating hunger in America a priority. Submission is easy, click here to send a letter!
For my recipe contribution, I chose to make something with ingredients on hand. Any special trips to the grocery store just for this post would not happen if I were on a tighter food budget. The recipe I chose to make below (from 101 Cookbooks) lends itself well to variations and can be made quickly. I tried to use inexpensive ingredients, those that are available in bulk (rice) and ones that can be easily substituted and swapped (spinach, cheese).
Spinach Rice Gratin
slightly adapted from 101 Cookbooks
2 1/2 cups leftover or precooked brown (or white)
1 1/2 cups cups well finely chopped spinach (or kale, collards, chard)
4 ounces of firm tofu, crumbled (I omitted. You could also use ham, black beans, or other protein.)
10 black olives, chopped
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/3 cup almonds, toasted
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup shredded swiss style cheese (or parmesan, cheddar, your favorite)
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and lightly grease a 10-inch round baking dish.
Mix rice, spinach, tofu (or protein) in a large bowl. Add most of the chopped olives, onions, and almonds, reserving a bit for your garnish. Add half of the cheese to the large bowl. Whisk the eggs and salt in a separate bowl before folding it into your rice mixture. Put the mixture into the baking dish, top with remaining cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining onions, olives and nuts (I added a bit of parsley too).