While I was setting up my table Monday night, a boy, smiling so hard that I could count how many baby teeth he was missing, approached me. He could hardly contain himself. “Are you Corey’s Mom?”
“I am,” I told him. “Do you go to his school?”
He nodded gleefully. “I’m in his class!” He told me his name and it immediately rang a bell. According to the growth chart on the wall in their classroom, he is the only kid shorter than mine, by about a 1/3 of an inch. It’s something that a life long shorty commits to memory.
I smiled and chatted with the little guy until the line started moving and he ran back to his Mom. I held my breath for a moment, wondering what side of the table his Mom was on. To my dismay, they were in line to eat not to serve.
I know better than to be surprised by this.
“Food insecure” is the term used to describe the 297,000 people in the Greater Las Vegas Area that don’t get enough food to eat. Forty percent of those people are children, just like my son’s friend. The rest may be elderly people on a fixed income, they may be disabled and a large portion are the working-poor.
Many of the food insecure lead outwardly normal lives. According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is no zip code in the valley that is free from hunger. In the most affluent neighborhoods in the greater Las Vegas area there are still people going without food. My neighborhood is pretty squarely middle class, so of course there are people in need, close to home.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Las Vegas has the biggest shortage of affordable, available homes for rent, out of any metropolitan area in the United States. For every one hundred households that are deemed “extremely low-income” there are only twelve affordable, rental units available. The national average is thirty-five units available per one hundred households. To be considered extremely low income, a household’s annual income must fall below thirty-percent of the area median income. In Clark County that means a family of four earning less than $24,300. A person earning the minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, working full-time, would only earn $17,160.00. In order to pay for a modest, one bedroom apartment in Las Vegas, a minimum wage worker would have to put in seventy hours a week.
For the hundreds of people we feed every Monday night, and the thousands served by people like us, getting themselves and their loved ones a hot meal from a friendly face is a big relief. Having someone recognize you and smile, is an uncommon comfort and it is the very least that we can do.
My son being on one side of the table and his friend being on the other is just an example of privilege. They go to the same school, which means that they live in the same neighborhood. They’re the same age, the same grade and my son isn’t somehow outperforming his classmate. He didn’t do anything to earn his dinner at home that night. Truth be told, I wish that Corey was with me when his classmate arrived because he may have learned something about his privilege. He needs to know about it. He needs to know that when you are born with undeserved advantages, you have an obligation to those born without those privileges.
I was able to provide this kid with a little familiarity and sneak him a few extra granola bars.
He provided me with a reminder that food insecurity is never more than a few feet away. Hunger affects kids just like mine and families much like mine.
Veggie Scrap Broth
This recipe is a staple in my kitchen. I use it in nearly all of my vegetarian recipes to add flavor and calories but it can be used as a substitute for broth in any recipe.
I prefer making broth in a slow cooker because it doesn’t require much attention. I use a 4 quart slow cooker which makes about 2 quarts of broth. This homemade broth only lasts about three days in the fridge so I cook it in small batches to avoid waste.
Start saving veggie scraps now. Avoid adding eggplant skins, tomatoes, avocados, potatoes and potato skins and corn husks to your medley. Pepper seeds will make the broth a little spicy but that isn’t a bad thing in my opinion.
Good scraps to use are celery ends, broccoli stems, carrots tops and peels, green onions, garlic skins, mushroom stems, dried-out herbs, leafy green stalks, bell peppers or most vegetables that you have on hand. Include at least three kinds of vegetables in each batch of broth so you don’t end up with broth that only tastes like celery. You can use whole vegetables as well but cut them up or puncture them so they don’t float.
A lot of the color in these broths comes from onion skins and leafy greens, so don’t be skimpy with those.
Vegetable Scrap Broth
1 G freezer bag of Fresh or frozen vegetable scraps
3 whole bay leaves
1.5 t minced garlic
2 medium brown or yellow onion
1 C mushrooms
2 T apple cider vinegar
Leaving skins on, coarsely chop onions and add to slow-cooker. Add garlic, bay leaves and apple cider vinegar. Cover with water, leaving about an inch of space at the top. Let this cook for 12 hours on low heat, stirring regularly.
Pour contents of the slow cooker the through a fine, mesh sieve over a large bowl. Make sure that nothing solid made it through and pour into the container of your choice.
Add to any dish that you would normally use broth in and enjoy.