For many of us, this marks the second or third year of one of the most challenging recessions we’ve seen in our lifetimes. For millions of Americans, hours have been cut, jobs lost, savings stretched. But your family’s health does not have to be a casualty. This may be the year that you discard poor, unhealthy eating habits in exchange for a better body and leaner expenses.
Food Stamps, now known as SNAP, are available for many who never qualified before. President Obama suspended the asset requirements to enable many strapped families to access this benefit without first emptying out savings accounts. This may be a very useful supplement to workers struggling with reduced hours, temporary unemployment or freelance, consultant or temporary work status.
Many of us shy away from such help or may be a hair above eligibility. Fortunately, several excellent organizations have stepped into the breach. Angel Food Ministries is one of the most prominent. Founded by Christian ministers, this program is staffed by neighborhood volunteers and provides discounted food to all who ask. A variety of packages are available, including some special Holiday packages to cook a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner for a family of up to ten. Recipes are included in every distribution so food doesn’t waste. Payment is in advance and may be made by credit card, debit card or SNAP (Food Stamps).
Perhaps you want to eat well and get out of the house more. SHARE Food Network may be the answer. Like Angel Food Ministries, this is a volunteer program open to all, without the religious component, although often available at the same sites as Angel Food Ministries. SHARE food is paid for in advance and every participant is required to volunteer, either in community service organizations or at the SHARE distribution site assisting others.
Is locally-grown food your passion? Purchasing coop shares in the yield of a local farm may be just your thing. Many farms offer half-shares, as well. You are at the mercy of mother nature, but this may be just the ticket to fill your cornucopia with the highest quality greens. As with SHARE, you will also contribute labor.
Many lower-income or city neighborhoods suffer from an anemic selection of fresh produce. farmer’s markets or green markets have sprouted in a variety of city neighborhoods to fill this need. In New York, Green Markets in well-traveled areas like Union Square, the Wall Street area adjacent to the bronze bull, and Grand Army Plaza are open several days a week, and on Wednesdays during the Fall, the New York Botanical Garden also hosts one. Each of these markets features farm-fresh products from New York and adjacent states. Green markets take cash, credit and SNAP.
Cooking demonstrations and recipes may be featured as well. At two recent visits to the green market at the New York Botanical Gardens, representatives from Grow NYC dished out information about selecting preparing and cooking locally harvested fresh vegetables.
As I watched, they cooked simple vegetable dishes featuring a variety of produce high in nutritional content and low in cost. Many of the recipes are extremely versatile, and while button-holing the patient cooks I learned how to substitute fennel for celery in tuna salad and other dishes to reduce sodium and how to use the fennel tops for tea. I also learned to use kale in a cabbage, kale and bean soup that can be prepared using a host of different beans and seasonings, and how to use the same kale with fruit juice to make a smoothie (delicious, if unconventional).
Several of the farmers selling nearby dropped by to discuss the nutritional differences between white, orange and purple varieties of cauliflower and chime in with cooking suggestions–roast, don’t boil.
These are challenging times, make no mistake. But your family’s health does not have to suffer. Don’t court diabetes or obesity when healthful meals are just a step away.