April 8th, 2013

A Place at the Table


What would you eat, if you only had a budget of $4.00 a day?

It’s not an easy question to answer. Now, figure in these other complicated overlays:

There are no grocery stores within a 3 mile radius of your home.
You have no car.
Your kitchen is outfitted with an apartment sized refrigerator, a hot plate, and a small microwave.

The possibilities become even narrower, don’t they?


For 50 million Americans, that question, with or without those other complications, is an everyday reality.
Out of our population of 300 million, that means 1 in 6 of us faces the challenges of inadequate food access on a daily basis.
And, 17 million are children.

I’m writing about this today, in solidarity with The Giving Table, and a host of concerned food bloggers

Together, we are shining the light on the grim facts to spread the awareness that hunger is your neighbor.


After I sold my catering company in 2005, I turned my attention to food activism. What does that mean?

We look at our food system in these areas: how to make good food accessible and affordable, how to support our local farmers and producers, and how to effectively solve the problems of hunger and food insecurity.

I volunteer at our food bank, teach healthy cooking classes; I worked at community gardens and farmers markets. Over time, I have seen a dramatic shift in the collective consciousness:

People want to know and support local farmers. They want to know where their food comes from.
People recognize a crisis of obesity in our nation. Poverty, processed foods, and obesity are all interlocked.
People understand the need to eradicate “food deserts.”
People believe that having access to basic good healthy food is a fundamental human right.

No one wants anyone to go hungry.

And yet, the numbers of those who suffer from hunger and food insecurity have Not dwindled. Sadly, the opposite is true. Why?


Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush tackle the complex problem with clarity in the documentary, A Place at the Table. The film follows three families who come from diverse backgrounds and live in different parts of the country–in rural and urban settings.

What they share is a struggle to put food on the table everyday.

The film examines the many contributing factors of our ever-widening food gap: a stagnant economy, huge government subsidies of Corn, Wheat, and Soy (which have made Processed Foods very cheap-a core piece of the poverty-obesity epidemic) while ignoring fresh vegetables and fruits, and a shift away from government assistance to private charities.

Since 1980, food banks across our nation have grown from 40 to 40,000. Without question, they help, but what they do is not enough. Jacobson and Silverbush make the case that while the food system is broken, the hunger issue is solvable. We have solved it before. It takes the will of the people.

Below you’ll find links to more information.

Meanwhile: Consider what would you eat if you had only $4.00 a day?
I gave it a lot of thought. Here are three healthy recipes that are inexpensive to make.

When I was shopping for this post, I kept in mind that if I were in the shoes of 50 million of my fellow citizens, I might have a limited pantry. I might not have olive oil, or a wealth of herbs and spices. I might not have a freezer to store food in bulk, which is cheaper. I might not have access to fresh produce. So, I shopped lean. All three dishes could be made “better” with more and costlier ingredients, such as cheese. Or meat.

But, as they are, they are tasty and nutritious.


1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large sweet potato, cubed–2 cups sweet potatoes
1 can tomatoes with chilis (Ro-tel brand makes several–get the spice level you like)
1 handful fresh greens (collards or mustards, kale or chard), finely chopped
1/2 cup rice
4 corn tortillas
2 eggs
2 green onions, chopped
salt and pepper

Toss cubed sweet potatoes in oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast in a hot (400 degree) oven for 15 minutes, until cubes have crisp brown edges and cooked interiors.

Simmer chopped greens of choice with diced tomato-chili blend.
Cook rice. (1/2 cup rice with 1 cup lightly salted water: bring to boil, then simmer, covered for 12 minutes.
Warm tortillas in the oven.
Fry two eggs.

Assemble the Ranchero:
Place 2 tortillas on each plate. Spoon rice over tortillas. Spoon wilted spiced greens-tomatoes over rice.
Place sweet potato cubes over the spiced greens layer.
Top each with a fried egg.

Serves 2 generously.
Cost of the entire dish: $3.45 ($1.73 each)


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon curry powder ( or make own blend of cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
1- 14 oz can coconut milk

Place a large pot on medium heat. Add vegetable oil (or olive oil.) Stir in onions, garlic, and carrots and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add curry powder (or 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon ginger) Allow spices to bloom in the heat of the mixture.

Add lentils and 3 cups of water. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
Stir in coconut milk. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts (6- 1 cup servings)
cost of the entire dish approx. $3.00 $.50 per serving


1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
2 cloves garlic, slivered
1/2 cup diced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup dried white beans, soaked overnight, or 1 15 oz. can cannellini beans
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes (I found “Italian style” which already had some herbed seasoning—otherwise, season with your own
blend of dried herbs—oregano, basil, thyme
1/2 cup ditalini pasta

Place a large saucepan on medium heat. Add oil, then garlic and onions. Stir in salt and red pepper flakes. When onions are translucent, stir in beans. If using dried beans, add 3 cups of water and simmer, uncovered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
When beans are cooked (they will be firm, with soft interiors) add the canned diced tomatoes and juice. Fill the can with water and pour into the pot.

If using canned beans, drain and rinse the beans and add to the garlic-onion saute. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add the canned diced tomatoes and juice. Fill the can with water and pour into the pot. Stir, and continue simmering.

In a separate pot, bring lightly salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water. Stir cooked pasta and pasta water into bean-tomato mix. Taste and adjust for seasonings.

Serves 4
cost of entire dish approx. $2.75 ($. 71 per serving)

Education and Advocacy: sharing recipes and knowledge, spreading awareness, contacting your elected representatives on local, state, and national levels are all ways to get involved to promote change and help end hunger.

Share your ideas and recipes in your comments to this blog below, or post them on The Giving Table’s Facebook page. To see the other food blogger’s contributions, go to The Giving Table’s Pinterest Board: Food Bloggers Against Hunger

Those who see A Place at the Table cannot help but be moved by the stories.

If you haven’t seen the documentary, look for it at your local theater. You can request through iTunes, or On Demand. Here’s a preview.

If you live in the Nashville area:
On Monday, April 29th, at 6:00 pm there will be a special screening of A Place at the Table at the
Downtown Presbyterian Church, 154 5th Avenue North hosted by Nashville Food Bloggers

There will be a healthy affordable meal prepared by local chefs, and the opportunity for Q&A with leaders from the Community Food Advocates.

I encourage you, my readers who live in the U.S., to follow this link to advocate for change. We want to flood Congress with thousands of messages that we the people have the will to solve the problem of hunger and food insecurity in the United States. Now, they must show the political will. Cutting SNAP benefits to those in need is a criminal act. In our own state: linking those benefits with children’s good grades puts a family responsibility on the backs of children. It is not only wrong and counterproductive, it is diabolical.

We want to make a place for everyone at the table.


Posted in Articles, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes

29 Responses to “A Place at the Table”
  1. Faith Says:

    A beautiful post and lovely recipes, Nancy. I was excited to see you’re also participating in this worthy cause. Hopefully together we will all make a difference!

  2. Paulette Says:

    Nancy, terrific post, sentiment, action, effort, much applause

  3. Shannon Says:


    Thanks for posting this…I can’t wait to try these recipes! I am curious: for the recipes that require herbs/seasonings, how did you figure in the cost? I ask because most stores only carry herbs/seasonings in jars and do not offer the option of the bulk type purchase where one can actually scoop just a 1/2 teaspoon into a bag.

  4. Jeanne Vienneau Wade Says:

    Inspiring, Nancy. You are awesome. Thank you for all you do.

  5. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Shannon–it’s tricky to figure in the cost of dried herbs and spices–which was why the recipes don’t rely on them so much. I have found cumin, curry powder, and powdered ginger at some global markets in small packages for a low price point. But one thing that this exercise makes me realize is how helpful it would be to set people up with a basic food pantry: staple dried goods, cooking oil, and a selection of seasonings, as part of the food safety net.

  6. Lesley Eats Says:

    Wow, great recipes! I do have to say that I love seeing all these great vegetarian recipes for this project! I hope it will help people realize that they don’t *have* to have meat on the table to have a great (and healthy) meal.

  7. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    this is awesome! Love the easiness and how inexpensive- just shows you that eating well and eating delicious foods doesn’t have to cost you everything. If i only had 4 dollars i would by a can of chicken broth, a can of red beans and a batch of rice and make one heck of a red beans and rice soup.

  8. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Jeanne–thank you, dear cousin.

    Lesley Eats–thanks for visiting my very veggie-friendly blog. and thank you for participating in this worthwhile event.

    Jess–good idea. thanks for sharing a healthy affordable recipe.

  9. ernestine lawson Says:

    Nancy, cooking for one is difficult
    and you have now given me some new
    ideas for my own dinner table.
    I find soup is easy and nutricious.
    Potato, butternut squash and cauliflower,
    my home grown turnip greens, collards and
    are staples for me.
    Most of my cooking for one is simple, nutricious
    and inexpensive.
    Education is the answer…

  10. goodfoodmatters Says:

    I agree, Ernestine, it is harder to cook cheaply and well for one, but it can be done. it’s wonderful that you have such good things growing in your garden to incorporate into your meals. Soups of any kind really satisfy and nourish while remaining inexpensive to prepare. Education, on all fronts, is surely the answer.

  11. Michele / Cooking At Home Says:

    Great job, Nancy.

  12. Kath Says:

    Nancy, this is an excellent post. The creation and use of food banks is becoming more prevalent in the UK too. One has just been established this week in my home town. I have been thinking of ways to help and you have stirred me to action. I agree that education is key.

  13. fluffy Says:

    what terrific recipes using the minimum
    superb post
    off to petition Congress!

  14. Nashville Food Bloggers Against Hunger | Healthy Food Guides Says:

    [...] than healthy food and offers a recipe for Red Lentil Curry Soup with Spinach as a tasty alternative.Good Food Matters: Nancy writes about what she does personally to address the concerns of malnutrition and hunger in [...]

  15. Teresa, food on fifth Says:

    Nance, very informative post. I had the good fortune to see this moving film while out of town recently. Let us hope all of our eyes are more open, as well as our hearts and minds, to hunger in the world. Great post.

  16. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    Interesting idea you have of setting people up with basics such as staple dried goods, cooking oil, and seasonings. It would make something like this http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/vegetarian-split-pea-soup-recipe.html a little more doable. I just made it this week and think it would still be good w/ any old oil and salt, sans paprika. It was the lemon that made it special. Other healthy and money saving meals that come to mind are oatmeal, soups with whole grains or beans (as you’ve shown), and whole grain or bean based salads. These types of soups and salads are also great made in larger quantities so one can eat leftovers and not be burdened w/ full meal prep for every meal. Clearly, if any vegetable gardening is possible, it would be great, but I know it isn’t always feasible. I’m going to watch this documentary and check out your links. Thanks, Nancy.

  17. Patrick O'Rourke Says:

    Great work Nancy. I’d like to take this opportunity to mention that many, a majority I think, of the people you mentioned in the blog suffer from diabetes 2, obesity and high blood pressure. As such, the best research indicates that they should avoid any grains, rice and all starches. I would caution against using the American Diabetes Association as a primary research source. The ADA has proven itself, over and over, to be simply a shill for Big Pharm, and cannot be trusted.

    Best regards, Your friend

  18. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Denise—Many thanks for your thoughtful suggestions. I agree that Heidi has many healthy recipes on her 101 Cookbooks that could easily be “stepped down” and made less expensively without sacrificing taste or nutrition.
    I think that you’ll appreciate the documentary.

    PO–thanks, too, for contributing to the conversation. I know that starches, especially highly processed ones like white flour, white rice convert quickly into sugars—bad for the diet. Whole grains, with more nutrition and fiber, are less problematic.

    We know that the wrong things are subsidized–Corn, Wheat, Soy, all the culprits that go into processed foods
    What if that shifted to carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, and the like? It would help, if people had access to affordable good produce.

  19. Allison Polidor Says:

    Great post Nancy, you are the biggest food advocate I know. I am so thankful for what you do in our community!! You are an inspiration to us all.

  20. Beth Says:

    I don’t think our country is any better. I’m ashamed that people go hungry in Canada. There has to be a better way.

  21. Juliana Says:

    Great post Nancy…and I love all the recipes :)
    Have a wonderful weekend!

  22. Barbara Says:

    What an inspirational post, Nancy. Kudos to you and all the organizations working in this arena. I have not seen the movie, but will certainly be watching for it. I’ll also click on all your links so I’m better informed.

  23. goodfoodmatters Says:

    thanks Barbara. I hope you get the chance to see A Place at the Table.

  24. .Wendy Says:

    Thanks for shining a light on a very serious problem–

  25. Joyti Says:

    …I forget what percentage of children (remarkably high) get their dinner from a convenience store. I’m guessing the ones that live in the homes you describe …
    Great cause, thank you for highlighting it.

    Another thing I want to mention – you can live without a microwave and dishwasher and with an apartment sized fridge – I do :)

  26. Food Poverty – A challenge | The Ordinary Cook Says:

    [...] from Good Food Matters has been involved with food activism and food banks for a long time and she has done much to raise [...]

  27. Thursday therefore | rachel eats Says:

    [...] gnocchi di patate al sugo for four costs under €3, which is something I have thinking about lately. I didn’t have any wine, which was appropriate but disappointing, so I raised a forkful [...]

  28. Feeding a family of four for £3 | The Ordinary Cook Says:

    [...] Nancy was my inspiration for this challenge and she too should be on your blog roll for her wonderful recipes and insights. She has posted many recipes that could be made for less than $4. [...]

  29. Good Food Matters » Blog Archive » Feed a Child, Nourish a Mind Says:

    [...] for the most part. But it is important to open the lens wider. Last year, mobilized by Nichole, we raised awareness about hunger and food insecurity in America, a call to action aligned with the release of the [...]

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