Monday, 12 December 2016

Too Poor Even For Scrooge

We’ve been food and drink shopping as if the festive season would never end. Cupboards, larder and freezers are groaning under the impact. I am really quite ashamed of myself. There are still subliminal remnants of the bad old days buried in both of us, the days when food was rationed and coupons were carefully saved for weeks before the great event. Rationing in Germany ended several years before the end of shortages in Britain, which means that Beloved’s childhood in a grocers’ shop in London was deeply influenced by people coming in to buy tiny amounts of foodstuffs like fat, cheese, sugar, bacon.

But today's poverty is worse, to my mind. At a time of plenty, wth shops filled with foods from around the globe, fruit and vegetables available all year round, when many are suffering the modern scourge of obesity, there are people for whom gifts of real food, fresh food, to be prepared and eaten at home, are quite useless. I had absolutely no idea that such abject poverty exists in one of the largest economies in the world.

During one of our shopping trips to a supermarket last week we spent enough to receive the offer of a free turkey. At first I wanted to turn it down. We had just ordered our Christmas meat at the butchers' and had no need of a whole, frozen, turkey. Then a vision of 'A Christmas Carol' came into my head and I thought that there must be many people who, like Bob Cratchit and his tribe, would be only too glad of it. I took the turkey home and rang the person in Valley’s End who organises the Food Bank. Joan said immediately :”No, I don’t want your turkey. Can’t use it.”

I was amazed. Food Banks who don’t want food? “No,” Joan said, “ our clients wouldn’t know what to do with it. On top of that, they have no means of cooking it. You can’t do much cooking on one (gas or electric) ring.” Joan’s and the Food Bank’s clients have either only recently come off living rough, are too poor to pay rent, have had their benefits stopped, have been put into one room, often barely furnished, in some council administered hovel. Joan continued :”Even those who have an oven probably don’t know how to defrost a bird, or how to cook it. They’ve been brought up in equally deprived households themselves, have been neglected, abused, lived in care homes, and never learned basic housekeeping skills. Tinned food is what they know and want and even the tinned soup or baked beans or mince has to have a name they recognise. And don’t come with lentils or anything else nourishing. ‘What’s lentils' they ask". Joan told me of a client who has nothing but a kettle. So the only hot food he eats is the one you pour hot water on.

She painted a horrifying picture of the deprivation and destitution that exists among the poorest in urban and rural areas, who are heartlessly termed the underbelly of society. None of that cosy, candle lit, jolly face we see in depictions of Victorian England, the Dickensian cheerfulness that warms the hearth of Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, in spite of the hardship they endure. Bob Cratchit’s wife has an oven and she knows how to cook the turkey Scrooge gives her, once his cold, hard heart has been dragged away from his moneybags and the ghosts have put the fear of eternal damnation into him. I know that this cheerful picture was a myth as much as the idea that there are no truly poor in our own affluent society.

My turkey has found a temporary home in the freezer of friends; Joan has promised to think up a way in which it can be made into a fundraiser for good causes.


  1. The best of intentions are no match for human organizations

  2. Wow, that's sobering. I know that here we have shelters who would gobble that turkey right up (pun only partially intended). The food banks only accept non-perishable items, canned or boxed, from 'real' people but will take perishable food from stores and restaurants. However, you make such a real and poginant point -- that some can't even cook this food; they must eat tinned or boxed food and that must be enough.

    I hope that Joan will find a way that the turkey can be used, whether it is in delivering a hot meal to those who need it or in a fundraising way. And I applaud your realization that this bird will mean a great deal more to someone, someday, than it did to you. Thank you for that. Things like that always build my hope in humankind.

  3. It seems like a poverty of vision, because anyone can learn how to cook a turkey, or saute vegetables, or bake something. But sometimes it's the words "I can't" that hold us back.

  4. What dreadful things we have allowed our society to do to people. People like ourselves who have been deprived of the chance of a decent life.

  5. A very real and tragic picture. I just donated a large bag to my food bank here. While my cooking skills are not great, they extend to baking, roasting, sautéing and grilling on an electric grill. Thank you for being willing to donate your turkey and wouldn't it be wonderful if "Home Economics" could be restored to schools so people could learn these things...

  6. Quite depressing really. Ok, you do need an oven, but if you have one, it can't be that hard to roast a bird. I think even I could to it without looking up a method in a recipe books or the net. I must say though, even in quite good homes in the north of England, I was quite shocked at the diet of children there, with so much sugar and to be frank, just rubbish.

  7. Very, very depressing. And sadly real. Our local early morning centre for the homeless makes a practice of providing food for the weekends which doesn't require access to a kitchen. Or even to water.

  8. My Dad works at a charity shop every Monday, where nearly-out-of-date goods and other donations from supermarkets are sold at symbolic prices to people who are officially registered with social services here (officially poor,.. what a horrible thought!).
    He often says their most popular items are the "easy" things, convenience food, to be microwaved or made with just adding hot water, and the healthy stuff that requires some preparation is left until it can not be sold any longer and has to be thrown away.
    Also, many of their customers are from countries with very different cooking and eating habits, and have no idea how to use some of the things the shop offers. Whereas - it's a cliché but true - the Russian customers always jump at the chance of buying cabbages and spuds in the largest amounts they are allowed (goods are supposed to be made to last for every customer).

    It is sad to think of people who have to grow up in households where "cooking" is limited to pouring hot water of a pot noodle, or opening a tin. All the more am I grateful for having parents who know and love how to cook and bake, and grow part of their own food on the allotment.

  9. Hi Friko - I suggest a church ... they offer meals for the homeless or those who need a meal - I'm sure you'd find an outlet there.

    Foodbanks - when I wrote about them - I realised the challenges ... and so often when one sees people with poverty etched into their faces ... they are pale and pallid. Desperate - so many waste their money on frivolities and don't think of others ...

    People so often now don't know how to cook ... one talks food and recipes and ideas - but it's water off a duck's back ... or complete lack of understanding.

    I had been given a turkey and wanted to refuse it ... but decided to keep it and use it .. it fed the elderly lady and her sister who'd given it to me for at least 2 meals each, then another elderly in the block I lived in, the bones went to some friends as Johnnie loves his stocks and soups, a large portion went to a family of growing boys who were on benefits, some I took up to the Nursing Centre as my mother was still alive - but she couldn't have any. The staff enjoyed it anyway ... and I had some!

    They are now encouraging supermarkets to give over their sell-by dated food to start-up restaurants and offer bags of veggie/fruits to the locals ...

    We are in a desperate situation in this country - sadly so many don't think or put themselves into a homeless, destitute, or really poor person's shoes ...

    I'm amazed your rationing came off before ours did ... I think I knew this - but still amazes me ...

    Thanks for highlighting 'too poor for Scrooge' ... so true .. Hilary

  10. You have named the poverty that is everywhere in our privileged society (privileged for a few but so many who have never known a home-cooked feast in their lives). The number of homeless on the streets in our town is frightening. Homeless camps exist everywhere in America now. We are on the brink of catastrophe. Thank you for this horrifying but enlightening post. :-(

  11. So sad and difficult to imagine now knowing how to cook or having items to cook with. My grandmother very poor, cooked simply on wood stove, amazing food.
    I am like you, filling my cupboards and freezer in case of cold Winter where
    I cannot go down this rural road. Store much but at the moment out of bananas :)

  12. I work at a food bank that certainly would take that turkey. We do have some people who live on the streets or in a single room with little or no way of cooking anything that is not canned. However, most of our clients are the elderly living on small pensions and the working poor, many with children, who are struggling to pay their rent and utilities and have little left over to provide for meals. They are so grateful for the healthy food that is donated which includes fresh fruit and vegetables that people and businesses grow on their properties. We are very blessed to have these people (and companies), that give thought to those who are going through difficult times.

    If you have a Salvation Army in your area, I am sure they would love your donation. They cook meals for people and would welcome a nice turkey.

  13. Wow. Enlightening post. I thought I had a pretty good idea of poverty after 20 years of teaching in the city, but the devil's in the details.

  14. Dear Friko, I think that your bonus turkey will eventually help to feed folks who will enjoy it. Many of the earlier comments have suggested places "with kitchens and cooks" who would know how to roast a turkey. I think it's great that you did accept the bonus.

    I actually imagine that lots of young tenants in my own apartment building rely on take our and microwaved meals, and wouldn't have a clue as to how to roast a turkey. Evolution takes another curious swerve. xo

  15. The best thing we can give a good bank is money. Only those working the FB know what is needed and it would surprise you. Menstruation products. Shampoo. Detergent. Diapers. Cans of protein laden foods of course. The simpler and more basic the better.Until one works one,one is clueless.

  16. well, this was an eyeopener. it never occurred to me that people wouldn't know how to cook real fresh food. or that they wouldn't have the means to cook anyway. with all our big brains and advanced technology, we are forgetting how to survive.

  17. The poverty rate, at least in America, kept going down for decades, until about 1970, and since then it's leveled off at around 10 percent (varying betw. 9 and 12 percent, depending on a better or worse economy). I wonder if there's a "natural" rate of poverty like there's a "natural" rate of unemployment. Regardless, as you suggest, we should open our hearts, our pantries and our wallets for those of us (there but for the grace of god) who struggle in this life.

    1. Tom read 'Evicted' by Matthew Desmond. Wonderful book that goes a long way toward explaining the why/how of US poverty. The slide began under Reagan and was accelerated under Bill Clinton, thanks to the Newt gingrich Congress and W. thanks to tax cuts for the better off financed on the backs of the poor..

  18. My heart aches for those who lack not only the physical means to survive, such as sufficient food and the ability to cook it, but also for the poverty of spirit such living suggests. When I think of the rich time spent around the table in every part of the world, from our cavemen ancestors hunkered around the fire sharing meat to elegant dinner parties with crystal and china, I think that those who do not have this fellowship suffer in both body and mind.
    I know you will find a good use for that turkey!

  19. I believe it is probably quite the same around here, to be honest. How would you cook a turkey without a roasting pan...even if you HAD an oven? So many people don't even know how to cook from scratch anymore. Such a shame. But I'm sure that turkey will not have died in vain. ;)

  20. When people could not afford/did not have an oven they took their goose or turkey or chicken to the local baker. He was used to using his hot ovens, once the bread was out, to cook for many households, for a small fee. Then the roast bird was carried carefully home. There is no excuse for the poverty we see around us, but as yet we have not developed the systems of old which helped. We never thought we would need to having left such abject poverty behind us. I cannot believe we have come to this.

  21. No way to cook food...that is sad, even a campfire would work. I am convinced that some such people don't want to improve their life style:)

  22. i can confirm that many poor or transitional families don't have the means or experience to cook a turkey. i worked in a poor urban area for five years, in people's home, and i don't think one of my clients cooked holiday meals like i do. i found the same instance with possessions. they were disposable. i think transience and poverty affect people in significant ways….


  23. Even though I know this to be so in my own country as well, it breaks my heart that so many live in such a poverty of not just necessities (food, shelter) but a poverty even deeper, a poverty in their soul. I choose not to judge those who do not know how to cook, or even boil water to make a few days. I do not know their circumstances, their history, etc. and many may carry traumatic stress injuries or mental disabilities. I'm glad you took the free turkey, that it is being kept until it can go to a good cause.

  24. Many of our problems are rooted in a lack of problem-solving skills, and a lack of families where skills for living can be passed on. When I was in school, in the 1950s, everyone (girl and boy alike) took a home economics cooking course. The school had a regular kitchen, with many small stoves. We'd divide into groups, plan menus, go shopping, cook the meals, and then share them. We were given challenges, like "plan a week's worth of meals for a family of four, on $20.00" We learned a lot, and many of those skills are ones I still use.

    Beyond that, I learned cooking with my mother and grandmother. When mom was making pies, I was right next to her, rolling out my crust with a tiny rolling pin, on a chair seat.

    In the late 1960s, I had my first apartment in Kansas City. It had one large room and a bath. My "kitchen" was a tiny refrigerator, a sink, a toaster, a perculator, and an electric skillet. I don't think microwaves had been invented yet! And yet I could make meatloaf, biscuits, chocolate cake, cobblers, and every sort of soup and stew with that skillet.

    Making sure people have food is important, but making sure they skills is just as important.

  25. I was thinking about Dickens yesterday as I finished reading "Evicted" about the incredible poverty and hunger here in the States. Of course some folks will say they are poor because of LMF.

    Don't know what to do about the food bank. I was told they don't want more canned goods, only money.

  26. I remember a desperately poor , very young , family whose two year-old started at our playgroup . Just re-housed ( they'd been sleeping under a bridge ),they had nothing , not even a plate or a table . So a turkey wouldn't have been much use ... but the local Salvation Army could have made them and quite a few others a real Christmas feast from it .
    Oh , and food banks always need toothpaste and toothbrushes , apparently .

  27. That's a really good point, about people usually only having a hot plate. I ate like that in college, but it's entirely different when you know it's temporary and you have high hopes for the future.

  28. I think the suggestion of Salvation Army above is a good one. Even if it is not Christmas time, they do have some centres (there's one not far from us) that provide a proper home cooked meal at a really reasonable price. Lots of rather lonely and isolated people (not necessarily horribly poor) come in for the friendly company as much as the meal. I am not religious but I think the Salvation Army are good in that kind of simple everyday way.


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