“Poverty is not mending.
Poverty is not using a free library.
Poverty is ignoring a beautiful sunset.
Poverty is sweeping dirt under the rug.
Poverty is not caring.
Poverty is contagious.” — Selma Lind
I am a secondhand child of the Great Depression. I experienced this period of American history only through the habits, hand-me-downs, and twice-told stories of my parents. Yet there is an inborn abhorrence to waste of any kind that has surfaced in me throughout my lifetime.
My mother would shake her head at that last sentence. For haven’t I always peeled apples and potatoes in thick wasteful pieces? Thrown out perfectly good shoes and bought new ones in the same style and color? Yes, I have slipped the surly bonds of “always buying on sale” in weak moments. But I still cannot tolerate obvious waste.
Some of my deepest feelings on poverty stem from living overseas. I vividly recall the first time I watched from my South African kitchen window as an old man rummaged for food in our trash can. I had been told by neighbors upon my arrival to wrap our food scraps in newspaper with string. I was so thankful I had heeded their advice.
There were some mornings when I reached for the milk bottles delivered to our front stoop only to find they were nowhere in sight. The first time this happened I ranted and raved a bit about not having milk for our breakfast cereal, whining, “Why would anyone be cheeky enough to steal our milk in broad daylight?” Jim quietly reminded me that someone might have needed that milk more than we did.
Poverty overseas was much more visible to me than any I had observed growing up in a small Kansas town where the only beggars we ever saw were the hobos who came to our back door for a handout. While living in South Africa, I was dealing with it on a daily basis.
Peter, my Anglican priest friend, had dealt with it all his life. I asked him once, “How do you manage to sort out the impoverished lined up at the rectory door each morning — those who have a real need as opposed to those who are too lazy to work or just looking for a handout?”
He told me his simple solution: “If they ask for money for their family, I tell them, ‘Take me to your family and I will help you.’ This eliminates half the begging men standing in line hoping for money to buy drugs or drink. I never give them money unless I see there is a real need.”
Here in America, I find myself in the kitchen thinking about poverty and waste, catching myself doing quirky little acts. Washing out plastic bags to reuse later. Pinching used foil that is perfectly clean to cover a dish. Adding water or vinegar to the last little dabs of bottled ketchup or salad dressing. Boiling macaroni or rice, then adding leftover meat or veggies to make a dinner casserole.
Then there is my husband, Jim. He is one of those Yankee shoppers who James Crockett says “is not apt to spend any money unless he can see he’s investing in something of real value.” Jim buys the biggest box or bag when it is a bargain. He cannot pass by the reduced-price produce rack without a look-see. That’s why we have funny little lunches now and then.
When he brings home a sack of ripe avocados, I make guacamole. If it is a basket of mushrooms, I saute them to freeze. Over-ripe pineapple, I juice it — a trick my Peruvian maid taught me. She made the best pineapple juice by scrubbing the peelings and boiling them with a bit of sugar.
Even when we used to go apple picking in Michigan we could not resist picking up the apples on the ground. I baked apples or made applesauce.
I learned about poverty, waste, and the Depression by listening, observing, and reflecting. I live it by conserving, preserving, and saving.
4 medium apples; 2 tsp. butter; 2 tsp. granulated sugar; 4 strips fresh lemon peel (optional); 4 tbsp. packed brown sugar; ½ tsp. cinnamon
Cut a thin slice off both top and bottom of apple. Remove core and seeds. Rub top of apple with ½ tsp. butter and dip in sugar. Place brown sugar (and peel) in cavity of each apple. Sprinkle cinnamon over the tops. Place in buttered baking dish and bake uncovered at 375 degrees F. for 30 minutes or until small cracks appear on the rims of apples. Serve with warm cream or ice cream.