Friday, November 28, 2008


Tom has been volunteering at the local food shelf ever since he retired about three and a half years ago. Clients who frequent the food shelf, Tom has found, are very fond of bread, doughnuts, cereal, macaroni and cheese, hamburger, hotdogs, and frozen TV dinners. Most clients like food that they can eat right out of the package or prepare by putting in the oven or the microwave for the time specified on the package. For whatever reason, many aren’t so fond of food that needs to be fixed.

Every fall, local Alexandria residents have generously brought in garden produce to share with the food shelf clients. They bring boxes of apples, sacks of potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, pumpkins—just about every kind of produce gardeners find themselves with too much of in the fall. The food shelf clients gratefully accept all the apples and potatoes and tomatoes—these are foods they know and understand. But they really have trouble taking home the squash.

Now Tom and I love squash. So Tom has a little trouble understanding why the food shelf clients, when offered a dark green buttercup squash or a sleek tan butternut squash, ‘er’ and ‘ah’ around, not wanting to appear ungrateful, and eventually decline the hard-shelled vegetable. “I—um—don’t know how to fix a squash,” is the most common response Tom gets when he offers to pop a squash or two into their carts.

Tom has even gone so far as to give cooking instructions. You would have to understand Tom’s cooking skills to know what a stretch this is. He does not cook. Period. Yet he tries to get the clients fired up, trying to remember what he’s seen me doing when I bake a squash. It sounds kind of like Ms. Fitzmeyer’s second graders who are asked to tell how to bake a Thanksgiving turkey (“You put the turkey in the microwave for 15 minutes and then put bread in it.”) Tom’s instructions were something like “poke holes in it and put it in the microwave for 8 minutes and then cut it in half and take out the seeds and put brown sugar in it and then microwave it for 8 more minutes.”

Actually, I cut it in half, seed it, drizzle a little sugar-free maple syrup in the middle, put the halves in a pan with a little water in the bottom, cover it with foil, and bake it—time depends on the size and type of squash, anywhere from one to two hours at 350 degrees. The microwave only comes into the picture if I’m in a hurry.

So the piles of squash sit there at the food shelf, lonely and neglected. Tom absolutely hates to see food go to waste, so he brings home a squash or two occasionally. “The man who brought them in said we should help ourselves, too,” he says in his own defense, knowing how I feel about stealing food from poor people. But I fix them anyway. In the past two weeks, we have had a spaghetti squash, a delectia squash, a butternut squash, a buttercup squash, and a sweet dumpling squash. We are so full of fiber that we could pass ourselves off as stuffed animals.

But mostly I feel guilty because I know the food shelf clients are eating that gluey Kraft macaroni with its powdered orange cheese—and Tom and I are dining sumptuously on the lovely golden nutrition of a homegrown organic squash. Life ain’t fair.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of the chefs at The Corner Table had David and me over for dinner last week and made squash. He halved it, drizzled some olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, then cooked seed-side down on a baking sheet (not sure on time and temp). The result was soft and savory case you (and the food shelf consumers) are looking for a new way to do it.