Saturday, July 9, 2011

Focus on Mauritania: The Fattening of Girls

Poverty Food asks the question, is the consumption of food a pleasure or a torture? 

I recently saw a program on CNN on the fattening of girls in Mauritania, one of the poorest countries on the planet. The fattening practice is centuries old in this western African nation. A young woman who is thin or normal sized by western standards is considered not only un desirable by men in some parts of Mauritania and therefore, difficult to marry off, but she is also considered unloved by her husband if she is married. In Mauritania, many men, particulary in more rural areas, want to marry a plus sized girl and keep her that way through their married life. "In Mauritania, a woman's size indicates the amount of space she occupies in her husband's heart," said Mint Ely, head of the Association of Women Heads of Households" in an article from the Guardian in 2009. A large sized girl is so highly prized, that mothers will conduct the force feeding of their own daughters. The punishment for not drinking the fat rich milk, a staple fattening drink, or to be constantly consuming food, is to have another woman crush the child's feet between two wooden poles. And if the girl simply can't stand it any more and vomits, she must also consume the vomit. Sound unbelievable? 

Fortunately, this practice is not widespread in most of Mauritania but it is feared that it is making a comeback. Across the atlantic, in the USA, this kind of treatment of a child, both the force feeding torture and the foot crushing torture, would be flat out considered child abuse and prosecuted. We look at it and say, "how barbaric"! Yet, are we really so different?  How many people allow their children and themselves to consume food almost non-stop?  It may not be force feeding, but it is permission to over feed with the same disasterous results. It may not be torture but can it be considered a kind of violence to the body to over consume? For many of us anything that interrupts our constant snout-in-the-feed-bag-lifestyle is the real torture.

What do you think? Do you really need to eat an 16 ounce steak when you go out to eat?   Must something like a hamburger or sandwich have to weight two pounds? Does anyone really have a thirst that can only be quenched by a Big Gulp?  As one Mauritanian woman recalled in an interview from CNN, "My mother started fattening me forcibly when I was 13-years-old. She used to beat me to eat more oiled couscous and fat lamb's meat. Each time I thought my stomach would explode."  A lot of people in the first world feel like that all the time! And we still go back for more.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Algeria and the food of the desert

Our recipe spotlight today is on Algeria.

Algerian cuisine has become very close to my heart. I have been initiated into the art of couscous and the spice of harissa. Algerian cuisine  is a blend of flavors originating from the native Berbers to the influences from Spain, France, Italy, indeed the entire Mediterranean basin to the newar east and Arab influences. In short, it is delicious!

Algerians have gone through much...invasion, war, colonisation, independence and fighting terrorism. They know hardship and suffering.
The following humble yet wonderful recipe comes from a great Algerian chef, Chef Zaidi! But you don't have to recreat this exactly. Couscous in Algeria is prepared a thousand different ways. There is no wrong way...use what you have and it will be wonderful!

Here is the recipe and text from Chef Zadi:

There are as many variations of this dish as there are possible combinations for the vegetables we have available in the Maghreb. Some say the number seven is lucky. Some say it's a Badwi or Bidawi (Bedouin) dish. Others say any cook with seven vegetables makes this dish.

I chose my seven based on what I had and also the other dishes I was thinking of making. I knew that my guests liked piquant dishes so I planned on making a few along with a side of harisa. I decided a mild version of couscous with seven vegetables would be a nice contrast to the heat and spice of the soups in particular. I also did not want to add eggplant, tomatoes and peppers because I was making Badenjal chteta or Badenjal zaloka (eggplant ratatouille*).

Pumpkin (carefully peel with a very sharp knife. peel away from your body)
Cauliflower (I MUCH prefer carrots, but I did not have any)
1 onion

I really would have preferred to use carrots in this dish. The smell of cauliflower is not one that I like. But these recipes are not about my personal preferences. I will say though that carrots would have been much better for the sweetness. It would have produced a more delicate dish. I also like to add butter to this dish more than olive oil. For me buttered root vegetables are a good thing.

1) Cut the vegetables as shown. Maghrebi cooking is not about fancy knife cuts. Vegetable cutting is often done directly over the pot or onto the cutting board, not on the cutting board itself. So don't worry about fancy French chef knife cuts here.
2) Some cooks will throw everything into the pot at the same time. Others will add the longer cooking vegetables first. My parsnips were quite thick and tough so I added those in first along with the pumpkin and fennel with about a cup of water. The fennel was also a bit old. I cooked them for about 30 minutes on very low heat, then added the onions, turnips, kohlrabi and cauliflower (carrots would have been better), the butter, seasoned with salt and cooked on low heat until all was tender.

I added a stick of butter for about 2 kilos of vegetables.
Optional spices are saffron, turmeric or cinnamon.

*Don't jump to the conclusion that it's a French influenced dish because of the ratatouille. It is not a French influenced dish at all.

Is shopping a form of entertainment?

Years ago I recall driving along the highway that passed a larg shopping mall..I remember it was a beautiful, sunny day, with clear blue skies and the temperature was just perfect. And I thought to myself, "What in the world are all those people doing INSIDE a shopping mall on a day like today?"

I am not saying that to go shopping is some sort of sin. But to spend every free moment, all weekend long, during the course of any given year inside a shopping mall is, in my humble opinion, insane. I admit, I have never been a fan of shopping but naturally, I do it from time to time. But let's face it.Once we start going out of boredom, as a form of entertainment, we have crossed the line to lazy and crazy. Isn't there more to life than this? Can't we muster a tad more creativity and effort than reading the Sunday ads and dashing to the car with keys in one hand and credit cards in another?

And the financial effects of this habit can be far more destructive that we all care to believe, even when it comes to food shopping!

How many of us walk into a grocery store just for a couple of things and walk out with two bag fulls because we enjoy looing at all the great stuff? I was doing this so often I could cringe!  Here are just a few tips from a great article I found on this topic...stop overbuying and stop wasting!


This year, my husband and I resolved to spend way less money than we've been spending. But to be fair we've done this before. We've tried to budget, but for the longest time we weren't sure where all our money was going. We thought we lived quite frugally, staying away from too much consumerism and unnecessary junk.

But it seemed we were coming up short. So for a month straight, we wrote down every cent we spent from morning coffee to shampoo and meals out. We wrote it all down and kept receipts. At the end of each week we divided what we had spent up into categories including food, toiletries, gifts, gas, and utilities.

Neither my husband nor I buy a lot of clothing or gadgets, and we never have. But what we found is that we were spending an astronomical amount on food and dining. We were left wondering what to do because we're both self-proclaimed foodies and refuse to give up high quality, local, organic eats. And in the end, I found out that you don't have to.

Try this experiment for a month and I assure you that you'll be able to save the leftover dough for a rainy day, here's how:

1. Stock your pantry efficiently
If you don't have a few meals that you can cook in a flash, you're much more likely to eat out more than you'd like.

If I'm zonked, I'll go with a crowd-pleaser like my Tempeh Reuben, Tan Tan Noodles, or Homemade Veggie Burgers. We eat out very rarely, but by no means do I prep a four-course meal each night.

Have your go-to meals, whatever they are, and always stock the pantry with ingredients to make them. If you're hitting the grocery store each night, you're bound to pick up stuff that you don't need.

2. Try ethnic cuisines because they're veg-friendly and less expensive
You're likely spending way too much money going out to eat, that's generally where we spend cash on entertainment. While you don't have to sacrifice eating out, choose wisely.

Ethnic cuisine such as Middle Eastern, Indian, Mexican, and Thai often gives you more bang for your buck. I love this Asian fusion café here in Columbia because its appetizers are well-executed, and I wouldn't have the faintest idea how to make them at home. What's more, I never need a main course because I'm way too full.

Indian cuisine is also great because you never need meat, which is what costs the most. Think outside the box, and you'll come out on top.

3. Be flexible with your recipes
When it comes to dinners at home, it doesn't have to be perfect, and if you're not flexible with preparations, you'll waste a host of ingredients. You don’t need every correct spice the recipe calls for all the time. Always keep garlic, fresh herbs, onions, olive oil, and local butter on hand.

If your recipe calls for cilantro and you only have flat leaf parsley, it's not the end of the world. If you have a sweet potato just waiting to be used, add some color to that stir fry or maybe some fiber to a traditional potato salad. Use up your produce in creative ways and don't buy more until you have.

4. Buy groceries by category
To avoid constant return trips to the store, make sure you buy by category. Sounds strange, I know, but if you want to stay healthy and have tasty meals, it's the best way to buy. You'll notice that most of my foods come from the bulk aisle, which is always the least expensive way to buy.

When I'm buying for the week I make sure that my list fulfills the following categories but obviously adapt to your favorite healthful foods:

Grains: Rolled oats (breakfast), spelt pasta, basmati rice, barley, local loaf bread.

Protein: Dried beans, tempeh, raw nuts, nut butters.

Vegetables and Fruit: This is a separate trip to the farmers' market and depends on the season, but I always buy some sort of greens, along with seasonal local veggies and fruit choices. We usually go through about 12 pounds of produce per week for the two of us.

Dairy and Dairy Substitutes: Coconut or soy milk, local cheese, local eggs.

Condiments: Any that I'm out of at the time.

Desserts: Organic, fair-trade certified dark chocolate is always on hand.

5. Buy spices in the bulk aisle

ometimes you have to have certain spices for the recipe to come out correctly, but spices are pricey and some recipes call for tons of different ones. I love to prepare ethnic cuisine, but it's an expensive venture if you buy four different kinds of spices for one meal.

Here's the deal: Buy spices as you need them in the bulk section of the store. If I need garam masala and I'm out of it, I buy what I need. It's much cheaper this way, and if you're concerned with quality, dried spices go bad in a really short period of time anyway.

6. Grow your own herbs, even if you don't have a green thumb
Fresh herbs are the biggest rip off at the store. Actually, no matter where you buy them, it's the same deal, you buy too much, they're pricey to start off, and they go bad without you getting to use them all.

Even if your thumb is far from green, grow your own herbs. It’s a two-fold saver: You save cash because you have herbs on hand, and more importantly, you can pick what you need when you need it, so nothing is wasted.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Poverty Food (Victory) Garden

The idea of gardening, for me, always brings to mind my mother's story of her "Victory Garden" during the war years. Victory Gardens were promoted throughout World War I and World War II as most food stuffs were directed to the war effort and our soldiers. Rationing was the name of the game and so the Victory Garden was both practical and patriotic. I think it still is! My mother planted and grew several vegetables in her WWII Victory Garden...her string beans were evidently particularly successful, so she says! 

As Spring is fast approaching, for those of us who appreciate and actually enjoy the art of gardening, a Poverty Food Garden is a must have!  Even if you have no space to plant directly into the ground, one can still create creative and space friendly gardens that even apartment dwellers such as myself can enjoy.

The most obvious of small garden favorites are herbs. A few hanging pots or small counter top pots can produce an abundance of herbs like basil, parsley, chives and oregano among others. And I will tell you, I have been planting from the same packet of basil seeds for three years. One packet must have had a few thousand seeds so my one dollar investment is paying off for sure!  And no, they don't seem to expire as the packet would claim!

Vertical potato garden in Kenya - photo
Other small garden favorites can include cherry tomatoes, peppers, beans, pea pods... even melons can be planted in very creative containers that make best use of space and simple items you have around the house. I love seeing how creative people are with old containers, plastic bags, old nylons and the like.

For space-challenged folks, vertical gardens may be the solution! Vertical gardens are being increasingly used not only in the USA as a novelty or space saver, but literally as a life saving and economical food producer in the third world. Potatoes and other life sustaining crops are being grown in these clever vertical gardens, as shown above.

Be sure to use only containers from non-toxic products- soaps, bleach or chemical product containers
should never be used! And change them each time you plant something new. Plastics will erode over time.

Vertical garden made from a shoe tree!

You can find creative multi-crop containers at your garden center or you can create one yourself. Use the space you have and be resourceful.

Try growing the following if you don't want to get into a labor intense garden season. Total estimated cost, about 10 dollars. Total food value, about 150USD for the season. And never buy seeds for things like tomatoes, pepper and the like. Save the seeds from the vegetables you buy in advance and simply dry them on paper towel. In about 3-5 days they should be dry enough to plant. Potatoes should simply be allowed to root and grow "eyes"- then cut them in to pieces and plant.

  • Three window sill pots= suggestions:  basil, flat leaf parsley, chives  or sage, lemon basil and thyme

  • Two pots or containers: tomatoes and green peppers or chili peppers (go for fruits that can be dried or frozen easily).

  • One hanging shoe tree or other creative vertical container with deep soil:   onions, carrots or potatoes. If you are attempting potatoes or onions, your vertical garden should rest on the ground as it will become increasingly heavy.

The point is, grow a little something to both reduce your yearly costs as well as adding freshness, beauty and flavor to your daily life. Have fun!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tajines....real clay cooking!

I am often amused when I walk through the kitchenware sections of large department stores. Inevitably there is an electrical version of virtually every simple cookware item imaginable. But the one that always makes me shake my head is the electric tajine! 

If you are unfamiliar with tajines or tagines, they are an ancient clay cookware vessel originating in North Africa. Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian and many other African cultures have used the tajine for centuries.

Tajine with traditional lamb and potatoes

Tajine being used the traditional way- try it on your grill or in a barbecue pit or simply in the oven!

Tajines are becoming increasingly visible in US stores. If you see one that is NOT electric and a true clay tajine, grab it! You will not regret it. They are great for clay baking meat, vegetables and even breads. Beef and lamb cooked in tajines are wonderfully tender and using lower end cuts of meat will turn out just great! And, they are quite elegant in their form and beautifully decorative, often using Berber patterns and vivid colors on their exterior.

Even better, plan a trip to Morocco, Algeria or Tunisia and buy one there! If travelling to virtually anywhere in Europe, you should be able to find them in almost any place that sells kitchenware.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Appreciate your food

This blog wants to spread a joy of life through simple pleasures.Poverty Food is not about bringing people down but about celebrating their accomplishments despite adversity. And we are not here to preach! But, let's face it... there are degrees of adversity. I think the images from a blog courtesy of Valparaiso University  are certainly examples of "food for thought" on this issue...what do we value most? What takes priority?

Sorry, not trying to be a downer or preachy, but rather just a reminder to really appreciate your food, however humble it may be.  Be appreciative for clean water and simple grub...and yes, be good to your furry friends too. We love them here at Poverty Food too. Finally, Poverty Food encourages you to give to a food bank locally and a charity globally. Most of us can do both....try...even a few dollars can help feed a child. You don't have to give massive sums. A humble gift is fine.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Russian Salted Fish

Nastrovia!   Ah the Russians! If there are a people on this planet who understand Poverty Food, it is the Russians. War, famine, cold! These are a people who have suffered throughout the centuries and yet, they have come up with simple, elegant and delicious cuisines using whatever they had on hand.

Try this wonderful recipe for Salted Fish the Russian way!

This recipe comes courtesy of a wonderful website called A great information source for all things Russian!

Here it is:

Russian salted fish is a stand-alone dish and a great addition to bliny, too.


■Fish (any red fish – salmon, trout, chum salmon)




Clean the fish inside and outside, cut off the head and the tail, cut out the backbone and split into two. Mix 2 parts of salt (sea salt won’t do, only the regular one!) and one part of regular white sugar. Cover the fish with a thick layer of salt-and-sugar mix on both sides and roll it in baking paper. Store in a cool place for at least a day. The fish is ready to eat – just wash off the salt-and-sugar and cut the fillet off the skin.


Great with a bit of lemon juice. Salted fish is a great companion to vodka!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Indian Chick Pea Salad

Indian cooking has some of the most innovative yet simple recipes around. There are several variations of this classic however the following is one of the most basic and savory that you will find. And you will find a version of it in virtually every Indian restaurant out there. The secret is found in four simple ingredients: Chick peas, lemon, onion and black pepper!

Here is the simple version:

Drain and rinse one large 24 ounce can of chick peas

Chop several scallions or one medium onion as fine as you can...truly minced
Add to the chick peas and toss well to distribute evenly.

Using one large lemon, squeeze the totality of its juice, eliminating the seeds but allowing
some of the pulp to be added, directly onto the chick pea and onion mixture.

Now, pour about 1/3 cup of olive oil over the salad.

Salt to taste.

Now sprinkle a generous amount( about a good full teaspoon- that is actually quite a lot) over the salad and toss to very evenly distribute.

This salad should ideally be allowed to marinate several hours. You can add additional olive oil and lemon juice as well as other ingredients like tomatoes or peppers, but this simple recipe will satisfy!  Wonderful...tangy...delicious...healthy!!!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cuisines of poverty as means of empowerment: Arab food in Israel

Food Culture

The Food Culture section of Poverty Food will provide resources on food and cuisine beyond the kitchen and dinner table. Culture, politics, the arts have all been impacted by food culture. Enjoy the links and please send those you find to us to share.

If you are interested in the sociological link between food and politics, check out
Cuisines of poverty as means of empowerment: Arab food in Israel by Liora Gvion.
This is a highly academic paper to be sure, but a fascinating look at cuisines of poverty and how food represents much more that we may have imagined.


This paper suggests looking at cuisines of poverty as practical and political systems practiced by urban and rural Palestinian citizens of Israel. It is an important and interesting case study within which political and economical considerations govern and enhance the development, change, and acceptance of culinary knowledge. Cuisines of poverty operate in two simultaneous arenas. As systems of practical knowledge, they repeatedly center on the ability to maintain the traditional kitchen, turning it into a tool-kit out of which information is recruited upon need. Simultaneously, cuisines of poverty reveal the inter-connection between the culinary discourse and the political one. It is where issues such as access to land, national and ethnic identity, and means to participation in the dominant culture are of major concern. The analysis of cuisines as operating on two complementary discourses contributes to the understanding of the relationship between food and the arena of power.

Keywords Cuisines of poverty - Domestic knowledge - Empowerment - Food - Gender roles - Israel - Minorities - Palestinian cuisine

Liora Gvion, PhD, is a qualitative sociologist. She studied at SUNY Stony Brook, USA and is currently a senior lecturer at the Kibbutzim College of Education in Tel Aviv, Israel and at the Department of Clinical Nutrition at the Hebrew University. Her major interests are the sociology of food, second-generation immigrants, eating disorders, and the relationship between food and ethnicity.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Winter stew...

Deep in the midwest, winter is a time of quiet, stillness and snow...winter white and hot food!

The old homestead would not be the same in winter without a pot of stew! The beauty of stew is that is costs very little (about four to five dollars for a family of four) and can even be vegetarian, not by design necessarily, but by what you have in your cupboard. The ingrediants could not be more simple: potatoes, carrots, an onion and a tablespoon of flour. If you want, add a little beef...or my personal favorite: spinach! You will love this served with a little crusty it is:

Winter stew with or without beef

In a large pot, add your onions and carrots and beef cubes if you wish

Let saute for about 10 minutes on low to medium heat.

Add about 3 cups of water...let simmer again on medium to high.

Add about 5-6 peeled and cut potatoes. Allow to boil...

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Make a roux of your flour and a bit of water....begin to stir into the stew.

Add the spinach at the end and let the entire stew cook on medium for another 20-30 minutes.

It really is delicious!

Now the snow fall and be still.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ode to the Onion

Pablo Neruda
I have to share with you the most beautiful poetry of Pablo Neruda, Ode to the Onion. Neruda fans will know it and PovertyFood fans will appreciate it. Neruda himself clearly understood the concept of poverty food.


Ode To The Onion by Pablo Neruda


luminous flask,

your beauty formed

petal by petal,

crystal scales expanded you

and in the secrecy of the dark earth

your belly grew round with dew.

Under the earth

the miracle


and when your clumsy

green stem appeared,

and your leaves were born

like swords

in the garden,

the earth heaped up her power

showing your naked transparency,

and as the remote sea

in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite

duplicating the magnolia,

so did the earth

make you,


clear as a planet

and destined

to shine,

constant constellation,

round rose of water,


the table

of the poor.

You make us cry without hurting us.

I have praised everything that exists,

but to me, onion, you are

more beautiful than a bird

of dazzling feathers,

heavenly globe, platinum goblet,

unmoving dance

of the snowy anemone

and the fragrance of the earth lives

in your crystalline nature.