Hunger Awareness Week: Rice and lentil pilaf.

It’s funny how we think about poverty, and how we distance ourselves from it in reassuring ways. It’s a thing that happens to other people, and it is complicated. Maybe it’s because of their choices, we reason. As if we have made the right choices. (I, personally, am an expert in making questionable choices.) It’s a thing that happens to other people, not to us.

Not to us. But a third of us are still living paycheque-to-paycheque, at least in Canada; in the US, the numbers are even higher. According to Food Banks Canada, one in six people who access the food bank are currently employed, or have been recently. Sixty-four per cent of people who need the food bank are paying market rent. In Vancouver, nearly 20 per cent of those who need the food bank in a given week are seniors.

It could totally happen to us, to quite a few of us.

September 21 to 25 is Hunger Awareness Week in Canada. According to Food Banks Canada, “Hunger Awareness Week is about raising awareness of the solvable problem of hunger in Canada.”

Hunger in Canada exists because deep and persistent poverty continues in the country. For more than a decade, diverse and inter-related factors have sustained this situation: a labour market that fails to provide enough jobs with stable, livable wages; a rise in precarious and non-standard employment; a fraying income security system that does not provide sufficient financial support for those in need; a lack of affordable, social housing; and accessible and affordable child care. (Source: hungerawarenessweek.ca)

During Hunger Awareness Week, organizations across Canada have come together to raise awareness about the realities of poverty and the people who need food banks most. One of the major goals of this campaign is to dispel some of the myths around who accesses food banks and why. This is essential, because we’re never going to truly tackle hunger and poverty and inequality if we don’t see ourselves as part of it.

It’s not a stretch to see yourself moving from broke to poor. I can see it from here, just on the other side of some accident or emergency.

Food security is an issue that’s important to me, and so I’m spending the week highlighting a few simple, nutritious recipes a person could make to feed a family using some typical food bank staples. I’ll use the platform I have here to support the campaign, share my tips for stretching your budget and making donations anytime of year, and hopefully you’ll get a few budget-friendly recipes you can enjoy anytime, whether you need them or not.

What follows is a recipe for rice and lentil pilaf, a weeknight-friendly gluten-free vegetarian dish that’s easily made vegan. It’s good (and filling) on its own, or as a side for roasted veggies or sausages or pork chops, or as an alternative to stuffing for those who don’t do gluten. It tastes a bit like stuffing, because it’s meant to be comfort food. I serve this with beet pickles.

Rice and lentil pilaf with apple and mushrooms

(Makes four servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 medium apple, cored and diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. dried sage
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
  • 1 cup green or brown lentils, rinsed
  • Celery leaves, for garnish

In a large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, such as a Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onion, apple, and celery, and saute until fragrant and until onions are translucent, about three minutes.

Add garlic and mushrooms. Cook for another three to five minutes, until the mushrooms have given up most of their liquid. Add salt, sage, thyme, and pepper, and cook for one more minute, stirring to coat the veggies in the herbs.

Add rice and lentils. Add four cups of water (use chicken or vegetable stock if you prefer), and bring to a boil. Cover, then reduce heat to medium, and cook for 20 minutes.

Let rest, covered, for five minutes before serving. Garnish with celery leaves.

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