On Food Security…and mushroom barley soup

Mushroom Barley Soup | www.purplehousecafe.com

I am so (so) lucky – as are most of you who browse this blog and other food blogs, who commit to buying only organic local produce, who thrill at the idea of being the first in the door at a hip new restaurant, or who consider yourselves to be foodies – that food is not only readily available to us, but that we have options regarding what we can eat and that we can find comfort, solace, and community in the kitchen and around the table.  

Maybe it doesn’t always feel that way, when there’s a cupcake just begging you to eat it – and to subsequently make its way directly to your thighs – or there’s dinner to make on a swimming lesson night.  And I really don’t mean to be patronizing:  it’s easy to feel lucky to be able to take a trip to Paris; less easy to genuinely feel privileged to indulge in a luxury you may have taken for granted most of your life:  good, healthy, affordable, appropriate food.

Mushroom Barley Soup | www.purplehousecafe.com

But consider this:  851,000 Canadians used food banks in a single month in 2011.  More than a third of them were children.  In 2007-08, nearly two million Canadians over the age of 12 lived in food insecure households.  

It seems like I do enough ranting and raving in my little corner of the internet about cooking from scratch and avoiding processed foods.  I’m a committed farmer’s market shopper and try to source my foods locally and in-season as much as I can.  The local movement, and all the philosophies attached to it, is a food issue that seem to get a lot of attention, and that have charged to the forefront of our awareness as food consumers.

But, in his book The Stop, Nick Saul, who is revolutionizing food banks and championing dignified access to healthy, affordable food for individuals living in poverty, says, “for the most part, poor people have had no voice in the growing conversation about creating a healthier food system.  When change is all about throwing around your individual economic power – the ability to deny or award a company – people on low incomes get left in the dust….low-income people are more profoundly affected by the ill effects of the industrial food system than anyone else.” 

If you’re like me, and many others, when beseeched to donate to a food bank, you’ve immediately gone about scrounging your cupboards for non-perishable, and, quite frankly, unwanted food: the dented box of Kraft Dinner and the can of Spaghetti-O’s lurking in your food supply. 

Unhealthy.  Unwanted by someone who has the choice to take or leave the food that’s available to them.

Mushroom Barley Soup | www.purplehousecafe.com

So here I am:  someone who works on a daily basis with individuals who access food banks and/or experience food insecurity.  The clients of the doula program that I coordinate, by definition, are living in low-income situations.  Not only that, but the pregnant women I work with are, also by definition, at a time in their lives when it is most important for them to have access to food that is healthy and plentiful.  They are growing babies; they are breastfeeding; they are caring for families.  And at the end of the day, I come home and make cake or bread or some really great fusion tacos so that I can take pictures of them and write about them.  Sometimes, I don’t even want to eat the cake.  I force it on my husband or bring it in to work to share.  Simply because the creation, documentation, and sharing of food gets me all fired up.  How fucking wickedly privileged is that?

So, I’ve committed to making and freezing one healthy dish per month to donate to the family resource centre where I work.  We have a freezer where we keep food donations or extra food left over from events, and we happily share that food with people who aren’t sure how they’re going to get food on the table that night.  It’s a simple thing.  It’s a bit easier that living for a month on a severely restricted food budget, like local bloggers Gillian and Drew did as a challenge to help better understand food insecurity.  But I love to cook, and the best way I can think to give back it to make a homemade soup or a hearty lasagna to feed a family and lift the burden of hunger and anxiety of food insecurity, if only for one mealtime.

Mushroom Barley Soup | www.purplehousecafe.com

And so I am putting a challenge out to the Halifax Food Bloggers to make and donate one meal a month, either to the centre I work for or to another one of their choosing.  Because we all know that food has the great power of connecting, healing, nurturing and nourishing people; because it’s about more than just taking pretty pictures of what we eat.

Mushroom Barley Soup | www.purplehousecafe.com

 Note:  If you would like to learn more about food security issues in Canada, I would highly recommend you pick up a copy of The Stop.  I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Nick Saul at the launch of a Community Food Centre in Dartmouth several months ago.  His work with food banks and now Community Food Centres is remarkable, and I think it’s something everyone should be aware of.

Mushroom Barley Soup
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  1. 1 large onion, diced finely
  2. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  3. Olive oil for sautéing
  4. 1 lb mushrooms
  5. 2/3 cup tomato paste
  6. 1 cup barley
  7. 8 cups water
  8. 3 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  9. 4 cups fresh spinach
  10. 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  11. Salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a large soup pot, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil until translucent. Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until they are soft.
  2. Stir the tomato paste and barley into the pot, and then add the water. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer until the barley is tender.
  3. Add the seasonings and red wine vinegar, tasting the soup to ensure that it is salty enough.
  4. Add the spinach and continue to cook just until the spinach is wilted.
  5. Serve, or ladle into containers to freeze.
Purple House Café https://www.purplehousecafe.com/



6 comments on “On Food Security…and mushroom barley soup

    • Thanks Gillian! I was so inspired by the challenge you and Drew put yourselves up to! I think it’s a great way to raise some awareness about food security and the sheer number of people who aren’t able to access healthy, affordable, appropriate food!

  1. Hi Jessica, I commend you, what a wonderful thing to do, here in the states, similar problems for sure, if everyone that could, cooked one healthy meal a month, what a change that could occur.

  2. Again, just like Gillian and Drew’s food security posts – you have inspired me. We will join you in this challenge, because this is the way to share food, beyond our posts and pictures. Thanks for bringing this to us, you have inspired me to get back to cooking and blogging!

    Can you please let me know where to drop it off?

    • Awesome! I’m so happy this post inspired you too, Sarah!

      I am thinking that the best idea would be for you to drop it off to me and then I can store it here and bring it over to the Centre as we run out – we have a very small freezer and I worry about it over-filling! Let me know when you’ve got some food to bring and I’ll PM you my details.

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