Monday, April 8, 2013

Black-Eyed Peas and A Place at the Table

by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

She choked back tears and eventually, just could not speak up, in response to a crass statement by a high school classmate: “People on welfare are just lazy.” Her single mother struggled to raise her and her sister to make ends meet, and relied on benefits that included SNAP (then known as “food stamps”) to do that.  I don’t remember the conclusion of that conversation, or even how I engaged in it, but I remember my friend, and how she struggled unsuccessfully to denounce what her classmate had said.

I’m still in touch with her and she’s doing well now, working, married, and expecting her first baby. She might not even remember this incident, but I do, because I interact with many families receiving SNAP benefits, and none of them are lazy. They are, like most people, hardworking, trying to make ends meet for their families, and desperate to make sure their children are healthy and well fed. And they are many. One in five children in America struggles with hunger.

The new documentary, A Place at the Table, out in theaters on DVD and on-demand, engagingly addresses hunger in America, and one comment in it struck me – the culture of blame. Somehow, many Americans have the idea that people who are impoverished “deserve” their lot in life because they must not be hard-working enough, educated enough, etc…. My experience working with people from all walks of life, in America and outside it, indicates the opposite. Most people have and want to maintain their sense of dignity (I talk more about this here), regardless of their economic situation. Most people who are suffering from poverty want to get out of it. And even those people who seem lazy on the outside are often struggling with despondency for their lack of options, or even depression.
And regardless of the reason a family is impoverished, even if it is laziness, their children should not have to go hungry. If you agree with me, take action here to prevent Congress from enacting deep cuts on federal nutrition programs that include SNAP. Then, go and see A Place at the Table with your friends (watch the trailer here). Finally, consider volunteering at, and/or donating to, your local food pantry.

This week I’m sharing a budget-friendly recipe, not because I have officially converted to food blogging, but because I am joining Food Bloggers Against Hunger this week and donating my blog post in response to A Place at the Table.  

What follows is my version of my mom’s recipe for black-eyed peas. Black-eyed peas are full of fiber, protein, and folate, while naturally low in fat and calories.  We usually serve this dish with rice, but this recipe would work well with pasta or bread. I suggest preparing this by buying a 14 or 16 oz bag of dried black-eyed peas and soaking half the bag overnight, saving the other half for a future meal. This is more economical and a bit healthier than canned beans, but if you’re short on time, canned beans work well.

Black-Eyed Peas with Tomato Sauce
(4-6 servings)
½ bag of dried black-eye peas, or one 15.5 oz can
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 fresh tomato, chopped (optional)
¼ cup vegetable oil (I used corn oil)
1 can of tomato sauce
4 cups of water if using dried beans, 2 cups if using canned beans
½ teaspoon pepper (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
Pinch of chili powder or cayenne pepper (optional)


If using dried beans, soak them overnight. The next day in a large pot, simmer the onions in oil until soft.  If using a fresh tomato, add it and cook a few minutes longer with the onions. Add beans, tomato sauce, and water, and bring to a boil. Add spices (pepper, salt, cinnamon and chili powder or cayenne pepper, if using), lower heat (medium-low), and cover. Cook for one hour if using dried beans, or ½ an hour if using canned. Stir occasionally while cooking and add water if necessary. Serve hot with rice, pasta, or bread.