Friday, July 24, 2015

The Mysteries of ... Radicchio.

OK, I've just got a whole THANG going on here about radicchio, this week.  Bear with me.

Almost the first thing I learned, reading  Jennifer McLagan's Bitter -- I'd seen Tweets, I'd heard her interviewed on the radio -- was that radicchio is like roses; it comes in a huge range of colours and forms and variegations.  But if your food-distribution server is like ours, the kind you see probably looks like the little guys in the picture up top, there -- not as big as a red cabbage, tighter and tougher than a red lettuce.  Maybe you know it well and like it, maybe not; whatever.  In our corner of the cosmos, you can expect to pay about five (deflated, Canadian) dollars for a head of it.

But I have to step back a bit. In recent weeks I have been taking up space (= "filling the position") in an Honorary way (no filthy lucre changes hands, that is) at a parish I shall call Our Lady of the Lost and Found (with apologies to Diane Schoemperlen; whom, if you have not read, you should.  But I digress).  Up at OLLF, there, we are one of the weekly drop-off points for grocery hampers from the city food bank.  Normally we see somewhere between ten and twenty recipients.  The food comes in standard big cardboard boxes; the recipients re-pack it in their own shopping bags, or bags we provide.  We then break down the boxes, with great flourishing of utility knives, and stack them for "next week's truck."

Now if you've ever worked at or been served by a foodbank, you probably know that the array of comestibles provided is often... eclectic?  So people are quite liable to receive food that they may not even recognize, let alone like, and their children after them.  Like for instance those little narrow needle-pointed red Thai hot chili peppers?  I mean, really?  I suppose if a financially-struggling homesick person of Thai origin showed up at the depot, he or she would be enraptured.  But most of the rest of us, well, no.

But last week, the Strange Thing du jour was -- drum roll -- RADICCHIO.  Great big beautiful fresh unblemished heads of it.  Now at OLLF in the hall where the food is sorted and packed, we also have a "give'n'take" table.  You don't like Thai hot chilis, you put your package on the GT table.  And you can take anything OFF that table that you DO like.  There's a pretty good rate of flow-through; although we did have a challenging surplus of Thai hot chilis there for a while.

And last week, we had radicchio TO SPARE.  So here's where it gets kind of sticky.  I happened to be looking just as the first client strode up to the GT table and whacked down his head of radicchio.  And I gasped.  "But ... that's GOOD" -- I don't know whether I said it out loud or not. I wasn't assigning blame.  I was just so sad to see somebody who needs food rejecting or relinquishing or refusing or abandoning good food ("I like it" = "it's good" right?) -- nutritious, EXPENSIVE good food mind you...

So then I had to do the analysis.  People are allergic, sometimes.  People have dietary restrictions, sometimes.  People may not have proper food storage.  People may not have the wherewithal to store OR cook food -- they're in shelters or they're in friends' homes or they're in single rooms or they're in cheap motels.  People may not know what the heck it is that just showed up in the food hamper.

So i don't know what the answer is.  Part of me wants to set up a hot plate and a stock pot at one end of the church hall, and hurl the rejected groceries into one almighty no-two-weeks-alike slumgullion, meantime crying out in the wilderness -- "Look, look, you can eat this, this is so good, just do this and this and you've got supper tonight and lunch tomorrow...."

Then I go and pick up McLagan's book on hold at the Library, and she is rubbing my nose in it, for one delirious radicchio recipe after another comes tumbling from the pages.  I've just taken the Radicchio Pie out of the oven.  I'm working on repressing my gasps of distress on food bank days.

There's got to be a solution...

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