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Butternut squash casserole and some ramblings on food and poverty


It’s been a while since I did a food post, partly because we’ve not really been cooking anything very interesting with all the other stuff going on, and partly because whenever I did make something unusual, it was at night, i.e. no natural light for taking pictures. I really wanted to record this recipe for this butternut squash/chickpeas/spinach/walnut casserole (or estofado, never heard that word before) though, because I think it will become a staple.

The recipe is here, from an observer food monthly special on cheap food. This was part of an article where they asked professional chefs to come up with a tasty and interesting meal for 4 for less than a fiver. Mostly they involved meat, but there was also a few chickpea things because of course chickpeas are delicious, filling and about 60p a can. I did add feta cheese to the recipe because I just thought it would work, but it’s the walnuts that really set this apart from your common or garden veggie stew. We’ve had it twice so far, once with rice, once with bread. Depending on the size of squash, this makes 4-6 portions, and it tastes just as nice warmed up.

** warning: some ranting may occur from here on in **

The magazine special came out when the horse meat crisis first started. What bothers me most about this apart from the fact that people are still feeding vegetarian animals ground up bits of other animals like CJD never happened, is the response to all of this and the attitudes towards poor people this shows. There’s so much ‘well, what did you expect’ going on it’s unreal. For example this random comment from my facebook stream is representative of the view:

If you pay £1 for a Findus beef lasagne that isn’t even made in the UK what do you expect? Why is this country so in love with low priced processed food? Get down to your butcher, buy local, buy seasonal, cook your own, stop being silly!

While I’m obviously not defending ready meals of questionable quality, and I think it CAN be done to eat well on very little money, I do realise it takes time and knowledge and energy and that my attitude to and knowledge food completely reflects my middle class (in the British sense*) privilege. What people seem to forget is that the majority of people that are cash poor are also time poor (more than half of people living in poverty in the UK work, not the workshy scroungers of Tory myth), and that deprived areas simply don’t have the local butchers this person is talking about (plus, meat is expensive whichever way you cut it**), and if you’re working long hours in a physical job and have kids and no car and maybe no partner, I’m not sure how many people have the energy then also doing lots of hunting for cheap healthy ingredients and cooking. Or the chance to acquire the knowledge to cook healthily. This excellent article in the observer special and it’s comments actually explains the reality of eating well on a (proper) budget really well. I particularly liked this quote:

poor people shouldn’t be asked to be completely different in their responses to food to others. You just can’t win. If you buy multi-packs of crisps, you aren’t trying hard enough and if you stock up on leafy greens, oily fish etc then you get too much money and aren’t really poor.

It just makes me so sad, this vilification of poor people. I don’t particularly have a problem with horse meat as such (well, I not any more than with beef. If you’re gonna eat animals, making moral choices on the basis of their cuteness doesn’t sit well with me), but no one deserves to be lied to just because they shop the value ranges. It would be lovely if everyone knew and cared about food, but not having things being organic/seasonal/local at the top of your list of priorities does not actually make you a bad person. So let’s stop it with all the gleeful told you so’s!

Sorry people! Normal pretty pictures based blogging returns tomorrow!

* I only just found out that in the US, it means middle two quartile of incomes. So logical but explains a lot of confusion caused on my end!
** accidental pun!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Debbie 20 February 2013, 4:51 pm

    Great post! Completely agree.

  • sara 20 February 2013, 4:59 pm

    This looks so yummy, I effing LOVE squash! I agree with your rant, I too *try* to buy organic/cage-free/ and grass-fed beef, but it is so damn expensive! We end up eating a lot of veggies because they are cheaper and most of the time safer to eat. It still sucks spending an average of 65$ per week for two people at the store, and we also eat out 2-3 or at my parents (we mooch food).
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  • Dawn 20 February 2013, 6:04 pm

    My reaction to the horsemeat scandal is so contradictory and I can’t quite reconcile the two.

    On the one hand, I am pretty poor by Irish standards but I eat pretty well. Now I recognise I have the privilege of knowing how to cook and having good kitchen equipment, but there is a very large part of me that wants to shake people who buy processed food and cheap meat and tell them there is another way. Cooking is not that difficult, well certainly nowhere near as difficult as food experts and chefs like to make it out to be. So much of it is such simple skills that I am always shocked that people don’t know them. This opinion, as a farmer’s daughter, also makes me want to rage on about what do you expect when you want food for ridiculously low prices- shortcuts are going to be made somewhere along the line, maybe by the farmers, the agri coops, the slaughterhouses or the processors.

    Then, the other part of me recognises that some people simply don’t care and just want to be fed for the lowest price, and knows that trying to stretch the last couple of euros to feed hungry mouths is soul-crushing. Noone should have to end up compromising their or their children’s health with food which should be safe- it should do and be as it says on the tin, to quote that old Ronseal ad.

    At the end of the day, poverty takes over your life which is why I won’t point my finger at people who are genuinely trying to get by on limited money. I often wonder about the people who can afford free-range or higher quality food and don’t, the supermarkets whose price wars has devalued British and Irish foodstock with lower and lower quality and the lack of guidelines or regulations which allowed this to happen.
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  • Claire 20 February 2013, 8:40 pm

    Hi Franca,
    Thanks for posting such a thoughtful piece. Agree with all that you have said, especially the focus on “blaming” people on low incomes for eating poor quality food instead of looking at the wider issues, let alone the criminality involved in how horse meat ends up in a beef product!
    Noticed also your earlier post about the baby carrier and your back pain, I have a wilkinet going spare if you are interested, just e-mail your address if you want it and I’ll put it in the post.

  • Señora Allnut 27 February 2013, 12:11 pm

    dear lady, I’ve tryed the delightful recipe and I must to say it’s a perfect and whole meal for a cold day, cheap, easy and tasty!, so thanks for sharing it!
    And a little pedantic explanation: ‘Estofado’ is just a spanish word for ‘casserole’
    thanks for everything

  • jesse.anne.o 1 March 2013, 7:54 pm

    Agreed re the vilification of folks on the lower economic scale and re horse meat, particularly: “I don’t particularly have a problem with horse meat as such (well, I not any more than with beef. If you’re gonna eat animals, making moral choices on the basis of their cuteness doesn’t sit well with me), but no one deserves to be lied to just because they shop the value ranges.”
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