I admit that I never have been to New York. Yet I guess if I was there I would want to proselytize for “Kansas values” and “Jewish values” at the same time. Or at least, these values at their best. And that is why the real Wichita supports the Lord’s Diner with its own money at times–while not quite being brave enough to admit that the poor and elderly of Kansas need to have the state of Kansas fork over the money the federal government allotted to each state for their good. Kansas folks are good people until they are fooled into not noticing who the people who really need are–because it’s not out there for everybody to see, they don’t appreciate that there even are poor people who matter in Kansas. Anyway, I have an idea for New York.
I worked at Breakthrough, a Club for the mentally ill for a long time. And while I worked there I thought about what the people–most of whom lived under the poverty line–really need. And part of it did boil down to better care in terms of better doctors and health insurance, or–frankly–a Clubhouse staff that understood their needs better and was willing to experiment in order to find ideas that worked for the members. However, I also came to believe that people on Disability and even General Assistance (including, for that last, people who have no disability save poverty–though to be fair, nobody like that was at Breakthrough) need a personal touch. They need to know somebody cares about them. They also need somebody to teach them skills that being in America’s underclass they might never have learned. Is it really the fault of somebody on General Assistance’s fault that they never got well if the only sign that anyone ever cared about them is a government check? I don’t know.
And that is why one of my pipedreams (I don’t know how I would make it happen) formed. There could be Community centers for youths going to the more run down schools in New York City. At each center there would be free classes; free food; latchkey for students K-12; and people to help place the consumers in jobs and further education from High School. There would also be a gym for the kids to play sports and a library where they could check out books. On the compound people could be recruited and paid to act as gardeners. For that matter, so could cooks once they got through both cooking classes at the Community Center and then when they got Cooking Classes for restaurants. Maybe–though this may sound like a stretch–there could be a chapel with a priest, a minister and a rabbi. (I went to a grad school one year where that was done for the kids and I thought it was cool.) They could teach religious classes and lead study groups for any kids who wanted it.
When I was at Breakthrough I was never allowed to do anything so extravagant. Yet I did want to teach a cooking class once and did begin to until Mom needed knee surgery. The idea is, I would cook the food, and everyone watching me cook would eat. So it is that I will give an outline–no recipes, it would make the Blog too long–and then I will make some further comments on the class afterwards:
Week I: Intro
Recipe 1: Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe 2: Fried Zucchini
Week 2: Potatoes
Recipe 1: Baked Potatoes
Recipe 2: Fried Potatoes
Week 3: Fried Meats
Recipe 1: Hamburgers
Recipe 2: Fried Chicken
Week 4: Lebanese
Recipe 1: Eggplant and Chickpea Stew
Recipe 2: Zucchini Sauteed with Pine Nuts
Week 5: Soups
Recipe 1: Greek Orzo Lemon Chicken Soup
Recipe 2: Butternut Squash and Chickpea Stew
Week 6: Stir Fry
Recipe 1: Fried Rice
Recipe 2: Peanut Sauce Stir Fry (we make the Peanut Sauce)
Week 7: Soufflés
Recipe 1: Asparagus Tart
Recipe 2: Leek Soufflé
Week 8: Deserts
Recipe 1: Molasses Cookies
Recipe 2: Raspberry-Filled Cookies
Looking at this list I might include a 9th and 10th week (if before deserts) of “Italian Foods: Spaghetti and Meat Sauce; and Spinach Lasagna”; and “More Soufflés: Smoked Salmon Soufflé and Four Cheese Soufflé”. All of this food is, incidentally, Kosher. I don’t know that this fact would really matter to the group, though…
I would mention that though I am not a nutritionist, they should eat things like potato chips and ice cream only sparingly, and only have soft drinks on special occasions. I would tell them if by doing that they may or may not lose weight but they will live longer. I would also tell them that though I recommend just a little bit of red meat in their diet (and explain that in my own case of having anemia I had a doctor who recommended I indulge in it a little bit), the meats that are generally more healthy are chicken and fish. This, I would add, is not to discourage those of you–if there are any–who want to eat vegetarian… I might even teach a vegetarian food class so those who want to skip meat altogether could attend, and give more recipes (though there would be some overlap) to the ones who continue to eat meat. Incidentally, it occurs to me: perhaps the hamburger could be served with celery and peanut butter on the side and the fried chicken with peeled and sliced carrots on the side. That would complete the meal–more or less.
I am convinced that though there are other things that makes the lower class worse off from the middle (one poor woman got a gift from Breakthrough for Christmas one year: a heater for her in the winter), I am convinced that one key difference is the quality of the food they eat. It is not really their fault: all of us live under a barrage of commercials for foods like McDonald’s and Taco Tico, and if a poor person eats out that is the best they can afford. More, what if nobody ever taught them how to cook? Could I eat nothing but fast food my entire life because nobody ever fixed a better meal for me and I didn’t know how to myself. One of my best friends, Larry, at Breakthrough, died because of a heart attack because he ate so unhealthily. And yet because he had a brain injury I do not know if he actually knew how to cook. It was not his fault. And other people have equally good excuses. Hence the need for a Community Center.
Sigh… I don’t have the money to do it and don’t live in New York… but who knows, maybe somebody will pick up my scheme one day… and pick out a staff of people who really love kids and want them to succeed, as well as ones who don’t mind working with adults, either.