I am a reluctant senior citizen.  Next month, I will be 69 and one/half but I do not look that old and I certainly do not feel that old.  I began receiving Social Security this summer.  With my sharply reduced income, which is one half of the income I earned as an adjunct professor, so many of my readers will know how bad it is, I decided to sign up for the monthly Senior Citizen Brown Bag from a local food bank.

 
Here are the contents of my first bag: Package of Market Street Beef Stew;
Can Butterfield Chicken;
Mother’s Made light red kidney beans and same brand blackeyed peas;
Mission Pride fruit mix;
Algood Peanut butter;
Natural Plus Applesauce cups;
Pasta USA mac and cheese;
Natrel 1% aseptically packaged milk, and
Karlin’s Finest mashed potatoes.
 
I expected canned goods but I also expected real potatoes.  However, the bag represents a good mix of protein foods and with fruit and milk.
 
However, the peanut butter contains far too many things that are not necessary for making peanuts into peanut butter. Sugar, honey, three kinds of oil, molasses and salt, to say nothing of monoglycerides. Monoglucerides are fatty acids used both as a sweetener and as humectant.
 
While peanut butter can be made simply of peanuts (some would insist on adding salt), the use of hydrogenated oils is there allegedly for the convenience of the consumer as it keeps the peanut butter from separating. Well, perhaps, but what about one of those stirring devices that can be purchased and left in each jar so that the product is more easily stirred between uses? And three or four sweeteners when most families make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?
 
I don’t object to the fruit. Back in the 50s and early 60s when desserts were a constant at our family’s dinner table, a week day dessert was often canned fruit. Fresh fruit was packed in our lunchboxes. I will eat mine with my yogurt or my hot cereal for breakfast.
 
I can not eat the beans, although I love a family recipe for kidney bean salad and miss it terribly. But, I would guess that some recipients (officially less than 2%) might not be able to eat the mac and cheese as they are observing a gluten free diet.
 
I will use the chicken in a soup along with the macaroni but I will throw out the cheese packet. So, along with tomatoes from the farm in Greenfield, I can make an inexpensive and nourishing soup.
 
The most problematic item is the beef stew. When I squeezed the aluminum package, it felt like it contain mayonnaise, There was a colloidial smoothness to the package, which I felt out to have been lumpy. The ingredient’s list said the stew was made from “beef crumbles,” a mix of beef, soy flour and salt.
 
I left that bag, which I had placed in a canvas tote, on the floor of my kitchen. Despite the heaviness of the aluminum composite bag, the package must have tempted Azmo, who my son describes as “the world’s most aggressive kitten,” to tear into it. Along the bags surface was a zipper obviously made by tiny claws from which an orangey-brown liquid seeped. I cut the bag open and it appeared to contain a dice of potatoes in a gravy.
 
The final items are the 1% milk and the dehydrated mashed potatoes. My daughter told me that I could make bread with the potatoes. I looked up uses for boxed mashed potatoes and there are many. So, this might prove to be a discovery although I remember that my mother bought a box during the 1950s but only once. Everyone hated the results and our family happily returned to real potatoes.
 
As for the milk, I will bake bread with it but I really hate any milk that isn’t full fat. And, no, I would not put it in my coffee.
 
But the contents of this bag, for me, raises many questions.
 
I suppose that the manufacturers supply food banks with these products as a tax write off. I also suppose that these might be the off price brands made by more established companies. After all, there are only about 10 firms making food in the US with all of the brands being subsidiaries. Even some of the long-standing, so-called natural food makers are owned by conglomerates.
 
I first raised the question with the peanut butter. Why add unnecessary things — sweeteners and fats — to a product like peanut butter? Some sugar acts a preservative. In fact, reading the label of the mixed fruit can was reassuring: peaches, pears, water, grapes and sugar. Nice.
 
Another question that I already hinted at is food incompatibilities. Gluten avoidance was the latest food cause and it is true that there are people who can not tolerate gluten. For those people, the recent increase in awareness of their condition and the greater availability of gluten-free products has been a boon. However, several legitimate organizations do point out that only a small percentage of the population is gluten intolerant.
 
The beans, although an excellent source of protein and fiber, may not be a good food for people over 60 because as many as one in two suffer from diverticulosis,
 
A good many of the items will be used for baking. I still have doubts about the peanut butter, but, I have to ask: iIf I am unwilling to eat it because of the excessive additives, is it ethical to put it into a food donation bin at the grocery store?
 
In some ways, this is the bag I expected. In some ways, not.
 
I can understand not including fresh produce because they are perishable, but that there were no potatoes nor onions surprises me.
 
Let me address the scope of the operation. This food bank serves the western end of our small state and distributes bags to seniors at 58 locations.
 
I did want to address the manufacture of bread and school lunches but this piece is already for long.
 

Blocks and Fairy Tales

 

Miss C, my three-and-a-half year old granddaughter,  and I were in the playroom, with Sarah and Duck on, building towers with the traditional cubic alphabet blocks.

Emily, my daughter and the mother of Miss C,  is the queen of tag sales, so the bin containing the blocks represents booty from three different sales. Two sales produced the sort of blocks that can be bought at any toy store, fresh and new with painted numbers or letters on two opposing faces, and simple line drawings of various things — from sports equipment, to animals, to plants, to machines — on the remaining four faces.

But some of the blocks are older and larger.   The exposed wood is darkened with time, the paint faded and nicked.  Interestingly, their use is limited to either forming foundations or else they must be used only with themselves as they do not fit in with the newer blocks, which are smaller.

Sarah and Duck is a program that some might not find acceptable. Sarah seems to live alone with her duck. She has friends. John is a Japanese boy with a pet flamingo. The Ribbon sisters wear sunglasses and play with ribbons while plate girl carries a plate with her constantly. Scooter boy never rides his scooter.

Her only adult friend is Scarf lady, a grandmotherly figure who knits constantly.

But not all of  Sarah’s friends are  human. She interacts with inanimate objects, as well as with the moon and a rainbow, food and insects.

The creators tell us that “creativity and friendship” are one of the main themes of the program. Sarah is open to, and reacts kindly toward, all.

In other words, Sarah is much like a child from fairy tale, one of the most traditional literary forms. The characters are as fantastic as any found in traditional tales, from Beauty’s Beast to Baba Yaga. Sarah’s talking shallots are no more unusual than Jack’s magic beans, or the animal guides or magic objects found in traditional children’s literature.

What Sarah and Duck does is clothe the fairy tale, or what the Brothers Grimm called household tales, in modern dress.

The show is innovation based on tradition.

As are the little wooden cubes. Children love to build, to pile objects upon each other to create towers. And while the more contemporary blocks might not fit with the older blocks, so, too, older ideas sometimes must sometimes be replaced by newer ones, unless, of course, like the blocks themselves, they form a strong foundation.

And so Miss C and I watch and listen to Sarah as she solves problems and explores possibilities, while we work on how to make a tall tower that will not fall down.