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Saturday, March 25, 2023

‘Stone soup’: B.C. woman reflects on stretching food dollars amid high inflation

For Salmon Arm’s Nan Gray, stretching food dollars has been central to her life.

Both a single parent and now a senior, she also spent decades in work focused on immigrant and family development services, running a variety of parent and family support groups throughout the Lower Mainland.

Gray gathered skills galore in frugal meal-making when she was a single parent with a young son. He happened to be a very selective eater and had adverse reactions to some ingredients.

“I had to be constantly creative with a budget that didn’t allow for much creativity,” she says.

Her work with newcomers to the country and their cooking knowledge expanded her repertoire considerably. As did leading groups with people living in poverty who had developed systems or networks of information, separate from any social services, on accessing inexpensive food and other bargains.

She found how important having a support network was, if not a formal social system, then friends, acquaintances, community support groups for single parents, women and men, or even church groups.

She said library programs, like moms and tots, or dads and tots, can be an opportunity to learn about other systems.

When she ran parent groups, ‘Stone Soup’ was always a feature. Originating from a folk tale, Stone Soup is when everyone brings a small amount of food to share, which turns into a substantial meal for everyone.

“It starts with a rock, and somebody brings an onion, a carrot, a potato… I would tell people, bring one vegetable. We’d chop it up all together as a group,” Gray explained.

Throughout the three-hour morning that she was running groups, the soup would cook and then people would eat before they’d head home.

“It was beautiful, I had baby-food grinders there. Moms could grind it. I used it with every program…”

Gray said she understood the social services system but didn’t know all the ins and outs of accessing needed services.

“It was those people who taught me.”

Gray said volunteering is also a great way to get to know people and gain ‘systems information’ on how to access food and other resources. Plus you get whatever perks the agency offers.

Gray was always working two, sometimes three jobs to make ends meet. Sunday was the family day, when she’d cook for the week.

A farmer’s daughter, Gray said all her vegetable ends were bagged and put in the freezer to be used later for stock for soups, sauces and stews.

She still swears by a freezer as it’s a big money saver, she said, although she just has the fridge-top variety. If she finds a larger portion of meat on sale, she’ll put it in small bags and use it for months. She said fruits and vegetables freeze, even avocados.

If there’s a case lot sale on soup, she might split it with a neighbour.

She now does a menu plan, a week at a time, based on what she’d like to eat, and she uses flyers to help determine when and where she will shop. Anything on sale she’ll pick up two or three.

Gray pointed out that depending on where people live, they might not have access to a full oven. She said she does almost all her cooking in a crock pot, a stock pot and a small roasting pan that fits in a toaster oven.

Still full of energy and dedicated to food security for everyone, Gray is a volunteer with the Shuswap Food Action Society. She’s involved with the Coldest Night event, the society’s community teaching garden, along with its school super lunch programs.

At the school lunches, all those years of making ‘Stone Soup’ and other inexpensive meals are put to good use as she helps prepare the meal along with serving it.

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food securityPovertySalmon ArmShuswap

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