On Loaves and Fishes

Editors Note: On July 24, BCC Press will publish How the Light Gets In by Keira Shae. This memoir is the story of a girl growing up in a poor, non-Mormon family in Provo, Utah and encountering abuse, drugs, prostitution, family separation, and profound poverty in the shadow of the Temple and the LDS Church’s flagship university. She eventually converted to the Church after experiencing kindness from an LDS foster family as a teen. Here is a small taste of what you will encounter in this wonderful, terrifying, and ultimately transcendent true story.

 

cover-light_gets_in-6x9in-frontI don’t know when I first heard the proverb about teaching a man how to fish and feeding him for a lifetime. But I’m sure it came from my Mormon neighbors when I was growing up in Utah Valley. My family was not Mormon, and we were very poor. And, in the both the metaphorical sense and the literal sense, none of us had the slightest idea what to do with a fish.

When my mother moved to Provo, she was a thrice-divorced high-school drop out with five small children. Most of our neighbors were LDS and seemed wary of us. Our non-Mormon neighbors were often absent, private, or avoidant.

When we were truly desperate–and we often were–we would seek out help beyond government assistance, which included churches. Most often, it was the LDS church. We discovered quickly that there was no church soup kitchen, no non-perishables stored at individual meetinghouses, no instant help if we were desperate. In those times, my siblings and I would wander the neighborhood begging for a spare can of peas or a can of tuna, and then mix it together over the heating element and eat it out of the pot.

The area’s LDS bishop had a “storehouse” of food (I was told), and my working, single mother–maxed out and tightly wound–would occasionally meet with with local Church leaders. There were interviews conducted, and my mother felt judged as they determined her and her children’s “worthiness” to receive storehouse food.

Very often, we were given generous food orders that should have helped to sustain our family. The problem is, we didn’t know what to do with most of it. It turns out that you don’t always feed someone by giving them a fish. Fish are messy. They have to be cleaned and cooked in certain ways that are not always obvious to single mothers who have never cooked a fish. If all you really want to do is feed someone for a day, give them microwavable fish sticks.

We didn’t actually get fish, of course. What we received were bags of flour, sugar, rolled oats (or sometimes on special occasions, plain granola), and salt. The only thing I recognized in the first food order we received was the canned beef chunks–and even with those I couldn’t figure out how to place them in a meal. We did not get a word explanation or a follow-up meeting from our leaders after being given the mysterious food items. It was inedible to us and puzzling, and it ended up in the garbage eventually, a waste for everyone involved. No one taught us how to fish. Or, in this case, make bread.

Eventually, my mother gave up on asking the Mormons for food entirely. When I joined the LDS church as a teenager, it became my burden to beg the bishop.

It was kind of the Mormons to help at all–especially one that was not of their congregation (at least initially). I have not received church welfare in my adult life. It has been years since my experiences with the Bishop’s storehouse, so I may be uninformed, redundant, or simply not qualified. Perhaps the kinds of improvements I want to suggest have already been made.

It is no one person’s fault that we have transitioned as a society to packaged foods. No one in the church is to blame for my grandmother’s, then my mother’s, and then my lack of knowledge about cooking and baking from scratch.  Single motherhood, however daunting, is what my mother chose to avoid unhealthy relationships, so working was an inevitable consequence. But could there be room for improvement in helping in these circumstances? Certainly.

Some questions I would like to reflect on:

  • Is it possible to expect a single working mother of five small children to cook from scratch everyday? Especially the very basics, like bread? When should she learn this skill? Who would teach it to her?
  • Is it fair to require several time-consuming interviews with leaders to determine
    worthiness for food, especially if the need is immediate?
  • Is it reasonable to only offer food options that require knowledge, skill and time?
  • Would you be willing to do twice as many interviews to learn the family’s history, check on its members, see if they are getting proper nutrition and that they have recipes or guidance?

These are questions that get to what we really mean by “charity,” or “the pure love of Christ.” Too often, I think, we use “teach a man to fish . . . .” when really mean, “don’t do anything at all.” Teaching people to fish–and to clean and cook what they catch challenging. It demands our time, our attention, and our engagement. It requires us to get messy to meet each other’s needs.

When somebody asks for help, they are placing themselves in an extremely vulnerable position.   We have an opportunity to connect with others and feel more fulfilled by asking for our needs to be met and meeting the needs of others. Therefore, all of our needs are divine. They are gifts. We become brothers and sisters when we offer and request. The spaces between us vanish.

Above all, we must remember that Zion is where there are no poor among us. Often, we may  envision us generously giving when we hear that phrase. I regularly forget that this also means having needs, feeling safe enough to voice them, and joyfully receiving, too. I hope all of us can feel fulfilled in eating the bread of charity, and then learning how to create our own loaves, and finally, to share the bread of charity with all we meet.

Comments

  1. Can’t wait to read the whole book!

  2. jaxjensen says:

    It takes a great deal of ‘swallow your pride’ to ask for assistance, but if you are having kids beg in the neighborhood for food I guess you are at that point of humility. So if you do ask for assistance, and they had you something you don’t know how to use… is it that much harder to ask, “I’ve never cooked with raw flour and sugar, can somebody give me a recipe?” My own wife has been to several neighbors homes in response to just that question. OF course a Bishop or RS president could be trained to ask, “do you know how to use this?” but I could also see how some might find that question condescending and insulting and think to themselves, “just because I’m poor doesn’t mean I’m an idiot, of course I know how.”

    Single working mom doesn’t need to cook all the time… kids can be taught to do so to. All of my kids could make bread/rolls/pizza crusts/ec by the time they are 8-10. By the same age they can all cook at least 2-3 different meals. So Mom doesn’t have to do it all.

    “Is it reasonable to only offer food options that require knowledge, skill and time?” They are the least expensive food options, so while that is an unfortunate side effect, yes, it is reasonable.

    “Would you be willing to do twice as many interviews to learn the family’s history, check on its members, see if they are getting proper nutrition and that they have recipes or guidance?” Yes, I absolutely would. Ensuring I don’t have malnourished neighbors is WAY more important then almost anything else on my schedule I can imagine. But I’m not the one doing them… and HT/VT is hit or miss at best (depending on assigned people).

  3. I do not think you should look a gift horse in the mouth. You were hungry. Here is some food. I have no problem with either the food or the process to obtain it.

  4. Your writing is beautiful and I am looking forward to your book. I wondered how long it would take for the “well, actually” BCC crew to come out, and it turns out even less time than I thought. I wonder why it is so hard for some people to just listen.

  5. Bbell,

    I am pretty sure that looking a gift horse in the mouth is not the intent here. Rather, what Keira is giving us is an extremely valuable look at how our gifts are experienced by other people–and this is something that we need to understand if we are going to exercise genuine charity (as opposed to just checking a box). As one who has worked on the other side of Church Welfare a number if times, and been involved in collecting and processing food orders, knowing that much of the food that I helped to provide was not useful to the people that I was providing it to matters a lot, since it means that I failed in my responsibility to comfort those in need of comfort.

    What I get from this essay is that I, myself, often confuse what Jesus meant by charity with what the US tax code means by the same word. Actual charity–the pure love of Christ–means loving people the same way that Christ loves them. It means knowing them and valuing them and understanding their situation. And when material comfort is required, it means providing it in a way that is comfortable.

    It is a much lesser view of charity that says, “here is some food, now go away and don’t complain.” This is charity that is essentially directed back at ourselves. We see hungry people, and we want to believe that we are not the sorts of people who let others go hungry. So we do what we need to do to solve the problem. But “the problem” is not that other people are hungry, it is that we feel uncomfortable. So giving them food makes us comfortable. Whether or not they can use the food is irrelevant if the object of our charity is to make ourselves feel better.

    What Keira is saying is that real human engagement requires more than that. It requires that our objective in providing assistance is directed towards others, not ourselves. And this means, as Keira says, we have to “get messy to meet each other’s needs.” I have seen Church Welfare work this way, and it is beautiful. I have also seen it work the other way, when we literally throw a box of food into a house that we aren’t even willing to enter. And that is one of those “tinkling bells and sounding brass” kinds of charity where Jesus says to us, “you have your reward.”

  6. Forced Anonimity says:

    Keira and Michael, thank you for this. Your experience is valid, and has caused me to rethink my approach to helping a family member who currently is in need. Helping this family member puts my wife and I in an uncomfortable position and provides a lot of opportunities to inadvertently offend. But remembering that true charity is messy, and not about us as the givers. helps me with perspective. Thank you.

  7. This is a really great post.

  8. JaxJensen, (and others)

    It seems you are brilliant, well-informed, creative in your problem-solving, and an involved parent. Bravo! You are creating children who will follow that. From my article you could have never guessed, but my mother did not just appear out of thin air. She did not have an education, did not come from a supportive home and background and battled mental illness and addiction. The deck was stacked against her in ways others might not be experiencing.

    This was my hope for my article: Poverty is so much more than a lack of flour or how to use it, or a lack of a fishing pole or how to use it. Poverty that is pervasive for generations (like mine) is a state of mind, a culture, if you will. My book will explore the mindset further, but I can give a very brief explanation here: It is knowing that others (or you yourself) know a better way of doing something, but it is taxing all your energy to do it “wrong”, how could you ever catch a break to try harder or come up with a better solution? For example, I started cooking instant/processed meals at a very young age. In order to utilize the flour, my mother would have had to know the lack, plan to ask (and feel comfortable enough to ask), hopefully find a willing soul, arrange some time to learn, then teach me, supervise me (once she had learned it) until I was confident, and then remind nine-year-old me every-so-often and make sure ingredients were in the house. In addition to doing all the work of two parents, this level of managing is a job unto itself. That’s why companies hire managers who do less of the actual work and do more of the planning and coordinating of the work.

    There are certain poor cultures. Some are adept, creative, and our culture loves to glorify those who are thrifty and “MacGyver” their way into success. Mormons have plenty of these types, in my experience. They value trades, education, agency, and big families that require a lot of creativity in order to thrive. They feel they are masters of their own fates and have hope. You seem to be that type, if you are/were poor at all.

    The “poor culture” I experienced was borne of mental illness-induced hopelessness, a victim mentality that truly can be taught and passed down. If there’s a victim, there’s a bully, so it leads to blaming outside sources and giving those people or situations all the control over your lives, feelings, and choices. Empowerment can stop the cycle, most often through love from another and education. This article is showing how to crush the cycle of victim-poverty states: Charity.

    You know how I can explain all of this and write all of this? Because I had quite a few people who loved me enough to help me crush the cycle. And then I got an education. And now I stop that cycle in my family tree. That flour went into the garbage until someone took my hand.

    And just in case you were wondering, about thirteen years later I found a Mormon housewife who did teach me to make bread. :)

  9. Wonderful post and absolutely beautiful response, Keira. Brava. Bravissima.

  10. Ojiisan says:

    This is a bit puzzling. I’m not certain what time frame we are talking about here but as far back as the 1990s the storehouse offered canned soup, canned vegetables, canned fruit, hot dogs, hamburgers, packaged mac and cheese, boxes of breakfast cereals, loaves of bread as well as fresh fruits and vegetables so it wasn’t limited to flour and rolled oats etc. and didn’t require extensive cooking skills. Also, when the order form is completed with the Bishop or the RS president, they go through it with the individual to see what they need so there is some awareness of what is available. I appreciate there may be difficulties the first time but starting with the second time when the individual hears they were going to get stuff they couldn’t use it doesn’t seem unreasonable to say I can’t use that with possibly an explanation of why. I know that people told me a number of times when I was completing a food order for a family, “I can’t use that” or “I don’t want that”. As for the interview process I’m not certain I understand the “several time-consuming interviews with leaders” comment. Typically there is one interview with the bishop and then the referral to the RS President. And, the interview with the Bishop is generally far ranging so that he does understand the history of the family, the members and its general temporal situation, particularly where the individual is a non-member. If the experience related by the author does pre-date my experiences then hopefully she would be happy to know that the current church processes have dealt with many of the concerns articulated.

  11. Jack Hughes says:

    Great post, Keira. Looking forward to reading the book!

  12. Keira:

    I’m curious as to what you would have preferred the solution to be vis-a-vis the flour and other ingredients. Would it have been someone from the ward coming in and helping your mother learn to bake and plan meals? I ask because I imagine that solution comes with its own externalities–we could be reading a post about someone who felt shamed in their own home by some pushy relief society sister telling your mother how to feed her family.

    Or is the solution just processed foods?

  13. Ojisan – from personal experience, it’s incredibly hard for many people to tell someone who is -giving- them stuff “I don’t want that”. You don’t want to seem ungrateful. You smile and try to do nothing that might make them rethink helping you. We can’t expect the poor to educate the givers on better ways to help. The people in the better situation have to be the ones to do the work in learning how to help those not as well off as they are.

    Yes, things in the storehouse have improved. It’s taken many years to get this far and there are still improvements to be made. Personally, I miss the large blocks of sliced cheese.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Keira. It’s illuminating to see what our efforts can look and feel like on the other side.

  15. nobody, really says:

    We used to have this thing called “homemaking meeting”. Older ladies with lots of experience would teach some of the basics of what used to be called “home economics”. My mom would regularly teach bread-making, canning, even classes on how to use fresh produce from the garden. Here’s how you cook onions, squash, green beans, potatoes. Here’s the basics, here’s ways to get fancy with it. Got a picky eater? Try shredding the squash and mixing it in with ground beef for tacos or chili. Here’s what you do with all that wheat that somebody told you to put in your food storage. She’d do a lesson on 10 Things You Can Do With Rice, or 5 Ways to Use Oats.

    Mom talks about how her mom, a Relief Society President for two decades, taught how to care for sick kids, when to call the doctor, how to prevent bedsores when taking care of invalid parents, making bone broth, and when to plant the garden. She would personally visit each sister at least once a year and make sure the kids were clean, the house was sanitary, that a father was providing, and that Mom had adult human contact. She’d check the bathrooms and the icebox, survey the level of coal for the cookstove, and check the root cellar. She provided or organized an automatic ten days post-partum care for older children, dealt with “baby blues”, and even had the police turn out for cases of domestic abuse. She even had a guest room ready at all times, prepared to take in moms and kids with thirty seconds notice if needed, and Grandpa was a Justice of the Peace who was known to sit in a glider rocker on the front porch, cradling a shotgun in case somebody decided to go acting a darn fool.

    Somewhere along the line, like in the mid to late 70s, Homemaking took a drastic turn for the worse, and people started making giant fake grape clusters. Now we have degraded into vinyl crafts – “Young Family – Established 2014”. Stuff where you make it and then aren’t sure you even want to keep it. We have family job charts galore, and families who have never experienced the smell of fresh bread.

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    nobody, thanks for this great portrait of old school “Homemaking” in the Church.

  17. Nobody, that paean to the old days when women were only homemakers (or a certain kind of woman was only ever a homemaker, I should say) was nice. Really, it was.

    But I see absolutely no relevance for a single mother trying to stitch together unpredictable shifts at service industry jobs in an effort to keep a roof over her child’s head. Even if homemaking meetings still worked that way they would be of no help to that woman. I find it striking how much Mormons prefer talking about “ideal” families with SAHMs, to the extent that a post about how we are failing to help people who don’t fit that mold turns into a nostalgic comment which basically implies that of only they would fit that mold, we could help them just fine.

  18. I have to agree with Ojiisan. My mother was the RS president and I was the one that would go to the storehouse, pick up the food and deliver it to the family. It was a regular grocery store with all the same foods you would see in any grocery store. That was 30 years ago.

  19. Wondering says:

    All these commenters are assuming that any given bishop and Relief Society president are trained and competent to administer charity food aid to a family in multi-generational poverty. That’s an awfully big assumption.

  20. Kristine says:

    “Somewhere along the line, like in the mid to late 70s, Homemaking took a drastic turn for the worse, ”

    Yes. When Correlation took away the Relief Society’s prerogative to administer their own budgets and write their own curriculum.

    Also, completely irrelevant to the OP.

  21. “All these commenters are assuming that any given bishop and Relief Society president are trained and competent to administer charity food aid to a family in multi-generational poverty.”

    Is anyone, really? You’re talking about an intractable problem that has confounded our society for years. Do we really want to say that only people who have this quandary figured out should be allowed to be bishop or relief society president?

  22. This looks like a very important book. Thank you!

  23. Latam Girl says:

    Nobody, really:

    Your mom sounds like an amazing person. I’m a RS president currently and I was exhausted just reading your description of what she did. I can barely manage to make regular contact with all the sisters much less visit all of them to that extent.

  24. “…knowing that others (or you yourself) know a better way of doing something, but it is taxing all your energy to do it “wrong”, how could you ever catch a break to try harder or come up with a better solution?”

    This beautifully put, and something that I think just doesn’t occur to a lot of people who have enough slack in their budget/schedule. It didn’t to me for a long time. I happened into the book “Scarcity” by Shafir and Mullainathan a few years ago which goes into a lot of of the academic literature of the cognition of financial/temporal poverty and how people can get trapped in it. It started me down the path to better empathy and I highly recommend it – after buying Keira’s book of course!

  25. Rexicorn says:

    I work full-time and have a minor mental illness, and I rarely have the energy to cook “from scratch.” The closest I get is throwing things together in the Instant Pot. And I don’t have the extra stress of children or poverty (including generational poverty, which has its own impacts), nor do I work much overtime. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be for a single mom with several kids and a mental illness. Meal planning and cooking, especially when you’re just learning, take up an enormous amount of mental energy, or at least they do for me. Maybe some people find baking bread from scratch relaxing, but for me it’s a stressful venture from start to finish.

    Taking individual circumstances into account should always include the person’s abilities and energy level. That means stepping outside what you think someone “should” be capable of, or what someone you know in similar circumstances can manage, and meeting the individual where they are.

  26. Hello, All!

    I’m attempting to address all concerns and questions here while juggling three rowdy boys. Let me know if I miss anything.

    I can’t be sure, as I was very young, but I received aid somewhere between the years of 1988 to 2004. I never went to the storehouse myself, so I’m not the best witness. I don’t recall any hot dogs at all, or buns. The greatest “treat” I remember was possibly hot chocolate mix or maybe some drink similar to Tang. We got assistance from many sources, so I could be wrong. Later years (2000’s) I remember getting a loaf of bread. I do remember cheese once. Milk, maybe? I never recall any canned soup, but (if you can believe it) even Cream of Mushroom soup wasn’t something we really wielded well.

    As to what food options to offer, I would say it depends on the desired outcome. When I was homeless, there was no way, however generous, flour was going to be of any help. I didn’t have a stove. I didn’t have a house! Sometimes it’s microwaveable fish sticks. Sometimes you DO fed a man for a day. And that’s still charity. It’s actually very thoughtful, perfect charity. Flour is something you offer if it’s helpful, and it may very well be. Charity would be to seek to understand the person for who they are. It’s transformative. There is no easy answer. This is why, like Christ, we walk among others and serve our next door neighbors.

    To be clear, I never, ever would blame Mormons for providing this charity or that I didn’t know how to cook. I adore Mormons and I wanted to learn more as I saw their industriousness. I was fascinated by their creativity when in a pinch, and all done with a twinkle in their eye.

    I certainly don’t expect any one bishop or RS president or even all Mormons to solve problems of generational poverty. That’s more than even one religion could ever tackle. I simply hope to inform others to give them a little broader of an understanding when they see a neighbor. Maybe we could propose to the church to print a cheap, paperback cookbook of all recipes that can be made with storehouse food. Maybe we include a question in the interviews that says, “Would you like a meal plan? Cookbook? In-house guidance?” I know quite a few wonderful people in my ward who may not be able to wrestle sunbeams, but could provide wisdom in household management from their armchair (or wheelchair)!

    It’s sad that we’ve gotten to a point that self-care is actually difficult to do or not even on someone’s radar. Fortunately, we live in an age of information and connection. I’m certain things will improve, and it starts right here with the discussion we’re having now!

  27. nobody, really says:

    I should mention that my grandmother, the 20-year Relief Society president, served in Riverdale, Utah. I don’t think she had more than a five-block walk to reach any home in the ward. She did work full-time, first as a nurse, and then at Sears in Ogden.

    We used to have these basic skills, handed down through tribal means. We now “help” in the same ways they “helped” 50 years ago, but the raw materials are just as puzzling to people now as a slide rule.

    It drives my mom absolutely crazy that young women today don’t know the basics of home management – people now have to earn 2 incomes to buy convenience. She will still take flour and yeast and salt to a family, but she will stop at DI or the Salvation Army Thrift Store on the way and pick up a breadmaker machine now.

    Our current RS president will often take the kids in a family shopping – that way, they can identify familiar food that the family can use. We deal with a LOT of multigenerational poverty here – even families where nobody has EVER had a job. People think everybody receives SNAP benefits, because everybody they know does. We can help write a resume, help fill out a job application, donate interview clothes, emphasize the need for proper supportive underwear, but we just can’t get people out of bed in the morning to show up for their first day of work.

    It sounds like Keira’s mother was working her tail off to try to provide for her family. That is an admirable quality. There’s a big difference between “We don’t know the right way to help that family” and “That family won’t be helped”. That being said, we don’t quit trying to help, especially when there are children involved.

  28. Paul Ritchey says:

    Thank you, Keira, for helping us see and feel your experience. It should make us think about how we can serve others better.

    I am excited about what is broadly termed the “slow food” or “local food” movement, and I think it can help with the overworked single mom dilemma. Processed foods – even good ones – aren’t a wholesome long-term solution to feeding oneself. As people become more interested in cooking, they get better – and faster – at it. Young people today – including many young moms, many of whom work – are more interested in food and cooking than their mothers were, or even than most of their grandmothers were. And some men like to cook, too (e.g., I have a Y chromosome *and* have read all of Michael Pollan’s books).

    I think this excitement for cooking, combined with sincere friendships built with someone like Keira, is the answer. Imagine if, instead of a sack of flour, her mom had gotten invited to a working dinner at a neighbor’s house, kids and all? Kids play in the other room, parents have fun cooking and talking. Everyone eats (actually “dines,” which implies a relationship). An event like that takes someone (perhaps someone in a “culture” of poverty, as Keira says) and initiates her into a group of support, ability, and hope.

  29. Kristine says:

    ^hahahaha–like a working single mom has time or energy for a “slow food” meal. At the home of people who are going to judge her for not knowing how to cook, for not planning meals and having time to grocery shop and do it all alone after they’ve so magnanimously taught her… Ugh!

    Keira’s post can’t teach us anything unless we quit giving advice for a hot sec.

  30. This has been an amazing discussion, mostly for the lack of understanding exhibited by so many who think they have all the answers.

    I looked very carefully at the list of commodities on the bishops’ storehouse order form, and thank the Lord, literally, that I don’t have to live off of it. I have diabetes. There is virtually nothing on that list that is edible — even the canned and fresh vegetables (tomatoes, corn, carrots, potatoes) are largely on the it-would-kill-me list. Couldn’t use any of the soups, or breads, or pasta, or canned fruit, or jam, or cereals, or “desserts,” or much of the dairy. Probably wouldn’t want to choke down the canned meats. I’d have to hope that “vegetables in season” included enough cabbage and zucchini and Brussels sprouts to survive on, and that I could choke down plain pinto or black beans because there’s nothing on that list to combine them with to make a actual meal. And I’m a very good cook, with decades of experience cooking from scratch.

    That’s a very different problem than learning as an adult to cook from scratch, but it’s related in that YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT until and unless you’ve lived in a situation like Keira’s or her mother’s or mine or that of others who would be legitimately mystified as to how to combine the limited raw ingredients offered them into something palatable.

  31. jaxjensen says:

    Keira… your response makes it sound like you thought I was being critical of your mother. I didn’t mean to be. I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t say, “Thanks for the flour, but what do I do with it?” but I wasn’t trying to imply she did anything wrong. I would hope if you asked for additional help, not just food but the knowledge of how to use it, that someone would step up. I believe someone would, because anecdotally I’ve seen my wife do it.

    And I realize my kids know how to do those things only because they’ve see their mother do them; and that you didn’t have that option nor your mother the time to learn herself. I would bet there were plenty of people who’d have been willing to teach you or her, but they never thought to ask. All people tend to think that all other people are more or less like themselves. So if they had always known some of those basic culinary skills (bread making), it wouldn’t occur to them that others don’t. They think it is common knowledge because it has always been common TO THEM. It’s impossible for us to know what some other person does or does NOT know. Either person (giver or reciever) simply asking solves that. I can see how the receiver asking might feel humiliated enough to not ask, and I can see how a giver might give offense in asking. Unfortunately, culture being what it is, charitable work among us makes both parties uncomfortable at times.

    Anyway, I thought it was a great excerpt.

    And I’m thrilled to here you crushed the cycle. Good for you!

  32. jaxjensen says:

    “like a working single mom has time or energy for a “slow food” meal. At the home of people who are going to judge her for not knowing how to cook, for not planning meals and having time to grocery shop and do it all alone after they’ve so magnanimously taught her”

    You have a much more negative impression of people than I do (and I tend to think negative of most people). I can’t imagine someone being asked, “We have this family in the ward that could use some help. Would you be willing to have them over and show them meals to cook and how to do it?” and that anyone willing to say yes would be nearly as judgmental as you suggest. Most people (Mormon or not) are a fair bit more charitable in their thinking of other than that. So while in a vacuum people might criticize the lack of cooking skills, I think once presented with an actual individual and asked to help them, I think the judgement would be put aside and true charity (love and desire to help) would be present to help those in need.

  33. And yet, jaxjensen, that entire response totally ignores the basic issue that a worrying single parent Does. Not. Have. Time. What the hell is the point of inviting somebody over to learn a skill that they will literally never be able to implement? Cooking takes a massive investment of time. Learning to cook takes a massive investment of time (way more than one dinner with nice neighbors), but even after you’re good at it, the planning, shopping, preparation, and clean up take an amount of time that is simply prohibitive for a worrying single parent. Other people’s lives aren’t like yours, and thinking you have the easy answer to solve their problem because it would work for you is exactly the issue this post is about.

    “Slow food” movement as the simple solution for a single mom in poverty. Sheesh. Now I’ve heard everything.

  34. Single mothers are judged all the time, jaxjensen. You may claim to be unaware of it, but that’s ignorance, not the voice of experience.

    On a practical level, even setting aside the humiliation of being cast as an incompetent mother in front of an audience (the hostess’s husband and even her children, depending on how they interpret whatever is said to them about “Suzy’s mom is coming over so I can teach her how to cook”), it is very likely that the hostess’s kitchen is equipped with cooking equipment that is not available to the single mother — she would not have accumulated tools like graters and measuring cups and colanders and potato mashers or bread pans and whatever, never mind Instapots or Dutch ovens or immersion blenders — these are not objects accumulated by someone who hasn’t had any reason to use them. The hostess’s kitchen likely also includes all sorts of condiments and herbs and canned goods that the hostess takes for granted but which, likewise, are not in the mother’s kitchen. It takes a small fortune through shower gifts and otherwise to outfit a bride’s kitchen, and a single mother with a limited income can hardly invest in the necessary equipment all at once.

    Far better, in practical terms, would be a few afternoons — assuming the working mother has the time — in the mother’s own kitchen, without an audience, while the teacher works side by side with the mother teaching her new skills.

    There are so many obstacles in the way of the “solutions” being taken for granted on this thread as being oh-so-obvious.

  35. jaxjensen says:

    JY as shown me my errors and I stand corrected. I therefore repent of my previous position. I now firmly advocate that nobody ever invite single mother’s over for meals, don’t you dare offer to teach them a useful skill, and for sure don’t even think about asking her if you can help in any way, because she’ll feel judged and humiliated.

  36. For you, individually, jaxjensen, that’s a wise resolution.

  37. Working mom here, and not a single mom (although I am responsible for most of the weekday meals). And I know how to cook, but if I didn’t, a) I wouldn’t have time for someone to show me how to cook, b) if I did have time I wouldn’t have the emotional energy, and c) if I somehow found the time and the emotional energy for someone to show me how to cook, I wouldn’t (don’t) have the time and emotional energy and undivided attention (not that you necessarily need much, but without fail my kids are great at choosing the time when I have flour on my hands or am dealing with the raw meat to have a crisis, and I don’t think this is just them) to bake things from flour from scratch. Maybe once a month, but that’s not exactly going to feed my family for that whole month.

    (Because I do know how to cook quick things, and have access to prepackaged food and luxury kitchen items like a rice cooker, my family eats fine, but honestly, I feel like anyone who is saying “oh, why not just ask for cooking lessons and then you’d be able to use that flour?” must never have been a working person responsible for putting dinner on the table for a family the majority of the time.)

  38. jaxjensen says:

    Ardis… yes, they are judged. I’m judged. You are judged. We are all judging each other, making assumptions, forming opinions… and almost all of them wrong about those we encounter. Kristine was judging the hypothetical hosts, I was judging Kristine, and you were judging me. It happens. But her assessment help a lot more negativity in it than I think most people would show (or even feel) toward someone they were asked to help.

    I agree that there are benefits to being at the single mother’s house, with her tools, her supplies, etc. learning how to use the things she has. Even in your comment though you also ignore JY’s claim to “time” for the woman. Now she will have to have the house clean, feel pressure to “host”, and who knows how many other things. There are pro’s and con’s of both… do we need to discuss them for a hypothetical??? as if this were a real issue we thought we could to a definitive solution during an online discussion? Can we just agree that somebody being willing to help out would be great; someone to go above and beyond simply handing the woman a bag of food and saying “good luck”? And that we should be glad for the post if it helps us think to ask next time we are in a similar position to help?

  39. jaxjensen says:

    *** her assessment HELD a lot more…***

  40. Jax, you are missing the main point of this essay: charity should be tailored to the individual. Something I’m sure your political views align with: do away with the bureaucracy and the “one size fits all approach.” Look for the good here, sit awhile, and listen more.

  41. No, I didn’t ignore JY’s point about time: “Far better, in practical terms, would be a few afternoons — assuming the working mother has the time — in the mother’s own kitchen …”

    Compassion is great. Assuming you know all the answers to the extent that you appear to believe in your many, many declarative comments … not so great.

  42. jaxjensen says:

    Brian, I agree. I haven’t said anything that contradicts you. I haven’t suggested a “one size fits all” approach. I haven’t suggested any approaches. My only suggestion has been that if someone hands you food you don’t know how to use, ask. Otherwise I’ve simply tried to appreciate the OP and hope it helps people think a bit outside their own paradigm of what “common knowledge” includes.

  43. jaxjensen says:

    Ardis… I’ve specifically said I don’t have answers and haven’t suggested any. The whole “have a meal with them and teach them” wasn’t my idea… I only mentioned it to comment about the negativity Kristine was placing on the hosts… not commenting on the soundness of the idea.

  44. “Maybe we could propose to the church to print a cheap, paperback cookbook of all recipes that can be made with storehouse food”

    This book https://www.amazon.com/Deseret-Recipes-Church-Christ-Latter-day/dp/B000YBDGD8 (or one very like it) was published in 1981 and distributed along with food orders from the bishop’s storehouse at least into the late 1990s.

  45. Kristine says:

    jaxjensen–have you been a working single mother? I didn’t think so.

    I know what I’m talking about. What you see as “love and desire to help” can be extremely condescending and judgmental from the perspective of the object of that sort of “charity.” Even in this thread, people have been very quick to offer advice to Keira–advice she didn’t ask for and clearly doesn’t need, since she has achieved things that most of us have not, despite a difficult start. It’s that assumption that *we* are always the ones providing help, and of course a poor person who doesn’t know what to do with a bag of flour doesn’t have anything illuminating to say about what is actually helpful in her own life that reeks of judgment and condescension.

  46. Paul Ritchey says:

    Geez – I had no idea of the vitriolic cynicism I’d meet in this thread. Kristine and JY, of course single mothers don’t have time for pit BBQ or vegan cassoulet or whatever. That’s not what I said – and I don’t believe there is a “simple” solution. If she doesn’t have time for stir fry, or a roast chicken, or a bowl of oatmeal, though, then others should step in (the Church, the state, neighbors, family) and alleviate her burdens so that she does have time to feed herself and her family. Again, not a simple solution. It is simply ridiculous, though, to think that single parents should be so busy that they cannot feed themselves.

    And, by the way, you should apologize for sweeping aside the millions of single (or overworked, or both) mothers who feed their families with food they cook from scratch every single day. I have worked with dozens of them in their kitchens and have learned volumes. Your suggestion that their sacrifice is mere surplus, to be approximated somehow with meals-as-widgets, is insulting, chiefly because those widgets are simply unavailable to the vast majority of them. The next time you walk through a frozen food aisle, remember that being so busy that you don’t have time to cook food is quintessentially a #firstworldproblem.

    Jaxjensen, thanks for your olive branch. It was obviously more than I was prepared to offer.

  47. jaxjensen – if nothing else this – “My only suggestion has been that if someone hands you food you don’t know how to use, ask.” is a one-size-fits-all solution.

    Not everyone has the ability to “just ask”. It can be hard enough getting help at all, much less not wanting to impose on someone who is giving you help.

  48. jaxjensen says:

    Frank… I know how hard it can be to ask for help and addressed it in my comments already. It was the very first sentence of my very first comment.

    But how can you really suggest that, “if someone hands you food you don’t know how to use, ask” is a solution to single working mothers in need of food assistance? I didn’t offer it as a solution at all (not in the way it was suggested … “Assuming you know all the answers”)… you can make that claim if you’d like, but I won’t climb out on that limb with you.

    I don’t think I have any good answers (regardless of Ardis’ claims to the contrary). Honestly, I don’t know how you all find the energy to give the grief you do to someone who has liked the OP, stated support for it, tried to acknowledge how hard it would be, hopes that people will use it to think outside their own paradigms/experiences to ask and make sure their offered help is useful, and (in the case of Kristine’s comment) is trying to give some benefit of the doubt regarding people’s “judgements” when they offer to help and not just assuming they think ill of those they serve. Shame on me I guess.

  49. Wondering says:

    “If she doesn’t have time for stir fry, or a roast chicken, or a bowl of oatmeal”

    Wow. I remember my first exposure to serious generational poverty. It was in junior high home ec. I had spent time as a child in genteel Mormon poverty while my father was in professional school, the kind of poverty requiring the stay-at-home mother to sew clothing and grind wheat to make bread and make food and other resources stretch and stretch some more. But my parents had education and training and extended family as a safety net if a crisis arose, and weren’t planning on being in poverty for more than a few years.

    The eye opening experience was when a girl in the home ec class looked at the equipment in the stocked test kitchens and explained that at home they opened cans with a screwdriver. That was the only tool in their entire kitchen.

    How does someone make stir fry or roast a chicken with one screwdriver and perhaps a single pot? And how do they cook any of that when the electricity is off for nonpayment?

    And for the many Americans who live in a food desert, where do they find a chicken to roast or fresh vegetables to make into stir fry?

    https://socialwork.tulane.edu/blog/food-deserts-in-america

    And how does the Church or state “step in” to a situation like that? When’s the last time your ward sought out the gas station attendants and employees at the oil change places and part-time clerks at Wal-Mart to make sure their families had the training and resources they needed so they could roast chickens for dinner?

  50. Oh, jaxjensen, how badly you misunderstand me if, as you write to Frank, you think I claimed you have GOOD answers!

    Thank you, Wondering. You get it.

  51. Jax, it’s because you have largely not demonstrated the ability to see beyond yourself. hence, your solution equals the solution. That’s the one size approach. To quote you: “Single working mom doesn’t need to cook all the time… kids can be taught to do so to. All of my kids could make bread/rolls/pizza crusts/ec by the time they are 8-10. By the same age they can all cook at least 2-3 different meals. So Mom doesn’t have to do it all.” Implication: so here is a solution. It worked for me, why not for you?

    ““Is it reasonable to only offer food options that require knowledge, skill and time?” They are the least expensive food options, so while that is an unfortunate side effect, yes, it is reasonable.” Implication: well, you say it yourself right there. No need to elaborate.

    The list goes on: why not ask for help to cook said raw food; why not x, y, z? Well, there are lots of reasons, many listed here. You are quick to offer a solutions from your world–not the world of the person seeking help. It’s because you are offering “help” that doesn’t take into account the explicitly stated circumstance that people have this energy to criticize you. Despite your claims that you support your essay, your words suggest you haven’t quite figured it out yet. You are (still) missing the most basic point of the post.

  52. I am reminded of a time many years ago when I held a door open in the BYU Wilkinson Center for a student in a wheel chair. I think he had cerebral palsy. The response was an angry tirade to the effect that he could handle the door himself — and that my help was an unwelcome judgmental demonstration of condescending pity. While I would have held the door open for anyone coming through after me — wheel chair or not, I was so shocked (and at that time, so fragile), that I couldn’t respond and could not for months thereafter hold the door open for anyone.

    I wonder if some suggestions here couldn’t have been better stated as inquiries as to whether they could be helpful. I wonder if some responses I read as judgmental, at least those about others’ suggestions on charity, might have been written more charitably.

    I’m no longer so fragile, but after reading this thread I may still be afraid to risk offering what help I might otherwise be able to. It still takes me too long to get over being the object of an angry verbal attack. But that’s just me and childhood conditioning.

  53. Paul Ritchey says:

    Wondering:

    You can’t make much of anything with only a screwdriver. But I bought my cast iron skillet and steel spatula at Goodwill for $4.00. And, definitionally, you can’t cook without heat.

    Your hypo supposes no electricity and no cooking occurring in the home, at all. I don’t doubt that that’s a reality, but I hardly think it’s the situation the OP was describing. The issue appeared to be time poverty, rather than the extreme money poverty you suggest.

    Food deserts are real, but some are shrinking thanks to a renewed focus on urban revitalization and local food. Again, though, not the situation the OP seems to have described.

    How does the Church or the State step in? Ten ways: food orders, SNAP, affordable education, Medicaid, school lunch programs, the Mormon social network, WIC, Pathway, unemployment benefits, and now, ministering. We could do a lot more, though, and we should.

  54. jaxjensen says:

    Oh Ardis, I’m fully aware that you would never imagine saying something nice to me at all, let alone calling something I said “Good”. You just aren’t polite enough for that!

  55. I have experience with Bishops’ Storehouse (in the early 90s to today). Granted, my experience is limited to helping people get their food, not using the services. But growing up, I didn’t have access to some of the stuff there, so don’t assume this is a privileged, ignorant comment.

    I feel that the food was/is plentiful, clean, and varied. Fresh greens. Fresh fruit. Milk. Meat. Bread (already-made).

    And the key principal is having patrons fill their own carts. Granted, their approved list must be adhered to bc of the reality of abuses in any welfare system. But the volunteers are told to make the process as dignified as possible.

    Giving free food (or clothes or toys) can be done in a dignified way…or a degrading one. We all need the power to choose something…even if it’s only an apple…something seemingly irrelevant to people who can choose and have anything they want.

    Having a bag of flour dumped at your house. That screams “somebody wanted to say they did their good deed for the day.” Unless you’re a starving pioneer, happy to mix it up with creek water and lick it off your hands.

    While living overseas one year, I saw the Americans sponsor a canned food drive…then they realized…”Whoops, poor people here don’t own can openers.”

    The next year they collected a ton of rice.

    Keira’s essay reminds me of the lesson I learned back then. Don’t waste energy doing pointless things when you can expend energy doing helpful things.

    If you filter out your own biases, what she wrote is thought-provoking.

    I teach some kids from rough/disadvantaged homes how to cook without diabetes-in-a-bottle food. When the kids try something they’ve made…touch real food…it makes them happy. They ask me to teach them to make more stuff. If I just dropped off the ingredients, they wouldn’t get the positive association of someone caring about you.

  56. JR – the problem in your example and with the many suggestions given is that they (and you) are not really listening. Do you know why the person was upset at you helping with the door? Did you think at all how you affected them, or did you stay stunned for a month wondering how it affected you?

    The post is not a story asking for suggestions, in any way, shape, or form. There’s no condemning or plea for help in the telling of the story, just a hope that the readers (that’s all of us) might learn something from it. Some have, in return, shared a portion of their own stories, some with condemnation, but mostly with the goal of helping those who have not had these experiences to learn.

  57. Frank. BS. I made a comment related to the tone of the conversation here and not to the post.. I am listening. Yes, I grasped why the person upset at the door was upset and I didn’t need to wonder how it affected me. There was, however, no way for me at that age to anticipate anyone’s being upset at a door being held open. Should such a situation present itself again (it hasn’t) I would probably ask whether the person would like me to hold the door.

    You are right that there is no condemning or plea for help in the telling of a story, whether in the OP or comments. Clearly my comment did not address the OP comments that were limited to sharing a story. I did not even suggest that the post was a story asking for suggestions. It seems to me that you are not listening.

  58. Paul Ritchey says:

    Frank Pellett:

    Read the post:

    “Some questions I would like to reflect on:

    Is it possible to expect a single working mother of five small children to cook from scratch everyday? Especially the very basics, like bread? When should she learn this skill? Who would teach it to her?
    Is it fair to require several time-consuming interviews with leaders to determine
    worthiness for food, especially if the need is immediate?
    Is it reasonable to only offer food options that require knowledge, skill and time?
    Would you be willing to do twice as many interviews to learn the family’s history, check on its members, see if they are getting proper nutrition and that they have recipes or guidance?”

    The author posed questions. I see no indication that the author is disinterested in sincere discussion of others’ answers to those questions.

  59. Paul Ritchey – yes, it did. it also says “I” and “reflect”. They weren’t posed to you, nor does reflection require response. So did you reflect, or did you react, assuming you already had the answers?

  60. Paul Ritchey says:

    Reading back through the OP and all of the comments, I can now see that some subset of people here have convinced themselves that there are only two appropriate responses to a post like this: thanking the OP for a wonderful post, and attacking those who offer anything beyond that.

    I really, really enjoyed the article, Keira. I’m curious whether you were interested merely in enjoyment and thanks, or also in substantive discussion. If the former, then my apologies for not having read the tea leaves properly. If the latter, I hope you or someone else can find some value or insight in my written reflection on the questions you posed.

  61. Kristine says:

    Paul–did you just want thanks and approbation for your comments or were you hoping for substantive engagement with your ideas? It’s not a one-way street.

  62. Coming to BCC fills a need for me. Reading essays and comments makes my brain feel “on” and helps me feel less isolated.

    But when I make a comment, I’m taking a big risk. People might impose their chips on what I write and read something I didn’t say at all. I know…I catch myself doing it to others.

    That’s why I started my comment defending the Church, the Storehouse, and its volunteers. Between the lines, I was admitting that my first reaction to reading the essay was “She’s exaggerating the unflattering details about people who tried to help.”

    Then it hit me…”You didn’t live her experience. It’s hers. Your privilege is to have it shared with you in an entertaining, eye-opening way.”

    On purpose, I started my comment by defending the Church and the way its Storehouse is run. It was a qualifier for what I admitted next…sometimes we are clumsy about helping because we are ignorant.

    That is the pount of me coming here…to become less ignorant. When I talked about teaching kids how to cook, I’m pretty sure (from the comments), somebody thought, “What a self-righteous, condescending imbecile, tooting her own horn.”

    When all I was trying to say was “K’s essay made me realize I’m making a difference just by teaching someone how to cook.” In a world full of probs, I can do one small thing.

    I know I’m not an expert on inter-generational poverty…but you don’t have to be an expert to share ideas here.

    You might say something dumb…I do it all the time. But that’s how I learn to be more thoughtful.

  63. If I hear one more male appeal for “substantive discussion,” I think I’ll puke—especially given the way that such discussion almost inevitably involves lecturing actual single mothers or people in poverty about what their lives are *really* like, if only they had a Y chromosome and some nice middle-class privilege to help them understand. Oh yes, and then being peeved when they have the gall to talk back.

    Take it from someone who learned the hard way: sometimes, when someone like Keira asks questions like the ones at the end of her post, it’s better to sit with them in silence for a while before revving up the magical masculine solutions engine. I know that the comment box sits there, calling to you, but for God’s sake if Keira’s voice isn’t resonating more loudly in your head and heart than your own, please think twice before heeding that call.

  64. Paul Ritchey says:

    Sorry to upset your stomach with my opinions, Jason K. It was hard enough to hear others’ belligerent responses to my sincere engagement, but getting it from a permablogger is enough for me. You can keep your unabashed sexism.

    Clearly, neither I nor my ideas are welcome here, and the latter simply because of who I am. That makes me sad.

  65. Kristine says:

    Paul, your ideas are welcome, but you need to be prepared for pushback from people who are actually in the situations you are engaging with on a theoretical level. Sometimes you will be wrong in part because of who you are. That is the nature of engaging with humans with a variety of experiences; just because someone says you’re mistaken doesn’t mean you aren’t welcome. It just means you have more to learn about others’ lives, as we all do, especially if we hope to build Zion.

  66. Kristine says:

    ps–I am also a permablogger :)

  67. It’s not really about you, Paul Ritchey. Being a permablogger means that I’ve seen a lot more of these threads than you have. The visceral disgust is really about watching a very familiar pattern play out yet once more. It’s only partly your fault that you’re participating in that pattern.

    Also, Kristine is a perma, too, and has been for far longer than I have, which means that she’s seen even more of these threads than I have, but with the added benefit of having her life experience erased by them. Think about that for a while.

  68. I once suggested to a senior law partner that he may wish to close a completed file in which the firm represented client A because he had in the meantime begun representing client B against client A on precisely the same matter. The response was a rather angry negative retort, followed by a much later explanation that if he even perceived someone suggesting that he might have done something wrong, his first instinct was to fight about it. I was surprised, as my first instinct in that situation is to think about it (though my thinking is not always thorough enough to come to a right conclusion). Mr. Senior Partner was shocked to have me tell him that. It seemed the idea had apparently never occurred to him.

    It is even more difficult to manage these first instincts in blog or email communications than in person, because written media leave us somewhat more free to imagine tone and implication contrary to intention. We can easily get them both wrong or exaggerated. I wonder how often I do that, but here I really can’t edit “BS” out of my comment above. Perhaps I should merely claim, with SWK, that it means “Brother Skousen” but that would be quite a misplaced claim from me. :)

    I have not noticed any correlation between gender and first instinct to fight or to think, nor between perma-blogger status and such instincts. I appreciate Kristine’s “just because someone says you’re mistaken doesn’t mean you aren’t welcome”. But sometimes we don’t just “say you’re mistaken” but instead imbue our responses with accusations of insensitivity or know-nothingness, including all-caps “yelling”, snide [maybe rhetorical/maybe real] questions, or other matters that seem to me as close to calling names as they are to saying “I think you’re mistaken.” I will continue to try not to do that and will probably continue to make some mistakes in those efforts.

  69. Rexicorn says:

    There should be a two-minute timer you have to wait through before you’re allowed to post a comment, with a little graphic to help you do some deep breaths. I think it would help.

    Also, I saw someone upthread refer to making bread as a basic culinary skill…is that true? Because making bread seems like a completely impossible undertaking to me, especially without a breadmaker. Admittedly I am not known for my cooking skills even among my own peer group, but it’s another reminder that people can have very different definitions of normal.

  70. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Rexicorn, it’s not that hard, but the learning curve is a lot steeper than a lot of folks think. I made a lot of bad bread when I was single and decided to start baking my own.

    The other thing is that it takes a lot of time.

  71. Kristine says:

    It takes a lot of time, and not all at once. You really can’t do it if you’re not at home for hours and hours during the day. (with a couple of lovely, slow-rise exceptions)

  72. I’m not sure anything in the kitchen can be called a “basic skill”.

    Or maybe I’ve just watched too much “Worst cooks in America”

  73. Baking bread the way my grandma does it didn’t take six to eight hours of work, but it does take work spread out over six to eight hours. The suggestion that any working single parent would do it as a matter of course is so laughable as to completely discredit anything else that person says.

    As for whether it’s a basic kitchen skill… Well, grandma thought so. Then again, I think installing security updates on your computer, backing up your data, setting up your Wi-Fi network, basic photo editing, basic word processing, and basic spreadsheet manipulation are fundamental skills, and she can’t do any of those. Not so long ago, harnessing and driving a horse was a basic skill. Not so long before that (not so long in the big perspective), our would be unthinkable for any family unit to not include someone who could weave a basket or throw a clay pot. Basic skills change as society and technology change. My own skill with a command line was a basic skill when I was a kid and is now totally irrelevant to any non specialist.

    It’s not bad that basic skills change, but old people tut-tutting about the hapless young folks who can’t even bake bread are deeply infuriating. It’s especially infuriating because, over the last few generations of change, many of those depreciated skills were specifically gendered female… Which means that written old people bemoan the lack of bread making, and quilting, and mending, and home gardening, and clothes making, and embroidery, all the weight of that judgement falls overwhelmingly on women. Generally, women who are just trying to make a living, in a situation where making a living is totally and utterly incompatible with actually doing any of those things as anything other than a luxury hobby.

    I want to know how many of the men of this thread going “but why didn’t she just…” were raised by married stay at home moms. How many have stay at home wives. How many of them themselves have actually cooked from scratch every day for years on end while also working full time. I bet the answers would be illuminating. I’m often shocked by how royally disconnected Mormons (most especially Mormon men) are from the reality of life without a live-in cook/maid.

  74. jaxjensen says:

    Our bread baking is a little less than 2 hour process for 4 loaves or 4 dozen rolls. 1/2 of that time is waiting for it to rise and 20 minutes of it baking. It’s about 15 minutes to mix the ingredients, get it formed into loaves, etc. and the rest is just being available to put it in the oven and take it out. So start to finish is about 2 hours, but its less than 30 minutes of attention it needs. The rest of the time can be doing … whatever. Our family of 10 does this about 2-3x week. How often it needs to be done depends on how much bread you eat.

    We did eat a fair amount of tough bread for a couple weeks/months until we got a good feel for the recipe (how moist it should be, etc). That was all trial and error though and the curve could have been sped up by a good teacher (“this is too dry… this is too wet… etc). That could have saved us (as a young struggling family) a lot of ingedients we put into bad bread. But the only way to get good at it was to practice.

    I don’t think bread baking is a common skill anymore, but still call it a basic one. We don’t use horses for transport so we don’t need to know that any more. But we still eat. And eating isn’t just a convenience (like transportation) but is a necessity. So as much as some might think it is “tut-tutting”, I will continue to bemoan that an increasing number of people don’t know how to feed themselves. It’s literally a requirement to maintain your life, yet is a skill that we’ve failed to learn and/or pass to others (some even mocking people who might suggest teaching it to those who don’t know). It is a sad state of things that it IS true (and the OP correct), that you could give a starving person a fish and they would likely continue to starve in the USA today.

  75. nobody, really says:

    JY:
    Mormon man here, with a stay-at-home wife. I also do most of the cooking, nearly all of the grocery shopping, my own laundry, and all the yard work. Add a full-time job, two callings that would each put me on the ward council, and community volunteer work. I got a good chewing-out from my doc about not spending enough time on my main hobby, so I’m trying to fit that back in.

    I don’t watch sports, and sometimes I say “no” when the stake wants me to drive 2 hours each way for 1 hour of Sunday training. I’ve had callings and assignments in the past where I was specifically asked to teach and mentor basic skills like “parenting” and “cooking” and “cleaning”. I’ve also taken kids off their parent’s hands for hours at a time to give them a break. In the past, I was state-certified to provide respite care for special needs and at-risk youth.

    I do try to meet people where they are, to give them short-term goals and easy victories. I once had a very wise missionary companion who would whip out Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and explain that you can’t do anything about a person’s spiritual progress if they don’t have basics of life covered, like food, shelter, and a place to get away from the gunfire.

  76. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    nobody, really: one is reminded of the (possibly apocryphal) BY aphorism, “You can’t save a man’s soul until you’ve filled his belly.”

    Ezra Taft Benson said, “We’re not taking the man out of the slum, we’re taking the slum out of the man”–but sometimes you can’t take the slum out of the man until you take the man out of the slum.

  77. Wondering says:

    Oh my goodness. They just can’t stop. “If I, as a well-supported middle- or upper-class white Mormon man can do all this, so can someone in multi-generational poverty.” Can you not hear yourselves, people??

  78. jaxjensen says:

    Oh my goodness. They just keep answering questions. “How many of them themselves have actually cooked from scratch every day for years on end while also working full time.” followed by a coherent, relevant answer. Can you not stop from criticizing people?

  79. Wondering: they really, really, really can’t. Asking for empathy is too high a demand. Asking for listening is too much to hope for. Asking for any acknowledgement that other people face barriers they don’t is a total pipe dream.

  80. JY – it didn’t help that you asked men what may not appear to be a rhetorical question, driving the thread further off the rails.

  81. Something that gets lost in discussions like this is the difference between being broke and being poor. I didn’t learn the difference until I knew someone who grew up in poverty and heard about her experiences in lots of stories over a long period of time. I was always trying to listen, but still it took a good year before things really started sinking in. That’s why I suggested above that people should be slower to comment. Empathy’s not just a nice feeling: it’s hard work!

    I was broke in grad school, when my wife and I were both working low-wage jobs just to get by and juggling childcare. Under these circumstances, I did a lot of the cooking, from scratch, relying heavily on farmers’-market ingredients, because we had ready access to them and chose to value that. But we didn’t have health insurance (at least not my wife or I), and our car was on the verge of literally falling to pieces. Making rent each month was tight. We were one small thing away from total financial meltdown.

    But we weren’t poor. We were both college educated. We’d grown up with SAHMs who taught us to cook. We both got financial support from our families, and we knew that if the worst happened we had a safety net. It’d be humiliating to have our parents bail us out in our 30s, but nobody was ever at risk of starving to death. This list could go on and on.

    Poverty is an entirely different ball game. Entirely. That’s what I take Keira to be saying, and it’s what a lot of the “well, I can do it, so she should be able to” commenters don’t seem to get. Take away every scrap of safety net that ever helped you get where you are. Take away all of the resources that you had access to simply because you were middle class and had a parent or somebody else who could connect you to them. Take away going to functional schools funded by middle-class property taxes. Take away meaningful access to above-minimum-wage employment. Take away parents who had time to read to you or help you with your homework.

    I wonder if there are any people who grew up in poverty who considered commenting, but then read this thread and decided it wasn’t worth it. Picture what the thread would have looked like had their voices been in the foreground. Now reread the thread with that picture in mind.

  82. nobody, really says:

    I did grow up in poverty. As in, no roof, dumpster-diving behind grocery stores, and gleaning fields. I remember all too well, and I help now. Put a deposit on a duplex for a recovering addict just today to get her out of her car.

    So, so sorry pointing out possible ways to help is too offensive, and if my upper-class empathy blinds me to the pain around me.

  83. jaxjensen says:

    Ah… Nobody, how thoughtless of you to take away their sense of moral outrage at our comments. Please stop… That isn’t welcome here. Take my example next time… I said nothing about the fact my family is currently in poverty (as in you’d have to double our income to NOT be in poverty) and that we’d currently be homeless but for familial love. They don’t want to hear that; we’re all supposed to be upper-middle class, and therefore worthy of scorn and ridicule. So, next time just keep it to yourself so they can feel morally superior at mocking us and our experiences (while all the while calling for empathy and understanding no less).

  84. nobody, really says:

    Jax:
    Got it. Thank you.
    Keira got out of multi-generational poverty through a foster family. Very stupid of me to think that I could act as that kind of foster family to someone else.

  85. Nobody: your comments are most welcome here. Thanks for paying it forward.

  86. D Christian Harrison says:

    Keira, thank you for laying bare your soul.

  87. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    “Take away every scrap of safety net that ever helped you get where you are.” Unfortunately, most people have no ability to recognize the extent of their own privilege. Poverty is a foreign concept to them.

    By the way, as a stay – at – home father for the bulk of my adult life, struggling on the salary of an underpaid spouse, I have become quite skilled at cooking, both quick and slow meals. I know what I’m doing in the kitchen, and bread still kicks my ass. And how did this become about bread?

  88. Jax, if you are currently in poverty, but have as much time as you do to comment in this thread and the experiences you share here, then–you are not using the word as Jason K. describes above and as Keira describes here. You may have one been there, but, again, given what you have written, I seriously doubt it. If you feel someone is mocking your experiences, it is nothing compared to your mocking of theirs by claiming to know something of it when you clearly do not.

  89. jaxjensen says:

    Brian, thank you for pointing out that I am not having an identical experience to what the OP related. May I point out that NOBODY has identical experiences … to any other person, ever. Yes, my family is currently living below the poverty level and has been for about 11 years now(most of it about about 1/2 the income that the poverty level is at). No, it’s not as Jason K described, but I don’t recognize him as the authority on what constitutes poverty. Believe it or not though, many people experience poverty, and every one of them experiences it differently. Many experience wealth, and experience it differently. No two marriages are alike, no two rapes, no to lottery winners, no to deaths. And on and on and on. Having differences doesn’t mean we do not “know something” about the topic. (In fact many BCC posts have talked about how we need to overlook such minor differences and care for each other as ourselves… guess that doesn’t always apply though??)

    In the same way that the OP is valuable because it tells us about experiences that are different than our own, and invites us to consider them, so do my experiences, Franks, Jason K’s, JY’s, and Kristine’s. We all have different experiences, and thankfully we have the ability to share and learn from others. For some reason I don’t understand some of our experiences have been selected for ridicule, dismissal, and mockery, and in your case just flat out denial of their existence (“when you clearly do not”).

  90. Jax, I have to run to work, but before I do, let me say this: first, I understand that feel under attack. I’m sorry for a personal attack. I try not to attack people but ideas. I think you try to do the same thing.

    Here’s what I see happening. 1) The essay points out that a general conception of poverty is dangerous. It leads to poor help. Charity should be considered from based on the individual. No two cases are alike. 2) Lots of people jump in and offer suggestions and relate their own experiences. 3) Many of those people don’t realize they are falling into the same tendency that the OP is trying to point out–linking these situations together. Thus, they minimize the OP’s situation, perhaps unaware of the differences; and/or, if aware of the differences, they still fall into the same difficulty of being unaware of how their advice misses the entire point of the OP.

    To be clear, the differences between your situation as you present it and the OP’s are not “minor differences” and the whole point is that we can’t “care for each other as ourselves” because other people are not ourselves. They are different.

    You, I presume, are referring to a government definition of ‘poverty level,’ to define poverty. That is fine. Such a definition, however, is open to vast changes. When most people here talk about poverty, I believe they are talking about poverty in sociological terms. Such poverty is devastating to an entirely different degree than is commonly suspected–which the OP and many comments point out. It is exactly because many commenters here are equating the two (and that they often do so in a patronizing way–even if not intended) that some responses are generating such ire.

    Best of luck. To all of us.

  91. Speaking to the OP, I’d earnestly still like to know what a better response is, because I imagine I would probably have done like the helpers in Keira’s experience. I’d like to do better in the future. Keira has convinced me that there are serious flaws to the approach her family was exposed to, but I worry there are flaws to most approaches. Concrete tips would be useful, rather than buzzwords like “meeting people where they are.” Maybe I’ll have to buy the book.

  92. Kristine says:

    jimbob–I think the point is that there aren’t any “concrete tips” that can be learned in the abstract and applied to every situation. To actually provide help, one has to spend time seeing the world from the perspective of the other–that is difficult and time-consuming work, and, as this thread perhaps demonstrates, doesn’t come easily to Latter-day Saints in the habit of applying standardized programs to everyone.

  93. jimbob – “meeting people where they are” is not a buzzword. It does sound like that, but it is a psychological term a kin to “walking a mile in someone’s moccasins”. At the shelter I volunteer for, meeting people where they are entails not assuming that “someone should get up and get a job.” Our job is help them experience some dignity while they pass through our doors. Judgement is set aside. We listen, we encourage, we give what we can and try to make connections for their deeper needs. That’s just one example of “meeting people where they are.”

    I am glad you asked the question. It’s a powerful tool and needs to be taught if we are to take on Christ’s full attributes. – In my opinion.

  94. Keira,
    Goodness, so many comments. You definetly caused a ripple effect with your story already. Thank you for sharing.

    One thing to remember folks is this is not the single mother writing but the child of the story. Would you expect the child to have all the responsibility that her single and ill mother to ask and learn? This was a hungry nine year old looking in the pantry and finding only flour and not knowing what to do with it. It seems with the writing it was her and her siblings begging for food. They were the ones needing the fish. It opens my eyes up to our responsibility not just to love our “older” neighbors but our younger ones too.
    Keira was stuck from a young age and didn’t have a lot of power to change it.

    I guess in regard to her story and question I would hope that somebody assessed the situation and gave food thinking of the children, easy food for them to grab. It’s easy as a congregation to forget that these little ones are humans and members of our church as well and each decision we make as a congregation and church should be considering that as well. For example I live in a transient ward and it grows and gets split a lot. I wish that when wards were split they would not just consider the priesthood being equal in each ward but the youth and children. It has been very difficult for our youth in our ward to be split and only have about 8 and the rest of the wards in the stake have 20 or more. Its a perfect gospel, but not always perfectly lived..why? Because it us beautiful imperfect humans that are called to lead it. Isn’t it wonderful to be inspired to be better?

  95. Also I wanted to add that I am grateful for all the hard work the leaders of my ward and stake do. I know it’s hard to think and please everyone, but I do love questions my way of thinking and finding ways to be better as I am sure most all of us do.

  96. One more thing.. If I am going to be the last one to comment. You are a beautiful and brave soul Keira for sharing your story to the world. I pray that you will find even more healing in your heart and that even though the negative can sometimes sound louder then the positive replies, know there are still people out here supporting and loving you and are grateful for who you are.

  97. Wondering says:

    Amen to everything Jessica said.

  98. Having taught breadmaking to the women in our ward, I can say that most of these women would have no idea whatsoever how to make bread. I have been asked repeatedly by people in the ward why should they store wheat or flour in their food storage. They simply have no idea how to use it. These are sisters in their 50’s and 60’s. Cooking from scratch mystifies them. And when I have gone into the wealthy wards to visit, women are raving about some sister in the ward who knows how to make jam or pickles, as if these were amazing cooking skills. So I do not think we can assume the loss of these skills is due to multi-generational poverty. Most people have lost them. Maybe not in Utah, but everywhere else. And yes, as a bread baker of almost 50 years, I only do it now a few times a year. It takes time and energy I do not have after working. And I literally cannot imagine being expected to do it with a job and five children.
    I have a friend whose father was bi-polar. She stunned our social group by telling a story where she and her siblings were reduced to spreading peanut butter on lettuce to feed themselves when they were young. I think she thought we could relate, but as someone said to me later, “We all had issues in our families, but I don’t think any of us worried that our parents would not feed us.”
    Unfortunately, we favor some in our wards over others. I have witnessed wards where everyone shows up to move the sweet, pretty girl and no one comes for the less socially accomplished, plain young woman.
    I also believe our lessons on self-reliance often are used as excuses to judge others rather than to help them. One of the most eye-opening Relief Society lessons I ever attended was totally disrupted by a teenage visitor who fought everything the teacher was trying to teach when she told the class her family would not have survived if the Church had not provided aid. They were living on her pay from her after high school job after their father left them. They were not in a position to be self-reliant at that time. And I know others who receive church assistance who live in $700,000 houses in Alpine, Utah and no one is trying to make them feel shamed over it.
    One final thought. I had the misfortune to work at H&R Block as a tax preparer in Utah one year. The secretary was a Relief Society president who also worked with a state welfare agency. When the poor came in and claimed Earned Income Credit, they were working the system, she claimed. When a married couple came in where the father was in medical school but whose child was insured on Medicaid, they were just claiming the benefits they were entitled to. The truth is, many in church look down on the poor and needy. This man has brought it on himself, as King Mosiah warned us. Money impresses people in the Church. Many, many people. Poverty might require something of them if they did not find an excuse to justify why these people got what they deserved.

  99. jaxjensen says:

    ” The truth is, many in church look down on the poor and needy. This man has brought it on himself, as King Mosiah warned us. Money impresses people in the Church. Many, many people. Poverty might require something of them if they did not find an excuse to justify why these people got what they deserved.”

    Amen. Sadly and disgracefully true.

  100. One of the problems we face in church is our mind set that all the problems should it into neat boxes we have defined. The poor should know how to use flour to bake bread is only one example.
    In my family, the issue was severe mental illness. Although I did not realize it at the time, that was what was behind my husband’s bizarre behavior and abuse. Unfortunately, neither did church leaders realize. But not once did they ask me what had happened. Not one phone call from any of the dozen bishops or stake presidents counseling him or excommunicating him, not once but twice. Following his death I finally figured out what had happened. I scheduled a meeting with first my bishop, then my stake president, then our regional rep. I wrote a letter he delivered to a member of the presidency of the First Quorum of Seventies requesting some very specific changes.
    The response I received was appalling. They were not responsible for what they had done or taught. They were doing enough. They will be doing more in the future, but certainly not any of the things I had requested.
    The real problem with President Packers statement that first we state the rule, then we deal with the exception is that we never deal with the exception. We are far too busy insisting we know all. We, after all, hold the Priesthood of God. How could we be mistaken?

  101. Unspoken beliefs really do determine the options we consider in life including church. Beliefs such as church leaders always acting under inspiration. If true, we must follow them. We must not try to steady the ark by speaking up with facts that undermine their influence with the saints. And we show that we value not embarrassing the leaders more than we value the lives of those they lead.
    Beliefs such as certain behavior being driven only by a desire to sin. And as a sin the answer has already been prescribed. We have church courts to deal with that. But many serious mental illnesses include terrible, out of control behavior we classify as sin. It is an unfortunate truth that if you are LDS and seriously mentally ill, you will be treated better if you murder someone than if you commit adultery in your manic state. The government will examine you if you kill. You will probably receive a diagnosis and treatment. If you commit adultery, you are in the hands of untrained amateurs who will probably keep you from the sacrament and lecture you on slippery slopes to sin and Satan. If only the Priesthood could marshall the faith to heal people with mental problems.
    So much of LDS culture does not serve us well. The unwillingness to examine if we could be the ones at fault is one of our biggest blind spots. So much of our behavior is more a matter of checking off boxes so we can go back to doing what we really want to be doing, watching videos and playing on the internet. May we live to see a time where charity actually does not fail.

  102. We lost a great opportunity with the Mountain Meadows Massacre and with the policy change on Blacks holding the Priesthood. Actions do flow naturally from beliefs. What were our underlying beliefs that allowed LDS men to commit murder? What were our underlying beliefs that made it possible to accept some of the absurd reasons suggested for the race policy? Why were we as members so gullible about these beliefs? Why do we have trouble even today examining these beliefs and pronouncing them false? We seem to have forgotten the warning in the D&C that sin comes from the traditions of the father’s. We need to seriously examine our beliefs. If they are wrong, we should change them. Sustaining the Brethren does not mean we cannot question their statements. Sustaining them may mean asking them to explain their reasoning, to convince us the way President Woodruff explained to the members why he was stopping the practice of polygamy. He did not simply announce the change. He reasoned with the members.
    Far from the OP but perhaps relevant to getting us to become an effective people, not just an obedient people. Effective in caring for the needy. Effective in becoming more Christlike. Effective in teaching the gospel to the world.

  103. Ellen, I know you and was in that Relief Society lesson. It totally changed me. Suddenly all the principles the teacher was presenting were shown up as self-righteous excuses not to see others as truly our brothers and sisters. The young woman fought and won every point she was making. We were no longer being taught abstract principles but being shown up as un-Christlike. Eye opening indeed.

  104. I have been horrified to witness the worship of wealth that has crept into our culture. Church parties here in northern California regularly include conversations about how much the speaker’s real estate is now worth. A former bishop bragged about the wealth that existed in one ward he lived in. Another bishop carefully explained to the ward members in a casual discussion following sacrament meeting that So and so ( he named the man) had been the ward welfare problem and that some people needed to move elsewhere because they could not live here. I shudder to think what the Lord thinks of us. I shudder to imagine the outrage that is coming when He destroys our wealth and the self-importance it brings us. Sometimes we mistreat the poor from ignorance. And sometimes from fear of what we might be asked to sacrifice to help them. The camel will not be passing through the eye of the needle. Unfortunately, that camel is carrying many LDS people on its back.

  105. anon for this says:

    KG: In my ward in Southern California, the seminary teacher was recently praised by the Bishop over the pulpit for bribing students who showed up before class and shot a basket from half court with $50. Seminary teacher was called “one of the A team.”

  106. I stand appalled.

  107. I apologize for adding to an already uneven thread, but I’m irked enough that no one has said it that I’m throwing it in.

    We gotta LOT of talk about the art of breadmaking up in here when the OP clearly says they received “bags of flour, sugar, rolled oats (or sometimes on special occasions, plain granola), and salt.”

    I grew up in the Utopian married, SAHM, Mormon household, in which fresh baked wheat bread was generally a weekly occurrence. I was brought on as a helper in this endeavor by age three or four, and I have been able to make passable to very good bread and rolls my entire life.

    And dear merciful Moses, people, I could not for the life of me make actual, edible bread out of those ingredients. Even with my cooking education, it’s unlikely that I’d attempt sourdough with them. Narrowed eyes for all of you prescribing an expansion of culinary expertise without the
    attentiveness to heed the ingredient list given.

  108. For crying out loud, you couldn’t even make SODA bread – which is little more than flour, buttermilk, salt, and a leavening agent like baking soda – without more ingredients than this.

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