Hunger in foodtopia?

Why not take all of me? Don’t just eat some — eat it all! These broilers are from East Fork Farms. Photo courtesy of ASAP

Most of us are pinching pennies these days because ever-rising fuel prices are pinching our wallets, both at the pump and the produce stand. The U.S. Department of Agriculture just released an economic report predicting that food prices will rise this year an additional 4 to 6 percent more from their already high price tag, with meat and dairy prices leading the way. And while it's said that the recession is easing, we're still in the shadows of it. Most of us are learning — or hoping to learn — how to do more with less.

Grim picture? It depends on how you paint it. While Asheville's vibrant food scene is often loudly touted, there's much more to the story.

Sure, we have amazing restaurants, thousands of acres of farmland and a fierce local-foods movement. But a study released earlier this month by the Washington, D.C.-based Food Research and Action Center revealed some discrepancy between the warm and fuzzy idea of Asheville as "foodtopia" and the less glamorous bread-line reality. The study found that the Asheville metropolitan statistical area is the seventh worst in the country in terms of people's basic ability to put food on the table. 

In last week's issue of Xpress, reporter David Forbes introduced the issue in "A growing hunger: National Study Spotlights Asheville Area's Food Crisis," which can be found by visiting mountainx.com/news. According to the article, Tyson Foods, in response to the FRAC report, partnered with Ingles to donate 29,000 pounds of boneless chicken breast to MANNA FoodBank, an Asheville-based food pantry.

While Tyson's donation obviously should be applauded, it's worth considering — what if someone had been able to provide a food education with those chicken breasts? Do people trying to stretch a budget also know how to stretch proteins? If Tyson had donated whole chickens — which are cheaper per pound — instead of boneless breast meat, would the recipients even know what to do with them?

But Tyson can't help that the majority of Americans are bewildered when it comes to preparing food, whether they’re on a tight budget or not. That's a symptom of the lack of food education. Kitchen skills aren't taught like math in schools (because feeding yourself is way less important than understanding trigonometry, of course). At least when I was growing up, someone might have waved a cookbook in front of my nose and called it "home economics," but that was it.

The basis of real, modern home economics is this: whole ingredients. Although cooking with whole foods may require more elbow grease, it’s a bit easier on the wallet. With a little DIY know-how you can make something downright delicious. Face it — even on a budget, most of us still want to make kick-ass food in the kitchen. 

Interested in learning how? Strap on your big girl (or boy) apron and let us teach you how to add value to food instead of wasting all your hard-earned dough on food with the value already added. We’re going to teach you one of the most basic and rewarding of kitchen tasks — how to properly roast a whole chicken. Anyone who lives on a budget (read: most of us) should know how to do it.

If properly prepared and picked over, a whole yardbird can yield several meals. The classic parts and pieces that you find in the bucket at KFC are there, of course. But after that's gone, there's usually plenty left over to make a few days’ worth of chicken salad, if stretched with chopped celery and the like. Also, while the picked over chicken carcass (called a "frame" in the restaurant business because it sounds less, well, dead) is often discarded, it's perfect for making broth — about a gallon of it — a resource that can be frozen for later use. Call it DIY chicken soup, if that makes it sound more attractive.

Welcome to Xpress penny-pinching school. While we intend to show you how to roast a whole bird, we don't plan to stop there. Visit mountainx.com/dining throughout the week to find suggestions for what to do with your chicken, once cooked. Also, don't forget to save the bones, because we'll tell you how to make stock out of them, too.

Knowing how to roast a bird won't necessarily serve to eradicate hunger, but keeping the ability to do so as a tool in your toolbox is a pretty important life skill. It also helps with tight budget weeks, and will impress the girls. Promise.

— Listen to reporter David Forbes and Mackensy Lunsford discuss the recent FRAC study, and how it conflicts with the promoted image of Asheville as a food mecca, on a podcast at mountainx.com/dining. Send your food news and story ideas to food@mountainx.com.

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