Hashtag: Quinoa

So. The little post I wrote about food shelves has gone kind of crazy. I'll be honest with you: 


You see, I'm not used to this much attention. And you'd think this kind of thing would be a blogger's wet dream, right? Tons of hits, seeing YOUR post shared and tweeted and linked all over God's green earth (or green internet, as it stands). Comments upon comments upon comments. Bloggers are attention whores at heart (don't deny it, girls) so one would conclude that this is just the bee's knees. 

Well. It is, and it isn't. 

It IS because, hell yeah! It's totally validating to see something that tumbled out of my head and onto a keyboard being read by so many people. Not only read, but LIKED. I keep getting emails and messages from women sharing their stories, telling me about how they ended up in the parking lot of a food shelf, willing themselves the strength to walk in there and do what had to be done. My favorites are from the feisty chicks in their 60's and 70's, who blazed the trails for me and my single mama sisters and raised families on their own back in the day. One thing in particular that I love about these ladies? They use the word "bullshit" a lot. I'm so looking forward to being the ballsy, silver-tressed gramma who wears funky scarves and says "bullshit" a lot. 

It ISN'T because it's scary to have a few thousand new sets of eyeballs reading my stuff. When it's just my "regulars" here, it's like we're all sitting in my living room, curled up on the couch and gabbing. Now I kind of feel like I need to vacuum. And maybe put on my good yoga pants. 

Obviously the things I wrote about in "Those People" touched folks. And that prompted them to share it, a lot. Which is great. Hopefully eyes have been opened, some prejudices have been dropped, and hearts have been softened. I know many people have mentioned that they've gone shopping for their local food shelves, which of course is wonderful. Every little bit helps.  

The post wasn't about what kinds of foods are appropriate for donation. I know I mentioned quinoa and artichoke hearts and tapenade, but I didn't want those (delicious) items to be the focus of the story. 

People have been asking, though, so here's some advice about what to give: donate what you can. Please check expiration dates. Fresh=good. Call ahead and see if your local food shelf has a freezer or refrigerated section. If they do? Give 'em some meat. A couple fryer chickens, some ground beef. Fresh dairy products are awesome too. I remember almost soiling myself when I walked in there one time and saw GALLONS of milk. I have four teenagers, yo. That stuff is like gold. If what you usually donate is mac and cheese? Cans of soup or vegetables? PERFECT. It's all good. People who end up at food shelves just need something edible to put on the table. Trust me, if your family is hungry, you make do with what you have.

Another thing to consider donating: toiletries. Deodorant. Toothpaste/brushes/floss. Lotion. SOAP. Toilet paper. Tampons. Pads. Q-tips. Shampoo/conditioner. I'll never forget having fumes in my checking account and then *BOOM* it was period time. You know what sucks? Having to spend $6.00 on a box of tampons when you have $10.00 to your name. Help a bloated, crampy lady out!

I wanted to write about how I felt that day in the hallway of my school. We really don't know squat about the people we encounter in our day to day routines. We don't know who is struggling with unseen health issues, who's dealing with relationship strife or wrestling with demons big and small. "Folder Lady" is not a bad person. I do regret using the word bitch in my imaginary tirade against her, the one I'd never really act out in a million years. I used her as a figurative punching bag for all the little comments and offhand remarks I've heard over the past couple of years, things that have made me bristle for just a moment here and there. For that, I'm sorry.

The only thing she was guilty of was assuming that I was her socioeconomic equal. That when the topic of who uses food shelves came up, she and I were on the same side. She assumed I was part of the US in "Us and Them". Which isn't the case, obviously. If we were Sneetches, I'd totally be the one without a star on thar. Or with. Whichever.

I wanted to tell you all about it because I learned something that day. We hear warnings to not judge books by covers, to be aware that appearances don't tell the whole story...but that day I learned those things up close and personal.

You don't look at me, and my kids, and think "They're poor." We wear decent clothes, some have been purchased second hand, some have been gifts from generous grandparents and friends, and yes, some are from REAL stores, hoity-toity ones like Target and Old Navy. I'm the mom in the stands at the hockey game. My son Henry is the kid ringing you up at the grocery store. You might have seen my daughter walking our dog around the block. We look pretty much like everyone else here in the good old suburbs of Minneapolis. You just never know.

One thing I have learned from the response is this: poorness and hunger and need is epidemic in our country. Yes, it's obvious in some places. There are people living in the streets, filling up homeless shelters and soup kitchens. 

In other places, it's not so obvious. The poor walk next to us on the crowded sidewalks, they drive past us in the carpool lane, they sit next to us in churches and synagogues. They are in the next checkout lane at the grocery store; you'd never guess that they are holding their breath, waiting to see if their debit card goes through or if it will be declined. Your child probably plays with their child on the playground. 

One of them might even be waddling down the hallway of your neighborhood school, ogling the loot in the food drive bins. 

All of us live here together. We share the same air, the same ground. Our bodies operate the same whether we have a million dollars or just a couple. Some of us have better haircuts, nicer houses, newer cars or cooler gadgets, but deep down...way down where it really matters...

we aren't so different. We want our kids to be healthy and happy and have full tummies. We want a roof over our heads, a warm place to sleep. We want to earn our keep, to be productive members of society. We all want to get through the day, close our eyes and then face the next one with hope and optimism. 

And sometimes, dammit...sometimes we want quinoa. 

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all of your comments and emails and messages. I promise you, I'm going to answer each one of them if I haven't already, I just need a day without work, kids and laundry...so expect a reply in about four years :). And a huge thank you to Jill Smokler, aka Scary Mommy, not only for sharing my essay but for all she's doing to help struggling families at Thanksgiving. Jill, you rock. 


  1. I just found you and I am divorced & now re-married. I got re-married at 53. Had fun in my 40's dating. I was 40 when I got divorced and it was a THANK GOD finally situation for me, but still a challenge on many levels. Have to say your wit and humor are awesome and so entertaining! Also,
    I have yet to find many, if any blogs by women in their 40's or 50's. The fact you are not a 30 yr old blogger works for me. Keep up the REAL and entertaining posts!

    1. There are lots of us "old ladies" in our 40's and 50's around, Deb - just keep looking. And, yes, we all love this blog for keepin' it real.

  2. Two words for you: real. shit. I enjoyed reading your post and enjoyed your HONESTY more than anything. Enjoy the well deserved freak out session.

  3. Please, please, please don't stop using the word "quinoa"! That would be a shame. It is now associated with the powerful "Those People" post. It is funny and sad at the same time. It brings back the emotion we all felt after reading your story every time we hear/read it. Keep that sentiment going. The holidays are just beginning and hey, it'll keep the pantry shelves filled and maybe, just maybe with some..... quinoa.

  4. Good lord. Some of the comments on that post. Yikes. How can someone be so disconnected from their humanity?

  5. Hi Jenny! I found your blog when someone posted "Those People" on my fb timeline. Beautifully written and truly touching. But I stayed and read your entire blog (every single post) over the past week or so because I am a newly single mom. My husband of 5 years decided to find his shiny new thing when I was pregnant with our first child. Except his shiny new thing had a penis. Yep, the man I was with for nearly 10 years, 1/3 of my life, decided to cheat on me with a man at the best possible time; WHEN I WAS PREGNANT! I'm starting to rebuild. It's not easy. Your stories have given me hope. I've laughed, I've cried. I waited with anticipation every time John McCain made another appearance. My heart broke when ever you talked about your oldest's struggles. I love your honesty. I love that you say mother effer. You are so strong and so inspiring. Please know you make me (and others like me) feel less alone!

    1. Wow, that is some reproductive fraud on his part. He tried to victimize you, but you sound strong, you will prevail.

    2. To Daphne - you have found an ally in Jenny.

      To Jenny - LOOK AT WHAT YOU HAVE DONE. LOOK AT WHAT YOU ARE DOING. My heart bursts for you.


  6. Wow, at the "poor people can't have fun!" and the "poor people can't have pets" commentary. Whats next? Because they have more money, they know what's best for poor people and need to tell them "hey you are doing it wrong! "Whoah there!! That not how you are supposed to struggle, instead struggle like this!!!" truly horrible people. I wonder if the person commenting about Netflix might be secretary, lol, who is probably the only person in the world who hate reads this blog, finally found an opportunity to lash out. Ignore her.

  7. Jenny!! I know its short notice, but it would be awesome to go to the movies one day and watch a movie written by you because your voice is just extraordinary. There is a competition going on to write a screen play, and the winner gets their screenplay read by hollywood agents, ect, and 1000 dollars! The deadline is January 31st 2014. Its a lot of work in 3 months, but maybe its possible, since you have so much material to draw from?


  8. This... "I'm so looking forward to being the ballsy, silver-tressed gramma who wears funky scarves and says "bullshit" a lot."

    And this... "Help a bloated, crampy lady out!"

    Thank you Jenny. Thank you for everything.

  9. Thanks again for another thought provoking post. And for making me cry, cuz I really needed it. Life can really suck, big time, and knowing you're not alone can help. Not that I would ever wish what I'm going thru on another person, but there's strength in numbers. I would just really like to wake up one day and not worry about where the money is gonna come from, how can I buy groceries, and where are we going to live, what's going to happen to my family if my cancer comes back?

  10. I hope to one day be a quinoa-donating ballsy silver-tressed gramma wearing funky scarves and saying "bullshit" while hanging out with you... and drinking martinis.

  11. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I'm in tears again. And laughing.

  12. I am in aww. I would love to be your neighbor. Though you have already made me fell accepted. Everyone just want to fit in and fell accepted no matter what your checkbook says, thank you for sharing your story. You are truly an inspiration.

  13. I am a very poor single mother of 3. I don't "look" poor, either. It is so disheartening when the only thing you have to nag your very sweet kids about is how many squares of toilet paper they are using.... Last year at thanksgiving I noticed a well to do friend post constantly on FB about the well to do school her daughter attends. Apparently they were having a contest to see who could bring in the most boxes of instant mashed potatoes for baskets for the poor. I was so angry to think that all THOSE people thought that poor want instant mashed potatoes. I was angry that they couldn't pool that money and buy fresh potatoes. I was angry that all they thought of the poor that their hearts were calling them to help were only good enough for cheap boxed instant mashed potatoes. They were patting themselves on the back for being able to buy every single box of those potatoes from their grocery store. I am disheartened that people have no inkling to actually spend time with the poor, to see that they are human and like real creamy mashed potatoes but they are only good enough for cheap boxed instant crap....

  14. Yep ... don't assume that because I look a white middle aged woman that I haven't experienced poverty or racism. Been there, Jenny! I spoke up in a staff meeting, talking about EQUITY, and my 'experience' was basically shot down, like I didn't really have the experience. I had to school the colleague (privately) and let him know the truth of what I've been through. Never, ever, ever assume !!!

  15. I volunteer with a group at my church called "DIVE". We rescue food from Whole Foods that is close to expiry but still good to eat, that's getting ready to be thrown out in dumpsters. A lot of this is organic, gourmet type stuff. We take it to the food bank or the transitional housing, but more often than not a community member meets us at the store to take what they need. They are never the type of person who "looks poor" and they are always grateful. I think the point some people are missing, is that organic quinoa and hoity toity stuff-whatever it is-was once OUR waste. WE didn't want it. We cast it off. And yet we stand in judgement saying, oh that is too good for YOU, you poor person. WE would throw it in the garbage sooner than we'd let you take it and enjoy it. Pathetic.
    Thank you for your powerful words. Hopefully they will garner more than just shares and likes, hopefully they will change some hearts. I have been in your shoes in the food bank and the food stamp line. There's a fine line between middle class and poor, and many of us walk it every day. You certainly can't tell by looking.

  16. I saw like five of my friends share your post on my news feed in the past weeks since you posted it. It was almost surreal, because I just kept thinking, "I didn't know you read her blog!" And only one of them had come across it from the original source of Scary Mommy--the others had someone else share it with them, coming from all sorts of places. I think it must be SO MUCH more bizarre to be the author of it, and knowing that people who had absolutely no idea who you were before now are subscribing to the blog or following your stories!

    I had a friend in high school whose mom frequented the Manager Special section in grocery stores and the Food Pantry, especially around the times when gas prices started going up significantly (both she and her husband commuted to work in cars, which suddenly meant something serious in their budget). My mom started making lunches for this friend, because too many times she'd end up with lunches of expired foods, or things that didn't offer any real nutrition at all. For 3 and a half years my mom made this friend a lunch M-F, with our organic, fresh food and fancy whole wheat breads. It's a generosity that struck me at the time, because we used to be those same people who only got their clothes from thrift shops, and who thought ordering pizza and a Blockbuster movie was a real treat. As a parent now, it makes me well up thinking about it. I try to do my part as well to continue that circle of helping others now that I don't need as much help myself (there was a time not very long ago that my husband and I were eating on the floor with boxes as our table!). And the whole time...no one ever knew. NO ONE.

    Thank you for writing this, and helping to make it more obvious to people that the judgments we make about others won't always be right.

  17. I think it's great you've received so much attention! I have volunteered at food shelves before and saw a lot of condiments and random cans of food come through. Like dozens upon dozens of bottles of mustard. We did accept expired food, though, of the non-perishable variety. We had our own internal guidelines for how far past the dates we'd use them. Most of that stuff is actually fresh much longer than what is listed.

    When I first asked my husband for a divorce I was certain I'd be on the other side of the fence - taking the food shelf donations instead of sorting them for others. It hasn't worked out that way yet but I always feel like I'm one medical or auto catastrophe away.

    I think, if anything, it's great to raise awareness - food shelves need good donations of meal-building food and also MONEY. They can typically acquire food less expensively than we can, so they can stretch the dollars into more food.

  18. Hi there, I'm one of the new sets of eyeballs! I was raised by a single mom on food stamps so I try very hard to educate people on the fact that a lot of "regular people" need those benefits. I think this post is beautiful and I LOVE you for using the phrase "blogger's wet dream". I'll continue reading for sure & have gone back through some of your older posts. You are witty and honest. It is so refreshing to read your stuff. It reminds me of the types of posts I try to write. I'd love to connect with you & other bloggers like us. Keep up the good work!



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