What I’m about to tell you may be shocking. You may want to sit down and set your cup of coffee in a secure place. But you may in fact want to try this at home.
I did a bad job of grocery shopping this fall, and one morning in October I was truly at the bottom of the barrel. No eggs, no fruit, no oatmeal, no yogurt, no nothing. At least, nothing the average person might describe as “part of a complete breakfast.” But I needed to get out the door and get to work for a busy day of gleaning. In between berating myself for poor planning and seriously considering “borrowing” breakfast from one of my roommates, I remembered what I had brought home from work the night before.
A dozen cider donuts.
One of the many farms that donates surplus produce to Boston Area Gleaners has a large farmstand, which is busy all fall selling produce, apples, cider donuts, and other homemade treats. We pick up produce regularly from this farm, but once late fall rolls around, the donuts start appearing, and our staff bring home stacks of bread trays filled with slightly stale but ever so tasty homemade cider donuts.
The BAG staff is a crew of hungry people working hard, and it’s not usually difficult to polish off a plate or two of treats. But dozens of donuts is another story. We made a little display in one of our coolers, so that food pantry staff could snag some while picking up orders. The stacks slowly dwindled. But only slowly.
So I brought a bag of cider donuts home. And on that chilly October morning when my options had truly run out, I took a donut, sliced it in half like a bagel, toasted it until the whole house smelled of cinnamon, and buttered it heavily. That’s right. I ate a toasted donut with butter. In fact, I ate two, because the first one was so insanely delicious. And then I went in to work for a long but rewarding day of harvesting fruits and vegetables for hunger relief.
It may come as a surprise that someone who is building a career around nutrition and food access would be willing to eat a plateful of buttered fried dough for breakfast. And sure, I’ve eaten my fair share of raw carrots while pulling them out of the ground. But I challenge you to consider what “part of a complete breakfast” really means.
Does it mean always eating only the most nutritious, filling, fiber-rich foods, with no added sugar and only good-for-you fats? Do we have to label our actions as “bad” or “guilty” when we enjoy foods with butter or sugar? Or can we include foods that are comforting, convenient, quick, and fun in our understanding of what “complete” could be?
One of the joys of being a gleaner is cultivating a respect for food that goes beyond the clear implications of how nourishing it is. Comfort foods, celebratory foods, and on-the-go foods all have a valid place in a person’s life. And although BAG’s mission is to expand access to locally-grown foods rich in vitamins and minerals, we have to recognize the cultural and emotional value of all foods, regardless of where they fall nutritionally.
I invite you to expand your idea of what a “complete” breakfast, meal, or dietary pattern can be, to include how food fits into the context of your life at any given moment. Those toasted, buttered donuts were better than I ever imagined a stale donut could be. If you ever have stale donuts in your kitchen, I encourage you to give it a try.
By Leah Costlow