The Real Cucina Povera Is Vegetarian

These are salad greens, which are different from cooking greens.

In almost all cooking or travel shows about Rome, “cucina povera” — the poor kitchen, is featured with the host shown noshing at the offal of some animal. Invariably, they will also mention the fifth quarter, the quinto quarto, which is what is left after the other parts were shared between the nobles, clergy, bourgeoisie, and military.

Borage. I think.

What if you were vegetarian? I’m being facetious, because if you are poor, you eat what you can. Most poor people, through history, have been vegetarian. On a side note, the pig is the only barnyard animal that is worth more when dead. Most animals are worth more for their eggs, milk, wool, etc.

Cooked chicory greens. Available every single day.

Italians have been poor for most of their history (from long before there was a nation called Italy — created in 1861) and their cuisine has grown from necessity. As recently as a few generations ago, there were times of famine. Eating offal such as heart, tripe, and other organ meat, would have been rare. The daily food would have been vegetables, bread, pasta, and legumes, such as wild greens and beans. Even today, there are dishes such as puree of fava beans served with chicory greens. Vegetables that would be considered weeds are normal food in Italy. Dandelion and other wild greens that are now on Michelin star menus have been normal food here for centuries. Things like beet tops/greens which would be animal feed in other countries, is normal human fodder.

Dandelion?

Parmesan cheese has over thirty percent protein so it is considered a good source of protein when meat is not available. It is called “the poor man’s meat” or was, but it certainly is not for the poor anymore. Meat is cheaper. There are even recipes that call for toasted breadcrumbs — this was if you could not even afford cheese.

Broccoli greens.

I recently discovered another frugal use of dairy. Ricotta is made from the whey leftover from the making of cheese. In Puglia, they take the ricotta and let it ferment to become “Ricotta Forte” a strong cream cheese product that is picante because its sourness will bite you in the back of the throat. I have not asked but it’s probably “good for you” which normally means they need to convince you to eat it…

Fortunately, there is olive oil. Even the poor can afford it. Italy was a mostly agricultural society and even today there are many small farmers. Many big city families still own an olive tree orchard and produce their own olive oil each year.

Today is mother’s day in Italy, but really, every day is mother’s day in Italy. While men are often the famous chefs, it’s the mothers who do the majority of the cooking. They can even turn weeds into comfort food.

Happy, Healthy, and Educated Slum Kids – ABC Charity School

A brilliant smile of health.
A brilliant smile of health.

A toothbrush is a small sign of hope. But, at the Eglal’s ABC Charity School in Dhaka, the fact that the kids brush their teeth every day, get fed every day, and get an education every day — is a tiny sign of hope. The children at the ABC school all live in the slums of Dhaka. These children are lucky that they, once they get admitted to kindergarten, will receive a bilingual education, free health care, free lunch, daily showers, uniforms, toothbrushes, and mentoring through high school and, hopefully, beyond.

It only costs $250 to sponsor one kid for one year, and all the money goes to the school. The volunteer board, the volunteer teachers, and so on, do not take any of the money. There are a few staff who do get paid, but mostly the donations go directly to the education and welfare of the kids. While there are a plethora of charities to throw oneself into in Bangladesh. I chose this one. Visiting the school allowed me to see how little money it takes to provide a bit of protein and vegetables for a healthy mind. Food for thought.

Education in Bangla and English from kindergarten!
Education in Bangla and English from kindergarten!

Another thought is how well run this place is without the bureaucracy. When the school and board members realized that some of the children (many who are being raised by one a single parent) had to leave school to go work, the school put into place an incentive which when paid to the family, keeps the kid in school. So basically the kid’s job is to go to school. How nice is that?

The school goes through the eighth grade, after which the children are place in high schools. These graduates come back to teach at the school when they themselves are not in school. One young woman says that her hope is to go on to university after which she wants to return to run the ABC school.

These girls are so eager to learn.
These girls are so eager to learn.

The ABC school was started about ten years ago by a teacher at the American International School Dhaka. She has returned to the U.S. but her students now have “pen pal” skype sessions with the slum kids of the ABC school. How cool is that?

One egg a day. The kids can eat more rice and vegetables but protein is expensive.
One egg a day. The kids can eat more rice and vegetables but protein is expensive.

It is said that they more you give, the more you will receive. I hope that the kids at the ABC school get way more than I have given them.

Parents picking up kids at the ABC school.
Parents picking up kids at the ABC school.