“Eating is an Agricultural Act” – Wendell Berry

There has never been a time in my life when I was hungry.  And by that I don’t mean just hungry for the next meal, but truly hungry.  Hunger and not knowing where your next meal will come from is a reality for many people in the United States.  Last month I watched the film “A Place at the Table”, and I was reminded how pervasive the problem of hunger and food insecurity is in our country.  The film chronicles the stories of three families struggling with the issue of hunger.  It puts a very personal face on the issue, particularly its impact on our nation’s children.  The message is powerful.  Here are some statistics that should give us pause:  one in two children in the United States will, at some point in their lives, require a form of food aid.  Currently, one in four children do not know where their next meal will come from.  SNAP ( the food stamp program) allows a budget of $4.00 per person per day.  School lunch programs spend less than $1.00 a week per child.  Large agribusiness receives the lion’s share of government subsidies while small farmers and producers of fruit and vegetables are largely ignored.  Fast food and junk food is cheaper than healthy food.  If your daily food budget was $4.00, wouldn’t you be tempted by that $1.00 menu at the local fast food outlet?  How enthused would you be about shopping for groceries if you had to get on the bus and transfer twice to get to the closest supermarket?  The term food desert describes many neighborhoods where the only source of food is a convenience store or a gas station.  Could you put together a meal for your children from one of these sources?  How would you feel if you had to send your child to school in the morning with no breakfast?  This film should be a call for action to those of us fortunate enough to have the means to help.  Today over two hundred food bloggers are dedicating a post to the cause of hunger in America.  It’s our way of raising awareness amongst our readers and asking them to help in the cause.  See the film, call or write to your member of Congress, volunteer at or donate to a local food pantry, buy your own food from local sources and small producers whenever you can.  These are small but simple things that can help make a difference.  Go to the Giving Table for more information.  As part of today’s post I thought I would try to fashion a meal with the  SNAP budget.  I have been going through my many recipe sources trying to find inexpensive, tasty, and nutritious dishes to present today.  I was successful in that I found a quick and easy dish with lean protein, vegetables, and noodles that will feed four people generously.  However, I would have gone way over budget if I hadn’t already had some of the ingredients required for the recipe in my pantry.  This is an improved version of an old staple:  ramen noodles.  By tossing away the seasoning packets and fashioning your own aromatic broth, you can create a delicious noodle dish.  Thinly sliced lean pork serves as the protein and humble green cabbage adds crunch and color.  This may change the way you look at ramen forever.

Ramen with Pork, Scallions, and Cabbage
(serves 4 generously)
3/4 pound thin cut, boneless pork chops, trimmed and sliced into thin strips *
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce**
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 scallions, white and green parts separated, both parts sliced on the bias into 1-inch lengths
6 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 1/2 cups homemade or low-sodium chicken broth
4 (3 ounce) packages ramen noodles, seasoning packets discarded
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2  teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/4 head green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
Pat the pork dry with paper towels and toss with 2 teaspoons soy sauce.  Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking.  Add pork, break up any clumps, and cook without stirring until beginning to brown, about 1 minute.  Stir the pork and continue to cook until cooked through, 1 minute longer.  Transfer pork to bowl, cover to keep warm, and set aside.  Add remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to skillet and return to medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the scallion whites and cook until lightly browned and softened, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in the broth.  Break bricks of ramen into small chunks and add to the skillet.  Bring to a simmer and cook, tossing the ramen constantly with tongs to separate, until the ramen is just tender but there is still liquid in the pan, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sesame oil.  Stir in the scallion greens and cabbage and cook until the cabbage is wilted and the sauce is thickened, about 1 minute.  Return the pork, along with any accumulated juices, to skillet and cook until warmed through, about 30 seconds.  Serve immediately.
* The original recipe called for pork tenderloin, but I chose less expensive, thin, boneless chops
**If using regular soy sauce, use half the amounts stated, taste and add more if needed.
(minimally adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Skillet Dinners)

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
-Margaret Mead

8 Comments

  • Diane Balch

    Ramen noodles themselves are pretty good noodles. I agree it is the MSG filled flavor package that is bad news. Great dish you made. Really eye opening being part of this, wasn’t it?

  • Courtney

    Neat idea to take a less-than-ideal packaged good and turn it into something healthy and nutritious! So glad to see so many taking their place today. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to stay under budget, even just for one meal! It was overwhelming thinking about planning for weeks of meals on that restrictive budget. I’ll be collecting the budget friendly recipes from today’s posts to incorporate more regularly into our meal rotation.

  • Renee

    Great post Donna. Food insecurity is a huge issue for us in Canada too. This past September I took part in a food basket challenge – eating only from a local Food Bank basket for an entire week. I had never known hunger before, and that week changed my life. I’ve never taken food for granted since then. Your noodles look fantastic – I love cabbage and pork together πŸ™‚

  • fifthfloorkitchen

    Great recipe- and the use of ramen, something many people have access to! I’m reading through everyone’s post and it’s been interesting to see what people post/write about! Great post!

  • Marylou

    I agree that this is a great post, especially as you have put this very useful recipe into its social and health context, which i found particularly inspiring – thanks!

  • Jon Paul

    I agree with you Marylou, and thanks to you Wendell for this great post, including your honesty about never truly being hungry (as I have never been)!

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