In August 2019, People Newspapers published my story about Meals on Wheels. I have the honor of serving on the VNA/Meals on Wheels Board of Directors and wanted a way to promote our Drive Away Hunger campaign. My idea was to “review” the meals eaten by more than 4,500 Dallas residents who receive Meals on Wheels (MOW) daily. The reaction I got from folks when I told them I was going to eat MOW for a week was pity, curiosity and, in some cases, borderline disgust. I was undeterred.
In August of this year, I learned that my article on Meals on Wheels earned third place in the National Association of Newspapers Buster Awards for Best Feature. I’m delighted to share this article and you can also follow this link to read the version that ran in People Newspapers.
“Hello, my name is Elaine*. I just want to let you know that my mother really enjoyed it her meal Friday. It was the Honey-glazed Turkey with Au Gratin Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts and she told me over and over how delicious it was and to be sure and tell the chef how much she appreciated it. Though we didn’t know it at the time, that was mom’s last Meals on Wheels delivery. She succumbed to cancer two days later. I wanted to be sure to pass along her ‘compliments to the chef’ and to say thanks to Meals on Wheels for being my mom’s lifeline for so long.”
Between Pinterest boards filled with edible works of art to “instagramworthy” meals to “food porn,” thanks to technology, food has been objectified to the point in which many of us have practically forgotten its value. I get it – my “phone eats first” and I can spend 10 minutes trying to get the perfect Instapic of shards of Maldon Sea Salt artfully arranged on a juicy red tomato. I have a healthy preoccupation with food and feel lucky to be able to write about it for this paper. This month, I’m not going to feature a new restaurant, I’m going to feature an old one: Meals on Wheels Dallas County which is about 40 years old.
Meals on Wheels is the original Door Dash with employees and volunteers canvassing the Dallas area Monday through Friday to deliver meals to 4,500 clients for whom their daily delivery of food, a friendly face and a kind word is a lifeline. Many MOW clients have health issues so providing nutritious, balanced meals on such a large scale and tight budget is challenging. If you’re reading this in a newspaper that was delivered to your home, chances are you live in an affluent area and are unlikely to be food insecure. But have you ever wondered about what kind of food is prepared and delivered on such a large scale five days a week? Maybe not but I hope you do, if just this once.
With the help of Dr. Ashley Lind, the VP of Meals on Wheels and Population Health, I ate four meals to gain insight into the value of Meals on Wheels to homebound seniors. It was an eye-opening experience, not because the food was especially good or especially bad, but because it allowed me to appreciate food in a way I haven’t in years.
Monday: Swiss Steak with Whipped Potatoes and Italian Green Beans
I approached the first meal as a novelty. The ground beef patty was juicy and flavored well with hint of sautéed onion. All meals must be low sodium, so the whipped potatoes and green beans tasted like not much until I added salt. Everything had good texture.
Tuesday: King Ranch Chicken with Steamed Broccoli and Carrots
The King Ranch Chicken was really tasty! It was a little spicy, in fact, and had big chunks of white-meat chicken in a cheesy sauce. The broccoli and carrots were cooked but not mushy and needed salt. Without realizing it, I ate the entire meal in four minutes. As I walked out of the VNA Haggarty Center, it occurred to me that I inhaled that meal as if I was just checking a box and not feeding my body and soul. I started to cry as I walked to my car.
Wednesday: Turkey Tetrazzini with Brussels Sprouts and Vegetable Medley
My favorite meal so far, the pasta with chunks of tender turkey meat was full of flavor with a hint of spice. I wondered how they can make 4,500 plates of pasta and have it not become mush. Honestly, I didn’t eat the Brussels Sprouts. I’m sorry mom, I never liked them.
Thursday: Homestyle Meatloaf with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and
Herbed Green Beans
I think the Meatloaf is about the same as the Swiss Steak but with more tomato and seasoning. The meatloaf was tender but not mushy, the green beans were cooked just right with a little snap left in them and more flavorful than previous vegetable offerings. The mashed potatoes only had a hint of garlic and when I finished the trapezoid-shaped mound, I realized I hadn’t eaten mashed potatoes since last Thanksgiving, and I’d eaten them twice this week. “How ironic, I thought.”
I’m so fortunate, most of us are, to afford high-quality food and spent time and money dining out with our friends. We can order what we want; throw out what we don’t. We have so many choices, too many sometimes, on what and where to eat. We can celebrate food with photos and hashtags and beautiful creations made from watermelon and a paring knife – and we should! I hope, too, that we will be aware of those who are food insecure, lonely and rely on that daily delivery of Meals on Wheels as one of their few remaining connections to socialization, sensorial pleasure and nourishment for their bodies.
I say I’m not a critic, I’m a storyteller but I’ll summarize the meals this way: They’re better than airplane food, WAY better than the Frank Crowley Courts Building Cafeteria you’re stuck with for jury duty and better than starving, which is the alternative to Meals on Wheels delivery.