I’ve been poor my entire life. I’ve eaten a lot of food that was first bought, ignored, and discarded by someone less poor. I’ve eaten strange foods, boring foods, and the same food for days on end. But even if I have limits. I’ve found a food worse than death and I’ve stared angrily at the can while hungry, with no willingness to eat it. That food is Dinty Moore Beef Stew.
According to the Hormel website, Dinty Moore was first sold in 1935 and this seems accurate. It’s a Depression food, not something people generally choose to eat when they have the option not to. I’ve seen cans on store shelves only a few times in my life, but I promise you every food pantry in the country has a case of Dinty Moore they can’t give away.
What IS Dinty Moore beef stew? About 400 calories, most of them from salt (80% of daily recommended allowance per can). The “beef” looks like rejected bootstrap leather and the “stew” smells like cheap dog food I’d feel guilty feeding to a stray. Somehow, other people don’t feel bad feeding this to hungry humans.
We used to get three cans of dog-food-packaged-as-stew each week send home in my son’s backpack from school. The school was right that we’re poor and struggle with food insecurity, but they were wrong to think that starvation makes anything edible. I spent many nights glaring at the cans before throwing them away, with nothing in my fridge. Hunger tastes better than Dinty Moore.
When you donate canned food to food banks, pantries, and shelters, make sure it’s quality food. If you’d order a pizza sooner than eat that can of Dinty Moore, recognize that someone else may go hungry sooner than eat that can of Dinty Moore. Hungry people need real food, with all the advantages your food has – like tasting good, being fresh, and not having so much salt in it that it will cause heart failure. Make sure the food you donate is food you’d be glad, not just willing but glad, to eat. It’s easy to imagine that the standards of people with less are lower but that isn’t always true.
Everyone has a fate worse than death, and even the very hungry have foods worse than death to. Don’t donate Dinty Moore.