"Canned Food Drive" by Kathleen Lynch + Roasted Pea and Purple Barley Salad


As a child, when did you first become aware that there were people in the world who lived differently than you? I was about 10 years old. For several years, my family had volunteered at a meals-on-wheels-style nonprofit just one city over. I was still young, so my job usually involved scooping mashed potatoes into the plastic containers, or tying ribbon on Christmas presents in December, but this particular time, I rode in the car with my dad to help with the deliveries. We joined several other volunteers and made our way to motels and mobile home parks, knocking on doors and handing out the hot meals. It was Thanksgiving morning, a day to be grateful. We had made our way around the entire building but still had extra meals in the back of a truck, so we started making rounds again asking if anyone needed an extra one. A girl answered the door, about my age, and without so much as a breath of hesitation said, "No thank you. Other people need it more than me."

I never forgot this encounter, and it rushed to my mind immediately after reading this poem. Kathleen Lynch is raising a similar question about recognizing our place "in the lucky world." Although well intentioned, the children chose to cast aside "what we hated--beets, peas, mushrooms." But, as it turns out, these castaway foods can become a simple supper when prepared correctly.

Canned Food Drive


By Kathleen Lynch

We lived in the lucky world—
not the far place where flies

sipped at eye corners
of children too weak to cry.

A camera showed that world to us
on posters. But we were children.

We wanted most to not be those
others, with their terrible bones.

We spoke of them wide-eyed, with
what we thought was tenderness.

But our words came in a different register,
as if to speak of such betrayal

by the grown world could bring
a harm of great immensity

upon us too. We got to choose
from the cupboard. We gave

what we hated—beets, peas,
mushrooms. Our dreams

were not of rice. The moon
laid light on our bicycles propped

against the porch. Sycamores
became our giants standing guard;

the overgrown shrub, our fort. We thought
we understood what was required.

Even crouched beneath our desks
during drill, we said one prayer

for the fear, one for recess.
McClellan Air Force Base

sent forth big-bellied planes
that rattled the windows

of our houses. Evenings, we took
to the streets shrieking

with joy, rode madly fast
around the block. We collapsed

on the lawn breathless, the earth
cool beneath us & pounding hard,

as if it had one great heart.
As if it was ours.

First appeared in Poetry (May 2006)




To a pair a recipe with this poem, I wanted to celebrate pantry staples. It's often the kind of food we think nothing beautiful can be made from, but I assure you that this salad is surprisingly satisfying for utilizing so few ingredients. There's also something to be said for eating simply. We don't need a slab of meat, three courses, or several sides to be well fed. This salad can be eaten on its own, or add a fried egg to make things extra indulgent.



BARLEY SALAD WITH ROASTED PEAS // lemon, parmesan, basil


To ensure that the peas will roast properly, you'll need to thaw them and let them drain well ahead of time. Just take them out of the freezer in the morning and add them to a collander. Run it under warm water to help thaw them, then let them drain the sink for a bit. If you think about it, pour them onto a kitchen towel to finish drying.

1 16 ounce bag frozen peas, thawed and dried
2 cups barley
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon
Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and pour the dried peas onto a sheet pan. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and toss with your hands until well coated. You don't want them swimming in oil; add just enough to help the roasting process. Roast until tender and slightly shriveled, about 25 minutes. Halfway through cooking, open the oven and give the sheet pan little shake. (I always start checking my vegetables early, around 20 minutes, to help gauge how much longer they will need.)

While the peas roast, cook the barley. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it before adding the barley. Boil for as long as it takes, which could be anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour (this will depend on the kind of barley you buy). The barley should be tender but still have some chew. Drain in a collander, then pour into a large bowl.

To make a dressing, squeeze the juice of 1 lemon into a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in about 1/2 cup of olive oil until emulsified. Grate in some parmesan cheese and stir to combine. Pour the dressing over the barley and add the peas. Test for seasonings. Serve with Parmesan shavings scattered over the top of each bowl.