Food Realities

Find your local Food Bank.

Here in Austin, it’s the Capital Area Food Bank.  To donate to CAFB, click here.  Want to donate food?  Here’s the link to a list of foods they need and accept.  And just so you know, they will accept food you grow in your backyard.

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From NPR: “High Demand, Nutritional Dilemma Vex Food Banks”

A slow economy has forced food pantries and soup kitchens into high gear, with nearly 50 percent more people depending on them since 2006. And while food banks around the country struggle to meet the increased demand, they’re also pushing themselves to focus on what they’re feeding people, not just how much.

However, junk food is becoming the unwanted house guest that food banks just can’t say “no” to.

“We do not turn away those types of items,” says Tasha Kennard from Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. “So if we receive candy or sodas of any type, we do sort them and we make them available to our agencies.” […]

Dr. Mary Flynn, a nutritionist at Brown University, says the rate of obesity is higher in the low-income population because of what she calls the hunger/obesity paradox. High-calorie, low-nutrition foods tend to be relatively inexpensive, so it’s not unusual for hungry people to also be overweight, she says.

Flynn says food banks do no favors dishing out the same cheap fare available at a corner store, particularly soft drinks. But even as a board member of a food bank in Rhode Island, she can’t get the organization to completely refuse soda.

“I was told that, ‘Well, we give it out because if we don’t take it, we won’t get other food from people when they’re distributing it,’ ” she says.

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From Feeding America:

Hunger Statistics on Food Insecurity and Very Low Food Security

  • In 2009, 50.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33 million adults and 17.2 million children
  • In 2009, 14.7 percent of households (17.4 million households) were food insecure.
  • In 2009, 5.7 percent of households (6.8 million households) experienced very low food security.
  • In 2009, households with children reported food insecurity at almost double the rate for those without children, 21.3 percent compared to 11.4 percent.
  • In 2009, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (21.3 percent), especially households with children headed by single women (36.6 percent) or single men (27.8 percent), Black non-Hispanic households (24.9 percent) and Hispanic households (26.9 percent).
  • In 2009, 7.8 percent of seniors living alone (884,000 households) were food insecure.

Hunger Statistics on the use of Emergency Food Assistance and Federal Food Assistance Programs

  • In 2009, 4.8 percent of all U.S. households (5.6 million households) accessed emergency food from a food pantry one or more times.
  • In 2009, food insecure (low food security or very low food security) households were 15 times more likely than food-secure households to have obtained food from a food pantry.
  • In 2009, food insecure (low food security or very low food security) households were 19 times more likely than food-secure households to have eaten a meal at an emergency kitchen.
  • In 2009, 57 percent of food-insecure households participated in at least one of the three major Federal food assistance programs –Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamp Program), The National School Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. Feeding America provides emergency food assistance to an estimated 37 million low-income people annually, a 46 percent increase from 25 million since Hunger In America 2006
  • Feeding America provides emergency food assistance to approximately 5.7 million different people per week.
  • Among members of Feeding America, 74 percent of pantries, 65 percent of kitchens, and 54 percent of shelters reported that there had been an increase since 2006 in the number of clients who come to their emergency food program sites.

Five states exhibited statistically significant higher household food insecurity rates than the U.S. national average 2007-2009:1

  1. Arkansas          17.7%
  2. Mississippi       17.1%
  3. Georgia               15.6%
  4. Texas               17.4%
  5. North Carolina   14.8%

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From The Telegraph: “One Poor Harvest Away from Chaos”

On Wednesday, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported that global food prices had hit a record high and were likely to go on rising, entering what Abdolreza Abbassian, its senior grains economist, called “danger territory”. […]

For the world’s poor, who have to spend 80 per cent of their income on food, it could be catastrophic. […]

we have bumper crops: the past three years have produced the biggest harvests ever. The issue is not one of supply, but of demand.

The mushrooming middle classes of India and China helped cause the 2008 price hike by eating more meat, which, in turn, mops up grain: it can take, for example, 8lb of cereals to produce one of beef. And cars contributed as well as cows. Biofuels transferred over 100 million tons of cereals from plates to petrol tanks: to fill a 4 x 4 tank requires enough grain to feed a poor person for a year. Speculation, too, helped drive prices up.

The same factors are at work again, though fortunately the hungry are not yet as badly hit. This is partly because the price of rice, which feeds almost half of humanity, has remained relatively stable; and partly because it is mainly the higher-quality wheat and maize – eaten by the better off – that has got much more expensive. […]

“The reality,” he says, “is that the world is only one poor harvest away from chaos. We are so close to the edge that politically destabilising food prices could come at any time.

Imagine, he says, if last year’s Moscow heatwave – which sent average temperatures 14F above normal, and contributed to this year’s smaller harvest – next hit Chicago and the Midwestern bread basket. The US harvest could slump by 40 per cent, sending prices “off the chart” and cause “the global economy to start to unravel”.  As the climate changes, such extremes are likely to be more common.

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From the LA Times: “America’s Good Food Fight”

It’s ironic that spokespersons of multinational corporations paint this broad-ranging, truly grass-roots movement as exclusive. Yet the criticism resonates to an extent because sustainably produced foods are often more expensive.

Commodity foods — from large-scale, industrialized agricultural production — seem cheap by comparison because they’re produced without bearing their true costs, which are passed on in the form of pollution, virulent infectious diseases and animal suffering.

“If the full cost of externalized environmental and health costs were taken into account, those same products would be far more expensive,” the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production concluded in a 2008 report issued with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Agribusiness also benefits from billions of dollars of annual federal farm subsidies, along with other tax breaks and incentives from state and local governments, while a negligible portion of these public moneys aid non-industrial farming. And decades of anemic enforcement of environmental laws have allowed agribusiness to escape shouldering responsibility for its pollution.

Together, these public subsidies largely explain why food can be much cheaper at Wal-mart than at your local farm stand. But what about the criticism that sustainable farming can’t feed the world?

This is simply a myth. People are not going hungry because of a shortage of food. Currently, the world generates nearly 4,000 calories a day (about double what’s nutritionally required) for every man, woman and child on the globe.

“Hunger is a political and social problem,” writes food security expert Martin McLaughlin in his book, “World Food Security.” “It is a problem of access to food supplies, of distribution, and entitlement.”

Moreover, here and abroad, the corporatization of agriculture has taken wealth from the hands of many and placed it in the hands of a few, often by driving farmers off their land.

American farm policy aggravates the problem by encouraging overproduction of U.S. commodity crops, which are mass produced and subsidized, and then dumped on developing nations, thereby impoverishing their farmers. Former U.N. Development Program head Mark Malloch Brownhas said that wealthy nations’ farm subsidies, estimated in the tens of billions annually, hold down “the prosperity of very poor people in Africa and elsewhere.”

The good news is that sustainable farming can feed the world. Productivity comparisons of organic crops versus conventional crops have been hotly contested for decades. But recent years have seen mounting studies showing that organic crop yields are catching up and even surpassing chemical-based agriculture.

Nonetheless, there is no denying that foods from sustainable farms carry a higher price tag for the U.S. consumer. Most of us can actually afford it. Americans spend about 9% of their incomes on food, according to the Agriculture Department, one of the smallest percentages in the world.

The real challenge now is making good food available to people at every income level. Currently, the financially strapped single mother has a hard time buying local and organic. This is precisely where hunger advocates and good food advocates can and should unite to make wholesome food more accessible.

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From Slate: Dinner at the Kwik-E-Mart: Food Desserts in America (click on link for interactive map)

A 2009 study by the Department of Agriculture found that 2.3 million households do not have access to a car and live more than a mile from a supermarket. Much of the public health debate over rising obesity rates has turned to these “food deserts,” where convenience store fare is more accessible—and more expensive—than healthier options farther away. This map colors each county in America by the percentage of households in food deserts, according to the USDA’s definition.

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