The American food system is broken. I don’t exactly know when exactly it happened, but at some point along the road things went wrong. Horribly wrong. Our values are mixed up. We subsidize all the wrong crops–corn (so much corn), soy, wheat–when what we should be focusing on is fresh produce at the peak of its nutritional value. Because of this, the cost of fruits and vegetables has risen 40% over the past few decades, while the price of processed foods has gone down 40%. Federal support is given in the form of dollars rather than nutrition. So for a person living on food stamps, with a budget of less than $4 A DAY (not per meal…) it’s more practical to fill up on higher calorie foods to satisfy hunger. It costs about the same to buy a bag of chips and a 2 liter bottle of soda as it does to buy a pound of farm fresh green beans.
SNAP—the nation’s food stamp program—is at risk for severe cuts that would impact millions of families, especially children, that rely on school meals and food stamps to survive. Today there are 50 million people in American that are hungry, that struggle to know where their next meal is coming from. That means 1 in 4 kids. Our future is hungry. It’s time to take a stand. Food Bloggers Against Hunger was created in response to the new documentary from Participant Media, A Place at the Table. Today, April 8, 2013, food bloggers across the country are donating their posts to raise awareness about the film, issues of hunger and encourage readers to take action.
I grew up in a middle class community where hunger was never an issue. I thought being deprived was my mom only let me buy lunch from school once a week and brown bag it the rest of the time while all my friends bought lunch daily. I could count on one hand the students who got subsidized meals but I never really associated it with poverty. As an elementary school student I just assumed it was some special program, like an exclusive club. I never considered it had anything to do with poverty. When I decided to attend La Salle University for college I put myself smack in the middle of North Philly, and for the first time the face of poverty was staring straight right back at me.
I knew nothing about food assistance programs or welfare, only that they existed. I had the same naive thoughts as many–why are so many people living on welfare? They’re just too lazy to get a job. I didn’t understand how the system worked. That so many wanted to get off welfare, to get a job, but a job would mean no welfare and the extra cost of child support. I didn’t realize the system was practically designed to keep people in the cycle, because leaving would mean less money and resources.
The first time I saw someone paying with food stamps, her shopping cart loaded with processed foods and empty calories, I was disgusted. Here you are, living off the government and you can’t even eat healthy? Now we’ll have to pay for your healthcare too? I didn’t think about the difference in prices between processed and fresh foods. That on her $4 a day budget per person, she couldn’t afford a pound of apples or some fresh vegetables. That this woman was trying to satisfy the hungry mouths in her family with as many bulky calories as she could afford.
The Giving Table asked participating bloggers to share recipes, personal experience with SNAP or food assistance and resources. Being a locavore, I of course have my own local agenda and thoughts on how to eat healthy on a tight budget.
The Benefits of Eating Local
EAT SEASONALLY – There’s a reason you see strawberries at record low prices in June–they’re in season. Not only is seasonal food better for your carbon footprint, it’s better for your health. The shorter the time between the farm and your table, the less likely it is that nutrients will be lost from fresh food. So enjoy berries in summer, stone fruit in early fall, tomatoes in August and root vegetables in the depths of winter.
SUPPORT LOCAL FARMERS – Yes, buying green beans from your local farmer’s market might be a bit more expensive than supermarket prices, but if you have the means, support the small farmers. Send a message to the government and food industry that this is what you want, not produce from hundreds of miles away or subsidized processed corn this or that. If the product demand shifts from processed to local, maybe we can convince the government to subsidize the RIGHT crops, making healthy foods affordable for all.
REEXAMINE PROTEIN – If you’re not a vegetarian, your idea of a balanced meal probably stars a generous portion of meat some veggies and a starch as its supporting cast. Maybe it’s time to think differently. Beans (especially dried beans) are extremely affordable and nutritionally dense. A large pot of stew filled with beans, root vegetables, canned tomatoes and spices is healthy, extremely filling, and a great way to stretch your food budget.
ADDITIONAL AID – The majority of New York City Greenmarkets accept food stamps and EBT. Simply purchase as many $1 or $5 tokens as you’d like from the market’s information booth using your food stamp/EBT card. Then spend your tokens at any farm stand that displays a sign stating “Food Stamp/EBT tokens accepted here.” On top of that, many markets offer Health Bucks, a $2 bonus for every $5 spent, a 45% increase in buying power to encourage shoppers to spend more of their monthly food stamp allotment on fresh produce. If you currently use food stamps, be sure to see if your local farmer’s market offers a similar program.
Healthy Budget Friendly RecipesCrockpot Chicken Winter Chickpea Stew White Bean Lentil Soup Beanie Crockpot Chili Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese
I’m certainly no authority on the food system, I only know what I see and read. I can’t draw you a picture of what it’s like to be hungry or how these families survive on so little because I’ve never been in their shoes. And I can’t fix the food system single-handedly. But maybe, together, we can.
EDUCATE YOURSELF – Read. Learn what’s going on. Watch the firm. A Place at the Table follows three families struggling with food insecurity, and sheds light on the very real problem of hunger in America. Available through demand through iTunes or Amazon
TAKE A STAND – Send a letter to Congress TODAY asking them to support anti-hunger legislation and repair our food system–it takes less than 30 seconds!