We did this interview on Sunday, and it ran later that evening, and will probably run again today. Click here to watch it!
Have a wonderful Monday!
We did this interview on Sunday, and it ran later that evening, and will probably run again today. Click here to watch it!
Have a wonderful Monday!
In what I think is the first official review for “On a Dollar a Day”, Washington Times reviewer Claire Hopley contextualizes what the book adds to the growing discussion about our food system. In reference to our critique about the Thrifty Food Plan she writies,
“The analysis of why this well-intentioned program does not fully meet the needs of its intended beneficiaries is one of the most cogent parts of “On a Dollar a Day.”
Enjoy the review!
PS. We won’t be posting any video footage from our party. But good things are coming, so stay tuned!
The other day, I asked Kerri if she thought it was too late to have our publisher change something in our upcoming book. I was prompted to ask because of a recent report released by the USDA which stated that 49 million Americans (1 in 7 households) are currently in need of some type of food assistance; a number that in August hovered around 36 million. In the second part of our book we talk in depth about SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program), formerly known as food stamps, and as it stands now, when our book is released we will have drastically understated the scope of the problems people are facing.
Then yesterday, a shocking projection was revealed across the newswires: nearly half of all children in the United States will eat on food stamps during some part of their childhood.
The study was published earlier this month in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, and was conducted by sociologists from Cornell University and Washington University in St. Louis. They based their projection on 30 years of national data, and said their results, “show U.S. kids face a substantial risk for experiencing poverty, which poses a serious threat to their health and well-being.”
The article by Lindsey Tanner of the Associated Press goes on to do a fairly good job of embracing the nuances of food security issues, but what was most surprising (and predictable?) was the comment from Robert Rector at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Apparently, Rector sees no need to sound the alarm about this issue as he explains that many in this situation, “have comforts like televisions and air conditioning receive food stamps for short periods of time when a parent is laid off.”
I cannot eat my television when I’m hungry, or get enough nutrition from cold air, and I’m assuming that the people he’s talking about can’t do so either. (The callousness of this response prompted today’s accompanying photo)
Rector’s comments seem to stem from the same place that many libertarian economic philosophers do, one of “every man for himself” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” rhetoric that does little to account for the contexts or the individual situations that people face. When your research is aimed from a certain philosophical gun, it’s pretty easy to hit the target you’re aiming for. The Heritage Foundation has such an arsenal, and uses it frequently on issues of social spending.
Meanwhile, local food pantries and charities keep plugging away while the need for services climbs, and resources diminish. While the work of these groups is essential, it is not enough, and on its own will never come close to getting at the roots of these problems. That being said, we would like to ask you once again to do what you can to help others, either through donating to those in extreme poverty abroad, or to those facing food insecurity in your community (or both).
While we were in Boston this past week, Kerri and I were humbled by the depth of our nation’s history, and by the efforts of those working to help others. While on the red line train we saw an ad for a Catholic charity, that asks people to throw a party where the entrance to the event is a bag of boxed and canned foods for donation. We thought it quite clever, and will most likely use this idea for our own efforts in San Diego. Thankful for your continued help of others…
Last week when Kerri went to collect our produce from our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) pick-up point, it simply wasn’t there. Our name was on the list, but our box was missing. I put a call into Be Wise Ranch (our farm) and left a pleasant, but uncertain message wondering where our food had gone. It’s been a week and we still haven’t heard back from them, and our vegetable drawer remains empty. However, with school starting, and plenty to witness in the public arena, we’ve been more relaxed about (or at least distracted from) the disappearance of our lettuce.
On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services launched a new website for the public to learn more about food safety issues, and while we’d like to see some type of new agency dedicated specifically to these issues, for now an online resource was the least they could do. We’re not complaining, in fact, we’re very pleased by this new site, but it doesn’t suffice in the face of our fractured food safety system. Yet, while food safety is one of the most important concerns of our day, the launch of this site was easily overshadowed by the on-going healthcare debate, the centerpiece of President Obama’s domestic agenda.
While the “teabaggers” (or mostly right-wing anti-Obamaphytes posing as “real” Americans) marched on Washington today with a grab bag of conservative talking points (I saw signs proclaiming “Jesus Saves”, “Say No to Socialism”, and even a few confederate flags), the most important thing that Americans can do to take a stand on issues of healthcare is to start eating well, and to get involved in the struggle for food justice.
Regardless of where you stand politically, what you eat plays a larger role in your overall health than who provides your healthcare, or how much it costs. Healthcare is important. That being said, Michael Pollan also had an interesting piece in the New York Times a few days ago further strengthening the link between these two issues.
This march on Washington, while cathartic for the folks involved, will do little to shape the national debate on healthcare. Obama’s speech in Minneapolis had a more focused and memorable ring to it with his “Fire it Up!” and “Ready to Go!” What I’m waiting for is for one of these “teabaggers” to ante up and stop paying taxes altogether. I secretly hope that they document it in a blog, and write a book, as that seems like a great way for others to connect with what the issues are for those involved.
I wonder if this hypothetical experiment would include not using any government services paid for by taxes (that would only seem fair), which would mean: no mail, no driving (your license, and your streets are managed by the government!), no flying (darn that FAA!), no t.v. or radio (down with the FCC!), no sending the kids to get a free public education (no more liberal indoctrination!), no federal student aid, no medicare or medicaid, no eating food that comes from a place that is safety checked by the government (hunger strike!), no calling the police or fire department in an emergency, no use of national parks or monuments, no food for the needy (let them starve!) and of course, no supporting the troops. DOWN WITH BIG GOVERNMENT! I think a blog and book of this nature would be far better than ours. At the very least, it would be more interesting than hearing about our missing produce…
Kerri and I were in New York City recently, and during that time we spent far more than a dollar a day on food. In fact, I had restaurant outings planned before we left for the trip. Having traveled to the big apple before, there were a few places I wanted to make sure that we visited: Hangwai, Red Bamboo, Candle Cafe, Blossom, and Lula’s Sweet Apothecary, just to name a few.
Yet, what we learned during our visit to the United Nations about feeding programs around the world stood in stark contrast to our extravagant eating patterns as trendy jet-setting idealists. While we were eating seared seitan on my birthday, millions of children were eating Plumpy’Nut; a peanut-based food used for famine relief which was invented by French scientist in 1999. I had never heard of Plumpy’Nut before, and assume that most folks haven’t, so I’ve re-printed some of the basics,
“The Plumpy’nut product is a high protein and high energy peanut-based paste in a foil wrapper. It tastes slightly sweeter than peanut butter. It is categorized by the World Health Organization as a Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF).
Plumpy’nut requires no water preparation or refrigeration, making it easy to deploy in difficult conditions to treat severe acute malnutrition. However, it must be used under medical supervision and the nutritional status of the children has to be clearly identified by a doctor or a nutritionist. It has a two year shelf life when unopened. The product was inspired by the popular Nutella spread. It is manufactured by Nutriset, a French company based in Normandy Rouen, fully dedicated to humanitarian relief, specialized in products to treat malnutrition, used by humanitarian stakeholders (international organisations and non-governmental organisations basically) for distribution. The ingredients are: peanut paste, vegetable oil, powdered milk, powdered sugar, vitamins, and minerals, combined in a foil pouch. Each 92g pack provides 500 kcal or 2.1 MJ.
Plumpy’nut contains vitamins A, B-complex, C, D, E, and K, and minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, iodine, sodium, and selenium.”
As I held the pouch in my hand, I wanted to taste it, but unfortunately they don’t sell Plumpy’Nut at the U.N. coffee shop. However, during our tour of the U.N. we were reminded of the millions of people who are barely getting enough to eat, and the millions more who get sick and die as a result of global poverty.
However, while we live a life far from poverty, New York City isn’t exactly a cheap place to visit.
Traveling can make it difficult to eat affordably, but we managed to pick up a box of cereal, soymilk, and orange juice to eat each day for breakfast. We definitely could have done more “home” cooking, as our hotel had both a refrigerator and a microwave, but part of the experience on holiday is to enjoy the foods available in the part of the world that you’re visiting; and enjoy them we did.
In addition to eating well, seeing some sites, going to The Daily Show and watching the Yankees sweep the Boston Red Sox, we were also lucky enough to sit down with the folks at Hyperion who are working on the release of our book for January. We are very pleased with everything we learned from them, and we’re really excited to have such a supportive group of people to help us bring the book to all of you.
As of now, the first draft of the manuscript is complete, and we’ll be doing editing from here on out.
On Saturday morning, Christopher and I took a trip outside of our usual range of travel. We went to City Heights, a community within San Diego, to learn about their farmers market.
Right away it was apparent that this farmers market differed from the one we are used to visiting. Ours is held at a local elementary school and has a wide variety of vendors and booths. In addition to fresh produce, you can purchase everything from crafts to fresh breads, and there is usually someone playing live music to the legions of locavores.
The City Heights farmers market is located on a blocked off street between a police station and low income housing. There are significantly fewer vendors (this market is relatively new), and there weren’t many customers. However, as we walked past the booths we saw fresh greens stacked up and boxes of vegetables.
One vendor had long, slender, vibrant purple eggplants and dark green zucchinis at least a foot long. I made a quick note to stop at that booth with the curly green kale for $1. What I first thought was a place for bike parking was group of young punk rock volunteers teaching people how to re-build and repair bikes. But that is not why we went.
A table underneath a white canopy stood at the far end. There was a laptop, a wireless card swiping machine, a group of volunteers in colorful City Heights Farmers Market t-shirts and a sign that said “Use your EBT card here!!!”
Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT cards are swiped in exchange for tokens that can be used at any time at the farmers market. It is rare to even find a farmers market in a low income area, let alone one that accepts EBT. In addition to helping people who already receive benefits, The San Diego chapter of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has volunteers helping to prescreen people to find out if they qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, and to help them fill out the initial paperwork. They have volunteers who speak Spanish, Vietnamese and Somali.
This market is a joint effort between the IRC and the San Diego Farm Bureau which is also starting similar projects in two other areas. According to a volunteer with the IRC, San Diego County is the worst in the nation for food stamp participation. This means that people who qualify are not receiving assistance for a variety of reasons. City Heights has the lowest participation rate in San Diego.
This was one of the busiest booths at the time we arrived. We waited in line to talk to someone. While we were there, an older woman came up to find out what was going on and learned that she might qualify for a one time senior voucher. A Somalian man was assisted by two women, one of whom helped to translate. No one was turned away as the volunteers explained the processes and helped people with their questions. While we waited we noticed a survey on poster paper asking customers how the market’s prices compared to those at the grocery store. Most of the feedback indicated that the prices were “similar” or ”better.” When we spoke with two of the workers, one from the Farm Bureau and one from the IRC, we learned that they do survey’s every week to better serve their customers and vendors.
This particular market is able to offer “Fresh Funds.” Money is donated towards the program and is distributed each week, so that people who spent $5 at the market get an additional $5 worth of tokens to spend there. This encourages people to use their money on fresh fruits and vegetables and helps local farmers.
If you live near City Heights or another farmers market that accepts EBT and/or WIC, check them out and support their efforts. The City Heights farmers market Web page has great information about their programs and why it is beneficial to support community efforts that provide healthy food to all people regardless of income.
School is out! Friday was the last day, my grades are turned in and I am looking forward to a summer of relaxation and playing in my garden. We started off our vacation with a trip to the movies today; a movie about food.
And when I say we took a trip, I mean it. “Food, Inc.” opened yesterday in select locations only, so we took a two hour car ride up to Los Angeles to see it. The irony of watching a movie about food, including the ubiquity of corn, while eating popcorn, was not lost on the movie theater. They offered a special “Cornivore’s Dilemma” that included a large popcorn and a large soda. We thought this was funny, but did not take the bait.
On the whole, “Food, Inc.” further opens the discussion on what has happened to the food industry over the past fifty years. There are interviews with Michael Pollan, who wrote “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”; Eric Schossler, who wrote “Fast Food Nation”; Joel Salatin, the owner of Polyface Farms and several other farmers and workers in the food industry.
The film takes a look at the way farms have moved from the storybook image of a red barn and happy animals wandering leisurely, to the factory model of large-scale production. The film also explores the conditions of workers in these operations, particularly the slaughterhouses, an issue that Human Rights Watch investigated in 2005 and presented in a 185 page report titled “Blood, Sweat, & Fear”.
Already there is a website offering rebuttals of the claims made in the film. A few of their answers offer links to videos on Youtube.com to support their claims, such as a video about where McDonald’s meat comes from that shows a production plant, but the only live animals we see are about five cows grazing in an open pasture at the start of the video; only underlining the film’s claim.
Of course this link led me to the distraction of Youtube where I watched several others videos, including one of a cheeseburger and french fries from McDonald’s that a person claimed to be almost three years old.
At the end of “Food, Inc.” the filmmakers offer suggestions for the audience on how to address some of what is happening to the food industry. Among others, they ask viewers to shop for organic and local foods, remind people that everyone deserves healthy food, suggest talking to school boards about creating healthy lunches, and recommend planting your own garden. Even if it is a small one. However, these suggestions alone may not be enough to solve the problems created by the industrial food system.
The website for the film offers a list of when the movie is playing and in which cities. If you can find one near you, definitely check it out.
P.S. Good luck to the South Central Farmers who are holding a press conference this evening to kick off their “Take Back the Farm” campaign.