Monthly Archives: November 2009

Nearly Half of U.S. Children Will Eat on Food Stamps.

While walking the Freedom Trail in downtown Boston this week, Kerri and I stumbled across a memorial to Irish immigrants who struggled during the potato famine. Photo by Christopher.

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…

– Christopher

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Mmmboppin?

 

My sister Kimberly with Issac Hanson

I have teased my younger sister for years about her undying love for the band Hanson. Now I should clarify that while she is 28 now, she first fell in love with them during the “Mmmbop years” when she was about 12 or 13. When she was pregnant with my niece, my brother -in-law had to be very clear about the fact that he did not want to name his child after Taylor, even if she was born on his birthday. Whenever she tells people that she and my cousin (who was introduced to their music through my sister) will be attending a concert, one of the most typical responses is, “They’re still around?”

 

While their sound has evolved since their early years, it was not their music that gave me a new appreciation for them (although they do a cover of “Livin’ on a Prayer” and any fan of Bon Jovi is awesome in my book).  Just a few weeks ago my sister and cousin took a trip to San Fransisco to see Hanson, and while there, they walked barefoot for one mile with the band and hundreds of other concert goers. Apparently this is now a fairly normal occurrence at  Hanson concerts. They ask their fans to donate one dollar and take a one mile walk with them,without shoes.  They are working with a couple different organizations to provide aid to people living in poverty in Africa.

The website for their causes, takethewalk.net, sets their goals as to: “Take action with a one mile walk to support causes to fight poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa. Every mile walked will raise funds to support one of five causes facing great challenges in Africa. Whether you choose to walk a mile, or directly donate to one of these five causes, you will be making a real impact. One step at a time.”  Their five causes are health care, HIV/AIDS, building schools, providing clean water, and donating shoes.

One of their partners is TOMS shoes which donates a pair of shoes for every one purchased.  Another is the Free the Children organization, started by Craig Keilburger. In 1995, when he was 12 years old, Mr. Keilburger learned that in some parts of the world children were sent to work instead of to school. He traveled the world to learn about the conditions children had to work in and decided to dedicate his life to helping them.

You don’t have to be a rock star to help. We are moving toward the holiday season, a time when there is a focus on helping those in need. If you are able, consider finding a way to help others, whether local or global, financial or by sharing your time. Although there are reports that our economy is making a comeback, remember that it may take longer for families to feel relief. In stressful financial times, there are more people in need and fewer in a position to help.  Most organizations get a majority of their funding through small donations from individuals.

While Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, most will visit with family and share a meal. Your support for initiatives to fight poverty can extend the warmth of your family around the globe.

Kerri

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Oppose Obama’s Big Agriculture Nominee

The following was sent to us from the Center for Biodiversity, please read and take action…

Does the talking head of Big Agriculture belong in charge of America’s agricultural trade relations? Obama thinks so. Despite claiming that lobbyists wouldn’t find jobs in his White House, Obama recently nominated former pesticide lobbyist Islam Siddiqui to be Chief Agriculture Negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.

Siddiqui’s record is abysmal. He led the development of the first national organic labeling standards, which allowed sewage-sludge fertilized, genetically modified, and irradiated food to be labeled as organic before public outcry forced more stringent standards. Siddiqui currently works for CropLife America, a pesticide and biotechnology trade group that fights to weaken environmental laws and treaties and keep persistent organic pollutants like DDT in use.

Siddiqui’s pro-pesticide group launched a petition campaign chiding Michelle Obama for planting an organic, pesticide-free garden and lobbied to allow pesticide testing on children. CropLife America also intervened in a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit to protect endangered species from pesticide exposure. CropLife America’s Web site declares that pesticides “contribute to biodiversity conservation” and “positively impact” endangered species. No one told that to the California tiger salamander, delta smelt, and countless other species that have been sickened and killed by toxic pesticides.

Siddiqui’s agenda is a threat to biodiversity and human health worldwide. The planet can’t afford to have Big Agriculture’s talking head in charge of America’s agricultural trade relations.

Please contact your senators today and ask them to vote against the confirmation of Islam Siddiqui as Chief Agricultural Negotiator. Urgent action is needed — the vote could happen in the next two days.

Please click here to take action!

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The Echoes of FDR.

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Christopher and Kerri brave the rain on the steps of our nation's Capitol Building. Photo by J.P. Horrigan.

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have too much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt (second inaugural address, 1937)

Gray skies, billowing wind, and periods of harsh rain are slowly dissipating from the Washington D.C. area. While our friends and family back home in sunny southern California have been enjoying the typically perfect weather, we’ve been walking around Washington D.C. over the last few days enjoying the sites after long days of workshops. We’re here with my student journalists for the 85th annual National High School Journalism Convention, and our group represent just 14 out of the 6,347 students in attendance from around the country.

This time last year we were in St. Louis for this event and the weather was quite similar. However, during that trip Kerri and I did our first televised interview for the One Dollar Diet Project. From a local NBC affiliate in St. Louis we answered questions on the Canandian Broadcast Corporation’s “News Hour,” doing our best to help people understand what our experience was like.

At this point, we’ve done so many interviews that it should be clear for most people that this blog started as a way for us to explore the economics of eating through a form of participatory journalism. We hoped that it would help us understand some of the challenges of those who are trying to eat without very much money. It did.

The power of this form of experimentation, and journalism  hit us again a couple of days ago when we visited the Newseum, a new museum in D.C. dedicated to the field of journalism. The work of writers like Nellie Bly, who in 1887 faked being insane so that she could be admitted to the Woman’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell Island to learn about and write about the experiences of the women imprisoned there, are works worth cherishing. After her article was published, she wrote a book, “Ten Days in the Mad House” which prompted an $850k increase of funds for public charities. More recently the work of modern authors like Barbara Ehrenreich and humorist A.J. Jacobs have helped give us insights that typical reporters cannot.

In addition to visiting the Newseum, we’ve also had the privilege to visit our nation’s Constitution, Bill of Rights, and The Declaration of Independence, and the experience has been an inspiration.

Yet last night, when the student’s sessions were done and the rain had cleared we made our way to some of the monuments we hadn’t seen yet: the Lincoln memorial, the FDR memorial, and the Jefferson memorial. I hadn’t visited Lincoln or Jefferson since the fifth grade, and I had never seen the memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt. The sound of the sequence of pummeling waterfalls at the FDR site creates a sense calm, which is juxtaposed by cast iron installations, one of which is a line of people waiting outside a door; a reminder of the struggles of the great depression.

In addition to his message, “I Hate War,” which boldly gives visitors reason to pause, is another value of his which is graven in stone for all to see, and that quote is the one at the top of this post. During a time when the debate about health insurance reform continues, and libertarian economic attitudes continue to flourish in ways that leave the least among us without, I hope that some will remember the words of our past president.

– Christopher

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Costco Accepts Food Stamps.

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2008 Census Food Stamp Map

In recent months, food stamp enrollment has increased across the nation as more people are struggling to make ends meet. This is one of the reasons that Costco announced in Maythat it would  begin accepting food stamps. At first they were hesitant, at one point stating that they did not believe people receiving assistance would be able to pay the annual fee of $50. However, as the economy has continued to struggle, they have seen more of their  current customers requesting that they accept this method of payment.

The plan has been in production for several months, as it takes time to install the software and program in the items that food stamps may be used to purchase. This is great news for people who are either current members of Costco and people who are able to gather the money for the annual fees. This is back in the news because Costco is working on getting the program up and running and hopes to have it in place in half of their locations by Thanksgiving this year.

Before Costco made this decision, they had to change their perception about who receives food stamps. An editorial in the Seattle Times points out that, “No one should presume to know what a food-stamp recipient looks like. Food stamps..are used primarily by people looking for a job, or who are employed but make so little they qualify for federal assistance.” While I agree with this, I would also like to include that a large number of people who receive SNAP benefits (Supplimental  Nutrition Assistance Program, the new name for food stamps) are children, elderly, or disabled.

While doing the dollar diet project, Christopher and I debated whether or not it was “fair” in terms of our rules to make purchases at Costco. Our fees had been paid months earlier, but we had a difficult time deciding if we could do it. In the end, we bought some produce there which was the only affordable fresh produce we could purchase. By fresh, I mean not canned or frozen; it was not necessarily fresh off the farm. While the annual fee will still be a burden for many people, I hope this will make produce more available.

 

Kerri

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