Tag Archives: Money

Return from Gotham City.

On our trip to the United Nations in New York City, we learned about Plumpy'Nut, a high protein, peanut-based food used in famin relief.

On our trip to the United Nations in New York City, we learned about Plumpy'Nut, a high protein, peanut-based food used in famine relief.

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.

– Christopher

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A Farmers Market for Everyone.

For most people who receive food assistance from the government, shopping at a farmers market is out of the question. However, in City Heights, a low-income community in San Diego, the International Rescue Committee and the Farm Bureau have worked together to provide everyone with the chance to shop for local produce. Photo by Kerri.

For most people who receive food assistance from the government, shopping at a farmers market is out of the question. However, in City Heights, a low-income community in San Diego, the International Rescue Committee and the Farm Bureau have worked together to provide everyone with the chance to shop for local produce. Photo by Kerri.

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.

– Kerri

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Our (not so secret) Garden.

There are 25 tomatoes on this plant. She counted; twice. Other plants include basil, arugula, bell peppers, beans, onions, cucumbers, lettuce, bok choy, chives, kale, chard, and cherry tomatoes.

There are 25 tomatoes on this plant. She counted; twice. Other plants include basil, arugula, bell peppers, beans, onions, cucumbers, lettuce, bok choy, chives, kale, chard, and cherry tomatoes. Photo by Christopher Greenslate.

Every time I walk out the front door, I have to stop and examine what is going on in my garden. It seems that every time I look, something new is happening. Yesterday I found a fully grown green bean on a plant that I did not even know was producing yet. Aside from arugula, that was the first thing that I have ever grown from seed to something edible. I ran in the house to show Christopher and he laughed at how excited I was by a bean. Despite the fact that our lives do not resemble Walden Pond, he invoked Thoreau to tell me that I now “know beans.”

It is almost magical to see something come from such a small seed. We miss this when buying our produce from a grocery store. I have had the great fortune of having a few relatives with green thumbs who I can look up to.  My grandpa was a fantastic gardener.  Every year he used all the space in his small backyard to grow his favorites corn, tomatoes, strawberries and beans to name a few. Just last year he planted a peach tree that he said should start producing in a year or two.  I’m sure those will be turned into one of my grandma’s famous peach cobblers or turnovers that my grandpa’s sweet tooth couldn’t resist.  Several times through out the summer months grandpa would just drop by to bring a bag of beans or tomatoes.

My mom’s aunt, my great aunt Lily, has one of the most amazing yards I have ever seen, including a small orchard where she grew apricots, kiwi, oranges, and pomegranates among others. Dinners at her house included an abundance of fresh vegetables from her garden. I remember a particular soup that she made with beans and an assortment of greens. It was delicious. However, she frightened my sisters and me away from eating it by claiming in her booming voice that it was good for us  and would put hair on our chests; not something little girls want to hear.  We ate her home canned jams and jellies all year long. At 85 years old, she does not do quite as much as she used to, but she has not stopped yet.

As I look at my small garden with high hopes, I realize that I have not quite reached the heights of my family gardeners, but I have something to aspire to. My seventeen pots don’t create too much work, but I find my self finding reasons to check on the progress several times a day. We got some much needed rain it last night so now I don’t get to water today; it’s a little disappointing.

It has cost me a little bit of money to start up my garden, but now that I’ve got it going the seeds are not expensive. I’ve even gotten to the point where I am starting seeds to give to friends who are also planning gardens.

In other news, an article in the New York Times came out yesterday that discusses how “Real Food Can Be Cheaper Than Junk Food.”  The author mentions two websites worth checking out, cookforgood.com and lavidalocavore.org. Christopher and I are looking forward to trying out some recipes from Cook for Good.

Have a great week!

Kerri

P.S. For some reason Christopher thought the film festival was this weekend, but it is next weekend. It will be in his post next week.

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Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks?

take-me-out-to-the-ball-game-791233

Christopher has lived in the San Diego area for most of his life. During that time he has been to countless Padres games and swears he has never seen them win.  Yesterday, which happened to be the day after we ended our second project, we headed down to the park once again to root for the Padres. They won.  I think I was more excited than Christopher was.

The tickets were free, so we saved some money there, but we had an emergency with our kitty (that led to a trip to the vet and now the joy of tackling her twice a day to give her oral and topical antibiotics), and ran out of time to eat before we had to leave the house.  Leaving when we did, we still missed the the top of the first.

We decided to eat at the park, knowing that it would be an expensive meal. We were right.  I went to get us food during the top of the 3rd. Christopher handed me $15 and I laughed. He forked over another $20. I figured I would be bringing back change.

As I approached the counter I debated what to get. Due to the economy and the Padres low attendance, the stadium has a meal deal: 5 for $5. With that you can get a hot dog or veggie dog, peanuts, popcorn, a cookie and a small soda (16 oz). For $10 you can substitute a draft beer for the soda.

I knew I wanted a beer, which is always overpriced at games, and we both wanted two veggie dogs, because they are so small. Neither of us would eat the cookies and Christopher had told me twice that he wanted a pretzel, so I figured that was an important item. I felt silly as I agonized over what to do. How much would it cost to get two extra veggie dogs? Would Christopher still want a pretzel if  I came back with all the rest? What if I brought back the goods and he didn’t want popcorn and peanuts? Did I want peanuts?

We were both pretty hungry and I didn’t want to mess it up.  I left my phone in my purse which Christopher was watching, so I couldn’t phone a friend (Christopher) for help. Despite the low attendance (which was still over 27,000 people), the line was long and I was almost up to the front. Did I really want to trek back to the seats and get in line all over again?

In the end, I made the choice that I thought would be best. I stuck to our original plan. As soon as the cashier finished ringing me up I wished I had gone with the deal. I am pretty sure that when I handed Christopher his $1.50 in change he felt the same way.

Despite the fact that the stadium is offering reduced prices, an article in Friday’s New York times claims that  wholesale food costs went up in April, while a second article by the same reporter discussed the fact that consumer costs have held steady.  Another article in the business section, also from Friday,  points out that even though prices to the consumer are steady, there are several large food manufacturers which, “concede that they cannot ensure the safety of items -from frozen vegetables to pizzas- and that they are shifting the burden to the consumer.”  It is unclear which ingredients may be responsible, and several items have been recalled this year including six tons of frozen egg rolls.

This made us consider the food from the game.  These companies probably played a role in most, if not all of what we ate, which is probably the case at most ball parks.  It  hit home that  price shouldn’t be our only concern when buying  food.

Kerri

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Change We Can Eat!

corn_with_dollarsA 64 year old man is living in the back of a grocery store and wants recipes from us so that he can make bread with his hot-plate. Kathleen’s  family of five was plunged into 14 months of unemployment and she, “literally wept when milk reached $3 a gallon.” Will Wilson in Anchorage had to quit his job to take care of his son, and the money his wife makes barely covers the utilities. These are people in America. Their stories are documented here as comments throughout our blog, and they are not isolated cases.

Many of you have posted your tips, ideas, and comments about how to cut food costs, all of which are vital for many people who are trying to make ends meet. However, Wilson is smart to point out that, “the government controls everything.” The great majority of us will do what we can to make the best choices available regarding the economics of food, but the policies of our government play a large role in framing how the food system in our country works.

As someone who is staunchly independent when it comes to political affiliation, and sees the two party system as two strands of the business party, I patiently waited for either of the presidential candidates to talk about food. While concerns about health care, foreign policy, and the economy are essential to our progress as a nation, how we feed people should have played a more significant role in the campaign. Quite simply, everyone has to eat in order to survive, and so, few things could be more important than how we feed ourselves.

Around 700k people have visited our little blog, and if that isn’t evidence that this is a crucial conversation to have, just read some of the stories from people around the country (and the globe).

The current system in the United States, overseen by the Department of Agriculure, is actually subsidizing the foods that are the least healthy for us. As Nicholas Kristoff notes in a recent New York Times piece, “The Agriculture Department — and the agriculture committees in Congress — have traditionally been handed over to industrial farming interests by Democrats and Republicans alike. The farm lobby uses that perch to inflict unhealthy food on American children in school-lunch programs, exacerbating our national crisis with diabetes and obesity.”

And this is just part of the problem with how our food system works in the United States.

Kristoff goes on to challenge Obama to pick a new “Secretary of Food” that will represent the interests of 300 million Americans instead of a system that undermines the health of our citizens and our planet. Knowing that we can’t rely solely on politicians to get things done, we must continue this dialogue about food until we have a system that doesn’t force people to make choices between bread and fresh vegetables.

Which is why I have signed the Food Declaration.  It’s starts off…

We, the undersigned, believe that a healthy food system is necessary to meet the urgent challenges of our time. Behind us stands a half-century of industrial food production, underwritten by cheap fossil fuels, abundant land and water resources, and a drive to maximize the global harvest of cheap calories. Ahead lie rising energy and food costs, a changing climate, declining water supplies, a growing population, and the paradox of widespread hunger and obesity.”

It doesn’t matter where you stand politically, the future of food depends on what we do right now.

– Christopher

P.S. If you have a library card, I also recommend the book “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn, as it provides some interesting ways of looking at the implications of the agricultural revolution.

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As seen on INSIDE EDITION.

 

The irony of it all.

The irony of it all.

 

My face still hurts from laughing so hard. Watching our project get sandwiched between Brittany’s birthday bash, and a walrus forced to play the saxophone was beyond funny. In a blinged-out bra battle, where shiny people give the bewildered herd one more distraction (keeping the masses intellectually anemic), irony stood up and demanded laughter. 

After close to five hours of filming, which included an in-depth interview concerning poverty, nutrition and global issues, our “story” was reduced to a fluff piece with dramatic rhetorical questions; leaving nothing for the viewer to hold onto except the next piece of popcorn. 

But it was fun.

Yet, the smile begins to fade when you consider that over 26,500 children died today from poverty related causes. Most of them preventable. 

We didn’t do this experiment to “make a statement”, but through all of this we have injected ourselves into some important conversations. Even now, two months after the fact, we continue to learn from the experience, and are hungry for more. 

If you watched tonight, we’d like to say “thanks”. Not just for weathering a full-frontal assault on your intelligence, but for being smart enough to laugh at the outrageous and support us anyway. Special thanks to our friend Krista for letting us invite ourselves over for a free meal and access to cable.

– Christopher

P.S. If you missed it, click here.

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