Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

34 posts from September 2011

David Beckmann on Hunger in Florida

110930_DBeckmannDavid Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. Photo by Bread for the World.

David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, spoke to First Coast Connect on WJCT Florida yesterday about the rising poverty numbers in Florida, and why Congress needs to create a circle of protection around programs for hungry and poor people as they look to address the budget deficit.

He spoke, in particular, about the importance of protecting food for children, who are in danger of suffering from hunger in Florida, which has been hit hard by the economic recession. Beckmann said:

What happens when kids don't get the right food is their brains shut down, in a sense. When they go to kindergarten, if they're not eating quite right, they're naughty and act out ...

For children, it impedes their development in those crucial formative years. It is just crucial in this bad economy that we protect the kids.

Guests called in to the show to provide witness to the poverty in Florida. A caller named Cindy said that kids know when they are vulnerable to hunger and poverty, and that it is important that people stand up and go toe-to-toe with members of Congress and the president to say, This is wrong. Look somewhere else for your money

Beckmann said he couldn't agree more with Cindy. "It is quite possible to reduce the deficit in lots of different ways and not make hungry people hungrier," he said. "There's nothing in the Bible that says you can't tax rich people, but there's a lot in the Bible that says you shouldn't take food away from hungry kids."

Listen to the interview below.


Asian Carp, Illinois, and the Super Committee

110930_carpPhoto by Candie_N. on Flickr

I first learned about Asian carp when I stumbled upon this extraordinary video of folks in a small motor boat startling the fish, causing them to fly out of the water. (Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean.)

As it turns out, carp are more than just viral video stars – they are also an invasive species that consume the plankton in the Great Lakes and require some population control measures from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The twist? With record high numbers of hunger and poverty in Illinois, the department has launched a campaign to encourage eating carp as a nutritional, healthy, and cheap meal, and is now trying to recruit local chefs to develop recipes with carp. In the coming months, food banks and soup kitchens would like to provide carp to the people they serve.

Annual state poverty data released last week shows record levels of poverty in our nation, with nearly 46.2 million Americans living in poverty, and 1.8 million people living in poverty in Illinois. While Illinois is considering measures such as harvesting carp from their lakes and rivers to feed people, other critical programs such as SNAP (formerly food stamps), WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), and Medicaid are at risk of being cut during the budget debate. In the aftermath of the recession, many families are still struggling to survive, and people who never thought they would need help are finding themselves in line at food pantries for the first time. Right now, members of Congress and the Super Committee are looking for way to cut the deficit, but this is not the time to cut social safety net programs, as my colleague Amelia Kegan said earlier this week.

How is your state faring in this poor economy? Share your stories in the comments section below.

Hunger in the News: Food Stamps. Immigration. Foreign Aid.

Want to stay up-to-date on all of your hunger news? While this isn't a comprehensive list, it's a good start. Here's a roundup of current news links on hunger issues from around the Web:

  • "The 'success' of Workfare When Jobs are Scarce," by Barbara Kiviat. As unemployment has sky-rocketed, and other social safety net program like SNAP (a.k.a. food stamps) have seen a surge in participation, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) has barely budged.

Bill Clinton Goes Vegan

110929_Clinton_VeganFormer President Bill Clinton speaks with CNN's Sanjay Gupta about becoming a vegan.

Former President Bill Clinton made waves during the annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting this month by sharing that he had gone vegan for health reasons. The former president, notorious for eating fatty foods and McDonald’s Big Macs, now dines solely on fruits, vegetables, and legumes – and likes it. In an interview with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, Clinton said, “I like the stuff I eat. I like the vegetables and fruits. I like the beans.”

While President Clinton went vegan for health reasons, eating a mostly vegetarian or vegan diet could also help alleviate the causes of climate change, according to many food advocates like Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, Ann Cooper, and others. Mark Bittman, a house favorite on the Bread Blog, gave a compelling TED lecture in December 2007 on this very issue. As a confessed meat eater, Bittman proposed that Americans try to curb the harmful effects of the beef industry by eating less meat for social justice and global survival:

Eighteen percent of greenhouse gases are attributed to livestock production. How much livestock do you need to produce this? Seventy percent of the agricultural land on earth, and 30 percent of the earth’s land surface is directly or indirectly devoted to raising the animals we all eat, and this number is predicted to double in the next 40 years or so.

There is no good reason for eating as much meat as we do, and I say this as a man who has eaten a fair share of corned beef in his life.

He goes on to admit that while he will never stop eating animals, he will advocate that people stop raising them industrially, and stop eating them thoughtlessly. He asks progressive people to vote with their forks by eating less meat, less junk, and more plants.

The most important takeaway for me here is that food and hunger issues are incredibly complex and intertwined, and require all of us to choose carefully what we put into our grocery carts, refrigerators, and bodies. Yes, there is the issue of personal health, as Bill Clinton exemplifies. But there are also the issues of greenhouse gases, climate change (from which the most vulnerable members of our global community suffer most), global food insecurity, and more.

Have you made conscientious decisions with your daily diet? Share your stories in the comments section below.

Should SNAP Include Fast Food?

110928_snap_fastfood Photo by LeoAlmighty from Flickr

In mid-August, the USDA rejected a proposal from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to restrict New York City’s SNAP participants from purchasing soda and sugary drinks with food stamps. Bloomberg’s proposal stems from his city-wide effort, with Dr. Thomas A. Farley, the city’s health commissioner, to reduce obesity among SNAP participants in New York—many of whom have families with dangerously overweight children.

Today, the New York Times hosted a debate between four people on whether or not food stamps should be expanded to allow participants to purchase fast food. While health and nutrition experts have deplored this proposal in light of high obesity rates among low-income people, some anti-hunger advocates say that by relaxing the restrictions around food stamps, more participants would have access to food that is difficult to come by because of a lack of access, mobility, and time--a common problem for SNAP participants in low-income neighborhoods that have been deemed "food deserts." Many elderly people on food stamps, for example, could benefit from being able to use their food stamps at a local fast food restaurant on occasion. Read the full debate here.

What do you think? Should food stamps restrictions be lifted or more strongly enforced? Weigh in on the comments section below.

This entire debate could be rendered null, of course, if SNAP suffers drastic cuts during the federal budget process. And that is the more important and urgent conversation. As Amelia Kegan, senior policy analyst for Bread for the world, said in this interivew, SNAP is an incredibly successful program with a very small margin of error. Don’t let this debate blind you to the fact that SNAP participants are families with parents doing their best to feed their children, and people suffering from unemployment and a painfully long post-recession lull. For many, SNAP is keeping them afloat during a difficult economy.

Regardless of which side we land on the above debate, we can all agree that Congress must not balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable members of our society.

+Take Action: Tell your members of Congress to protect poor people.

Skateboarding Toward a Better Future in Afghanistan

There's a place in Afghanistan where kids are learning how to ollie, as well as how to build for their country's future. It's called Skateistan and it was started by aid workers wanting to share their love of skateboarding with Afghan children.

"Skateistan builds on the positive interactions that kids experience through skateboarding and we also build in education," says Sharna Nolan, Skateistan's co-founder. "We expose our students to a whole range of new ideas and new subjects that are typically under-resourced in Afghan regular schooling."

Despite the NGO's foreign aid roots, Skateistan doesn't rely on foreign assistance money. It sells logo-branded products, accepts donations, and partners with private organizations, such as the local telecom company that provides Internet service to Skateistan offices. Also, the organization gets a lot of direction from the Afghan kids they work with. As co-founder Oliver Percovich told Fast Company magazine late last year, "It's really important to be consulting with the people you're working with. It's important to ask people what they want."

This story is part of our Wednesday ViewChange video series.

Mark Bittman Takes on Cheap Food Myth

110927_Bittman In his Sunday column for The New York Times, writer and food advocate Mark Bittman challenged the notion that unhealthy food is cheaper than healthy food. This common claim is, by and large, a lie, Bittman says:

In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and costs about $9.

Compared with a McDonald’s meal for four people, which costs about $28, these relatively healthy, low-budget meals are bargains.

Others say that junk food is a better bargain when measured by calories per dollar, but Bittman argues that because “half of the people in this country (and a higher percentage of poor people) consume too many calories rather than too few, measuring food’s value by the calorie makes as much sense as measuring a drink’s value by its alcohol content.” A better measure might be the amount of nutrients and protein people receive per dollar, which would make Bittman’s low-budget meal of roasted chicken with vegetables, salad, and milk the better option by far.

Of course, the more legitimate explanations for why families on a budget revert to processed foods is due to a lack of time, access, and education. Food deserts remain a consistent problem for low-income people. In many urban neighborhoods, the closest place to buy food is a 7-11 or liquor store. Still, with a little bit of effort and intentional planning, families can make real, healthy food a priority in their budgets and in their lifestyles.

To make changes like this more widespread we need action both cultural and political. The cultural lies in celebrating real food; raising our children in homes that don’t program them for fast-produced, eaten-on-the-run, high-calorie, low-nutrition junk; giving them the gift of appreciating the pleasures of nourishing one another and enjoying that nourishment together.

Political action would mean agitating to limit the marketing of junk; forcing its makers to pay the true costs of production; recognizing that advertising for fast food is not the exercise of free speech but behavior manipulation of addictive substances; and making certain that real food is affordable and available to everyone. The political challenge is the more difficult one, but it cannot be ignored.

Amen, Mark. Amen.

What do you think? Are you living on a low budget of both time and money? Do you find processed food a more convenient option for you or your family? Or have you found ways to make healthy meals on a budget? Share your stories in the comments section below.

Image: New York Times columnist Mark Bittman was the kaynote speaker at the 1,000 Days to Scale Up Nutrition for Mothers and Children Conference in Washington, DC last June. (Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl)

Why Should Congress Protect the Poor?

110927_AmeliaAmelia Kegan, senior policy analyst, presents a briefing during Bread for the World's Lobby Day in Washington, DC, on June 14, 2011. (Photo by Rick Reinhard) 

In a time of national and global economic distress, why should Congress protect the poor? Amelia Kegan, senior policy analyst at Bread for the World, spoke to The Voice of Russia to discuss this very question. Listen to the audio below.

During the interview, Kegan provided some insightful reasons why Congress needs to create a circle of protection around programs for hungry and poor people as they address the budget deficit. First, while media has declared the recession over, families are still suffering from the effects of unemployment, increased poverty rates, and food insecurity. Kegan said:

While the recession may be over, families are still really struggling to be able to put food on the table and when we have unemployment at such high rates, it shows that we need jobs. Right now as members of Congress and the Super Committee are looking for ways to cut the deficit, this is really not the time to cut social safety net programs.

Kegan also addressed questions of whether or not protection for struggling families is a partisan issue. Can legislation in support of the most vulnerable members of our society pass in such a divided Congress? Indeed, it can and it must, Kegan said.

Hunger does not have a party. At Bread for the World, we work on issues that, really, everyone can get behind. Everyone can come to an agreement that those programs that serve the most vulnerable in our country and around the world should not be cut. We shouldn’t be balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and the most vulnerable. I think that is a basic fundamental principle that everyone can get behind. And, you know, there have been other groups that have been looking at these very difficult deficit issues, that have all agreed upon that principle. You look at the Bowles-Simpson recommendations, the "Gang of Six"--and you look at other commissions like the Rivlin-Domenici commission. All these other bipartisan groups have been able to come around and agree upon this fundamental principle that we can’t do deficit reduction on the backs of the poor and vulnerable in our society.

Listen to this excellent interview with Amelia Kegan below, and learn more about hunger and the budget.

VIDEO: How To Call Your Member of Congress (It's Easy!)

Are you feeling nervous about calling your member of Congress? We understand. It requires a little bit of gumption to call the capitol switchboard and leave a message for your senator or representative. But Zachary Schmidt, a field organizer for Bread for the World in Chicago, shows us how easy it is to leave a brief message for your member of Congress on the importance of protecting funding for lifesaving poverty-focused foreign assistance.

Watch the video above!

Also, as an aid to you, here are the exact words Zachary said in his call. Feel free to copy his words, verbatim. (Sunglasses are optional, of course.)

Zachary Schmidt's Call:

Operator: U.S. Capitol, how may I help you?

Zachary Schmidt: Yes, I'm calling for Senator Durbin [enter your members' name here], please?

Operator: Senator Durbin's office, how may I help you?

ZS: Yes. Hi, my name is Zach Schmidt. I'm a constituent of Senator Durbin's, and I was just calling to ask Senator Durbin to please support the Senate's higher numbers for poverty-focused development assistance.

Operator: Higher numbers ... yes. Can I get your zip code?

ZS: My zip code is 60042.

Operator: 60042, I will pass your message. Thank you.

ZS: Thank you.

We can't guarantee that your call will be exactly like this, but it's about as simple as that, folks! So call Congress today. Urge your U.S. representative and your U.S. senators to support the higher Senate numbers in the final appropriations bill for poverty-focused development assistance. Use our toll-free number to call the Capitol switchboard today: 1-800-826-3688. Ask for your member of Congress and your senators. Please make your call by Monday at 5 p.m. EST.

We've got a few more hours to make a real difference!

VIDEO: Remembering Wangari Maathai, First African Woman to Win Nobel Prize

The world lost a dynamic force today as Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai lost her battle with ovarian cancer. In 1975, Maathai began the Green Belt Movement, an organization that planted trees in Kenya. Eventually, the small effort grew into an African movement to protect the environment against the ravages of deforestation, pollution, and other harmful human-made practices.

Maathai's message is still very needed today, particularly as drought and famine cause many around the world to suffer from hunger and poverty. Her message of protecting the most vulnerable members of our society by protecting the environment will continue to live on in her work, writing, and legacy. Watch the CNN video above to learn more about Maathai.

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