Today, I'm joining more than 200 other food bloggers in calling attention to the problem of hunger in America. The Food Bloggers Against Hunger project was created in response to A Place at the Table, a recently-released movie that chronicles the challenges facing more than 50 million food-insecure people living in the United States today.
What is food insecurity? Definitions vary, but the following components are generally taken into account:
• Is enough food available on a consistent basis?
• Is the food accessible? Put another way, are there sufficient resources (such as money or transportation) to obtain the food?
• Is the food nutritious and safe to eat?
A Place at the Table explains how our government's priorities and food policies have helped to create food insecurity for millions of families in our country:
• Our system of food subsidies, which was started during the Great Depression to help family farmers, now overwhelmingly supports corporate agribusinesses, which grow commodities such as corn, wheat, and soybeans in order to manufacture processed foods. These foods are often high in fat, sugar, sodium, and calories, but low in nutritional value. According to nutrition expert Marion Nestle, our food subsidy policy has resulted in the relative price of fresh fruits and vegetables increasing by forty percent since 1980 while the relative price of processed foods has decreased by about forty percent during the same period. This creates a financial incentive for low-income families to make unhealthy food choices.
• Addressing hunger is not a high priority for Congress. The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 provided for only a $4.5 billion increase in child nutrition and free school lunch programs over a ten-year period, which works out to an increase of only six cents per meal. By contrast, $700 billion was spent on the 2008 bank bailout, and $1.3 trillion was given in tax cuts to the wealthiest two percent of Americans over a ten-year period. And how was the paltry $4.5 billion increase in child nutrition programs funded? Half of the funding came from cutting the food stamp budget, even though the cost of hunger and food insecurity to the U.S. economy is $167 billion per year.
• Hunger in America was virtually eradicated based on policies and programs instituted in the 1970s, but it's back now due to the underfunding of those programs and because of a push that began in the 1980s to replace government anti-hunger programs with private charity.
What can we as individuals do to address this problem that the government seems reluctant to tackle?
• We can tell our federal representatives that we want them to support adequate funding for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), school meals, and other federal nutrition programs. Click this link to send an e-mail to your elected officials.
• We can increase our understanding of the reasons for hunger in America and the need for action by watching A Place at the Table, which is available through Amazon or iTunes.
• We can support anti-hunger programs in our community. Sacramento has a variety of organizations that are working to provide nutritious food to people in need, including:
Alchemist Community Development Corporation, which offers a Market Match program to help people receiving food stamps purchase fresh produce at their local farmer's market.
Harvest Sacramento, which gleans unused fruit from local trees and donates it to area food banks.
River City Food Bank, Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, and Central Downtown Food Basket are just a few of the area's food banks. As a vegan, you have the opportunity to donate whatever canned and packaged foods reflect your values. All of these food banks need peanut butter, oatmeal, rice, beans, canned fruits and vegetables, and other vegan staples.
As a participant in the Food Bloggers Against Hunger project, my post is supposed to include a budget-friendly recipe, featuring reliable pantry staples and ingredients that are accessible in most supermarkets. Here is the minestrone soup recipe I used when I took the food stamp challenge last November. My regular recipe, which is adapted from The New York Times International Cook Book, calls for salad macaroni and dried navy beans, but I used the shell macaroni and pinto beans that were available at Dollar Tree. I made my own vegetable stock by throwing saved vegetable peels and ends into a pot of boiling water with a clove of garlic and some salt and pepper, letting it simmer for awhile, and then straining out the solids.
1 cup dried beans
5 cups vegetable stock or water
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 diced tomatoes
1 cup finely chopped cabbage
2 zucchini cut into 1/4-inch cubes
8 ounces of pasta (macaroni, shells, etc.)
1. Place the beans in a bowl and cover with water. Soak overnight.
2. Drain and empty the beans into a large pot. Add the vegetable stock and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about one hour.
3. Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the onion and celery until wilted. Add the garlic and stir this mixture into the beans. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the cabbage, zucchini, and pasta and cook about 15 minutes, or until the pasta is tender.
More information about Food Bloggers Against Hunger and A Place at the Table is available at the following links: