Rachel's Table

Blogging Against Hunger

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Hungry isn’t a word most would use to describe America. Instead, people use words like wealthy and great.

But 50 million people in this wealthy and great nation are hungry, meaning 1 in 4 children are “food insecure” and do not know where they will find their next meal.

One culprit here is poverty: 15.7 million children (21.6%) in America live in poverty. Many American mothers and fathers cannot afford to feed their children nutritious, whole foods, instead resorting to cheaper, processed and packaged goods.  Since 1980, the cost of fruits and vegetables has gone up 40%, but the price of processed foods has gone down 40% (mostly due to crop subsidies for corn and soy but that is another post all together).

The most nutritious foods in the grocery store, such as fresh produce, are the most expensive.

As I was thinking about this post, I talked to some friends about this very issue. One friend grew up right at the poverty line for a portion of his life, often eating saltines and peanut butter for breakfast and lunch. He said, “There was never enough food, but isn’t that a first world problem?” Interesting statement. Yes, most of our children are not starving, reduced to bloated bellies and bones. But in this country, we have plenty of food, yet 50 million of our citizens do not have enough to eat. And the food they do eat is cheap–filled with chemicals, sodium, corn syrup, and fat. While they may not be starving, they are slowly wasting away due to poor nutrition and poor health (obesity and all its risk factors are directly related to poor nutrition).*

How are members of America’s working poor, living at or below the poverty line supposed to care for their families? Many of them qualify for government food assistance (SNAP benefits). In fact, nearly half of American children will receive SNAP benefits at some point in their lives. In 2011, the average monthly SNAP benefit per person was $4.38 a day.* That’s less than $5 for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

I went to the grocery store with $5 in my pocket to see if I could buy ingredients for a nutritious meal. Instead I came out with a bunch of canned goods and a heavy heart. I noticed the most attractive (especially for picky kids) but least nutritious meals were surprisingly inexpensive.

Lean Pockets IMG_4928[1]

While you and I know that frozen dinners and Hot Pockets are not the best choice for dinner, many don’t. They only know that for less than a dollar a meal, their kids’ bellies will be full.

So what can we do? How can we change the status-quo and make sure our nation’s hungry have access to nutritious food?

As a group of change-agents we can:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

 Margaret Mead

>>>

If you’re struggling to put food on the table or just want to eat yummy and nutritious food for a fair price, check out these recipe links:

Spinach and Spring Onion Frittata or Ham and Cheese Frittata

Red Lentil Stew

Four Tomato Chicken Pasta

Three Bean Chili (omit the meat and beer in order to make this economical; it’s just as good and lasts for days!)

Thai Inspired Vegetable Soup

Roasted Tomato Sauce with Pasta (SOLE Food Kitchen is an excellent blog for eating fresh on a strict budget.)

Chiles Rellenos Egg Bake (from Andrea’s Garden Cooking)

*All statistics found at Share Our Strength / No Kid Hungry, another resource for learning more and getting involved.

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37 comments

  1. Le Clown

    Rachel,
    Love, love, love this post. Recently, my wife and I wanted to write something about our neighbourhood’s food bank: these are amazing people going the extra mile for the ones in need. We passed the whole day with them when they distributed produce, canned goods and more to those who dropped by… Unfortunately, what they had to offer was probably the saddest and less nutritional food, as it is what is been donated to them, because it is the least expensive food, too.
    I love that you wrote this. Of course, I’m a far-left socialist bastard, but being able to eat nutritious food should be a basic right, and given to all. Thank you, Rachel.
    Le Clown

    • My dear Le Clown,

      Thank you! As I wrote this, I thought about the time I was living near the poverty line. I was eating pasta, spaghetti sauce, and lots of processed, prepared meals. I didn’t have the wherewithal to even think about getting my hands on more nutritious foods because I was also struggling with making rent, getting the heat turned back on, and daily life. I never had enough brain space to think about say, finding a farmers market for cheaper produce. I was just surviving. So this hit close to home for me.

      I’m connected with my local food bank too, and one of my amazing gardener friends donates pounds and pounds of fresh veggies to them every summer.

      I’m so committed to this cause! You are correct, nutritious food is a BASIC right. Thanks for your comment.

      ~Rachel

  2. And don’t forget to grow your own! There are some surprisingly space and time efficient ways to have a small vegetable garden. I recently took a careful look at some of the verticle garden ideas that are out there, and find them to be eminently reproducible, while being incredibly space and time efficient! It’s a whole lot cheaper to have good quality produce when you grow it yourself!

    • Gardening is MUCH cheaper, for sure! But sometimes I wonder what it’s like for people living in poverty. It’s hard to think about things like gardening when you’re just trying to keep your head above water each day.

      But I agree with you completely. This is why food education is important and should be a course in all elementary schools! Some of the schools in my area have classroom gardens–love it!

      • Yeah – Most of my classes had a garden when I was growing up too. I honestly can’t imagine not having learned about that stuff!
        And trust me, growing up in rural Vermont, I didn’t have a lot of classmates where their families purchased the bulk of their food! Everyone I knew had a garden, and everyone went through the same late-summer and early-fall activities to store their produce for the winters. Most of my classmates bought more of their meat than vegetables – my family included. That said: neither myself nor any of my classmates had any real space restrictions for gardening. Money was not terribly abundant, but space was.

    • I mentioned it briefly in a post last week, but I feel like I should have dedicated an entire post to it so my fellow food bloggers could have participated.

      Thanks for sharing! Just liked your page!

  3. Awesome – I was really looking forward to this post, Rache. Thanks so much for sharing this; it’s something that I’ve felt passionate about, too – giving everyone access to inexpensive (or free) fresh, healthy food.

    But are you trying to tell me I should kick my Lean Pocket habit? Notice I said Lean. Obviously, they are good for you.

  4. It’s a complex issue, but I believe you are on the right track.

    The paradox abounds – how can hunger and obesity both be national crises?

    The answer is not only access to affordable healthy foods. I support a mission effort in Rochester that prepares and feeds a healthy lunch to impoverished neighborhood children throughout the summer. They are finding that nearly all the children reject the healthy food and opt to eat their evening meal at McDonald’s (or from foods provided at the convenience store).

    It’s not access alone. We have generations of people (of all income levels) addicted to unhealthy foods.

    • Such a complex issue and I wish I could have written about all of them in this post: food deserts and lack of education to name a few.

      I know that so many don’t even know how to prepare fresh ingredients, instead living off canned items and fast food and passing that tradition on to their kids.

      Bravo to you for your efforts in your community!

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  6. Awesome post Rache – I was shocked to see the prices on those frozen meals – they are actually quite expensive in Australia!! (Think $6-$7 per frozen meal)

    There is access and availability of fresh healthy food in most places (Farmers Markets, grow your own, Fruit Barns) in Australia and it’s not the most expensive thing to buy in a supermarket – but people need to be better educated on what to buy and how to prepare it. Sometimes the convenience of fast food or frozen meals is what sucks people in and that’s what leads to obsesity – being unaware and uneducated on how to prepare and source healthy options.

    Thank you for raising awareness of hunger that is happening in our back yards – it’s especially disturbing when you think of the amount of food is wasted every day in restaurants and food chains. In Australia they have a program where restaurants and caterers donate food to be given to charities to feed the underpriviliged. Here is the website http://www.ozharvest.org/ourimpact.asp?pageID=609
    It’s an awesome initiative.

    You are an inspiring chick! It’s always lovely to read your blog 🙂

    • Thank you, Daile!

      Most European countries and your lovely land use far less chemicals and dyes in their recipes for items also sold here in America (which then are made with all kinds of chemicals, preservatives, and corn based ingredients. ugh).

      I completely agree with you—education is a must if people are going to learn about nutrition and making better choices. Some wouldn’t even know how to prepare fresh ingredients, being used to eating from a box or a can or a drive thru.

      Have you seen the documentary called Dive? It’s about food waste in American and dumpster diving. Interesting film.

  7. Liz

    Thanks for a great post, Rachel. Another often overlooked factor is lack of basic knowledge about how to prepare the simplest of dishes. If you are part of a family that relies on preprepared foods, you may not ever learn how to scramble an egg, or make a soup from scratch (including the broth!), or how to sautee broccoli… There is so much food knowledge that we take for granted.

    • YES! I just mentioned lack of food education in my two previous comments. I know I didn’t know how to make broth until I started eating locally. And I’ve always been a fairly healthy eater and eager cook. Jamie Olive did a TED Talks about this very thing. He talked to kids in elementary school–they couldn’t identify a beet or an eggplant or even a tomato!

  8. That Mead quote is a favorite of mine. It’s what keeps me on my own personal, sometimes frustratingly lonely path.

    I’ve always thought it strange that, on a government stipend of $3 to $4 per day for food assistance, recipients aren’t allowed to spend it on the family farm — the absolute cheapest way to get fish produce! No middle man, shipping, or storage costs. I could totally feed my family of six on just $3 a day (if I had to), good, nutritious, wholesome food. As it is, we’re eating pretty darned good on just over $100/wk. If I would give up some “convenience packaging” it would be even less than that.

    Love your writing, Rachel! You are rock solid on your path. Thanks for taking up my bloggy hiatus slack. 🙂

      • Maybe that was a freudian slip and you are secretly craving fish??? Joking!

        I know that I could feed my family in the summer months very efficiently for less than $100 a week, but you have to know where to shop, have transportation, and then know how to prepare the fresh foods you buy. So many factors to consider.

        I know that our local farmers markets take SNAP benefits, so that’s a good first step!

      • Location, location, location. The Houston area has affordable housing and 11 out of 12 growing months. No shortage of food here, EXCEPT in the middle of summer when it’s blazing hot. But then, there are tens of thousands of starving Houstonians too. So go figure.

        Another thing. Once per week, I do the chore of harvesting and driving a trunk-load, park it in a lot, and allow my friends to pick through the fresh yield for A DOLLAR A BAG — anything they want. After several takers, I still have too much left! And I’ve just about broken even. Most people just aren’t that into veggies, even if if they are a bargain.

        Have you seen Fresh The Movie streaming on Netflix? If you haven’t, it’s right up your alley.

  9. Nice Rachel. I love how you attached some affordable recipes at the end. Unfortunately, we collectively need to work to get others to see them. This is a topic that I hope we will all blog more about.

    • I think “collectively” is the key word here, Tammy. I’m trying to make a difference in my community and I know I’m not alone–so many care about this very issue.

  10. Fantastic post and links, Rachel. So many things need to change in order to help feed families. I remember growing up my mom would make everything from scratch but make huge amounts of it so we’d be fed for days. My gram was like that too (she lived through the Depression).

    • It must have been so hard to feed a family back in the days of the Depression. And it’s just as hard now but in a different way–people don’t have access to fresh ingredients or don’t know how to prepare REAL food or don’t know how to grow their own food. I’m hoping I can make a difference in my community!

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    • Oh, don’t get me started on Mac and Cheese. Do you know that in the UK they use a different, dye-free recipe for the same box of Kraft Mac and Cheese? In the states, they make it with the dye, just because they can. Ugh.

  12. Pingback: Blogging Against Hunger – The Results and a Thank You | Rachel's Table

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