Monday, January 4, 2010

Not A Lot of Comfort or Joy for the Hungry

The "holidaze" is finally over, and though it has been wonderful for both of us to be home, enjoying time to read fat novels by the fire, go to movies, take naps, cook hearty soups and stews, breads that make the house smell like heaven; I'm just as happy to leave the forced cheer that is endemic to this time well behind us. We don't do a lot of holiday shopping, but even the most trivial grocery store errand has an enforced accompaniment of tidings of comfort and joy, or sleigh bells ringing, snowmen melting. It begins soon after Halloween, and may not have ended yet; I won't know til I have to set foot in a commercial establishment.

Yet the truth is that for many in this the richest country on the planet, this period of several winter weeks is merely an extension of the pain they endure every day of the year. With more time to browse the Internet, read up on issues, I have become ever more aware over the holidays of the constant rise in what our government, unwilling to use the word "hunger," calls "food insecurity." While I have been cooking greenchile stew, black-eyed peas, pumpkin bread, and albondigas soup, many families with small children have had only what they could glean at local foodbanks, or purchase with their food stamps.

The facts and figures on this are available to anyone who cares to find them; Feeding America, formerly America's Second Harvest, has a Hunger Factsheet that will provide a loud wakeup call to anyone who cares to read it. The New York Times has been running a series of articles on what they call The Safety Net, the most recent of which both deal with the growing dependence of many Americans on food stamps. The first, Food Stamp Use Soars, is scary enough, but the article published yesterday, Living on Nothing But Food Stamps, documenting the rise in the number of Americans who have no cash income whatsoever and are feeding themselves and their kids on their monthly food stamps alone, is way past frightening. This latter article includes interactive maps of the USA that will show you how your own state, and county, is faring on this issue. My state, New Mexico, has experienced a sharp rise in families living on food stamps, a fact that doesn't surprise me at all, as I recently learned that NM ranks third in states where children are receiving both breakfast and lunch on the school program that furnishes free meals to families in need of them.

I think this is a situation that we don't really comprehend, unless, or until, we are living in it, or in close touch with our local food banks, or choose to make the effort to find out the reality. Food banks are in desperate need of donations; all over the country they are falling short of the supplies they need to feed those who come to them for help. Feeding America has an action center, and a food bank locater, where you can get in touch with your local resources, either for help, to donate, or to volunteer. As little fondness as I have forWalMart , I have to note that they have recently donated 35 refrigerated trucks to Feeding America food banks across the country, including Roadrunner Rood Bank, my own local bank. As part of the truck donation, a full truck- load of food was also given to the food bank and included items such as applesauce, green beans, corn, oatmeal, peanut butter, jelly, macaroni and cheese, cereal and other items totaling more than 17,200 pounds food. It is estimated that the 35 trucks donated to food banks nationwide will help transport up to 52.5 million pounds of food every year.

Early this year Feeding America will release their latest report on hunger, Hunger in America 2010. It will be of great interest to see how the numbers have increased in this report since the last one done in 2006. The statistics will probably be frightening. (Cross-posted to Quid Nunc.)


Cynthia said...

One article I read mentioned that on average, food stamps provide three dollars per person per day. Try feeding a family a balanced diet on that.

Lisa :-] said...

When I worked as a cook for an Assisted Living facility, we were budgeted 62 cents per meal per resident. And we could feed them pretty decently for that amount. Of course, that was five years ago, and we were buying wholesale from food service grocery suppliers.

I am not trying to downplay the problem of hunger in this country, but I DO think that folks could provide much better sustenance for their families on their food stamp "dollar" if they knew how to cook--what exactly to do with those inexpensive foodstuffs like rice, dry beans, flour, etc. Let's face it, our culture no longer knows how to feed itself properly, especially using scratch ingredients. (I suppose if we did, I wouldn't be in business...)

I guess what I'm trying to say is, like anything else, education needs to be part of the welfare program. We've all heard the maxim about the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching him to fish...

JACKIE said...

It's always a shock when we're waiting in line at Winco. They have a really great bulk food section-beans, grains, pastas etc. There we are with our stuff in bags and we're looking at carts full of boxes.

Lisa is so right. Almost no pre prepared food goes through our doors.

But one of the biggest problems is that the people with the greatest needs often live too far from stores likie Winco to take advantage of them. The Oregonian had a story last year that followed a mom and her daughters as they used multi transfer bus trip to do their grocery shopping. It wasn't easy and it took several hours. It's bad enough to have a limited budget; it's even worse when you have to do your shopping at your state's version of a store that's one step up from a Seven 11.

And we while we cook from scratch; wetake some of the money we save and go out to eat once in awhile. I've eaten at Lisa's. And one thing I don't do while I'm eating her creations is think about how I could do it better. 'Cause I couldn't.

It's a real pain to watch well fed, well groomed talking heads natter on about how the recession is "over" just because the stock market is up. Keep whistling in the graveyard guys.

Lisa :-] said...

Makes me wonder if the state wouldn't be better off running a program like a "foodmobile." Kind of like a bookmobile, but stocked up with nutritious bulk food items. Of course, government being government, they would screw it up--meaning half the budget would get eaten up in administration costs or lost in the paperwork... But it sounds like kind of a great idea, if someone could figure out how to do it preperly.