Five Ways Hunger Affects the Latino Community

Flickr: Walmart Stores

Last week, Latino leaders from across the country gathered in D.C. for the No Mas Hambre – “No More Hunger” – conference to raise awareness about food insecurity in their community. Here are five ways hunger, which is defined as “physical, emotional and psychological distress arising from lack of access to adequate, nutritious food” affects this rapidly growing group of Americans:

1) More than a quarter of Latinos struggle with hunger — compared to 14.6 percent of the general population, according to Bread for the World, a D.C.-based non-profit that works to end hunger in America and abroad.

2) Latino children are more likely to go hungry than their peers. While one in four American children is hungry, “child hunger is even more prevalent among Latino households — one in three Latino children is food insecure”, according to Vicki Escarra, president of Feeding America, a non-profit working to help America’s hungry through a national network of food banks.

3) Nearly 60 percent of Hispanic families with young children receive food from a program called Women with Infants and Children (WIC), according to the National Hispanic Leadership agenda, a nonpartisan association of major Hispanic national organizations and leaders. WIC provides low-income women and their young children access to nutritious foods, education and other resources.

4) A third of Latino kids use emergency food service programs. The 2010 Hunger in America study conducted by Feeding America found that one out of every three Hispanic children received services from their national network of emergency food providers or food banks.

5) Almost half of all eligible Latinos do not receive food stamps, according to the National Council of La Raza, the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.That may be because applying for food stamps, formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, can be complicated, according to a brief from the Urban Institute; “it is possible that Hispanic families more often than others find SNAP inconvenient because they are more likely to be working, as many SNAP offices are open only during regular work hours”.

Luring Wegmans with Walter Reed

Flickr: christine592

Wegmans may finally be coming to D.C. according to the Examiner. The family-owned mid-Atlantic chain was named the best grocery store in the nation for “overall satisfaction” according to the most recent rankings by Consumer Reports in 2009.

D.C. officials are hoping that the massive Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s planned redevelopment in Northwest will finally give them the bait they need to lure the District’s first Wegmans grocery store.

The highly sought-after grocer has two scheduled meetings this week with Mayor Vincent Gray and council members at a retail development conference in Las Vegas that historically has been the breeding ground for major real estate deals in the District.

That conference, the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), is where almost half of all retail leases are signed every year. As for Walmart, the other chain with its eye on D.C.– Consumer Reports placed it near the bottom of those 2009 rankings.

Charles Fields, a spokesperson for Consumer Reports said that while Walmart is a price leader, it earns low scores on service, the quality of its meat and vegetables and store cleanliness.

SNAP, WIC, EBT — What’s the Difference?

Flickr: National Museum of American History

Historic food stamps at the Smithsonian.

In February of this year, 44 million people received federal dollars for their food budgets– over 4 million more Americans compared to the same month in 2010. The government is issuing food stamps to one out of every six D.C. residents. As DCentric prepares to look into food disparity in D.C., we broke out the differences between terms associated with government-subsidized food and payment methods.

SNAP/Food stamps: Food stamps were renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP in 2008, the goal of the program is to help recipients maintain healthy diets by making relatively expensive items like fresh fruits and vegetables accessible to those with low incomes. Applying for SNAP in some states requires pay stubs, housing information, utility bills, child support orders and bills for child or elder care. SNAP is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These benefits are for food; They do not cover items like pet food or toiletries. A list of guidelines from the USDA on what can be purchased is below.

WIC: The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children helps prevent or decrease premature births by supplementing the diets of pregnant women. It is also available to mothers of infants and children up to age five. WIC pays for essential items like milk, eggs and baby formula. WIC benefits are often distributed as specially-designed checks and may be used for a limited list of foods. That’s why, in some cases, families receive both WIC and help from other programs, like SNAP. WIC recipients are required to learn about pre-natal nutrition and breastfeeding.

EBT: Electronic Benefits Transfer cards are a federally-funded payment option offered at participating stores. SNAP distributes funds for purchasing food via EBT cards. EBT cards are more dicreet because of their resemblance to debit cards.

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Unwrapping the Controversy at Chipotle

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The protest at Chipotle was preceded by a march through Columbia Heights.

Thirty-five people marched last week from a local church to the Columbia Heights Chipotle to protest how the restaurant chain fired 40 employees for allegedly lacking forms that prove they’re allowed to legally work in the U.S.

According to the workers, when they returned from a 30-minute break, they found their replacements were already behind the counter. The workers allege that they were not offered any proper notice before or due compensation after the mass termination and “could not even have a lawyer, organizer, or any other person present in order to discuss their demands,” wrote Aaron Morrissey, at DCist.

Courtesy of

Fired Chipotle employee Miguel Bravo, demonstrating on 14th Street.

“We are here to protest the bad treatment of workers. We were fired in a very unjust manner and we feel that’s another form of discrimination against the Latino workers of this place. After they fired us unjustly, they told us they were going to give us a severance payment of $2,000 and now they have refused to follow through with that promise and we are here to demand that they pay us,” Miguel Bravo, one of the workers said at the rally last week with the help of a translator.

Chris Arnold, communications director of Chipotle, denied workers’ allegations that they were treated unfairly. He said the company is responsible for ensuring it is hiring employees without breaking the law.

“The circumstances here relate to a group of about 40 employees, all of whom provided new documents to verify their work authorization status over the span of just a few days. All of those documents proved to be fraudulent. Under the law, we cannot employ any individual who is not legally authorized to work in this country. When we communicated this to the employees, most of them simply walked off the job, others were let go. But there was no mass firing during a break,” Arnold said.
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Eating Healthy is not Always an Option

Flickr: mswine

In “If You Haven’t Been On Food Stamps, Stop Trying to Influence Government Policy,” Latoya Peterson leads with a request to bloggers and journalists to “stop the madness” with regards to how we write about government assistance. Further down in her essay, she shares this haunting anecdote:

I have a memory, from long ago, where I am sitting in the parking lot of a McDonalds, with my mom, trying to count out 63 pennies from the floor around the car, the change jar, and the pavement around the car in order to purchase two hamburgers from McDonalds for our evening meal. Cheap food exists for a reason. 63 cents doesn’t go far in the grocery store if you want a hot meal, and have no where for food prep. (Something that people also conveniently forget about – a lot of eating well on a budget requires prep with at least a hot plate, running water, and basic utensils. If you don’t have these things, you have to eat ready made food. Needless to say, living out of a car doesn’t provide you with consistent access to these things.) But a whole hamburger meant a lot to a seven-year-old stomach that was going to go hungry…These are broke people choices.

I’m sure that if I shared this story on the NYT Health blog, there would be people berating my mother for buying me a hamburger and not, say, an apple or something. Or maybe some dried lentils we could have soaked overnight on the carburetor using a car fluid funnel and woken up to a wonderfully healthy and cheap pinch of beans.

Peterson also discusses food deserts, race and class and how unrealistic it is to expect “farmer’s markets to magically replace a missing food infrastructure.” Read the rest, here.

Fired Workers March on Columbia Heights Chipotle

Flickr: Mr. T in DC

Heading to Columbia Heights to see the the latest protest against the firing of Chipotle workers.

A coalition of leaders, activists, religious organizations and community groups in the Washington D.C. area will soon descend on Chipotle’s doorstep…They intend to gather at 5 pm at The Sacred Heart Church in Columbia Heights, at which point those in attendance will march to the store in a powerful expression of protest against the disgraceful actions of Chipotle Mexican Grill.

According to the article “On May 5th, (Cinco de Mayo, no less) fired workers will team up with everyday citizens to restore the inherent dignity and worth of all individuals in our communities”. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

This will be the second protest for the workers at the Columbia Heights Chipotle who were allegedly fired over documentation issues.

According to, the workers said the firings occurred during a 30-minute break and when they came back from the meeting their replacements were already wrapping burritos. New allegations by the former employees say Chipotle hasn’t compensated them for back wages and won’t meet with City Council Members Jim Graham and Michael A. Brown, who marched for the workers in the first protest.

Check back tomorrow for an update.

Kavitha Cardoza on “The Heavy Burden Of Childhood Obesity”

Credit: Kavitha Cardoza

A student at Beers Elementary in Southeast enjoys Salad and Strawberry day.

First lady Michelle Obama started her “Let’s Move” campaign in part because people under the age of 25 are the first generation of Americans who are expected to live shorter lives than their parents, due to diet-related health issues. Last week, in a five-part series called, “The Heavy Burden Of Childhood Obesity” WAMU’s Kavitha Cardoza and Ginger Moored interviewed overweight children, their families and the doctors who are trying to help. I spoke to Kavitha to find out more about how race and class complicate the already challenging task of addressing obesity in some of D.C.’s youngest citizens.

Kavitha, you mentioned a clinic where the patients include a child who can’t bite a carrot because her teeth have rotted from her diet.

That’s an issue. One of the doctors told us they keep telling kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, yet this girl can’t eat carrots because her teeth have rotted and it hurts her. So some of these kids just can’t. It’s really hard for families. There was a 3-year waiting period for one obesity clinic. Meanwhile, a boy is putting on 4 lbs a month, can you imagine what a three year waiting period would mean? Three years x 4 lbs a month, think of how bad his problems will be.

Tell me about the family that did have access to a clinic; they saw a doctor who spent an unusual amount of time with them, right?

The doctor patiently spent 90 minutes with that family, trying to teach them about nutrition…they hadn’t even left her office and they were opening up and eating food. They’re just little children, of course if they see an Oreo, they want to eat it. And there was so much going on during that appointment…the Mom was braiding her kids hair, two little boys were playing, there were babies. After, the Doctor said, “You know, I have relatives who are obese. In my practice, I see single-parent, low-income families like the one I came from. A lot of people give up on families like that and I never want these families to feel like I’ve given up on them.”

What was the purpose of that visit, specifically?

At that appointment, the doctor was trying to explain nutrition labels. She told them not to worry about saturated and unsaturated fats at this point, because it’s too complicated. She said during the last visit, she explained calories. This time it was grams of sugar. She thinks they will get to a point where they do talk about fat. But it’s not just them–many of us are unaware of how unhealthy what we eat can be…5 grams is one spoon of sugar? I certainly didn’t know that. I grew up in an urban city, in Bangalore. Ginger, my producer, grew up on a farm in Virginia, and our connections to food are very different. She eats fruit and I eat chips and chocolate. I felt like a living test case. I’m not overweight, so it didn’t occur to me, how bad some foods can be.

In one story, you met a child who often has to be excused from class to go to the bathroom because his weight is putting pressure on his bladder– so obesity is now affecting that child’s school work, too. I thought, “What is he missing when he’s out of the room?”

He’s definitely missing things. Also, of all the things to be mocked for at that age…going to the bathroom? Anything related to bodily functions is hilarious to these children and this kid is going to the bathroom multiple times during the day.
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Aldi versus Walmart in D.C.


Flickr: Laura Mary

Walmart is trying its darnedest to open up stores in New York City (sound familiar?). In light of their fight, The New York Times has this piece today examining how little talk there has been about discount grocer Aldi opening stores throughout the city.

Even though Aldi, like Wal-Mart, is nonunion, it has faced little resistance, compared with the heated opposition often headed by unions and politicians that Wal-Marts have encountered in larger markets.

“There’s no reason to oppose an Aldi — it’s a small format, and they usually get space from an existing landowner or landlord, a small guy who’s plugged into the community, not a big guy like a Forest City Ratner,” Mr. Johnson said. “Wal-Mart has sort of become a bad guy that there’s a concerted effort against. I’m not sure that Aldi has really gotten on anyone’s radar screen.”

Same story in D.C., for the most part. Aldi broke ground in September 2010 on its first D.C. store, slated for a site in Northeast close to a shuttered Safeway. No mass protests against bringing a nonunion Aldi to town; rather, much of the talk was oozing with references to what class of folks this Aldi would cater to and what that would do to the gentrifying neighborhood’s image.

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When NOT to Buy Organic: Thick Skins

Flickr: urlgirl

Splurge on organic tomatoes, save money by buying conventional avocados and onions.

Thank you to DCentric reader TP, who sent in this helpful blurb, which was one of the “7 Worst Supermarket Rip-Offs“:

The Environmental Working Group, an organization that studies pesticide contamination, ranks onions and avocados as the most pesticide-free vegetable and fruit, respectively—even when grown conventionally.

In fact, as a general rule, anything you have to peel before you eat (such as bananas or garlic, for example) is relatively low in pesticides. If you want to eat organic, splurge on produce with permeable or edible skin, such as peaches, lettuce, and apples.

So add avocados, onions, bananas and garlic to your list of foods that don’t have to be organic. Since January, DCentric has been thinking about how everyone deserves education about and access to healthy food, regardless of income-level. We’re not the only ones:

…the food justice movement, a burgeoning group of dedicated farmers activists working to ensure that low-income families are included in efforts to promote food sustainability…By promoting CSAs and connecting local farmers to low-income communities, the food justice movement increases access to healthy food while providing community education about healthy eating and hands-on urban gardening programs, fostering a true community approach that allows folks to share family recipes and stretch every dollar.

Readers: thank you so much for your tips and story ideas. We love getting your emails, comments and tweets!

When to Buy Organic Food (Updated)


Organic fruit.

Remember the organic food post I wrote, “The Privilege of Prioritizing Organic Food“? It was about a jarring experience I had at a local New Year’s retreat, after another attendee asked for advice about eating nutritiously on a budget, only to be rebuffed.

That post generated a lot of discussion; many of you were hungry (heh) for more information, especially practical tips like the ones we didn’t get at the retreat that inspired my essay. Well, get out your grocery lists–I just found a handy chart at LearnVest that may help you choose how and when to go organic. Additionally, there are these two useful suggestions:

* Think Skin: When in doubt, organic is the safer bet for produce with edible skins (like apples and grapes). Most exceptions in the chart above are for produce that has fewer natural pests and therefore tends to be farmed with fewer pesticides.

* Meat: If you have to prioritize your organic budget anywhere, animal and animal products are the best investment, because of the higher risk of contamination in cooking. Antibiotic-free is the most important designation to look for in meats, though ideally you want it all–free range and pasture fed. A huge percentage of the contaminants are found in the fat, so if you must go non-organic, keep it lean (i.e. chicken breasts rather than thighs).

If you know of similar charts, links or resources, please share them!

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