Food Bank Lifts Produce Fee

Ed Yourdon / Flickr

D.C. is battling an obesity epidemic, but buying fresh produce, particularly if it’s organic, is out of reach for many low-income individuals. Now, the region’s largest food bank provider will lift a fee on produce thanks to a hefty donation.

Northern Virginia billionaire William E. Conway Jr. announced Tuesday a $1 million donation to the Capital Area Food Bank. The nonprofit agency has been charging members 10 cents a pound for fresh produce for about a month, The Washington Post reports:

“I had fresh produce last night with dinner. I had blueberries this morning with my cereal. It’s a luxury for some people,” Conway said in a phone interview. “I wanted to try to help.”

The food bank, the region’s primary source for more than 700 food pantries and other nonprofit organizations, saw the cost of acquiring fresh produce increase 31 percent this year, officials said. At the same time, 66 percent of its clients said they hoped to expand their fresh-produce offerings.

“We were faced with so many daunting circumstances. It’s like a heavy rock being lifted off,” said food bank President Lynn Brantley. “The low-income community is so lacking in healthful, good, fresh, affordable produce.”

There have been some creative efforts to address the rising cost and inaccessibility of produce, including mobile markets. Some think that building supermarkets and grocery stores in food deserts will help bring the cost of produce down, but others argue that corner stores can also serve a vital function.

How to Stretch Grocery Dollars Without a Stove

People on a tight budget have been hit hard this year. Food prices have risen for the first time in two years, and 40 percent of D.C. households with children have reported not having enough money to buy food.

There are ways to stretch a dollar or food assistance even further, and it mostly involves buying smart, in bulk when possible, and investing a lot time in cooking, according to Jodi Balis, Capital Area Food Bank‘s nutrition education director. She spoke on the Kojo Nnamdi Show about strategies to cook low-cost meals and her $16 grocery bag:

But making such meals requires having access to other resources, such as utensils and a stove.

“When we train our partner agencies at the food bank, this has been brought up as well: if somebody is homeless, and they don’t have access to cooking equipment, what can you make?” Balis said on the show. “That really is a challenge.”

Balis said the answer, at least somewhat, may be in no-cook meals. That includes making burritos with vegetables and cheese, and hearty salads with ingredients like romaine lettuce, carrots and sunflower seeds.

The food bank does have a thin no-cook cookbook, she added. But the size of the book shows that perhaps there aren’t many options available to those without a kitchen.

Addressing Food Deserts Without Chain Stores

Flickr: Marie In Shaw

Formerly known as Timor Bodega, Field to City market in Bloomingdale offers organic produce, dairy and meat.

Community-owned assets, not big-box stores, will solve the ‘food desert’ problem” according to Grist, an environmental blog.

A USDA report [PDF] to Congress in 2009 suggested that the average food in such big-box grocery stores (as Safeway, Alberston’s, Winn-Dixie, or Walmart) is priced 10 percent lower than its counterparts in independently owned corner stores, roadside stands, or farmers markets. What’s more, the USDA claimed that “full service” big-box stores offer more affordable access to food diversity than do other venues…

The fatal flaw of the Obama strategy to reduce hunger, food insecurity, and obesity in America is that it risks bringing more big-box stores both to poor urban neighborhoods and to rural communities. It categorically ignores the fact that independently owned groceries, corner markets in ethnic neighborhoods, farmers markets, CSAs, and roadside stands are the real sources of affordable food diversity in America. But in its 2009 report to Congress, the USDA conceded that “a complete assessment of these diverse food environments would be such an enormous task” that it decided not to survey independently owned food purveyors. Therefore, it decided to ignore their beneficial roles and focus on the grocery-store chains that now capture three-quarters of all current foods sales in the U.S.

In today’s Washington Post, food writer Tim Carman notes that an innovative concept is coming to D.C.’s food deserts: a mobile farmers market, housed in a converted bus. According to its successful Kickstarter fundraising page, the Arcadia Mobile Market could be “the most visible and direct way to navigate a number of urban spaces to get much-needed fresh food to people in the nation’s capital.”

Fishing in the Anacostia a Dangerous Alternative for the Hungry

Courtesy of: Jessica Gould

Bobby Jones spends most of his days reeling in river catfish from the Anacostia River.

Exactly how many people are fishing in the Anacostia River’s polluted water is not yet known, but Anacostia Watershed Society advocacy director Brent Bolin tells us that he’s seen a large increase in the number of fishermen since the recession began.

WAMU’s Jessica Gould reports that starting in June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be sponsoring a survey to find out who is fishing in the river and why.

Many of the fishermen Bolin sees have coolers used to store caught fish, which leads him to believe they are likely taking them home for food.

Gould spoke with one such fisherman, Bobby Jones.The District resident has been out of work for about five years, and Gould reports that catfish from the Anacostia constitute “a big part of his diet.”

But Anacostia Riverkeeper Dottie Yunger, who advocates for clean water, says eating catfish can be dangerous. She says studies show many of the brown bullheaded catfish in the Anacostia have contaminants in their tissues and cancerous lesions on their bodies.

“Will you get immediately sick from eating a fish from the river that might be contaminated? Probably not,” she says. “You may not feel any effect. But there are effects that are happening at the cellular level, at the molecular level. It’s affecting brain development, it’s affecting memory. It’s affecting cognitive skills.”

Despite the danger in eating the river’s fish, Bolin says fishing is quite common off of the Maryland and District shores of the Anacostia River.

“There are a few spots in which you almost always see someone out there. I think it’s pretty prevalent and it’s growing,” he says. “One of the problems is the warnings about how many fish you can eat. For one thing, they’re grossly out of date. And in D.C., you get the notice when you get your fishing license. Well, how many people do that? Especially someone with a language barrier?”

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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”.

3 out of 10 D.C. Kids Lived in Poverty Last Year


I saw a link to this essay in my Twitter timeline; it’s not D.C.-specific, but the issue it addresses is one this city struggles with…and I can’t stop thinking about it, though I finished reading it an hour ago. It’s powerful.

I remember my brother whining. He was hungry. I felt it too.

I climbed up onto the counter to get a good look inside the kitchen cupboards. I found only jars of dried lentils, spices, and boxes of tea. A bag of cereal hidden away in the back of the cabinet caught my eye. I poured the contents into two bowls, only to find worms crawling inside. I screamed, and then quickly pretended there was nothing wrong. I didn’t want to frighten my baby brother. It was important to be responsible and be a good older sister. I shouldn’t scare him with details…

I did the only thing I could think of. I grabbed my green winter coat, put on my boots, and headed for the door.  I didn’t have a specific plan. All I knew was that we needed a snack. I told my brother I’d be right back.

What happened to that child next is going to haunt me for the rest of the day:
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Giving Thanks by Giving Back


Washingtonian has a great roundup of opportunities for giving back, this Thanksgiving. I’m doing the first event on the list, the Thanksgiving Day Trot for Hunger which benefits So Others Might Eat. It’s a 5K which supports “services for the homeless and hungry, including the thousand-plus meals served on Thanksgiving Day”.  Here are three more ways to volunteer or make a donation:

Central Union Mission
We know that time is precious during the holidays—help Central Union Mission with the click of your mouse by sponsoring a table for only $1.98 per meal or $19.80 for a “table” of ten people. Click here to make a donation.

Capital Area Food Bank
Donate to Bringing in the Birds With Bucks, which provides Thanksgiving meals to low-income seniors. Each meal ($15) contains turkey, cornbread mix, macaroni and cheese, stuffing, green beans, and corn. The group hopes to serve 2,500 people this year. Click here to make a donation.

Martha’s Table
Martha’s Table is hosting a community Thanksgiving dinner Sunday, November 21. There’ll be turkey, mashed potatoes, fresh veggies, and more. Call 202-328-6608 to ask about volunteer opportunities. The next day is the annual Thanksgiving Basket Giveaway, where the Obamas put in some time last year. To learn more or to donate food, click here.

More information is here.

17 Million American Families are Food Insecure

Obama-Biden Transition Project

The Obama family volunteering at a food pantry, Thanksgiving 2008.

Two days before a holiday which results in, if not celebrates overeating, I’m reading the Washington Post’s “5 Myths about hunger in America“. The dissonance I feel is like a bucket of ice water to the face:

The person most likely to be hungry is a single, working mother. Federal programs ensure that low-income children can get free meals at school, but their mothers – many of whom are single and work low-paying jobs in the service sector – often have to make tough choices between food, rent, gas for the car, health care or new shoes for their kids. Millions of American women who face this predicament will feed their children and go without meals themselves.

Another tragedy in America is the rapidly growing number of seniors who have to choose between food, medicine and utilities. Though few of our elders will admit to needing help, a 2007 study by Meals on Wheels indicated that as many as 6 million are going hungry. Meanwhile, that free food-delivery service has waiting lists in many cities. The 80 million baby boomers approaching retirement are expected to live longer than any previous generation, but not all have set aside enough resources for their final years. When that silver tsunami strikes, hunger will come with it.

Hunger-Free Kids Act…would leave kids hungry

Justin Knol

SNAP cuts mean it would be hard to buy fresh fruit.

Annie Lowrey at The Washington Independent spoke to anti-Hunger activist Joel Berg about Congress’ attempt to cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (i.e. food stamps). The cuts are being made to fund a Child Nutrition bill championed by Michelle Obama. The whole article (which includes a transcript of Lowrey and Berg’s conversation) is a sobering read. Of course, I excerpted the saddest bits for you below (emphasis mine):

TWI: And what will the impact be for kids?

Berg: This cut is taking something away from every other meal for children in low-income families, to help get them a better lunch. Someone in the White House last week, I saw, claimed that the child-nutrition bill will dramatically reduce child obesity.

That’s ridiculous. They are cutting the budget from kids at home to pay for kids in school. If kids eat in school every day, in a year, that’s still only 16 percent of their meals, because there are weekends, there are holidays, there are nights, there is summer. There is no way that marginally improving 16 percent of your meals is going to dramatically change your diet — especially not if you are taking away from the rest.

People want to claim victory. They want to make exaggerated claims that the child-nutrition bill will help. The most heartbreaking thing about it, for advocates, is that this is supposed to be our great champion bill that was going to solve everything! We thought it would dramatically decrease child hunger. But, the fact is, you have hunger advocates lobbying against its passage. Our emotions are ranging from outraged to heartbroken. I’m really just gobsmacked that this happened.

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