Gwyneth Paltrow is doing it.
Many legislators have done it.
What is "it?"
It's the SNAP challenge to raise awareness of the challenges of food insecurity in our country. In fact, 49 million individuals in America face hunger.
That translates to one in seven adults and one in five children that don't have enough food on a regular basis. Food insecurity has severe consequences.
On Eat Right Radio, Lauri Wright explores the intersections between food insecurity, nutrition and health as well as identify actions we can take to end hunger in our community.
Melanie Cole (Host): Forty nine million individuals in America face hunger. That translates to one out of seven adults and one out of five children that don’t have enough food on a regular basis. My guest is Dr. Lauri Wright. She’s an assistant professor in public health at the University of South Florida. Welcome to the show, Dr. Wright. Tell us a little bit about what’s going on in this country that so such a wealth of food. Our grocery stores are packed. Our corner groceries and 7-Elevens are packed with food. Why is there hunger in this country?
Dr. Lauri Wright (Guest): Melanie, this is really an underrated problem that exists in our community. We traditionally think of hunger as the starving children in another country. Hunger is here in our backdoor. On average, about one in five children go to school every day experiencing some form of food insecurity or hunger. The word in and out, that there is a new face to food insecurity.
Melanie: If we think of those kids, as you say in Africa, what’s going on with our children? With all these food around, it’s shameful that we should have anyone go hungry in this country.
Dr. Wright: It is a shame, and it is a problem that can be fixed. It isn’t a lack of food. It’s just a distribution of food that is unequal. There are many individuals, and especially since the economic downturn in 2007, we just haven’t recovered from that ability to provide healthy and adequate food to everyone in our country.
Melanie: What about the school systems and the school lunches and the breakfasts? Are these waning off? Are they still going strong? Are these children able to go to school and have breakfast and lunch and then who knows what happens once they get home?
Dr. Wright: That’s exactly the problem. If the school programs are going strong, they’re a source of healthy, hot nutrition, but unfortunately, it often is the only meal or two meals that they will receive all day. When they go home, they and their family don’t have enough to eat or even anything to eat for a meal. Then you can imagine on the weekend and then the summer what happens to these young children with them having enough food to eat.
Melanie: What can we do about this problem, Dr. Wright? We hear about the food pantries in our local communities and we never quite know if they’re really distributing food to those who need it or schools that collect canned food, kids that use that as projects. What happens to the food that we donate?
Dr. Wright: Well, I think the first thing we need to recognize is there are food assistance programs through, for example, SNAP. But as many people are starting to find out, doing the SNAP challenge, like Gwyneth Paltrow, she only made it four days. SNAP’s food assistance programs aren’t enough. The burden has fallen on to many of these charitable and non-profit organizations to fill that gap. Feeding America is one example of an organization that’s working very hard to fill the gap. When individuals donate, have a food drive at a school or a service organization, what often happens is that goes to a central location to store that food, and then different food pantries like at your local church or at a clinic, like a health clinic, will come to Feeding America and get that stored food and provide it to individuals coming to the school or to the church. What I like to recommend to individuals though is think about what you’re donating. Don’t make it a pantry dump—dump everything out that you don’t want to eat. Think about the health for the individuals receiving that. Unfortunately, we see a great deal of health concerns in the food insecure. About half of all the individuals that come to food pantries have high blood pressure, and about a third of all the recipients that come to the food pantries have diabetes. What we donate really has an impact on their health and we see higher rates of obesity. What I’m really encouraging individuals is be aware of this new phase of food insecurity and donate healthy food for their health. Instead of just pulling out a can of cream of mushroom soup, think about a healthy soup that you can provide, a low-sodium, maybe a chicken noodle soup that has some protein in it. Think about some tuna packed in water or fruit that’s packed in its own juices. Think about what you would want to feed your family. And many grocery stores offer buy one, get one free. What I like people to think of is buy one, give one for help.
Melanie: That’s a great way to put it in is kind of an obesity paradox, Dr. Wright, that these people that are food insecure because whatever it is we’re donating is not healthy or that that cheapest food happens to be junk, or that this is what they’re getting so obesity is on the rise among those hungriest of us. What a paradox that is. When we’re donating, that’s great advice to look in our pantries and decide what we would feed our families, not just a pantry dump, as you say. What else would you like us to do? Is raising money better than donating food? Working at a food pantry? What would you like us to do to help?
Dr. Wright: There are so many ways to get involved and really spread the word and champion this cause. I really like people to go and spend half a day at Feeding America or at a food pantry, where you see the eyes of food insecurity. I will guarantee you the first time you volunteer, you’ll want to do it again and again. I really think getting involved at the pantries distributing food, helping them sort the food, is a great first step. And please, include children, because this is having a bigger impact on their generation. So we want to get them involved and really see how we can end this fight against hunger. Another great way is to have a food drive. And there is a great site, Healthy Food Hub, where you can go and look at food to donate in a food drive. I really encourage using those resources that are available. Have a food drive and include the list of foods that we want to encourage. Again, the vegetables that are low sodium, even fresh fruits and vegetables as much as possible.
Melanie: I was just going to ask you about that because we think of the pantry and the canned food and the boxed food, which we all know in this day of health and nutrition, we’re trying to steer clear of the boxed food with so many processed ingredients. Can we donate or grow or distribute fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh lean meats and fish? Are any of those donatable?
Dr. Wright: That has been a real paradigm shift for the food network because many of the food pantries, a small food pantry might not have the refrigeration to accept large donations. But more and more we’re working with a network of farmers and food assistance programs to get refrigeration and get that network out so that when -- I here live in Florida and when we have the extra strawberries that we just recently experienced, we can send the word out that we have all these extra strawberries and they need to be utilized quickly. But really building that network. That’s where as an individual, you can, if you go to farmers’ market, encourage your farmers’ market to donate food, like some of the ugly produce that they might normally throw away. I encourage them to donate those food to a Feeding America. That’s where some of the money donations might be helpful is getting that fresh fruits and vegetable out to the food pantry.
Melanie: Thank you so much. It’s great information. You’re listening to Eat Right Radio with our good friends from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Thanks so much for listening. This is Melanie Cole. You can go to eatright.org for more information. Stay well.