Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
Both of my daughters’ schools have held holiday food drives lately, and it makes my children and me feel good to walk through the aisles of the supermarket and pick out canned goods for families who need them. (Our go-to donations: big jars of peanut butter, 4-packs of tuna, canned soup and chili.) I also appreciate the opportunity to remind my children that there are kids right in our own town who may not have enough to eat.
But I’ve learned recently that I could be selecting much more nutritious picks. I fully admit that I didn’t equate “food bank” with “healthy food.” And I had no idea that the organization SuperFood Drive exists. Its goal: to transform every food drive into an opportunity to collect healthy, nourishing food for those in need, helping reduce the rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and more–all of which are too high among the impoverished families who often rely on food banks. I cringed when I read on SuperFood Drive’s site: “It is unjust to ‘help’ people in need with provisions that promote disease instead of prevent it.”
The site has plenty of important resources, including how to host a healthy food drive. It also offers ways to donate healthy food online. What I found most helpful is the list of healthy foods I should shop for from now on. This is what’ll be in my cart for the next food drive:
- Steel-cut or rolled oats (low in calories, high in fiber and protein)
- Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds (packed with protein and fiber)
- Black beans (a low-fat source of protein)
- Low-sodium canned tomatoes (more beneficial than fresh!)
- Canned pumpkin (it’s high in fiber and bursting with nutrients)
Check out a complete list here.
Photo: Food donations box isolated on white background via Shutterstock.
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Friday, November 1st, 2013
Today, just in time for the upcoming holidays, millions of parents are going to find themselves having to find a way to feed their kids on less than the little they already had. You’ve probably read the news yourself: Substantial cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps, go into effect today.
Whatever impression you may have of food stamps and those who use them, think about this statistic: One in seven Americans currently uses food stamps. Most of those affected are seniors, people with disabilities—and families with children. As Parents reported in our story “The Hunger Crisis,” one in four American kids live in households that are “food insecure,” meaning on any given day, there’s uncertainty that there will be enough food to go around.
Critics of food stamps are quick to point out that they can be used to buy “fancy” food items. Take this quote that went viral on Facebook:
Food stamps cover lobster, filet mignon, ribeye, caviar, and other luxury foods for free….
Meanwhile, the middle class is suffering.
“Share” this if you think that is wrong.
Here’s a reality check: The average SNAP recipient gets $4.50 in benefits per day. I don’t know about where you live, but $4.50 a day doesn’t buy a lot of caviar near me. And if I’m working with a $4.50 budget per child, chances are I’m not buying “luxury foods,” or lattes at Starbucks. The truth is millions of families are already making very difficult compromises to barely get by, even before today’s cuts, or we wouldn’t be reading headlines like this one: “Parents Who Can’t Afford Diapers Are Reusing Dirty Ones.” (If you were wondering, food stamps don’t cover those.)
Who uses food stamps? My family did. When I was a child, my schoolteacher father got sick, lost his job, and our family’s financial situation quickly nosedived. So for awhile, my mother pulled food stamps out of her wallet at the supermarket checkout line, a necessary and helpful solution, one that nonetheless brought her great shame. The few times I’ve mentioned my childhood experience with food stamps, I’ve always learned about someone else I personally know who also relied on food stamps at one time or another. The friend getting through the financial fallout from her divorce. The professional couple who unexpectedly found themselves out of work for months. Food stamps are a part of more lives than many might think. (And I like to believe that many who hit the “share” button on posts like the viral message above don’t have all the facts, rather than that they’re completely lacking compassion. After all, someone on their own friends list has probably used food stamps, too.) Statistics show that roughly half of all U.S. children go on food stamps sometime during their childhood, and half of all adults are on them sometime between the ages of 18 and 65.
Food stamps are a good program. They’ve helped keep millions of Americans from hunger. So before focusing on abuses of the system, let’s keep in mind the people who will be fighting even harder to eat, and commend those—anyone—who does something to make a difference, rather than criticize people who are already feeling shaky and vulnerable. Last year, I attended a holiday party where in lieu of gifts, every guest brought a donation to the local food pantry, for instance.
Such gestures may make only a minor dent in struggling people’s lives. But a little kindness, at least, seems like a good place to start.
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Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013
Around the world, Muslims are fasting for the month of Ramadan, a particularly grueling time of year for a month of full-day fasts. Last Tuesday, observant Jews–myself included–observed a 25-hour fast to commemorate the tragedies of Jewish history. It was tiring and challenging, and as night fell and the fast ended, I was incredibly grateful for the blessings of a cold glass of water and a toasted bagel. The simple things.
Or not so simple.
In India, food was taking center stage in a tragedy that shatters the heart with every detail that emerges. At least 22 children died in the state of Bihar after eating a school lunch last Tuesday that was reportedly laced with pesticide. Twenty five others remain in the hospital–24 students, plus the cook, who tasted the food after children complained about it. The headmistress of the school fled and hasn’t been found yet, while some of the grieving parents buried their children on the school grounds in protest. A week later, the scope and depth of this tragedy still haunts me.
For many of the students, school was their only hot lunch of the day, and India’s countrywide school-lunch program has successfully boosted school attendance rates and children’s nutrition and health. Police are investigating how the pesticide ended up in those lunches. Heartbreak upon heartbreak.
I don’t have any words of deep wisdom here, nor can I offer an insightful analysis to pull this all together. These children were betrayed again and again, when all they wanted was lunch and an education–normalcy, the simple things. Right now, I just grieve, for these children and their families. For the astounding number of children go hungry every day, in our own country and around the world–many of whom rely on school lunches for whatever nutrition they can get.
I feel helpless in the face of such tragedy and grief. I try to teach my children to help those in need and be grateful for what we have, for every sip of water and every bite of food. I won’t be telling them about the news from India. It’s too much for even an adult to bear.
Image: Map of India via Shutterstock.
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