Tag Archives: Hunger in Minnesota

The politics of hunger midst plenty

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed,                             those who are cold and not clothed. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Eisenhower puts to rest any misperceptions of who cares about “combatting” hunger in our neighborhoods, the nation or the world. For the General the choice is real – and it is stark.

It’s a choice that daily faces our Deciders – from elected officials coping with the federal budget, to corporate leaders faced with less transparent choices, to every ordinary hard-working Minnesotan who is able to take time Thanksgiving morning to join the Walk to End Hunger.

On the one hand, the Walk garners much-needed financial resources so that sponsoring organizations can stock their food shelves. At the same time, the reality of thousands of people who care enough walk delivers a powerful message to the Deciders about the public’s reluctance to condone “a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

There is more than ever interest these days on food – safe food, fresh food, organic food, food that is healthy, plentiful, nutritious, convenient, affordable, unique, appetizing, distinctive, delectable, epicurean….On Thanksgiving we expect all this and traditional.

Thinking about food is good and healthy – and thinking about good and healthy food must inevitably lead us to thinking about how to deal with the realty of hunger. We need to think about the fact that if, as Ike suggests, there is enough food to go around, what are the decisions that leave so many outside the circle of plenty? Who makes those decisions? What are the options? Who/what influences the Deciders? Are we complicit? What ideas have we not explored?

People who care enough to walk understand that this public action is a desperately needed but stopgap solution to a systemic problem. There’s got to be a better way. Maybe if we think and talk together as well as walk together we can come up with long-term sustainable solutions that favor the needs of hungry people over the never-satisfied demand for guns, warships and rockets.

Please support me and Neighbors, Inc. in the Walk to End Hunger here.

 

 

Sharing the Bounty: A Day in the Life of a Food Shelf Manager

Note:  As families and friends gather to enjoy the feasts of this holiday season it is a privilege to know and share the story of one man who spends his long days making sure that everyone in the community shares both the bounty and the love of their neighbors.  ~ ~ ~

Scott Andrews is the energetic manager responsible for providing a warm welcome and wholesome food to the families of northern Dakota County (MN) who depend on Neighbors, Inc.

7:30 AM

The volunteers have already been at Cub Foods and Super Target where they have picked up and now delivered fresh produce, dairy products, fresh and frozen meat products.  This morning the Boy Scouts have dropped off an impressive load of canned goods plus a check they have collected at their weekend food drive.   Scott is psyched for a busy day – it’s the first of the month.

8:00 AM:

Scott is joined by Linda, a volunteer who has kept the food shelf running on an even keel for over thirty years.  Linda’s husband has already been on volunteer duty with the crew at Cub.

8:30 AM

Before the doors open to clients, a second crew of volunteers come on board.  This crew will sort the fresh produce, bag some, cull out the not-so-fresh, and create a tempting display of nutritious veggies for the shoppers.  They will also weigh the canned goods, scratch off the bar codes and check the expiration dates to assure quality control.  They’ll package the fresh meat in family-size amounts, bag the apples and oranges  (if there is fresh fruit today), check the eggs, refrigerate the dairy products, prepared salads and dairy treats, wash the veggies, shelve the fresh baker products and otherwise present the clients with a display of food that is as attractive as it is wholesome.

Meanwhile, clients are arriving at the reception desk upstairs.  Families wait patient as busy staffers check their ID’s and verification documents.  Each family must be recertified once a month.  Hungry children examine the picture books and squirm impatiently as they wait foe the grownups to complete the necessary paperwork.  Moms and dads wait patiently to go through the hoops required to put healthy food on the family table.  Elderly folks help keep an eye on the little ones, thinking fondly of their own grandchildren.

9:00 AM:

The food shelf phones begin to ring- and the action begins.  The families whose credentials are in order after they have met with the intake staff are ready to shop.  Spirits rise ad the customers enter the food shelf, clutching wiggly kids and free-wheeling grocery carts, eager to explore their shopping options.

The little ones are quick to spy the breakfast cereal and peanut butter that are in stock this week.  The moms catch a sidelong glimpse of the shampoo and scented soaps that donors have toted back from their hotel stays.

A volunteer interrupts her work to help a dad whose having a struggle with four-year-old twins.  She finds a picture book to share with the boys so the dad can shop and get to work on time.

10:30 AM:

Scott scans the shelves to make sure the labels are up to date and clearly displayed.  Because Neighbors is an “open choice” food shelf customers, with the help of volunteers, can select their own grocery items – ever dependent on what’s available that day.  Each shelf is meticulously labeled so that the clients know exactly how many of “product X” they may selection a family of “Y” members.  One of Scott’s jobs is to make sure that the labels on the shelves reflect the changes in supply.  Unlike the supermarket manager he has little control over available commodities.

Another team of volunteers arrives.  Scott reassesses the tasks and the team as he lays out the work plan for the next shift.  Over the course of the week Scott will see to it that each of the sixty food shelf volunteers has a job that fits his or her skill and interests.

Today there are donations to be weighed and entered in the data base.  Every ounce of food that comes in is weighted.  Every donor is to be credited and individually thanked.

NOON

Volunteers share a  pleasant break in the day by helping a family celebrate a birthday!  The intake person who follows the family’s record has alerted Scott that the little girl is celebrating her sixth birthday.  A volunteer finds a decorated cake donated by a local grocery store.  Cake and candles in hand, the family heads home to share a special evening.

 ~ ~ ~

And so the day goes – the volunteer shifts manage the steady flow of food and families.  Scott attends a staff meeting, completes the food orders for the near future, checks the shelves, reviews the raft of  health regulations,  struggles with the budget, chats with the  volunteers and welcomes a constant flow of customers with a warm smile.

Food shelf management doesn’t require a degree from the Culinary Institute of America or experience as a sommelier — in fact there is no formally accredited academic program geared to the vocation.  Still, Scott’s skill set bears a strong resemblance to that of a master restaurateur with a flair for customer care and stretching a dollar.  He knows food – the nutritional value, the cost, the availability, the presentation of the product.  Because he has little control over the sources or selection of the food he provides his clients, Scott explores creative techniques to make a pre-selected menu of wholesome food products irresistible.  As a result, he calculates that 87% of the food selections by his food shelf clients are distinctly healthy choices.

Dependent on the generosity of individual and institutional donors, Scott doesn’t enjoy the luxury of daily trips to the farmers’ market – though he welcomes with open arms the produce contributed by vendors at the end of the day’s market.  He  doesn’t order delicacies from the fresh fish purveyor or offer exotic taste treats to his customers.  His greatest asset is a staff of dependable volunteers who work because they care and because their efforts make a difference for members of the community.    It is up to Scott to “keep things interesting.”

Food shelf management is not one of the professional paths a talented youth is likely to pursue.  Scott himself did not exactly choose the career he now loves.  His degree from Northern Michigan University was in Spanish and International Studies.  It was during his stint as a youth ministry volunteer in Costa Rica that he mastered his language skills and learned to enjoy working with volunteers.  He is quick to point out, too, that the time he spent as a laborer in a gasket factory was great preparation for managing the food shelf inventory.

And this rich range of experience forged a flexible attitude perfectly suited to the lively food shelf environment.  Though it may not be a paved road to the pinnacle of the hospitality industry, it works for Scott – and for the Neighbors community that is enriched by the talents and the spirit with which he meets the shifting challenges of each day.

 

 

 

 

 

Food Policy: Making a Place at the Table for Information

In recent months readers of Poking Around have quietly endured my efforts to grasp the anomaly of hunger in a world of plenty – the struggle to connect the dots between world hunger and overproduction, to get a grip on the politics that tolerate hungry families in our community, to comprehend what it means to embrace the right to food as a human right.  Because my predisposition is to view every issue through the prism of open government, my mind wants to create a holistic approach to thinking about hunger in lay terms.   Flailing in an unfamiliar world of ambiguity and complexity, my only tool is a structured approach to gathering and organizing information till it makes sense.

As usual, help is at hand.  Next week’s appearance of Anna Lappe at the Westminster Town Hall Forum offers a start.  The straightforward presentation of issues that she and her mother, Frances Moore Lappe,  offer on their Small Planet Institute website are digestible

The documentary film, A Place at the Table, is also getting the conversation started with some good information and the star quality that grabs the public attention and positions the issues at the micro level.

The information imperative leaves me to the work of scholars and policy analysts at the University of Minnesota Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy who study food issues from the macro level.   An article by Allen Levine, published in the Star Tribune some months ago, gave me a template for understanding “Global hunger – the Minnesota Connection” – not so much the answers but a frame of reference and a sense of relevance.

Levine writes that “as Minnesotans, it’s easy to dismiss global hunger as a problem that doesn’t directly affect us. And with a quarter of our state’s residents now considered obese, not having enough food may seem like the least of our worries.  But we should worry.  Demographers predict that by 2050, the world’s population will reach 9 billion; a high percentage of those people will live in cities or climate- challenged areas where they can’t grow their own food….As their incomes increase, people will expect not just food, but more nutritious (and thus, more expensive) food….Our farmers, our agribusiness, our nonprofits and, yes, our universities, all play key roles in global hunger prevention.…We have no choice: Minnesota must be part of the solution.”

Levine’s cogent proposal has five steps to reaching the goal of sustainably feeding everyone – five steps that I can count on one hand if not fully comprehend.  His construct refines my mental prism for assessing macro steps from a micro perspective – a handy guide for the lay person. The steps are straightforward and plausible:

  1. Support funding of agricultural research and development.
  2. Be vigilant about the effects of climate change, disease and drought.
  3. Accelerate the shift toward second- and third-generation biofuels such as algae and cellulosic material.
  4. Concentrate efforts on small-scale farmers, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, where many of the world’s poorest people reside and where much of the population growth will happen.
  5. Recognize that simply having enough food isn’t enough.

Another paper published just this week by the IATP has helped me get to the next plateau.  Karen Hansen-Kuhn of IATP asks the question “Who’s at the Table? Demanding Answers on Agriculture in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”  Trust me, I would not have paid attention to the TPP discussions until I read this paper where I learned that “The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has the potential to become the biggest regional free-trade agreement (FTA) in history, both because of the size of the economics participating in the negotiations and because it holds open the possibility for other countries to quietly ‘dock in’ to the existing agreement at some point in the future.”  In other words, it’s a Big Deal.  And the U.S. and other countries are just getting on the food wagon.

This is where the transparency issue really comes into play.  Hansen-Kuhn’s work caught my attention when she writes that “it may be that governments, particularly the U.S. government, think they’ve been burned by transparency in the past.”  She goes on to ask the question, “Is it that the trade deals can’t withstand the light of day?”  Trade policy, she writes “should start from such goals as ending global hunger, enhancing rural and urban incomes and employment, and encouraging a transition to climate friendly agriculture.  The burden of proof should be on governments to demonstrate that the commitments being negotiated in the TPP will advance the human rights to food and development.  Given the stakes for agriculture and food systems in all of the countries involved, they should include all sectors in a frank discussion of the trade rules that are needed to ensure that food sovereignty, rural livelihoods and sustainable development take precedence over misguided efforts to expand exports at any cost.”

March is Minnesota FoodShare Month, a time to think about and act on the issue of hunger in our midst..  My hope is that we take time as individuals, organizations, faith groups and families to think about the root causes and the long-term solutions to what is, after all, a solvable problem.

Open access to good information wisely wielded by informed people of conscience can make a difference.  We must make a place at the table for good information, sound judgment, and justice.