Tag Archives: Hunger

International Year of Pulses — It’s about beans, not beats!

Oats, peas, beans and barley grow – still, for 2016 it’s all about peas and beans……

In 2016, the International Year of Pulses (http://www.fao.org/pulses-2016/en/) the humble dried bean and pea are contrasted with oats and barley, touted as key elements in the challenge to address global poverty. Use of the term “pulses” presents a linguistic shift for some (like me) to redefine the word to cover all varieties of dried beans including “kidney beans, lima beans, butter beans, broad beans, chickpeas, cow peas, black-eyed peas and pigeon peas.” More important, we will learn to appreciate a the role of pulses in regional and national dishes with which we have become familiar – “from falafel to dahl to chili and baked beans.”

The 68th United Nations General Assembly declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is facilitating implementation of the Year in collaboration with national governments, NGO’s and others – it is worth noting that among the facilitators there is no mention of food-related corporations or of the media.

The intent of the UN initiative is to shed light on pulses as a ubiquitous and low-cost food that offers promise in the fight to feed a world ravaged by hunger, malnutrition, food insecurity, and the pervasive challenges of food distribution and access. Much of the UN focus is understandably on third world countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Thus it remains to this nation – and perhaps this state – to adopt a concerted effort to respect, learn, develop and deploy strategies that harness the power of pulses to combat the crisis of global hunger — and of hunger in our midst.

The FAO offers a definition of terms aimed at mere mortals:

Pulses are annual leguminous crops yielding between one and 12 grains or seeds of variable size, shape and colour within a pod, used for both food and feed.  The term “pulses” is limited to crops harvested solely for dry grain, thereby excluding crops harvested green for food, which are classified as vegetable crops, as well as those crops used mainly for oil extraction and leguminous crops that are used exclusively for sowing purposes (based on the definition of “pulses and derived products” of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).

Pulse crops such as lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas are a critical part of the general food basket.  Pulses are a vital source of plant-based proteins and amino acids for people around the globe and should be eaten as part of a healthy diet to address obesity, as well as to prevent and help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary conditions and cancer; they are also an important source of plant-based protein for animals.

In addition, and of particular interest to gardeners and environmentalists, pulses have special nitrogen-fixing properties that can contribute to increasing soil fertility and have a positive impact on the environment.

Speaking about the nutritional value of pulses, the FAO chief said that dried beans and peas (broadly defined) have double the proteins found in wheat and triple the amount found in rice. They are also rich in micronutrients, amino acids and b-vitamins. Because they can yield two to three times higher prices than cereals and their processing provides additional economic opportunities, pulses offer a viable food source with the capacity to lift farmers, especially women farmers, out of rural poverty.

Bottom line, the focus on the simple food source confers overdue recognition and respect on pulses as the indispensable, under-valued nutritional basics that have sustained generations from the beginning of time.

According to optimistic – or, one might hope, prescient – planners at the UN, “the Year will create a unique opportunity to encourage connections throughout the food chain that would better utilize pulse-based proteins, further global production of pulses, better utilize crop rotations and address the challenges in the trade of pulses.”

Though it remains to be seen how that will play out, in particular because of the unfamiliar use of the term, it’s an intriguing learning opportunity for all of us.

In a state replete with agricultural research institutions, an ag-based economy, a plethora of FFA’s, ardent environmentalists, committed gardeners, scholars probing the history of agriculture, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, combined with a commitment to global and local hunger, we should be able to mount an aggressive Year of Pulses initiative, a chance to wrap our heads around a challenge in our midst and in our world

Pope Francis Speaks Out on the Right to Food Access

Over the past couple of years I’ve tried to focus on the seminal issue of the human right to access to food, an issue so complex, political and gnarled that I’ve given up the quest to plumb the depths – until Pope Francis brought it up.   Truth to tell, the Pontiff didn’t conjure it up out of the rarified atmosphere of the Vatican – the challenge to unravel the issue has fostered countless efforts, stymied many and challenged human rights activists for a couple of centuries.

The Pope embraced the challenge of hunger last week in a very public declaration at the Second International Conference on Nutrition meeting in his adopted hometown. Representatives of some 170 nations were gathered in Rome under the aegis of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, just one of numerous agencies struggling with the issue of the right to food on a global level.

One of the strongest political statements of the right to food appears in Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognizes the right to food as part of the right to an adequate standard of living:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Since that declaration the right to access to food has been the primary or sole focus of countless global and national studies, conferences, agreements, strategic plans, collaborative efforts and think tanks. The extensive Wikipedia entry on Right to Food offers a useful summary of the history of efforts to define and deal with the complexities of the challenge. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_food

Still, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that some 800 million people are hungry and 2 billion are affected by “micronutrient deficiencies” (e.g. not enough vitamins or minerals). Add in obesity, and some form of malnutrition affects half of the world population.

In this challenging environment the Pope faced the issue head-on: “Efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition are facing obstruction due to the priority of the markets, or preeminence of profits that have reduced food to a commodity subject to speculation, including financial speculation.”

Giving voice to what is common opinion among those for whom the right to access to food has been a priority for decades, Pope Francis spoke of sustainable food systems, improving food distribution and aggressive trade policies on food. The right to food, he averred, can be guaranteed only if we collaborate to focus priorities and policy on “helping the hungry.” “Interest in the production and availability of foodstuffs, climate change, and agricultural trade must certainly inspire rules and technical means, but the primary inspiration must the self-same person, those who do not have adequate access to food.”

Francis made explicit the distinction between availability and accessibility (a distinction long familiar to librarians and information providers….) Just because it’s out there somewhere doesn’t mean it’s accessible! Given that 1) food production is adequate, and 2) people have a right to food, the questions remain: Why is hunger a global, national, local crisis? Why is food available but not accessible?

On the topic of the misinformation, the Pope opined that, in the case of food access, “there are very few themes that are as susceptible to being manipulated by data, by statistics, by the requirements of national security, by corruption, or by the plaintive complaints of economic crisis.”

Clearly the Pope thinks and speaks in a global context. Still his words have local application. Most important, he sets a high standard for systemic thinking about a politically charged, complicated issue. Out of charity we tend to deal with the short-range reality that our neighbors are hungry, that children, the elderly, homebound, jobless and under-employed people need immediate assistance. Still, the challenge remains to tackle hunger with the vigor demanded by a complex issue rife with political, economic, technological and social perspectives that lend themselves to obfuscation, individual and institutional avarice.

In his much-heralded words to conference attendees Pope Francis echoes those of his host, Jacques Diof, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization:  “Hunger is not an issue of charity. It is an issue of justice.”

 

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.

 

 

Walking – and Thinking – about how to end hunger

 

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking

Friedrich Nietzsche

Which is why it seems to me that the Walk to End Hunger offers a chance to conceive some truly great thoughts about hunger – such as What’s wrong with a society that endures a system that tolerates hunger – that allows the albatross of hunger to hang around the neck of the body politic?

In this community thousands of good people, many of them volunteers, are working without stint to manage the crisis, to provide healthy food in a supportive environment, to reach out to seniors, families, children, homebound, immigrants, friends, families and neighbors in need. Corporations, grocers, people of faith, hobby farmers, coops, youth groups, community gardeners and others donate food and raise funds in creative and generous efforts to stem the tide of hunger.

And together we Walk to End Hunger on Thanksgiving Day. Hundreds of hardy walkers will gather near dawn at the Mall of America where the only commercial enterprise doing business will be the coffee shops that offer trekkers a welcome break along the way. I’ll be there walking for Neighbors, Inc. – and I’ll be trying to think “truly great thoughts” about whether this is the only option. I’ll remember a time not long ago when Senators Bob Dole and George McGovern put partisanship aside for the shared purpose of crafting ways to feed the most vulnerable members of our global community.

Truth to tell, the Walk is fun — good people, great kids, healthy exercise, a worthy cause. Soon the walkers go home to a hearty Thanksgiving feast, the exhibits are toted off, the politicians move on, the dust settles and the shoppers descend. Soon the proceeds will be totaled and credited to sponsoring nonprofits.

The Walk to End Hunger matters because people do care and they do make the effort to engage. My hope is that The Walk spurs some “truly great thoughts” about the prevailing conditions that make this display of support necessary. What would happen if each of us took time to think and share some “truly great thoughts” about the issues, the barriers, the possibilities and the countless good reasons we should not only walk but think and talk and act as a society to end hunger in this community, the nation and the world.

Please join me in the Walk or support me with a donation.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Poverty in the suburbs – Hunger is a painful symptom

Americans moved to the suburbs after World War II to escape the problem of poverty in cities.  Running away is no longer an option – the cities ‘ traditional woes are now in the suburbs, too.  We have to recognize that the face of American poverty is an increasingly suburban one, and act accordingly.

The statistics came out last week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  One in ten Minnesota homes is “food insecure” – translated this means that kids are going to school hungry, parents are missing meals so their kids can eat, old Minnesotans are giving up meals to pay their medical bills, food shelves are struggling to meet demands.

This is Hunger Awareness Month, a time look beyond the data.   As members of the faith community, nonprofits, schools and donors struggle to meet the challenge to cope with the results, A May 2013 Brookings Center study makes a strong case tor the imperative to frame the issue in a much broader and more contemporary context – to take an open and honest assessment of today’s map of poverty and to shape policies and procedures appropriate to the reality.

Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube, fellows in Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program, are the principal authors of a major report entitled Confronting Suburban Poverty in America. (Brookings Institution Press, 2013)   The authors reviewed fifty years of data, analyzed the trends, and ultimately concluded:

As poverty becomes increasingly regional in its scope and reach, it challenges conventional approaches that the nation has taken when dealing with poverty in place.  Many of those approaches were shaped when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a national War on Poverty in 1964.  At that time, poor Americans were most likely to live in inner-city neighborhoods or sparsely populated rural areas.  Fifty years later, public perception still largely casts poverty as an urban or rural phenomenon.

Beginning in this century poverty in the suburbs began to accelerate at a fast rate than poverty in the cities.  As of 2011 suburban poor outnumbered urban poor by three million;  one in three poor Americans lives in the suburbs.

The authors note that there are advantages for poor people living in the suburbs – better schools, safe neighborhoods, greater diversity, depending on job availability,  shorter commutes.

Still, many other factors have driven poor people to relocate; among these are Section 8 housing vouchers, demolition of distressed public housing, the Fair Housing Act “were all part of a benign effort to de-concentrate poverty and open suburbia to low-income households, especially members of minority groups, who had been excluded for generations.

The problem is that the suburbs have not been able to keep up.  The authors cite a number of reasons that are inherent in the federal programs themselves.  .  Some federal programs, e.g. Head Start and Community Health Centers and Block Grants were targeted to urban areas.

Targeted programs are not the only issue, however.  Poverty in the suburbs is more diffuse, there may not be enough institutions or expertise to help the poor and, in some cases, “local leaders sometimes resist such programs, fearing they will only attract more poor residents.”

Furthermore, aid is fragmented among some eighty federal programs and at least ten federal agencies.  These programs are administered at the local level by a host of different agencies.  Programs cross jurisdictions and populations so that agencies responsible for delivery are required to deal with multiple bureaucracies, reporting procedures and regulations.   IT goes without saying that needy families, the elderly, those for whom language is a barrier find the systems confusing at best.

Bottom line, the authors conclude:  We need to transform social policy for the age of suburban poverty.  We should equip regions with aid that cuts across jurisdictional lies, help them use limited resources more efficiently, and reinvent the system from the ground up.

Poverty is pervasive and pernicious; food insecurity is just one observable  indicator.  Efforts to address hunger are local, visible, measurable and understandable.  Food Awareness Month offers a chance to focus on just one measure, a sort of swallow in the cave way to understand the reality and to reframe social policy in the light of 2013 reality.

 

 

 

 

People Are Talking — About Hunger in a Land of Plenty

The first essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind.  Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world.”  Norman Borlaug

Today’s convergence of factors lead to sobering thoughts – of hungry children plodding through the snow with no breakfast, of the calls for acts of charity at this penitential season, and of concern to meet  goal for Minnesota FoodShare Month, highlighted by a call to action issued by Governor Dayton and a project of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches.

Minnesotans may have read or heard that food shelves throughout the state are more than ever in need of both financial and food support.  Barrels are everywhere through Minnesota communities to make it easy for generous folk to drop off non-perishable goods.  Food and financial drives are going full speed in houses of worship, the workplace, nonprofits and the community at large.

The good news is that people are taking a closer look at why we have persistent hunger in our communities – why children go to bed hungry, why seniors have to decide between meds and food, why, in spite of the adage, waste and want exist side by side.  Conversations are going beyond emergency needs to the deeper questions such as What has led us from crisis to benign acceptance of a societal travesty? How do we in a farm state balance production and consumption?  Why do higher employment rates and food shelf statistics not compute?  Is the right to food a human right?

The media are contributing to the public discourse in positive ways.  A Place at the Table, is drawing audiences and media coverage.  Anna Lappe’s presentation, sponsored by Minnesota FoodShare and the Westminster Town Hall Forum, drew a SRO audience and has been requested by a barrage of MPR listeners.  Local media have given time to features on hunger-related issues.  The Daily Planet recently ran the Minnesota FoodShare video for their broad audience.  And people of faith are heeding the words of their leaders in places of worship of every denomination, including a local adoption of  Mazon, a nation-wide Jewish response to hunger.

Meanwhile, at the State Capitol, legislators will have a chance to listen to the public and take action on the immediate needs.  Though the imperative to fill the shelves with more and better food is a priority, it’s time to take a longer view of the underlying issues…. If not now, when?

A Place at the Table: A Documentary that Provides Food for Thought

It’s Saturday morning, time to listen to The Weekend Edition and to think about what’s happening in the world.  This week there’s talk about the Oscars, of course, about Chuck Hagel’s confirmation, baseball, sequestration and then, a feature that I hope everyone caught.  It’s a piece about the forthcoming documentary, A Place at the Table, set to open in theaters around the nation on March 1.  (I have tried with no avail to track down local options)    Please take a few minutes to listen to the interview with the producers, the experts, and, most of all, the voices of real people struggle with  “food insecurity.”

Take time, too, to read the early comments to the brief interview – enlightening…..

In past posts I’ve written about the big picture of hunger – the right to food as a human right, the need to rethink agricultural policy and U.S. investments in research, hunger as an education issue and the need to move from stopgap to holistic policy to cope with what is, after all, a solvable human condition.

A Place at the Table presents the “why” of the dilemma.  It tells the real-life stories of children and families trapped in the poverty cycle, mainstream Americans trying to earn a living and to learn.  These are good hard-working people who are the collateral damage of a broken system.

The documentary includes the voices of and views of experts, including a sociologist, a nutrition policy leaders and an author, along with the experiences of a pastor, teachers and activists. Food insecurity is a huge problem that has an impact on everyone because the social, economic, economic and education implications are profound throughout society.

As most Minnesotans know by now, March is Minnesota FoodShare Month.  We work together to support the immediate needs of people who depend on the agencies, from major state institutions to local places of worship.  We share food and funds as well as awareness campaigns focus on the tragic fact that families in our community are going hungry through no fault of their own – and that we can help.

We also need to face the fact that we as a nation have within our purview the resources to solve this problem.  It’s complicated.  It will take collaboration among players with adversarial agendas.  It will take time.  It will mean that we will have to reexamine our basic belief in the right to food.  It will mean deconstructing a complex system that meets the voracious wants of some at the expense of the basic needs of others.  It may require retooling processing, shifting the research agenda, thinking in global as well as local terms.

A Place at the Table may possibly get the conversation started, especially if people of good will take time to listen to the preview and see the film.  Though its first run is in the theaters, the film will  no doubt travel a mix of digital routes in short order.

 

School Breakfast – We Know It’s Important – How about EXCITING!

When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”
A.A. Milne

As usual, Pooh has it right.  His positive mental attitude about breakfast could be the theme of National School Breakfast Month, March 4-8, 2013.I

Still, for some families the answer to the “What’s for breakfast?” question is wrenching – No cereal, no peanut butter, no fresh fruit because payday isn’t till Friday. And in other homes harried parents face the drudgery of serving frozen waffles to sleepy foot-draggers is a challenge.

Let’s face it, breakfast generally gets short shrift.  For many of us breakfast is a meal-in-a-minute routine about as perfunctory as brushing one’s teeth.  No charm, no human interaction, as the cares of the day invade, the minutiae of catching the bus or remembering the smart phone. We’d much prefer to get to the job or the pre-dawn meeting or to meet the elder set at the coffee shop to discuss the world situation.

The research is incontrovertible on the topic – breakfast is a good thing for kids.  Young learners can stay awake, learn faster, keep up on the playground, develop healthy habits, improve behavior in the classroom, and make friends over a good breakfast.  Teachers know that breakfast works.  In a 2012 study entitled “Hunger in Our Schools: Share Our Strength’s Teachers Report” 1000 public school teachers made it clear.  Nine out of ten teachers say breakfast is very important for academic achievement.  Teachers credit breakfast for increased concentration (95%), better academic performance (89%), and better behavior in the classroom (73%).  Teachers also say that, thanks to breakfast served at school, students are less likely to be tardy or absent (56%).

The good news is that schools, especially school nutritionists, are working hard to re-imagine how school breakfast might happen.  The US Department of Agriculture has published a robust paper outlining “Strategies for School Breakfast Program Expansion”, adapted from a University of Wisconsin Extension Family Living Program.  The study considers a host of possibilities, some of which are admittedly controversial.

  • Breakfast in the Classroom, a program through which students start or break in the morning for breakfast.
  • Grab ‘n’ go breakfast where the kids pick up an old-fashioned lunchbag chock full of good breakfast
  • Mobile breakfast carts that visit the classroom,
  • and many more options for serving breakfast to hungry young scholars.

Some of the ideas have more to do with the management of school breakfast programs.  Teachers have weighed in on some of these options as well:

  • Allowing schools to serve breakfast at no charge to any students who want it that day, regardless of their household income.  The school claims the federal reimbursement based on the eligibility category for that student.  The option requires no additional staffing and eliminates the stigma that can be associated with free meals at school by making breakfast free for all kids. (58%)
  • Reducing red tape that limits participation (61%)
  • Most important, 75% of the teachers agree is to increase communication with parents about what school meals are available.  Statistics show that of the more than 22 million students who ate a free or reduced price lunch in 2011, fewer than half also ate breakfast at school.

Clearly, more organizations and individuals that care about children’s health and learning need to be involved in promoting and explaining the importance of breakfast and the availability of school breakfast options.  Child care providers, grandparents, communities of faith, the medical profession, librarians, the media, the community at large need to know about what’s possible and to make sure that parents sending their kids off to school know their rights.  It’s actually a pretty easy sell – it’s just too big a job to be shouldered by a few.  The website for the National School Breakfast Week  and the Minnesota School Nutrition Association are packed with ideas for campaigns, posters, contests and promotion.

Like Pooh, think about how to make breakfast the most exciting part of t he day!

 

Information – The Key Ingredient to Solving the Problem of Hunger in America

 

The buffalo meat aphorism applies – the more you chew, the bigger it gets.

Statistics abound.  We know there are people in every community who are hungry.  We think of children going to bed hungry, or unable to learn because they have had no breakfast, or not growing strong bodies not because of genetics but because of poor tutrition.  We think of elderly persons who have to choose between food and meds, or who have no transportation to get to the grocery story or the food shelf.  We think of parents working two and three shifts to fee their families.

And then we think about what we can do.  And many of us do lots.  We support the local food shelf with food and funds.  We volunteer for Meals-on-Wheels and the food shelf.  We support the food drive, the Walk to End Hunger, and we’re working to get ready for FoodShare month coming in March.

Still, we know in our hearts that hunger is one social issue that can be solved.  We just do not know how to frame, much less solve, the issue.  It’s the buffalo meat conundrum.  In my humble opinion, it’s not a lack of political will, but of complexity, unbridled political forces, and the difficulty of identifying the thread of domestic hunger midst the tangle of forces within which it is trapped.

President Obama put a name on some of the entanglements:

Speaking of income disparities, he said: “For me the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.”

He spoke, too, of the limits of the social safety networks: “We remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.  We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few.  We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss or a sudden illness or a home swept away in a terrible storm.”

He spoke of living wages, “We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work, when the wages of honest labor will liberate families from the brink of hardship.” 

The President sets a tone that is emphatic and bold.  It’s up to an informed public, advocacy groups and elected officials to break that down into doable programs.

At the top of my list, as usual, is the imperative of transparency.   For starts, the main reason we don’t understand the symbiotic relationship between the Farm Bill and hungry Americans is that we can’t fathom the depths of the legalese.

If we know more about the use of public funds we will better understand the many tools we have to cope with hunger.  Of course we need to take care of people in need today, but we should not allow ourselves to stop digging deeper into knowing more – not just how many people are hungry, but why?

What is our food and nutrition research agenda?  Who is “discovering the facts?”

Who pays for the research?

Who is speaking to Congress? To the State Legislature?

How much of our food dollar goes for advertising? Lobbying?

Why are the elderly going hungry – is it shame, transportation, economics or is it the allocation of SNAP funds?

To what extent is hunger a “women’s issue?

To what extent are the issues of immigration and hunger related?

How are issues of hunger and the environment related?

Where do food co-ops fit in?

What are “competitive foods” and who has a stake in the regulation?

Who decides the ever-changing food pyramid?

Bottom line, hunger in this nation of plenty is one of the most complex issues on our endless banquet of solvable problems.  Thinking systemically about hunger is a powerful mental exercise that requires access to information that is current, accurate, impartial and understandable.  The conversation about hunger in America must reflect the perspectives of many forces – a challenge in a nation divided.

Still, it is only informed systemic thinking, putting hunger and the right to food in context, that we as a nation or a community will solve what is, in the end, a solvable problem.