by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-assistance

Oct 16 2009

World Food Day

Today is World Food Day and I am in Rome giving the 6th Annual George McGovern World Food Day lecture at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  The lecture is sponsored by the U.S. Embassy.

World Food Day marks the founding of FAO on October 16, 1945.  I love the FAO motto: Fiat Panis (let there be bread).  Its job is to make sure the world gets fed adequately.

FAO has just released its 2009 edition of “The State of Food Insecurity in the World.”  It contains nothing but bad news: hunger is on the rise, the global economic crisis is making things worse, with people in developing countries hit hardest.

The George McGovern lecture is in honor of the former U.S. Senator (Dem-South Dakota) and presidential candidate who has had a distinguished history of anti-hunger efforts as director of the Food for Peace program, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, and U.N. global ambassador on hunger.

I am most familiar with his work as chair of the Senate Select Committee from 1968-1977.   This committee greatly expanded food assistance programs and then developed the first federal guidelines for chronic disease prevention: Dietary Goals for the U.S. In Food Politics, I describe the work of this committee and the way it improved the safety net and transformed nutrition education in the United States.

It is a great honor to be giving a lecture in his honor.

Apr 18 2009

USDA’s food assistance programs: 2008 report

The USDA has just published three new reports about food assistance.  The first is the 2008 annual report on these programs. The USDA spent nearly $61 billion of taxpayers’ money on food and nutrition assistance programs for low-income individuals and families last year, 11% more than in 2007.  Overall, 2008 was the eighth year in a row that the total amount spent on these programs set an all-time record.

WIC (Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children) is among the most important of these programs.  Even though it is not an entitlement and serves only about half of the women and children who are eligible for benefits, its enrollments are astonishing.  About half of all of the infants in the U.S. are enrolled in it as are about one quarter of all children 1 to 4 years old.

Rates of obesity are higher among children enrolled in WIC than they are in comparable populations.  Does this mean that WIC promotes obesity in low-income children?  The evidence suggests not, but Mexican-American participants have especially high rates of obesity.

I’m still trying to get my head around what it means that half of U.S. infants are born into families so poor that they are eligible for WIC benefits.  Even so, these are just the infants whose families get into the program.  What about all the ones who are eligible but can’t get in because all the places are filled?  Most children born in America are poor?  Isn’t something wrong with this picture?  And what can be done about it?

Dec 30 2008

Are food stamps humiliating?

An interesting question came in yesterday (see comment #32) from Susan, who is planning to apply for Food Stamps (now called SNAP – Supplemental Food Assistance Program).  Susan writes: “I am afraid of being humiliated by my employers and/or coworkers when they find out…My main concern is my employers will humiliate me when they discover I applied for FS/Snap. Any responses?”

Mine: SNAP is an entitlement program. If Susan qualifies, she is entitled to the benefits.  Other ideas?  

Nov 8 2008

Can the poor afford to eat healthfully?

USDA’s latest analysis says yes, but only if they make careful food choices, avoid convenience foods, and live in a low-cost area.  At the time of the study, a half gallon of whole milk, for example, cost a lot less in Pittsburgh ($1.45) than it did in Boston ($2.51) .

But can people in low-income areas even find food?  The Rudd Center at Yale has a new report out on how tough it is to find anything other than fast food in low-income areas –  food “deserts” as they have come to be known.

Mar 31 2008

28 million Americans need food stamps?

Today’s New York Times reports that 28 million low-income Americans will be getting Food Stamps this year, the largest number ever.  The headline sums up the reasons: vanishing jobs and higher prices.  The cost to taxpayers: $36 billion, and rising.  The Food Stamp program, worth an average of less than $100 per month per person, is the USDA’s main contribution to the safety net for low-income adults. Its other big food assistance program, WIC (for Women, Infants, and Children), is also under pressure.  WIC is not an entitlement so whatever Congress allots for it is all there is.  Why do I think we will be hearing a lot about the inadequacies of federal food assistance this year?

Dec 7 2007

USDA’s role in food assistance: 10 year update

One of the things that USDA does really, really well is research designed to develop a basis for food assistance policies. Its Economic Research Service is one of the best kept secrets in American government. Here’s what the ERS investigators have done, discovered, and published over the last 10 years. Best of all, you can access their publications from an electronic data base.

Nov 30 2007

Food banks in trouble

Today’s New York Times tells us that food banks are having a hard time meeting the need for their services. Food donations are down, and the number of people needing emergency food is up. I have heard this story over and over in the years since I first started writing about hunger policy. As Janet Poppendieck explains in her timeless book, Sweet Charity, food banks and emergency food–helpful as they are–are bad public policy. The Times article is excellent evidence for the need for better anti-hunger policies in the United States. It’s too bad things have to get so bad before anyone notices.

Oct 21 2007

Food banks going under?

Food banks, according to the New York Times, are encountering “distressing trends.” They are overwhelmed with increasing demands but warehouses are empty. How did this happen? Food banks started as a way to help food companies dispose of excess inventory–almost out of date products, those slightly damaged, or otherwise unusable–and feed people in need of assistance. As inventory control methods have improved, companies have less to give away. And government donations for emergency food assistance also have declined. But wait! Is feeding the poor from these kinds of donations good public policy? Shouldn’t we have a better and more reliable system for making sure than no American goes hungry? Just asking…