“Is Junk Food Really Cheaper” – NY Times Op Ed Article

Mark Bittman is a journalist, food writer and cookbook author with a direct writing style, which I admire.  His book How to Cook Everything is a must for any avid home cook.  He wrote a great article in the NY Times this week entitled “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?”. It’s an interesting read and debunks some of the information about the cost of food.  Having just gone through the hunger challenge I agree with him that healthy food can be made inexpensively, but with effort and planning.  Money alone is not the issue.  He concludes the fight to shift people’s eating from fast food to home cooked meals must be via education, policy and culture.  He brings up some interesting statistics in this article.  I had no idea there are 5 times as many fast food restaurants as grocery stores.  Wow!  And he also write about the fact that the engineering behind hyperprocessed food makes it virtually addictive. “A 2009 study by the Scripps Research Institute indicates that overconsumption of fast food “triggers addiction-like neuroaddictive responses” in the brain, making it harder to trigger the release of dopamine. In other words the more fast food we eat, the more we need to give us pleasure; thus the report suggests that the same mechanisms underlie drug addiction and obesity.”

I think he’s got some good questions and issues and brings into focus how our food and diet needs to change, and everyone needs to take responsibility and action. Individuals, families, local communities, and government need to get educated and involved.

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Hunger Challenge/Meatless Monday – Day 2

Today was easier than yesterday.  I knew it would be.  The kids have more of a routine, are at school and not asking about the unsmiley faces.  There’s been lots of talk and then stress at my house about what’s going to happen during the week in regards to food.  I imagine in a house where food is lacking this would always be on a child’s (and parent’s) mind too.  Wondering if you’ll be provided with enough to fill you up (physically and emotionally).

My husband ended up on a plane today for 24 hours, so we didn’t need to worry about him.  No, it was work related.  At least I don’t think  he wasn’t trying to get out of the challenge.

Breakfast was the usual for me – oatmeal with a sprinkle of granola and a half of banana.  The kids had yogurt with berries and granola and orange juice.

kids' breakfast
my oatmeal

I made my son’s lunch for school.  I had to remind him that we were not only on the challenge but it was Meatless Monday so no turkey sandwich.  He settled for sunflower butter and fruit spread plus carrots, pretzels and grapes.  My daughter and I had lunch at home after I picked her up from kindergarten.  Her wrap was avocado, cheese, and spinach.  Mine was the left-over roasted veggies from dinner with hummus, avocado and spinach.

son's lunch
daughter's wrap
my wrap

Later was snack time between school and Tae Kwon Do.  My daughter suggested smoothies which was perfect.  I plopped in about a cup of frozen pineapple, a banana, about a cup of orange juice and about 3/4 cup yogurt.  We all had some and put some in popsicle molds to freeze and eat tomorrow.

smoothie (and those pretzels again)

 

Dinner was very exciting.  My kids love fondue.  And this is a fun and easy recipe for pizza fondue (see recipe on previous blog here), which works great for Meatless Monday too.  What’s not to like – tomaoes, cheese and spices?  Plus they love to break out my fun orange fondue pot I found on Etsy.  (We serve in it only.  I don;t risk burners on the table with kids).  Although my son questioned why I was opening a can of tomatoes saying “Aren’t canned food bad?”  We usually use Pomi in a carton, but I explained about the price difference and they were still organic.

While my son was at Tae Kwon Do my daughter and I made a trip to Whole Foods for a baguette, some celery, a box of crackers, brown sugar (not my usual, but cheaper version) and a few plums ($8.46).  There were a few discussions when my daughter said “Mommy can we get this?” or “Mom we’re out of this.”  I had to remind her about the challenge, which she mistakenly (or freudian) calls “the hungry challenge”.  She’s only 5, but she’s starting to catch on…if we buy the olive bread for $4 instead of the french for $2, then we can’t buy the crackers.

Since my husband is gone I removed a few big scoops of the tomato puree to reserve for pizza sauce later in the week, and then saved on cheese too.  I also transformed the lentils from left-over Sunday night to a lentil salad (now cold with rosemary salt, vinegar and oil).  I made japanese sweet potato chips for dipping.  We also dipped the baguette, red pepper, broccoli, and celery.  My son doubted that a family on food stamps could make this since it was so good.  I said yes they could, as long as they had the time and energy and liked to cook (no orange fondue pot necessary).

cooking fondue
Dinner

 

 

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My Hunger Challenge 2011

I did my first challenge 4 years ago as one of the founding bloggers, and a few
things have changed in the country since then…

1. The amount has gone up from $4 to $4.72/day/person (this is average for
those in California – it’s less in other
states). Likley to be reduced by Republicans in January.

2. The amount of people on food stamps has increased to 44 million nationwide –
21 million are children. The number of new recipients increases 15% each
year.  I find these numbers staggering!

3. Nationwide one out of every seven Americans relies on food stamps. And
locally one out of every five children, adults and seniors living in Marin and
San Francisco counties struggle with hunger every day.

The challenge is to shop, cook and eat on a food stamp budget ($4.72 per day) and make yourself and others aware of what millions of Americans face every day. By participating in the challenge and sharing with friends and family about your experience (through blogs, facebook, twitter and actual conversations) the awareness and issues are brought to light.

Unfortuantely I wasn’t able to participate in last year’s challenge, as my dad was living with us on hospice care.  I couldn’t imagine having to add that to my caretaking, and spending extra time and energy on worrying about a meal budget.  I am lucky.  People living on food stamps don’t get a “time out” when taking care of a sick loved one.

A few things have changed in my life since that first challenge too…

1. My kids are older (now 5 and 8).  This is a big.  They were too little to know about budgets and hunger.  They were also too little to have many friends over, which I’d have to feed.  And they couldn’t open the refrigerator themselves.

2. We eat a lot less meat in our family.  This actually helps with the budget and we are more versed with beans, legumes, tofu etc.

3.  We’re a bit out of practice.  Lately I’ve been spending more money on groceries as there is a new Whole Foods next to my kids’ school.  This is good because of the convenience, but I know I end up spending more as I run in to pick up last minute items.

Here are the rules I set up this year, which are not unlike those from 2009 (check back):

1. Stay true to my philosophy of creating healthy, fresh foods for my family.  This means buying organic when possible and of course for the dirty dozen.

Kids get theirs.  Like any parent – you’ll sacrifice yours (food, shelter, etc) for your child’s needs.

2. I’m shopping carefully and not at once.  Just like our usual grocery shopping we don’t do it all at one store and we go more than once a week.  I also wanted to have money left after my big shopping to figure in those items I’ll need to buy again before the week’s up such as bread, milk, hummus.  Plus I want to always have fresh produce on hand.  I’m using our usual grocery stores – Trader Joe’s, farmer’s market and Whole Foods.

3. My budget is based on $4.72 x 3 (son, daughter and self), plus 22.03 for my husband.  He’s at work or meeting for lunches and out of my control, so I subtracted 33% from his share.  I hope that seems fair.  Thus our total for the week is $121.15.

4. Using my pantry.  I also don’t spend all my money and set aside about $5. so I can factor in things that you don’t have to buy every week and use a small quantity such as pepper, salt, oil, vinegar, baking soda.  I did have to buy brown sugar as I was out and needed it.  Eventhough I won’t use it all in one week, it is normal to have to buy something for the pantry.

5. Hitting the “food bank” pantry.  It’s great to know the Food Bank is there to help me with such items as potatoes, pasta, beans, etc if I need it during the week.  With so many people relying on the food bank, and funding and budget cuts, I’ll use this as a last resort.  This is really what makes the difference for many families.  It is an incredible operation full of great volunteers.  They even have community gardens and fresh produce available to those in need.

Stay tuned and see how my family does.  Hopefully they won’t give up on the challenge or me by Saturday.

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Mayor Bloomberg vs Soda

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has asked the federal government for permission to bar New York City’s food stamp users from buying sodas and other sugary drinks with their benefits. Mr. Bloomberg cast his proposal as a kind of social and scientific experiment in fighting the national epidemic of obesity and diabetes. He promised that over the two-year life of the project, New York would collect data on whether food stamp users spent their taxpayer-funded benefits on more healthful choices, like fruits and vegetables. (see article here)

Interesting…on one hand it isn’t a bad experiment.  What would happen if those in need and getting food stamps (and many with diseases such as diabetes) were forced to give up something known to be unhealthful and contribute to their dietary issues.  Dr. Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner, agrees with the mayor that this would save lives. Health advocates make it clear that they would like to improve everybody’s diet, not just that of food stamp recipients, through measures like a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.   Thus the data could be relevant.  However there seems to be better ways to get the stats.  How about simply asking for a study group?  Getting people to volunteer, rather than taking away choice from a group that is already in need.  How about educating everyone to make their own responsible decisions?  Also let’s compare the price of soda to the price of milk.  How will the stamp recipient buy as much milk as soda with the same means? What can the mayor or the government do to make the price of healthy foods competitive with unhealthy?

According to the article, President Johnson signed the nationwide food stamp plan into law in 1964 as part of his War on Poverty. It was billed as an effort to expand the diets of needy families, expected to number up to four million, who could buy, say, $10 worth of food stamps for $6 and then use them to buy food in grocery stores. (The program now serves 41.8 million people, a record number, about half of them children; the average benefit is about $100 per person a month.)

Food stamps were designed to enlarge the choices of poor and hungry people, rather than to limit them to the most nutritious items. Alcoholic beverages and tobacco were banned. But otherwise, the stamps were to be used to buy “almost any ordinary food,” according to news accounts at the time.

I see people with means making poor food choices every day.  It’s frustrating as the choices are made not only for themselves as consumers but also for their children, who have little or no say-so.  I’ve seen middle school kids share a bag of potato chips and drinking extra caffienated sodas while walking to school at 8 a.m.  I see preschoolers with lunchboxes full of sugary drink boxes and overprocessed and over packaged foods, without a whole food in sight.  And I see coffeehouse lines out the door of parents and children waiting for high fat, sugary, caffinated drinks.  I guess these individuals and families have the right to choose to poison themselves with poor food, but those on food stamps do not.

Rather than upsetting New Yorkers on food stamps, perhaps Mayor Bloomberg could come see a workshop taught through Leah’s Pantry or visit an inner city school garden with children of all means and races learning about growing food.  New York and other cities could decide to stop spending money on studies and revamping food stamp laws and instead fund more programs to empower people of all ages, with food and nutrition information rather than take away choice and means.

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