Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Doing our part.....

It is astounding to imagine. We hear so much of the obesity crisis in the US -- that we're killing ourselves by the spoonful or forkful, that our heavily processed food is leading to diseases which should be easily preventable by eating correctly, that we're raising the first generation that may not outlive its parents......

And there is yet a hunger issue in this country. Seventeen percent -- one in six -- does not have enough access to food to sustain a healthy life. To see this and other staggering statistics on food and poverty, just visit Feeding America's website. I knew many of these statistics, and it still broke my heart. 33.5 million adults, 16.7 million children. Many receive benefits, but it may not be enough.

My last semester in college was the closest I came to experiencing even a fraction of this. I was 21, almost 22, taking only 2 classes, and working the rest of the time, and there was never, ever enough money to go around. Between the utilities, trying to pay rent, gas to go to class and/or work, and trying to buy groceries....... never enough. The Velveeta Shells & Cheese that I had enjoyed while living in the dorm very quickly gave way to six-for-a-dollar "mac n cheeze" in the generic black-and-white box with that nuclear-meltdown-orange powder. I bought a pound of boneless/skinless chicken breasts once a month; each week, I would cook one breast and chop it up incredibly finely and use it in rice or macaroni to create a more rounded meal. Those were the smallest portions I had ever eaten in my adult life until I joined Weight Watchers. That chicken and rice was put together into an 8x8 Pyrex dish, baked together, and then refrigerated and cut into 6 blocks -- four days of lunch and two dinners. On the rare occasions that I had a little extra money for going out for dinner, it was either Taco Bell and the 49c crunchy taco or -- MAJOR MEAL -- a McDonald's value meal (back in the pre-supersize days ... for the meal, anyway). When the semester was over and I moved home and started my career, I wasn't making a lot -- certainly more than I'd made working minimum wage in college, but still...... The lessons on economizing remained, as did my penchant for the Value Meals. 

I say all this to say that I get it when people say it's more expensive to eat healthy, especially when feeding kids. You'd love to give each kid an apple to take with them to school each day, but that's 15 apples for three kids..... maybe $8 to get that many apples. Or you can buy a couple of boxes of fruit flavored snacks and have enough to last all week for half the price. Forget buying chicken breasts to feed us all: a bag of nuggets will go much farther. And you can really forget the fish unless you're talking Mrs. Paul. Fresh veggies? If you can get a kid to eat them, good luck.... some might touch canned corn or green beans, but most run in the other direction.

Last year, celebrity chef Mario Batali undertook a challenge to feed his family of four on the same amount that a family of four receives from SNAP (what I grew up hearing as "food stamps"). The first thing he noticed? Organic produce or anything else was absolutely out of the question. The next thing he noticed? his kids lunches suddenly became PB&J on white bread. Even though he *could* have made nutritious bread at home, most families on SNAP would not have been able to do so. And there was so much more..... it works out to $31/person per week ..... or at 3 meals a day (no snacks!): $1.48/meal. Good luck.

There's also another hunger-related issue: simply not being close to foods which will sustain a healthy life. I've always been lucky to live in town -- I've never lived anywhere that food of some sort was not easily accessible. But even in urban areas, you can have "food deserts" though they are far more prevalent in rural areas...... food deserts are those places where food is sold, but it's mostly highly processed, no selection of vegetables, fresh fruits, lean meats, or healthy dairy. Think of a convenience store: mostly chips, candy, whole milk, butter, cold cuts in the refrigerated section, and if there's a hot food section, it's either hot dogs or fried foods and overseasoned "veggies" (green beans, corn, pintos, macaroni, and everyone's favorite, banana pudding. Wish I were joking). And it's there because the nearest town is 4 miles away and some of the older people walk to this store because they have no car. But you haven't seen Miss Minnie in for days. Guess that diabetes is making it harder for her to walk.....

And every summer we hear stories of kids who depend on free or reduced lunches and breakfasts in the school year as sometimes their main meal ..... and who in the summer or on weekends are facing a real hunger crisis. We hear of secret backpack missions where teachers or charities provide meals that kids can take home with them, disguised in backpacks so that it looks like they're just taking books.

I'm proud to be part of an organization that is working in its own way to bring these issues to light as they work to teach people how to live healthier lives within their own lifestyles and budgets. And each fall, Weight Watchers has promoted a campaign called "Lose For Good" .... in the last few years, we have partnered with Share Our Strength/"No Kid Hungry" for hunger relief in the US, and with Action Against Hunger (ACF-International) to bring attention to the similar plight around the world, where food supplies are far less abundant than in the US. 

You can also learn more about the food crisis in America by visiting Feeding America.

At the very least, it doesn't hurt to be mindful of everyone who doesn't have enough food, worries about how to feed a family on a fixed income, or who would like to eat healthier but have limited access to such foods...... and especially so for the next generation. Let's do what we can to support our neighbors in need.

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