Food Stamp Challenge Day 5,6,7 Reflections

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So here we are. I survived the food stamp challenge! I did not get any email updates with themes for the last two days. The theme for day 5 was focusing on the cuts in food stamp benefits that will occur on November 1st. More information can be found at the links below.

http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3899

http://frac.org/federal-foodnutrition-programs/snapfood-stamps/about-the-november-1-snapfood-stamp-benefit-reduction/

I apologize if the posts this past week have been kind of depressing. I think this has been a great way to raise awareness about what is going on around us and we cannot turn a blind eye to it. For those of you who know me well, I am a pretty deep person so I will probably have a lot of depressing future posts with my thoughts or injustices of the world. But I have to be honest, towards the end, I started to dread posting because I felt like there wasn’t anything worth saying. I didn’t have a glamorous life to post about like trying new foods at ethnic restaurants, a cool new happy hour spot, or some great run I did because I did not have the energy or resources for that this week.

I definitely feel that it got slightly easier towards the end of the week, especially the busier I was so I didn’t have to sit at home around a ton of food that I couldn’t eat. But it may just be that my body got used to starving and didn’t feel the hunger cues as much. Which sort of resembles an eating disorder, which is not a good thing..a post for another time. I just want to let you know that my intention with this was not to lose weight. If I ever did this again, I would totally shop around and get more food for my money. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the power of prayer. I started praying a lot when I would feel that the hunger was unbearable.

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Some things I learned this past week:

-I have a lot of people in my life that love me and feed me-physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I know some people living in poverty or on food stamps do not have a support network in place. It sounds so simple, but love is the answer to a lot of the problems in this world. Love really does win. And it’s encouraging to keep in mind that we have victory through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. We’ve already won the battle so we don’t need to get bogged down by struggles of this life… or we can at least have hope in the midst of the struggles.

– I’m lucky that I have friends and family willing to sit down and share a meal with me. I realized how much of my social life revolves around food. It really brings people together and I felt that I was missing out in some ways, eating my rice and beans for dinner instead of what my family made.

-I can survive without caffeine and chocolate.

-However, if I ever do this again, I will budget for one dark chocolate bar to ration out for the week.

-Chicken noodle soup really is magical and not just when you’re sick. After that night of my “charity meal” I woke up feeling like a champion and banged out some squats and push ups before going in to work.

-I’m not a huge fan of meat and I eat like a vegetarian 90% of the time. But I realized I could never be a vegetarian 100%. I am craving a burger right now so bad, which doesn’t happen very often. I’m just so nutrient deprived I think my body needs iron. And I’m not talking a McDonald’s dollar menu burger. I need a grass-fed buffalo or lamb burger.

-There are glimmers of hope in the darkness of despair. Whether it’s an urban garden or finding messages of inspiration on the streets of Baltimore, change is coming.

Hopefully yours,

Cara

P.S. Stay tuned for a big announcement in my next post!

 

Food Stamp Challenge Day 4: Children and Hunger

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Childhood hunger is an issue near and dear to my heart. I always knew I wanted to work with kids in pediatric nutrition one day. But after my community nutrition rotation during my internship last year working in schools in the city and on urban farms, I was convinced my calling was not to a hospital.

I got an email from Maryland Hunger Solutions today with some interesting statistics:

“According to a Gallop Poll analyzed by the Food Research and Action Center, 1 in 5 households with children in Maryland reported having difficulty affording food for their families sometime over the past 12 months. In Maryland – the richest state in the richest country – 43% of children in public schools receive free and reduced-priced meals (according to the state Department of Education). In Baltimore City, that number skyrockets to 84%. ”

Childhood hunger is a vicious cycle that will lead to the detriment of our country if left unchecked. Kids who are hungry do not do well in school, are more likely to get sick and develop health problems later, less likely to graduate high school or go to college, and ultimately will have a job where he or she has trouble putting food on the table to feed their kids. The problem is bigger than just food. This problem not only affects health, but also has far-reaching educational and economic impacts. A society where people are not educated does not progress.

For more information, visit:

http://www.nokidhungry.org/

Thoughts from today:

-I got called into work last-minute so it was nice having a distraction all day. I felt like I was able to think about things other than food (ironic I know working in a restaurant). Luckily, it wasn’t busy enough to require a ton of concentration but steady enough to keep me busy.

-I haven’t really had any headaches today, which is good.

-I had a make-up training for some street outreach I’ll be doing with Safe House of Hope http://safehouseofhope.org/(a post for another time) and I counted that as my “charity meal” for the week. Some challenge participants went to lunch at our daily bread this week to show that food stamps are not enough and most people need to supplement with emergency feeding programs. So I had chicken noodle soup and a cookie at the Yates household tonight. I could not turn down the hospitality and I thought it would be a good example of how food stamps are not enough.

-I had a banana and peanut butter for breakfast and beans and rice for lunch.

– I was able to squeeze in a mini boot camp session with some squats and push ups for my workout today.

Stay tuned for more tomorrow. I am officially at the halfway point 🙂

 

Cara

 

 

Day 3 Food Stamp Challenge Reflections

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So I’m almost halfway there!! I’m already missing dark chocolate and I don’t seem to have the energy to work out today 😦 I’m hoping to rest up and eat up today to have some energy for a strengthening workout tomorrow.

I slept in again and ate an apple, peanut butter and bread when I woke up. I got creative and made a black bean burger for lunch over a salad and ate some more bread. I’m noticing food stamp diets are very carb heavy. I’m probably not the norm since I’m using brown rice and whole wheat flour, but it’s still making me feel like I’m in a constant state of carb coma. I also have the time to make everything from scratch, so lukcily I have not needed to utilize McDonald’s or anything out of a box.

For the black bean burger, I doubled the recipe since I was so hungry but it’s super easy! Just 1/3 cup black beans, 1 tbsp flour, and seasonings of your choice. I used worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, dried minced onion, and a sprinkle of old bay. Mash it all up with a fork, form a patty and saute in a pan with some olive oil- about 4 minutes per side. I got this recipe from KERF.http://www.katheats.com/favorite-foods/homemade-bean-burgers Maybe I can pretend it’s a crabcake.

Dinner was uneventful: rice and some veggies. I babysat tonight which was a challenge to be excited and engaged while interacting with children when all I could think about was food. Today, I started thinking about how the food I bought is possibly going to last me the rest of the week. It’s a worry I’m sure is a scary reality for some people every week of their lives. The theme of the day is food as medicine. I did not realize how quickly I would start to feel the effects from a lack of nutrients. I can only imagine that once I start eating normal again with copious amount of fruits and vegetables, my energy level, mood, and everything will improve. Antioxidants do the body wonders.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates

Cara

Homelessness and Hunger

east baltimoreEach day this week, Maryland Hunger Solutions is sending out an email with a different facet of the problem of hunger to reflect on . The theme yesterday was homelessness. What hit me the most is that a lot of states do not accept food stamps for prepared foods. I believe in Maryland, food stamps can only be used on groceries. As a dietitian, I have always felt strongly in the past about food stamps being used just on healthy foods, fresh produce, and groceries. I used to hate the proposed bills to allow food stamps to be used at fast food restaurants. But today, I realized that there are homeless people on food stamps that do not have a way to cook anything! I did a good bit of work with the homeless population in college, but never really connected it to my profession before. And even people who have housing may have a limited kitchen or may deal with their power getting shut off frequently.

In Baltimore, there are homeless people EVERYWHERE. It’s not like other cities where there’s one part of town where they hang out and people try to avoid it. The sermon at church this week was about Jesus and the woman in Samaria. The fact that Jesus went through that town on his Journey and not around it was pretty radical since the Jews hated the Samaritans. I am always blown away by Jesus’ perfect balance of grace and truth. The order is significant. He first showed the woman grace by offering her living water, and then spoke truth into her life.

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I’m not saying you have to give money to every homeless person that asks you or walk around alone in Sandtown at 2 am, but I just think we need to be aware of the needs around us and have a heart for people made in the image of God. It’s not our job to judge their motives; God just calls us to give. I want to challenge you to find something that works for you. For me, I keep granola bars or snacks in my purse and my car for my commute and I frequently give those out when asked for money. Some people don’t even want money. They just want the dignity of being treated like a human being. So if I don’t have anything on me, the least I can do is look them in the eye and acknowledge them, maybe even smile and ask how they’re doing.

The cardboard signs I see daily are a reminder to me of my own brokenness. We all have struggles in our lives, some are just more obvious than others. There’s a YouTube video called cardboard testimonies I saw back in college and I think it’s a beautiful picture of the realness we need to have about our struggles and how God’s power can allow us to overcome them. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvDDc5RB6FQ

So many sins are hidden and not talked about in the church. Just because I’m not homeless and holding a sign asking for food, does not mean I have my life together. I am just as broken if not more than that person on the street. Realizing that you are that person is key and although it may be different, we can share in the brokenness of humanity. In this economy, you are only one paycheck away from being on the street. Our benches proclaim we are the greatest city in America, but we have people everywhere who are hungry and without housing sleeping on these benches. It angers me to no end. I so badly want change and I pray for revival for this city. It can be an overwhelming problem, but the power of ONE is what motivates me. One granola bar, one smile, one conversation.

A speaker at the hunger conference shared his story once about sleeping in a shelter one night. He was asleep on the floor and the man next to him was not moving. The workers and the shelter were kicking the man trying to see if he was alive because no one wanted to touch him. The speaker said he woke up to this and leaned over to take the man’s pulse and realized he was indeed dead. In that moment, he realized that could be him: alone and dying at 40 years old as an “untouchable.” He also shared how he had type 2 diabetes when he was homeless due to the poor quality of his diet, but was able to reverse it by healthy eating once he got his own place. I love to hear success stories of food as medicine, which just so happened to be the theme of today 🙂

Brokenly yours,

Cara

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” -John 4:24

Day 2 Food Stamp Challenge Reflections

Matzah. Filling. Cost Effective.

Matzah. Filling. Cost Effective.

Today marks day 2 of the food stamp challenge. I know they say the first few days are supposed to be easy, but it’s been tough. Maybe it’s because I’m used to grazing or mindlessly snacking all day. Or maybe I’m actually lacking some key nutrients that I’m used to eating every day. It does not take long for the effects to set in.

Some thoughts:

-Even the first day I was dragging around the time I would usually run to Starbucks for a chai latte or make one at home. I’m not someone who is addicted to caffeine or needs it every day, but it is definitely something I am used to getting for a pick me up when needed.

-The price of my $5 latte is more than a school gets in reimbursement to feed one child for a week.

-l rarely let money stop me from doing things, especially with food. I am a complete foodie, so good food is something I always make room for in my budget.  Sure I complain all the time that I have student loans and I’m in debt, but I really have no clue what it means to be in need.

-I don’t eat out all the time, but it’s not abnormal for me to splurge every so often and drop $30 at happy hour. That makes me sick. That I will spend the same amount of money in one sitting that most people need to eat with for the entire week.  I was making plans with a friend this week and realized how much of my social life revolves around food and going out. Not only can I not meet a friend for dinner, but that $5 glass of wine that’s a great deal during happy hour is not within my means either.

-I’m already having headaches and difficulty concentrating. I noticed it last night when I was at a bible study, but I cannot imagine having to get through an 8 hour school or work day.

Meals:

For dinner last night, I had 1/2 sweet potato, 1/2 head broccoli and rice. This morning for breakfast I had bread with peanut butter, a banana and 1/2 of an apple. Lunch was 1/2 of a can of tuna with some avocado mixed in over a salad with some chickpeas and some bread. Dinner was leftovers from last night. I’m already noticing the lack of variety in my diet. As a kid, I would complain about having the same meal too often. I can’t imagine being a kid that has to eat Ramen every night for dinner 😦

So that’s all folks. Stay tuned for some deeper conversation about homelessness and hunger.

Cara

$30 a week..

Maryland Hunger Solutions

So today marks day one of the Food Stamp Challenge I am participating in with Maryland Hunger Solutions. $30 comes from the data collected on the average amount of money allocated per person per week on food stamps.

I first learned of this challenge at a showing of A Place at the Table. http://www.magpictures.com/aplaceatthetable/. I was really inspired and wanted to try it for myself one week.  When I registered for the hunger conference I saw that Maryland Hunger Solutions was hosting a week coming up so I immediately signed up. I will be blogging my way through the week from October 21st-27th and will be sharing my thoughts here. I kind of cheated already since I went “shopping” in my house. My mom had just gone grocery shopping and I’m not one to waste food, so I looked up prices for everything at safeway.com and chose my rations for the week based on what we had.

My rations for the week

My rations for the week

I ended up wasting a lot of my precious dollars on fresh produce. If I had been shopping in a store I may have gotten some frozen veggies instead. I started planning meals around protein items: beans, canned tuna, and peanut butter. I then chose some whole grains: brown rice and whole wheat flour (I figured this would be versatile to make into tortillas or whatever). Then I added some fruits and veggies: salad, apples, bananas, avocado, broccoli, and a sweet potato. Apples took up the bulk of my budget at $0.88 each. I realize this diet is vegetarian (or technically pescatarian because of the tuna). So it’s not totally realistic since most people prefer to spend their money on meat and not vegetables. I also think having kids would make it 100 times harder since they are not going to be satisfied with a sweet potato and salad for lunch.

Initial thoughts:

I originally thought this would be easy, after all, I have been a “poor” college student before. But in crunching the numbers, I found it really hard and had to prioritize and make sacrifices in certain areas. I definitely had to choose between more vegetables or dairy. Notice, I did not have any money left for my luxury items of almond milk and greek yogurt. I only have to survive a week without it, but I can see where the malnutrition begins in situations like this. I understand now why someone would prefer to spend $2 on the dollar menu at McDonald’s instead of a $2 bag of salad. Because it’s more calorically dense and it fills you up more, thus leading to obesity and proving the point that someone can be overfed calorie wise but undernourished. I also have access to a car and the ability to browse ads and online for things on sale.

Some basic rules:

  • Only eat food you purchase for the Challenge, and if you eat a meal out, that must come out of your $30.
  • Don’t eat other food already in your home (exceptions: spices and condiments).
  • Don’t accept food at meetings or events (exception: water).

I slept in today and went for a 10 mile run, which also doesn’t mimic the lifestyle of someone working 2 jobs, 16 hours a day and then taking two buses to a grocery store. My first meal was lunch. I had 1/2 an apple with peanut butter, 1/2 can tuna, 1/2 avocado on some home-made flatbread. On a small scale, I’m already starting to feel the pangs of hunger…

I tried to keep this one and all my future blog posts short and sweet. Please continue to read along the rest of the week!

Hungrily yours,

Cara

Hungry for change

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I had the opportunity to attend the annual fighting hunger in Maryland Conference last Wednesday. It was something I went to last year as an intern, and decided to go this year to get my networking on, start getting some continuing education credits, and just get a reminder of things that inspire and motivate me. The beginning of the day was super depressing honestly. Everyone could not stop talking about the government shutdown, whether it was the speakers, or just chatter amongst the attendees.

I have to say though, things started to look up when there was a panel that included a few “witnesses to hunger.” I don’t know why, but I cry every time I see something like this. It must mean I have chosen the right profession. Their stories will haunt you and motivate you at the same time. You hear stories of living conditions that you thought only existed in third world countries.

That’s what this issue is all about. The faces and the stories. I get so angry when people try to say that people abuse this system. I know it is a broken system and I am sure it happens, but not to the extent that people say it does. Some reasearch shows that the food stamp program only has a 1% rate of fraud and 3% rate of error. I feel that the media.. cough cough fox news (which is not based on facts and is not even considered news in my book) blows things out of proportion such as the surfer dude in California using food stamps for a lobster dinner.

Federal programs need to be strengthened to get people out of the place where they are. It was designed to be a temporary type of system, but the system does not give people enough to get by even when they are working full-time or multiple jobs, so they become reliant on it in a way and stuck where they are.

Just a side note, I signed up to take the Food Stamp Challenge from OCtober 21-27 and I will have to eat with just $30/week. I will be blogging through my experience so come back for that. I think it will give me real perspective and increase my compassion towards people who have this as their reality every day.

Sign up here:

http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5118/p/salsa/event/common/public/?event_KEY=68621

The food stamp program’s first administrator, Milo Perkins said this in 1939: “We got a picture of a gorge, with farm surpluses on one cliff and under-nourished city folks with outstretched hands on the other. We set out to find a practical way to build a bridge across that chasm.” The program ended when the conditions that brought the program into being , unused food surpluses and rampant unemployment, no longer existed. Imagine that?! This is a bipartisan issue. Access to healthy food is a basic human right and I’m pretty sure it is on the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs so we will never move forward as individuals or as a society without it.

25% of kids in Baltimore city live in food deserts. That seems to be a trendy term these days but according to the Baltimore Food Policy Intiative is defined as: An area where the distance to a supermarket is more than ¼ mile, the median household income is at or below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level, over 40% of households have no vehicle available, and the average Healthy Food Availability Index score for supermarkets, convenience and corner stores is low (measured using the Nutrition Environment Measurement Survey).

I also thought it would be helpful to differentiate between food security, food insecurity, and hunger.

According to the official USDA definition, food security is defined as access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.  Food security includes the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods and an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.  Food insecurity is limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.  Hunger is the uneasy or painful sensation caused by a lack of food.

Our kids are overfed, yet undernourished. Childhood obesity statistics are on the rise, so people don’t think we have a problem with hunger at all!  Every healthy society in the world has a low rate of income disparity. With more income disparity, there is a loss of opportunity. These issues are more than just food. There is a lot of expertise and collaboration needed beyond my scope of practice as a dietitian. The future of our country is at stake. People don’t realize how much nutrition affects kids’ ability to learn and focus in school. They are the future of this country and societies have problems when their citizens are not educated. I know some people like to think that churches and charities can pick up the slack and that it’s not the government’s job. But it would take every single church, mosque, synagogue etc, donating $50,000/year for ten years to cover the snap benefits.

And while I’m on my soapbox, just a note about Obamacare, which if some of you don’t know is the same thing as the Affordable Care Act.

Now, I’m no economist, but one of the speakers used a great analogy. You cannot just go into a supermarket and get food, so that makes it a market sort of model that runs itself. But because you can go into a hospital and receive care, it shows that it is not a market and requires some sort of government intervention. The entire system we have for insurance operating like a market is ridiculous. I heard a story the other day that a woman was pregnant and had to switch insurance when she got a new job. The new insurance would not cover her because her pregnancy counted as a “pre-existing condition.” That makes me sick. Haha pun intended.

Again, I’m sure Obamacare is not perfect and it will need some revision, but some sort of change definitely needs to happen soon. And for now, I am grateful that it allows me to stay on my parents insurance until I’m 26, considering I still do not have a steady full-time job and may not even receive benefits when I do find one. Another visual this speaker used it the hammock idea. Many conservatives try to say it’s time to cut the hammock. Well, there is no hammock, just a crappy, porous safety net. And a note on this whole government shut down, I think we’ve been doomed for a while considering the model of democracy works when their citizens are informed. But we do not have an informed society. People don’t have time these days so a lot of information comes to us through twitter or Facebook or if we happen to have time to watch tv and catch the news, which is usually biased anyways.

I’ll be honest, I am not as informed about politics as I was in college.  I cannot cite all the studies or where these statistics came from. You can cite statistics all day about the prevalence of poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity. But for me, the fact that it happens to one person is this country is unacceptable. And although this conference had a very liberal spin on things, I consider myself pretty moderate and think that these are not issues that should be divisive.

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Now onto something more positive. The sessions after lunch seemed to have glimmers of hope sprinkled throughout. Baltimore really is a sort of hub for work in food insecurity and is leading the nation in creative approaches to tackling this multifaceted issue.

Things that make me happy:

-The EBT benefits (electronic benefit transfer aka food stamps) used at farmer’s markets has been increasing exponentially over the past three years, The pilot year, a total of $15,000 were used, $42,000 the next year, and $90,000 the next year.

-The work I have done with low-income parents over the past year at my internship showed me that 99.9% of them want to eat healthy food and want that for their kids, but just don’t know where to find it or how to pay for it.

-A program called Baltimore Bucks will double someone’s EBT benefits up to $5 at a farmer’s market since they are spending it on fresh produce.

-Baltimarket is a free, virtual pea-pod type of delivery program to reach people in food deserts.

-There is a prescription assistance program where a doctor can literally write a prescription for fruits and vegetables for a patient and they will receive $10 to spend at a farmer’s market. That just made my heart sing. And that’s why I probably could never work in a hospital when I’m really being honest with myself. That is the direction our healthcare system needs to be heading. From “Sick Care” to “Health Care.” From reactive to proactive.

-There are tons of community projects being funded that focus on urban gardens, mobile farmer’s markets, kitchen renovations, cooking classes , etc. and even one modeled after the Jamie Oliver community kitchen idea to give people the skills they need to prepare healthy food.

-Real Food Farm in Clifton Park was one organization I had the pleasure of working with during my internship. They have a mobile farmer’s market that visits low-income areas and last year 20% of their sale were SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program aka the new name for food stamps after the 2008 farm bill) benefit recipients.

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I know this post was super opinionated and probably very biased as well. But for me, this is not a political issue, it’s a heart issue. Because of my values and the way I live my life, I cannot help but feel called to be a part of the solution. I truly believe in the power of the individual. I can’t save the world of hunger by myself, but I can do everything in my power to make sure I am not harming others by my actions or votes.

A quote from the Dali Lama, “If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.”

And finally, to end with a quote from my favorite person:

.. whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.. Matthew 25:40

Again, thanks for hanging in there for all of this 🙂

Indignation: Anger aroused by something unjust, mean, or unworthy. I think the emotions this day brought out in me is just all the more confirmation that I want to dedicate my life’s work to pediatric research and be a part of the solution. Thanks again for joining me in this journey!

Indignantly yours,

Cara