Food Pantries Offering Nutrition Classes, Fighting The Fast Food Diet
Children are going hungry in America. It's becoming irrefutable based on recent studies by government agencies and anti-hunger groups. These groups estimate that 3.5 million children under the age of five are "food insecure" at some point during a given year.
The trouble in tackling this problem is another irrefutable fact. Our children are obese. As NPR's recent series on child hunger in America described, a family living on $600 in food stamps a month often has no choice but to choose a cheap source of calories like McDonald's over fresh fruits and vegetables.
"A gallon of milk is $3-something. A bottle of orange soda is 89 cents," [food pantry manager Elaine Livas] says. "Do the math."
Livas says low-income families might know milk is better for their kids, but when it comes to filling a hungry stomach, a cheaper high-calorie option can look pretty good.
To counteract this trend, many food pantries, including Livas' Project SHARE, is providing nutrition classes in addition to quality meals.
The problem is, as always, funding. The Obama administration has asked for another billion dollars to make changes to school lunches and subsidize meals, but as NPR explains, there are those who oppose these measures and don't fully understand why hunger can often equal obesity, as evidenced by this quote from Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA):
"I have no doubt there are kids that go to school hungry," he said. "But I have to admit, every time I hear that we have an obesity problem and everybody's going hungry, how do you reconcile the two?"
Despite being told that less money for food usually influences poor nutritional choices, Cassidy explained that he didn't quite follow the reasoning.
Project SHARE and other food pantries are making efforts to do more than simply provide food at their locations, and children are the focus. Project SHARE provides cooking classes for children, and volunteers pick fresh produce from local farms every week.
The Food Bank of Central Louisiana has spent the summer preparing backpacks of food to send with children to school on Fridays at the beginning of the school year.
Many participating schools have a high percent of free-and-reduce meal plans, which means students qualify because they are experiencing significant poverty. In Central Louisiana, more than 41,047 children are eligible for free and reduced meals, according to The Food Bank.
Though many of the backpacks are prepared in advance, they're mostly filled with healthy snacks such as nuts and canned fruit.
The following video from TED.com shares Ellen Gustafson's view on how obesity and hunger are linked internationally, and what we can do to change this trend. Gustafson is the co-creator of FEED bags, which use money to feed hungry kids around the world for one year per donation.