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Assemblymember Yamada Takes the Hunger Challenge – Day 5

Guest post by Assemblymember Mariko Yamada: Filing my final entry for the 2013 Hunger Challenge, Day 5.  Having participated for the past five consecutive years as a state legislator, and previous years as a county supervisor and at times as an “average citizen” over my almost forty years of public service, what is striking to me is the constancy of two dynamics:  continuing hunger in America, and the consistent mischaracterization of those who depend upon SNAP benefits.

Is there hunger in America?  Yes.  The facts are incontrovertible:  http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/us_hunger_facts.htm

Has SNAP been an effective program?  I say yes:  http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/

For last night’s dinner, I finished the brown rice and remaining chicken thigh, and scavenged some of the zucchini that I cooked with the spaghetti and pasta sauce made on Monday night.  Drank a little bit of remaining juice and coffee for my liquids.

Breakfast on this last day was coffee only,  and lunch one of two remaining overripe bananas and the last yogurt.  With today’s temperatures soaring past 100 degrees, I am drinking tap water to stay hydrated.

What I’ve missed most this whole week is… dessert!  People who know me understand J

So, as I finish my 2013 Hunger Challenge, I will finish up the last of the spaghetti and have some wheat toast, and end with that single Odwalla bar that I bought for a week end treat.   I will have perhaps 3 slices of bread leftover from the week.

I want to thank all who participated in the 2013 Hunger Challenge with me, or who read about our experiences.  In doing so, I hope that there were some aspects of the issues that were new or involved additional thinking.

Let’s all recommit ourselves to ending hunger and poverty in America by reducing waste and strengthening the economy.  Thank you to all who do this work every day!

Assemblymember Yamada Takes the Hunger Challenge – Day 4

Guest post by Assemblymember Mariko Yamada: Heading into the final day and half of this year’s challenge, there is a sense of “weariness”—not to be confused with “mindfulness”—about food.   We are literally barraged with daily food imagery—in advertisements that come in  the day’s mail; television and radio commercials; restaurant promotions; the previously noted Capitol receptions; even social media posts from our families and friends. Voluntarily limiting oneself to the groceries available on the 2013 CalFresh budget of $24.90 for five days requires both physical and mental discipline.

This morning, I opened a can of tuna, and lacking the funds for mayonnaise, opened one of the last two yogurt cups I had purchased on Sunday evening to skim off the top layer (strawberry fruit-on-the-bottom!) as the dressing for a tuna fish sandwich.  The flavors definitely clashed but one must make do with the ingredients at hand.  Upon tasting this concoction, decided to mask the hint of strawberry with a cut-up tomato, and made a tuna-tomato-on wheat bread-American cheese slice melt to take in for Thursday’s lunch.

For some reason today, I was extra-hungry and have already consumed the sandwich and an extra cheese slice intended for an afternoon snack.  Not sure if this is the cumulative effect of three previous days of having food to eat—but not feeling full since Monday.

I will drink home-brewed coffee the rest of today as I head to my District Office in Woodland.  Not sure what I will have for dinner this evening—options are narrowing, similar to what CalFresh recipients face at the end of each month.  The truism that “our food ran out before the month did” is a reality facing millions of Californians.  Please think about that at the end of June.

Final day tomorrow!

SNAP Provides a Significant Economic Boost

Last year partially due to the fiscal cliff a new Farm Bill was not passed. Funding for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), run by the US Department of Agriculture, was of major concern for anti-hunger advocates across the country. Representatives in the House proposed deep cuts to SNAP: $16.5 billion over 10 years, which would cut as many as 3 million low-income Americans from the program. The Senate countered with a farm bill cutting $4.5 billion from SNAP over the same time period.

Congress couldn’t agree on a Farm Bill so it simply didn’t happen, and instead Congress passed an extension until September 30. With the new congress now in session, they have to start all over. The chair of the House Agriculture Committee, told the Capital Press this weekend that the new House Farm Bill will mandate $20 billion in SNAP cuts over the next ten years. Drew Hammill, communications director for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, told The Nation, that SNAP not only helps vulnerable Americans, but it provides a significant economic boost. Research shows that for every dollar invested in SNAP over $1.84 goes back into the economy.

SNAP usage flows with the economy. During the recession, participation in the program increased (as it should) and as the economy continues to improve, we will see spending on SNAP decrease significantly over the next ten years all by itself.

In the meantime, there are still many Americans who need the help of SNAP to put food on their tables. We can’t allow a Farm Bill to pass that cuts one of our most effective stimulus programs.

As the House AG Committee takes up the Farm Bill later this month, we need to be clear that these steep cuts to SNAP are unacceptable. So what can you do? Follow our blog and join our advocacy email alerts to stay informed during the process. And tell your friends.

Sources include: http://www.thenation.com/blog/174094/house-gop-plans-even-deeper-food-stamp-cuts and http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2010/04/14/USDA-Will-Spend-63-billion-On-Food-Stamps-This-Year.aspx#page1.

Hunger Speaks to a Global Audience

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is a member of Feeding America, a national network of food banks. Our service is local in Solano and Contra Costa counties, but we are also part of a national effort dedicated to bringing an end to hunger. Through this national work we find connections that are inspiring.

We were recently contacted by representatives of Elanco, a Greenfield, Ind.-based business that develops products to improve the health and food productivity of farm animals. A group of their international leadership was at a symposium in Napa, and Elanco’s corporate culture meant that a breakout session included a trip to the Food Bank so they could learn about the CalFresh (food stamp) program.

We discussed our overall work at the food bank and specifically the outreach we do trying to enroll more people in the CalFresh program.

The Elanco folks were given a WalMart gift card and went to the local store to try to buy food for their family for a week on a CalFresh budget. Although they shopped for values to stretch their dollars, they realized the challenges people face when they are using the CalFresh program.

The Elanco folks are scientists, well-educated, intelligent and knowledgeable about food and nutrition. It was a transformation for them to realize they could not have the food they wanted, but had to make tough choices about the food they needed and the nutritional value they wanted to reach.

Part of the work of both our Food Bank and Feeding America is to help people understand why hunger exists.

Because of the culture Elanco has, we now have 40 knowledgeable people talking to their friends about what the food stamp program means and the challenges people at risk of hunger face every day.

 

Hungry to finish the CalFresh Challenge

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: As part of Hunger Action Month at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, I am now finishing my week of living on a CalFresh (formerly food stamp) budget.

I began living on $34.31 worth of groceries last Sunday, and am so looking forward to this coming Sunday, when every meal will no longer be a major decision in my life. For the people we serve, it is not a decision they can make as easily.

I learned from the CalFresh challenge that I am a terrible planner. I’m not good at grocery shopping anyway and am worse when I have to strictly pay attention to costs. Shopping on a budget is all about planning, so this was a challenge.

Couple that with a lack of imagination, and you have breakfast every day this week being a slice of toast and a piece of fruit. As part of the CalFresh Challenge, I agreed to not eat food served at events, to truly feel the limits of the budget. When I was the agency speaker at a United Way event with Wells Fargo leadership, I could have had a bagel and cream cheese with a nice plate of expensive fruit and, truly, if I were on food assistance, I would have.

Lunch has been yogurt, fruit, a carrot and a piece of cheese. Every day. Forget variety when the budget is tight.

Fried eggs with toasted bread was a filling Sunday night dinner. Bean burritos Monday night (with some greens). Chicken on Tuesday, with a salad. Home late from a meeting on Wednesday, so scrambled eggs (tortillas instead of bread). Black beans and toast on Thursday night because I had to hustle to an evening meeting.

So, my pattern seems to be lots of carbs and some protein. Good thing I’m getting fruit, because vegetables are not working into my limited cooking and food dollars.

I also wonder how a diet heavy on eggs and dairy products would work long-term, since I’m trying to limit cholesterol, but they are an affordable source of protein. I also realize that living on a CalFresh diet would require me to be more deliberate about grocery shopping. I’m sure I could find different options than the breakfast and lunch treadmill I am on, but it requires much more thought.

I am grateful to be able to stop making these tough food choices after a short week. I have gained empathy for the people who rely on CalFresh to help them access fresh, healthy food every month because, without it, many would go hungry.

If you are someone you know are in need of food assistance including CalFresh, please call the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano at 855-309-FOOD or visit us at www.foodbankccs.org/get-help.html.

The author is executive director of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, based in Concord.