Children in the US go hungry

Just the other day I read an article in Parents magazine that deeply touched my heart. It was an article about malnourished children in the United States in the July 2011 issue of Parents magazine. The article points out that one in four children in the US do not have enough food to eat. Wow – one in four children. Imagine a family of four kids – only 3 of them are estimated to eat a meal while the other does not. I think of my brother who has four kids and luckily they all have enough food to eat, but I can’t fathom the idea of one of my beloved nieces or nephews sitting in her or his bedroom starving. Of course, my brother would never let his kids go hungry but what happens when a parent can’t feed all of his/her children? The article also states that in a larger family, it’s usually the parents that end up going hungry just so they could feed their children.

It saddens me to know that while the US is helping malnourished children in other countries, they are forgetting that children in this country are also going hungry. And yes, although third world countries may need more help, we’ve got to find a better solution for everyone – in this country and in other underprivileged countries. Food is the number one priority in almost everyone’s life. Without enough food, we not only go hungry, but we feel sad, tired, and distraught and often that not, we end up doing things we regret. Food fuels the brain and the body, and I’ve read stories about people who steal and hurt others in order to be able to put a plate of food on their dinner table. Parents may go to extremes to feed their hungry children, but it shouldn’t lead to further downfall.

In the Parents magazine article, titled, “The Hungry House”, the author noted that when a child becomes malnourished, the child will need 50 percent more quality nutrition than a typical child does in order to regain his/her health. And unfortunately, that would have to happen rather immediately for their health to recover. Which is pretty ironic when, how do you gain 50 percent more quality nutrition when you have even less of that to begin with? Where will these malnourished children get the extra nutritional help? Fortunately, on some small scale, there are facilities and groups in the United States that can help those who do not have enough food to eat. There are local food pantries, public schools (as long as it’s during school season), and private and public fundings. But as the author points out, what happens to these children when it’s summer? Most of them rely on at least one free regular meal during school season which is provided by the school (or at least a very inexpensive meal), but when school’s out, and there’s no longer free food offered at school, families must rely on their local charity or donations for regular meals. The author also notes that donations for food are usually made around the holidays but what about throughout the year? I see supermarkets with their meal donation coupons of $1, $3, or $5 posted at the checkout and seldom do I see people pick them up during checkout unless it was a holiday. However, I did hear a great story that a cashier told me about last Christmas season. She said that one man came in and purchased $1000’s worth of meal donation coupons without batting an eye. She thought apparently it was quite natural for the man to be doing something so charitable.

Food pantries are great, but they’re not available everywhere and sometimes their food gets distributed so quickly, that they don’t replenish fast enough. And donating the right type of food is crucial as well. Food pantries look for food that are easy to use in most families, have a long shelf life, and are substantial. They want food that can feed an entire family which includes canned beans or any canned vegetables, flour, milk, basic staples such as sugar, salt, etc. and they also welcome toiletries such as paper towels, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. I know whenever we sponsor a family during the holidays, we also include toiletries in the gift basket along with food that families don’t normally get to treat themselves with.

In the Parent’s article, the author notes that states with the highest “food-insecurity” rates are typically Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina but I personally feel that all of America are affected by hunger. It could be a single income family or a single parent raising several children, or just a family that does not have the means to earn enough income to provide a steady stream of food every day. And I think it’s doubly important to point out that when children go hungry and do not get enough proper nutrition, it leads to further complications down the line. America can be a wonderful place, but it can also be a glutinous place. There are many families who wastes food and teach their children that wasting food is all right. I think it’s important to teach kids to know about portion control – kids should take only what they need instead of filling up their plates with stuff they’ll never finish. If you’ll also notice in restaurants, A LOT of food goes to waste when a family could have easily shared their food with one another instead of ordering more than what they can consume. Or take the rest to go and eat them for dinner or for lunch the next day. Every time there’s food leftover on our plates, I take them to go and jazz them up a bit for another meal. You just have to remember that there are families out there who don’t have the luxury to eat out and would do anything for a complete meal.

My suggestion would be that if you have extra staples in your home and you’d like to donate them, then keep a bag handy in your kitchen. When you know you won’t be eating or cooking with that staple, then place it in the bag. Once the bag fills up, take it to your local food pantry. Many times staples such as canned goods or flour or sugar gets thrown out because they expired or because we forget that we bought a truckload of them to stock up on. If you would like to read more about the article in Parents magazine, here is the direct link: http://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/hunger-american-children/?sssdmh=dm17.541612&esrc=nwpmmdailytip080911&email=1937670098.

Top 10 Reasons to Choose Organic

I didn’t always know that organic food and products were beneficial to my body and to the earth. When I was growing up, I just ate whatever my parents cooked and indulged in the occassional junk food now and then. My parents came from families who used only natural ingredients in their food and they avoided using chemical pesticides on their fruit trees and vegetable gardens. They themselves, coming from an older generation didn’t know that the term “organic” nowadays mean food and products are not chemically treated and that they are better for the environment and for the bodies. And that’s because food many years ago were not so harshly genetically modified and chemically processed and treated. In a sense, food back then were innocent and more pure.

But with the population and the economy growing throughout the years and scientists and companies wanting to produce more products at a faster pace to meet the demands of the consumer, food became less innocent and pure. The normal foods you put on your plate were getting genetically altered to be bigger but not necessarily tastier, the crops sprayed with chemicals for longer preservation, and our planet depleting in natural resources. People were no longer living green and trying to build a better future for their next generations. It isn’t easy trying to be green all the time or trying to buy organic everything, but here is a list taken from organic.org on the reasons to go organic. And perhaps as we learn along the way, we can help ourselves become healthier, smarter, and happier.

1. Reduce The Toxic Load: Keep Chemicals Out of the Air, Water, Soil and our Bodies
Buying organic food promotes a less toxic environment for all living things. With only 0.5 percent of crop and pasture land in organic, according to USDA that leaves 99.5 percent of farm acres in the U.S. at risk of exposure to noxious agricultural chemicals.

Our bodies are the environment so supporting organic agriculture doesn’t just benefit your family, it helps all families live less toxically.

2. Reduce if Not Eliminate Off Farm Pollution
Industrial agriculture doesn’t singularly pollute farmland and farm workers; it also wreaks havoc on the environment downstream. Pesticide drift affects non-farm communities with odorless and invisible poisons. Synthetic fertilizer drifting downstream is the main culprit for dead zones in delicate ocean environments, such as the Gulf of Mexico, where its dead zone is now larger than 22,000 square kilometers, an area larger than New Jersey, according to Science magazine, August, 2002.

3. Protect Future Generations
Before a mother first nurses her newborn, the toxic risk from pesticides has already begun. Studies show that infants are exposed to hundreds of harmful chemicals in utero. In fact, our nation is now reaping the results of four generations of exposure to agricultural and industrial chemicals, whose safety was deemed on adult tolerance levels, not on children’s. According to the National Academy of Science, “neurologic and behavioral effects may result from low-level exposure to pesticides.” Numerous studies show that pesticides can adversely affect the nervous system, increase the risk of cancer, and decrease fertility.

4. Build Healthy Soil
Mono-cropping and chemical fertilizer dependency has taken a toll with a loss of top soil estimated at a cost of $40 billion per year in the U.S., according to David Pimental of Cornell University. Add to this an equally disturbing loss of micro nutrients and minerals in fruits and vegetables. Feeding the soil with organic matter instead of ammonia and other synthetic fertilizers has proven to increase nutrients in produce, with higher levels of vitamins and minerals found in organic food, according to the 2005 study, “Elevating Antioxidant levels in food through organic farming and food processing,” Organic Center State of Science Review (1.05)

5. Taste Better and Truer Flavor
Scientists now know what we eaters have known all along: organic food often tastes better. It makes sense that strawberries taste yummier when raised in harmony with nature, but researchers at Washington State University just proved this as fact in lab taste trials where the organic berries were consistently judged as sweeter. Plus, new research verifies that some organic produce is often lower in nitrates and higher in antioxidants than conventional food. Let the organic feasting begin!

6. Assist Family Farmers of all Sizes
According to Organic Farming Research Foundation, as of 2006 there are approximately 10,000 certified organic producers in the U.S. compared to 2500 to 3,000 tracked in 1994. Measured against the two million farms estimated in the U.S. today, organic is still tiny. Family farms that are certified organic farms have a double economic benefit: they are profitable and they farm in harmony with their surrounding environment. Whether the farm is a 4-acre orchard or a 4,000-acre wheat farm, organic is a beneficial practice that is genuinely family-friendly.

7. Avoid Hasty and Poor Science in Your Food
Cloned food. GMOs and rBGH. Oh my! Interesting how swiftly these food technologies were rushed to market, when organic fought for 13 years to become federal law. Eleven years ago, genetically modified food was not part of our food supply; today an astounding 30 percent of our cropland is planted in GMOs. Organic is the only de facto seal of reassurance against these and other modern, lab-produced additions to our food supply, and the only food term with built in inspections and federal regulatory teeth.

8. Eating with a Sense of Place
Whether it is local fruit, imported coffee or artisan cheese, organic can demonstrate a reverence for the land and its people. No matter the zip code, organic has proven to use less energy (on average, about 30 percent less), is beneficial to soil, water and local habitat, and is safer for the people who harvest our food. Eat more seasonably by supporting your local farmers market while also supporting a global organic economy year round. It will make your taste buds happy.

9. Promote Biodiversity
Visit an organic farm and you’ll notice something: a buzz of animal, bird and insect activity. These organic oases are thriving, diverse habitats. Native plants, birds and hawks return usually after the first season of organic practices; beneficial insects allow for a greater balance, and indigenous animals find these farms a safe haven. As best said by Aldo Leopold, “A good farm must be one where the native flora and fauna have lost acreage without losing their existence.” An organic farm is the equivalent of reforestation. Industrial farms are the equivalent of clear cutting of native habitat with a focus on high farm yields.

10. Celebrate the Culture of Agriculture
Food is a ‘language’ spoken in every culture. Making this language organic allows for an important cultural revolution whereby diversity and biodiversity are embraced and chemical toxins and environmental harm are radically reduced, if not eliminated. The simple act of saving one heirloom seed from extinction, for example, is an act of biological and cultural conservation. Organic is not necessarily the most efficient farming system in the short run. It is slower, harder, more complex and more labor-intensive. But for the sake of culture everywhere, from permaculture to human culture, organic should be celebrated at every table.